Embracing "You" as Your Brand

In the current landscape, it's not just corporations that understand the power of branding; individuals, too, need to become their own brands. The era of personal branding is here, and it's a game-changer.
Embracing "You" as Your Brand | Amwork

Every item you wear or carry speaks volumes about your personal brand. From the iconic swoosh on your cross-trainers to the Starbucks logo on your coffee mug, the Champion “C” on your T-shirt, and the Levi's rivets on your jeans, you are essentially walking billboards for these brands. This phenomenon isn't limited to physical products; it extends to digital spaces too, where your email sender's name serves as your brand.

In this Age of the Individual, we're all CEOs of our own companies, which we can aptly call “Me Inc.” Regardless of your age or profession, understanding the art of branding is paramount. To thrive in today's world, we must become effective marketers for our personal brand.

While big corporations may make headlines with mergers and acquisitions, the real game-changer is becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents. It's about delivering your best work, building a remarkable track record, and establishing your unique identity, much like the Nike swoosh.

The good news is that everyone has the opportunity to stand out, learn, improve, and build their skills. Anyone can become a brand worth remembering.

This concept isn't lost on big companies; they've recognized the value of branding. Even the internet reinforces this notion. In a world where anyone can have a website, trust is established through branding. The sites you return to are the ones you trust, and the same principle applies to email senders.

Professional services firms, like McKinsey and Arthur Andersen, epitomize the new rules of personal and corporate branding. These firms operate with minimal tangible assets but thrive on smart, motivated individuals. They have a clear work culture that emphasizes delivering value to customers.

So, what can we learn from them? In this landscape, creating a distinctive role for yourself is crucial. You must craft a message and strategy to promote the brand called You. Just as these firms have mastered the art of personal branding, so can you, no matter your field or background.

What Sets You Apart?

It's time for a radical shift in perspective: from this point forward, cease to view yourself merely as an “employee” at General Motors, a “staffer” at General Mills, or a “worker” at General Electric. In fact, let's discard those labels entirely. You are no longer confined by job titles or descriptions.

Starting today, you are your own brand.

Consider this: you are as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To begin thinking like a brand manager for yourself, ponder the same question that brand managers at those corporations do: What distinguishes my product or service? Challenge yourself to encapsulate it in 15 words or less. Take the time to write it down and review it repeatedly.

If your answer doesn't excite potential clients, earn the trust of satisfied past clients, or ignite your own passion, you have work to do. It's time to dedicate serious thought and effort to crafting and cultivating your personal brand.

Start by pinpointing the qualities that differentiate you from your competition or colleagues. What have you recently done to stand out? What is your greatest strength, the trait that others would identify as your most noteworthy?

Now, let's draw a parallel between brand You and corporate branding strategies. Corporations utilize the feature-benefit model: every feature they offer yields a discernible benefit for their customers. For instance, Nordstrom's personalized service results in customers feeling individually attended to.

So, what's the feature-benefit model for brand You? Do you consistently deliver work on time? Your customers can rely on dependable, strategic service. Do you proactively solve problems? Your clients save money and avoid headaches. Are you known for completing projects within budget? Cost overruns are not part of your vocabulary.

Next, discard the traditional descriptors associated with your job and title. Forget about job descriptions and think about what you're genuinely proud of accomplishing. What can you unabashedly take credit for?

Now, ask yourself one final question to define your brand: What do you aspire to be famous for?

Crafting Your Pitch

The age-old adage holds true: don't sell the steak; sell the sizzle. This principle, understood by every corporate brand, applies to brand You as well. However, there's a significant challenge—creating visibility when you lack a corporate budget.

So, how do you market brand You?

One approach is to explore moonlighting opportunities or take on extra projects within your organization to showcase your skills and expand your network. Alternatively, consider freelancing to connect with new groups of people who can sing your praises and enhance your reputation.

Teaching a class at a local college or adult education program can position you as an expert and increase your professional standing. Additionally, contributing to local newspapers, professional newsletters, or company publications can help you gain visibility.

For those with strong communication skills, participating in panel discussions or presenting at workshops and conferences can multiply your visibility. The hardest part is getting started, but a few successful presentations can lead to major speaking opportunities.

