Personal Branding: Why Creating the Right Impression Matters | TopMBA.com

Personal Branding: Why Creating the Right Impression Matters

By QS Contributor

Updated July 5, 2019 Updated July 5, 2019

In business, there can be no understating the importance of branding – it distinguishes the product or service, celebrates its virtues and shows how it aligns with the lifestyles and meets the demands of the desired consumer base.

However, branding is not just for products. It is also for people. Indeed, in a management career, personal branding can be one of the key determinants of success.

Get it right and you will inspire, stand out and be well-liked; get it wrong and you will at best inspire apathy, and at worst, antipathy.

“If you don’t have a very strong personal brand – if you’re not associated with a particular project, or strengths or characteristics or viewpoints – then you’re probably invisible inside your organization,” says Dorie Clark – executive coach and author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.  “That might be fine for where you are now, but if you want to advance, you need to distinguish yourself in some way. Conversely, if you have a strong personal brand, you draw people to you – they’ll want to associate with you and have you on their team. A strong personal brand is a form of career insurance.”

Unfortunately, as an individual you won’t have recourse to a stylish logo or a catchy slogan (it would probably not work in your favor if you did...), so, what are the things that go towards personal branding? It is, explains Clark, a nuanced and multifaceted thing, and much more complicated than a 30-second elevator pitch: “It’s so much broader than that; it’s the overall perception that others have about you based on how you treat others, the activities you’re involved in, your record of accomplishment, how you dress, the things you talk about, what comes up in your Google search results, and more.”

This is obviously a long game – as with iconic products, effective, substantial personal branding can take time. But, before you can work out if your brand is good, you have to work out what it is. Well, obviously an executive coach can help with this, performing, as Dorie Clark explains, a ‘360 analysis’ which will ask those above, below and on a level with you to provide anonymous feedback which will serve as the starting point of the analysis.

However, if you’re committed to looking into your personal branding, then you can take matters into your own hands: “Ask four or five people who know you reasonably well to describe you in only three words. Limiting their options forces them to focus on what is most important, and what traits they view as most essential. Before long, interesting patterns will begin to emerge in what they say.”

Is it possible to reinvent yourself?

As suggested above, the things which go towards one’s personal branding tend to be things which are rather firmly entrenched – be that within yourself or within the perception of you that others have. But, says Dorie Clark, this does not mean that it is not possible to effect change: “My book, Reinventing You, deals extensively with the question of how to change how you’re perceived by others at work. Too often, our colleagues haven’t been paying that close attention to us and our career progress, and their perceptions may be out of date – even by several years. That means we’re not top of mind for them when it comes to important things like promotions or key opportunities.”

To counteract this, she suggests shaking things up a little, in order to re-enter their purview: “If you’ve developed an expertise in social media and want to pursue that further professionally, start a blog writing about it, and share your posts on Twitter and LinkedIn so others will begin to see how much you know. If you want to be considered leadership material, start a new group at work, or sign up for a leadership role so you can show your skills.”

Education can also be a tool through which you can reinvent yourself, says Clark, who teaches at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University’s executive MBA program. “Many people use MBA or executive MBA programs as a ‘career reboot’ – an opportunity to make new connections, deepen and refresh their skills, and gain a fresh, often global, perspective. There’s no question that business school is expensive, so you have to think carefully about how, specifically, it can help you meet your goals. But if you’re able to access a powerful alumni network, learn from top-notch professors, and the school has a strong history of feeding people into the kinds of careers you want, it can be a good investment.”

It also offers the advantage of putting you in a completely new environment with new people to whom your personality – and, therefore, personal branding – is not yet known, thus making it an ideal arena in which you can reinvent yourself. When meeting new people, sometimes it can be beneficial to not go in completely cold in order, largely, to avoid seeming boastful of your achievements, suggests Clark.

“The psychologist Robert Cialdini, whom I interviewed for Reinventing You, has a great suggestion. Of course, we can’t immediately start bragging about our credentials when we meet someone – but we do want them to understand where we’re coming from and the expertise we have. The solution to this problem, he says, is to send an email prior to meeting someone and, in it, cite your background and experience with regard to the issue you’re talking about, in order to make the meeting as productive as possible. That way, you’re not bragging – you’re providing helpful information, so it’s received very differently. But you walk into the room with your reputation already established.”

While you may not necessarily want to do this with your classmates, there are plenty of other introductions you will most likely have to make during your program for which such a tactic would be of use.

The importance of online presence

Of course, while sending an email can help establish some things about you, people are already able to find a lot out simply though your online presence. People should, suggests Clark, think about their personal brand along two tracks: “The real world, which is the perception that the people who know them personally have about them your online presence, because if you’re looking for a job or consulting projects, or work frequently with people across the globe, their entire view of you will be based on what comes up about you over the internet.”

As mentioned above, blogging about something you’re passionate about is one way of making sure that your online presence accurately reflects you and your strengths. 

“One important strategy for all of us is to create online content. These days, virtually the first thing someone will do is Google you to check you out. If you blog, tweet, podcast, or create other forms of content, it almost guarantees that the first information to come up will be the things that you create, and which send exactly the message you want.”  

Everything you do, in short, which is visible to other people in some way – be it in real life or online – will factor into your personal branding. It is important, therefore, to always make sure that yours accurately reflects your strengths and that any weaknesses you may identify are addressed. In order to be a good leader, it’s important to make sure your brand is on-message. Is yours?

This article was originally published in October 2013 . It was last updated in July 2019

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