Building a Personal Brand is a hot topic these days. At one time it was solely the domain of ambitious politicians, egotistical athletes, and social media darlings who were obsessively curating an image to keep the PR train running. But these days, this obligation has trickled down to the common man.
While sounding posh, a personal brand is really a fancy term for self-marketing through reinforcing a consistent representation of oneself in all ways both in the digital world and in real life.
For those who carefully curate a personal brand, it’s demonstrated in a tidy summation of what and who they are. It’s commonly observed in all sorts of digital media but it ought to be reinforced in real life as well.
The Purpose of a Personal Brand
The emergence of personal branding has come mostly for the purposes of accelerating career objectives. Seen mostly in the business and professional domains, personal brands have become a method by which people such as prospective employers (or nosy new coworkers) can make quick assessments of someone without the courtesy of first meeting them.
For many industries the competition for top talent is fierce. What gives one person an edge over another can come down to the images projected through personal branding. Employers, relying on a person’s curated presence, are window shopping for prospective employees and the prospect’s personal brand is a convenient cheat sheet.
A personal brand is the bling that catches someone's eye with an intrigue to investigate more. Total authenticity and accuracy is not necessarily a component of a personal brand (though it should be) so it’s important to have something of substance to show for your brand.
Accidentally Creating a Personal Brand
Aside from the professionals, the rest of us may believe personal branding doesn’t pertain to us which is often not the case. We’re creating a brand for ourselves even though we may not know it. This happens mostly through our participation in the digital world.
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Even if we aren’t that Instagram-obsessed teenager perfecting every post, we may be still creating a picture of ourselves through our digital footprints. Leaving behind traces of our persona through our interactions with the far corners of the Internet.
By what we post, what we like, or how we comment we are establishing a baseline of who we are and what others can expect of us. This becomes, by default, a personal brand.
But it’s a mistake to think that this only pertains to our online participation. What happens online is probably a semblance of who we are in real life too. Mundane things like how we dress, our mannerism, how we talk, and even how we treat other people can all be included under the umbrella of who we are and hence our brand.
Personal Branding in the Real World
If we take a step back and examine this all from a much broader perspective we begin to realize that the term personal branding is just a synonym for reputation. Simply, what do others think of you based on how you behave and present yourself?
Like it or not your reputation is the way others can quickly categorize you through a logic-based classification system. This is how people sum you up in 90 seconds upon first meeting you or how an old friend would describe you. At first glance, this may feel unfair but you are the author of the content.
Alice. I love her but she’s always late!
Jerry would give you the shirt off his back.
My brother John only really cares about what others can do for him.
Suzy is an eclectic punk rock goddess.
Personal Branding Impacts Our Personal Lives
So what is your reputation and by way your Personal Brand? Do you even know? Have you ever stopped to think about this?
Your first reaction may be: Who cares? Well, everyone in your life (from new acquaintances to old friends) do. Like it or not your reputation is important because it’s a precursor to forming rewarding personal relationships.
How others perceive you dictate how they interact with you. How they interact with you impacts how they relate to and eventually trust you. All of which becomes the important building blocks of forming lasting and meaningful relationships.
You are who you are. And that shouldn’t fundamentally change. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn't offer yourself some thoughtful introspection about how you are perceived in the world.
While the core is set, perhaps the outer surfaces need some fine-tuning. Or maybe not. What’s valuable is going through the exercise of putting a mirror to yourself, gauging your satisfaction with what you see, and then projecting that authenticity out to the world.
This may be a difficult task for many because we all have our own blind spots to ourselves, especially our weaknesses. How we understand how we are perceived in the world is just different than how others perceive us. This disconnect is very common but not regularly considered.
A first step is to look at yourself as holistically as possible. Start with objective things like how you dress and express yourself (I’m clean cut with an eccentric wardrobe) and then gradually examine more subtle things like personality characteristics (I’m shy but deeply inquisitive).
Imagine your friend or family member telling someone else about you. How would they describe you?
A second technique is to imagine being a fly on the wall at your funeral. What are people saying about you? Take with a grain of salt some of the flowery commentaries, everyone seems to turn into a saint when they’re dead😇. But what themes would emerge? Are you happy with what you’re hearing or no?
Jessica is so creative and such a beautiful singer.
Steven means well but can be passive aggressive when stressed.
Ashley is so smart but she doesn’t have any confidence in herself.
Jake is by far the smartest guy I’ve ever met.
What Do People Really Think of You?
If you’re stumped or feel the assessment is incomplete, ask a few friends or family members for input. Give them license to be totally honest and steel yourself for the feedback. Approach only those in your life who can be supportive of such introspection. Some may find the request strange or they may become defensive as deep introspection isn’t their thing (it’s too uncomfortable).
To those you’ve chosen to approach, explain that you are trying to better understand how you’re perceived by others. If you need to, make up some excuse for the inevitable questions of why you’re doing this. It could be called a professional exercise or if they press hard, tell them your therapist told you to do it. They may not ask such intrusive questions again.
Refining Your Brand
Once you get this information, you then need to decide what to do with it. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear and feel satisfied that who you are is who the world sees.
Alternatively, this may present a clear sign for change that you’ve known in your gut you’ve needed to make. Doing this work isn’t easy. In the end though, if you care about growth and your relationships, you may decide to close the divide between how others perceive you and who you know you are (or wish to be).
Here’s a small personal example of how this played out for me. When I was roadtripping with Jeana, she once told me in exasperation that I always seemed to supersede her stories. Like when she would share about a personal experience, I would immediately jump in with a related story and kind of hijack her monologue.
I never knew I did this. I was shocked and embarrassed this was my default MO. Once this was shown to me, I made a conscious effort to stop it. To this day, I try to be mindful of not over-relating at the expense of someone else’s experience.
Owning Your Faults and Perfections
At the end of this exercise (or this article) you may determine that how you come across to others may not matter much to you. You may feel that others should just accept you as you are. This is a fair prerogative but it may have limitations.
While it’s reasonable to disregard how you present yourself to the world, the world may do the same. It goes both ways. While you may not feel compelled to put your best face forward, understand that few may feel inclined to approach you either. This is not the making of a meaningful connection.
What this is about is the delicate balance of considering how you engage with the people of this world and how those same people respond back to you.
By living and participating in a functioning society, you need to understand the impact you have on others — right, wrong or indifferent. Remember it all comes full circle. Be okay with whatever you decide.
On the flip side, you can care too much. You live for others and their approval and at the sacrifice of your own sense of self. This is worth careful examination and perhaps a lot of deliberate work to overcome. If you have a propensity to be like this, it may be something you’ll struggle with for a long time. Changing your own self-image is a long and sometimes challenging process. Therapy is excellent for this.
The best path, as usual, is the middle path. Give consideration to those around you but stay true to yourself.
Living in Congruence with Your Personal Brand
After the assessment, you’ll know what to present to the world. It should be easy because it’ll be an authentic reflection of who you are. Have no fear of being perfect, instead be transparent.
Being incongruent with who you are will eventually expose itself because it takes too much effort. If you think you’re a nice sweet person, but you yell at the waitress because she got your order wrong, you’re being a fraud. Don’t waste the energy.
In the end, your reputation and your personal brand which is built deliberately and hopefully authentically will prevail. Make it a good one.
Take the time to evaluate who you are from a 360° perspective. Here are some good brainstorming resources. Next, go through your personal assessment with a trusted friend or loved one to help you fill in the gaps in what you can’t see. I always find it helpful to journal after such an exercise to get out what I learned and decide what I’d like to do with the information.
How would you describe your personal brand? Is it an authentic reflection of who you are? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.