Remember, everything you do (or choose not to do) communicates your brand's value and character. From phone conversations to email messages and meeting conduct, it all matters. Packaging counts, even in the design of your brand You business card.

The crux of any personal branding campaign is “word-of-mouth marketing.” Your network of friends, colleagues, clients, and customers is your most critical marketing channel. What they say about you and your contributions defines the value of your brand. Building your brand involves actively nurturing your network.

Unleashing the True Power of You

To elevate your brand, you must embrace a concept often misunderstood and misused: power. However, it's essential to recognize that power is not inherently negative. In fact, it's a critical element of personal branding, but we're talking about a different kind of power—influence power.

Influence power is about being known for making a substantial contribution in your field and building a solid reputation. Whether you're an academic measuring citations, a consultant with CEOs in your Rolodex, or any other professional, your influence power matters. It's this kind of power that attracts us to brands; we want to associate with brands that radiate authority.

In the workplace, there are power dynamics worth navigating without coming across as self-absorbed. Small, subtle actions can make a significant difference. For instance, volunteer to write meeting agendas to shape discussions or offer to write post-project reports to define the narrative. Power, especially in the context of personal branding, is largely about perception, and you can lead without formal authority.

Today's world is project-oriented, and understanding this is key to growing your brand. Projects are vehicles for showcasing your skills and achievements. If you're not spending most of your time on projects, you're falling behind. Think, work, and act in projects to boost your brand You.

To enhance your brand, adopt the mindset of a brand manager. Think about what assets you can add to strengthen your presence. Consider whether a simple line extension (incremental skill development) or a whole new product line (venturing outside your comfort zone) is the right move.

Your résumé is no longer a static list of titles and positions. It's a marketing brochure for brand You. Keep it updated to reflect your growth and accomplishments.

The Value of Loyalty

Loyalty is far from dead; it's more critical than ever. However, it's not blind loyalty to a corporate logo but loyalty to colleagues, teams, projects, customers, and yourself. Being the CEO of Me Inc. necessitates self-focus, growth, and self-promotion, which ultimately benefit the company.

Any company should encourage your efforts to develop yourself, as it's mutually beneficial. The projects you lead, networks you build, customers you please, and braggables you create all contribute to the firm's success. Free agency allows you to maintain this win-win dynamic.

In the age of free agency, treating your résumé as a marketing brochure is essential. Regularly assess your brand's value by seeking feedback from your “user's group” or equivalent. Going on job interviews or merely seeking feedback helps you gauge your market worth. It's not disloyalty; it's responsible brand management that benefits both you and your current employer.

The Future of Brand You

The traditional concept of careers with linear progressions and corporate ladders has become obsolete. The future of “You” is no longer about climbing upwards; it's about creating a diverse career portfolio, akin to a checkerboard or a maze. This portfolio comprises a series of projects that expand your skill set, expertise, and capabilities while constantly redefining your personal brand.

In this evolving landscape, the idea of becoming a manager is no longer the ultimate goal. Managers are often associated with dead-end jobs. Instead, focus on engaging in more intriguing and challenging projects. The direction of your career, whether it moves sideways, forward, or even backward, becomes irrelevant in the context of project-based growth.

Reinvent yourself periodically, guided by a personal mission statement that defines your passion and values. What motivates you? Is it learning, technical expertise, innovation, or pursuing what you love? Regularly review and adapt your mission statement to ensure it aligns with your evolving goals.

Regardless of your current role, measure yourself against four essential criteria. First, be an exceptional teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, become an expert in an area with genuine value. Third, cultivate a visionary mindset, encompassing leadership, teaching, and forward-thinking. Fourth, be a pragmatic businessperson, dedicated to achieving tangible outcomes.

Remember, you are your own brand, and you have the power to shape it. There is no single path to success, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating the brand called You. The key is to start today, adapt continuously, and stay true to your mission.

Tom Peters, a renowned expert on the new economy, emphasizes the importance of taking charge of your personal brand in this evolving landscape. The future is dynamic, and success depends on your ability to navigate and reinvent your career.

Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson

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