Best branding is authentic, calculated and planned.
By Jim Murray
In an age where we all exist as hyper-individuals, with our personalities and qualities augmented by our online and media brands, we’re now increasingly defined by a personal brand that may traverse everything from our LinkedIn profile to our dress sense.
Why a personal brand?
Your personal brand, ironically, is not necessarily formed by you alone. Rather, it’s informed by the thoughts, words and reactions of other people. This perception is in effect your “public persona”, which can be a deciding factor when it comes to whether you're hired, whether someone will do business with you or any myriad opportunities that can arise.
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“Your personal brand is about what other people say about you, it’s not what you say about yourself,” says Kate O’Reilly, Principal of Optimiss Consulting, where she advises corporate firms on gender equality, recruitment and promotion, training and mentoring, work-life balance and company culture.
O’Reilly is also an expert in personal branding for business leaders and sees this element of professional life as essential to success.
"Many of the most recognisable people in public life have gone to significant effort to create a persona and image."
“[Your brand] is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” says O’Reilly “It’s about what people say when they’re endorsing you or putting you forward for a new role or a new project.”
O’Reilly also notes that “what a lot of people don’t realise or take the time to think about with personal branding is that it is something you construct yourself. It’s not that it’s artificial – best branding is authentic – but it’s calculated and it’s planned.”
Indeed, many of the most recognisable people in public life have gone to significant effort to create a persona and image, which O’Reilly explains is a “carefully constructed message that tells you something very powerful about who they are, where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
O’Reilly is also at pains to point out that it’s not a bad thing to create a personal brand and there’s nothing “fake” about it. Rather, “what you’re doing is deciding how you want to be remembered and having a really consistent message in absolutely everything you do and every contact everyone has with you. It’slike any good brand – they pick two or three things and they repeat them over and over again.”
Learn from great brands
The consistency of your personal brand is essential, because it’s when a brand becomes inconsistent that it can lose estimation in the public eye or even end up in freefall. You only have to cast your mind back to brands such as oil giant BP, which found itself public enemy Number One when, after an oil spill that caused a monumental environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the company's CEO continued on his sailing holiday, leaving the brand tarnished for the near future.
Richard Branson, while colourful in his public projections of self, manages to constantly stay on message. Appearing at launches with attractive female assistants and a larrikin approach to marketing, he constantly re-enforces the “fun” associated with the Virgin brand.
As O’Reilly observes, this consistency is key. “Think about it from a product point of view: If you’ve got something like a bottle of Coca-Cola, it’s just sugar and water and some colouring and flavouring. It costs about 30 cents to make, but because it’s got that brand of Coca-Cola on it we expect a quality, a taste, a consistency and we know what we’re going to get with it.
“That’s what you need to think about from a personal branding point of view: how do you create that for yourself, so that people know exactly what they're going to get, think of it as a quality product [they'll] pay above average for, and put you forward for a senior role?”
Kate O’Reilly shares her five key tips for developing and delivering your personal brand.
Credibility: When did you last update your CV? This needs to be up-to-date and ready to go when you get an opportunity. Is your profile up to date on Linkedin?
Messaging: Messaging is about what you say at the office and to anyone you meet about your job, your work and your ambitions. Are you on message and consistent in what you say? Does this let people know what opportunities you might be interested in?
Look: It sounds vain, but how is your look and style? Have you updated it recently? Do you wear black all the time? Do you have daggy days at work? We know that people judge others by what they wear and how they speak, and then what they say – and they do it in the first six seconds of meeting you. What will people think of you when they meet you for the first time?
Networking: Being nice to other people and making connections is one of the most powerful things you can do. Listen to other people when you meet them, ask questions, connect them to others who might help them, follow up with them.
Delivering: Deliver a quality experience to everyone who deals with you. If you do this, people within and outside of the organisation will become your advocates.
Consistency is the essence in your message, in your look, in how you treat people. Be professional in everything you do – get back to people when you say you will, and deliver on time.