A carefully constructed identity

We are more naked than ever. We haven’t been this exposed since the time of the cavemen and their minimalist leather coverings. The Internet is of course changing the way the world works in so many ways. As a result, we are now presented with a huge opportunity to create a name for ourselves – our own unique brand that the world can see. This is optional of course, but not being proactive risks the chance that the world will brand you as they see you, not necessarily who you actually are.

The following is an excerpt from an interview on the topic of personal branding I had with Ingrid Hartmann from Elev8 You Personal Marketing in Vancouver.

David O’Hagan – Personal branding has definitely been gaining popularity recently, at least as a term. Branding has been around forever and up until recently has been largely left to the corporate realm.

Ingrid Hartmann – Yes, but that’s all changing now, largely due to the impact of the Internet and its mass of easily available information and specifically Web 2.0 social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. In addition, with the rise of professional services and contracting paired with declining job security, professionals are realizing the importance of marketing their own niche while promoting the company they work for. Now we all have a brand whether we like it or not. So the question you need to ask yourself is, Do you like your brand?

DO – I love this idea! Different people do put different weight into how they are perceived (Paris Hilton vs the cave-dwelling mountain man in western Idaho), but everyone is essentially giving off a ‘frequency’ by their actions (or inactions).

IH – That’s true, there are both tangible and intangible ways we give off messages about who we are and what we stand for. A person’s business card is part of their brand, whether they are an employee or have their own company. Going to an event without a business card is giving off a signal about yourself, as well as presenting a professional business card with an email address like partyboy@hotmail.com.

DO – Agreed! I find it interesting how I still see people with these types of email addresses on their cards or on their web sites. I also find it interesting many people have never done a search on their own name. Even if you’re not famous and don’t have your own web site or blog, there is often a surprising amount of public information available on you, especially with sites like Zoom Info compiling information on us behind the scenes. Zoom Info had pulled information on me from a number of sites including my company site, my blog, a colleague’s site, and an alumni site. And I’m sure that this type of automated information gathering process will continue to expand and proliferate as more and more information is available online.

DO – You had mentioned something earlier that had intrigued me about the idea that personal branding allows you to align the perceptions of others with your own. It would make sense that although we see ourselves one way, others potentially can view us differently (not necessarily deliberately, but acting on what information they have received or experienced), which may be to our disadvantage. Can you elaborate on this?

IH – Sure. Regardless of your position, support or strategic, you already have a personal brand based on how others perceive you, whether by reputation or through experience. Your brand determines how your clients, colleagues, manager, team members, etc. interact with you. It may impact whether you get the next promotion, high profile project or desirable client. It is important to gather information on how others view us (if you have access to a 360˚ Survey – take advantage of it!). In doing so, we can ensure it aligns with our vision of our own brand and we can identify any gaps between how we want to be seen and how we actually are perceived. Personal branding is about a systematic way to build the brand qualities we want others to see in us so that the brands others put to us align with the brand identity we see for ourselves.

Look at yourself as a product and build up credibility and trust through the value that you provide (and how that value is distinct from others like colleagues, competitors, etc.) For example, if you want to be known as the “go-to guy” in your office, you need to ensure you’re making yourself approachable and accessible.

DO – I like this concept because I strongly believe that successful people and businesses are those that put significant effort into focusing on what makes them unique and then really differentiating themselves.

Everyone is in competition with others, regardless of whether they like it or not. (Even companies that develop a brand new technology that doesn’t exist yet, will soon have others trying to steal market share from them.) As a simple example, take a chiropractor that has recently been certified. He’s very excited about his new business and eager to help people. And what does he do, joins a clinic (or sets up his own) and markets himself the traditional way all the other chiropractors do (i.e. does some advertising, joins a networking group, etc). If he’s decent at chiropractic, he’ll do all right, but probably not highly successful unless he stops, assesses his himself and his practice, and makes a conscious decision to actively differentiate himself from his competition. As a simple example, If he had worked previously in the construction industry, he could target construction companies and be the chiropractor of choice, working half the week from a mobile chiro unit that visits construction sites. This is obviously desirable for the construction worker who doesn’t have to get cleaned up and travel to an office, while very time-saving since he (or she!) doesn’t have to extend his already long day by traveling to an office on the other side of the city.

So he’s now branding himself as the mobile chiropractor that can not only ‘talk-the-talk’ of the construction industry, but knows intimately the types of issues and injuries construction workers are dealing with due to his background in this industry.

OK Ingrid, you mentioned consistency and the fact that successful companies are ones that have a consistent perception by the public. Why is this key for individuals as well?

IH – Yes, just like successful corporate brands emphasize a consistent message and “look and feel”, an individual must also reinforce his or her personal brand. It is also important for a personal brand to be authentic and focused. In order to achieve this, the brand must truly reflect the individual’s values and aspirations. Most importantly, the individual needs to believe in their unique personal brand as a true reflection of himself or herself for it to be convincing to others.

DO – Good point. I go to a lot of networking events and am often astounded at how few people can present themselves or their businesses in an interesting way. Being the gentleman that I am (chuckles) I am polite and listen, but many people are selling themselves short by not assessing how they present themselves in that first introduction. Most people are going to these events to build their business or get more clients, but there are many lost opportunities due to the fact that they’re often not making a good first impression.

To me its not what you say and how well you can sell your business or products/services, but how interesting you are. Few people remember the details of the conversations they had (even the next day), but what they do remember are: 1. interesting jobs/companies (sky diving instructors or submarine mechanics), and/or 2. engaging personalities (the person made you laugh, made you think, told a great story, etc).

IH – When we are clear on who we are and where we’re going, we project this confidence and clarity to others. Therefore, it’s important to be ready to talk about your personal brand with whomever you happen to meet through chance encounters. By being conscious of your personal brand it ensures you’re ready to promote yourself when casual, unplanned opportunities come up. For example, use water cooler talk with an executive as a chance to talk about enjoying your leadership role in an important new project, rather than chit-chatting about the weather.

DO – I always like getting practical, so how do you recommend someone get going on creating their personal brand?

IH – I recommend starting out with a marketing plan. The plan should definitely include an elevator pitch, a 30 second statement that includes your key attributes and things that are unique about you. It should be memorable so you could include a quick story about yourself or a metaphor to describe what you do. Try something like “think of me as a firefighter since I spend my days putting out fires at my office”. Since boundaries are blurring between professional and personal lives, don’t be afraid to include a hobby or lifestyle description in your personal brand or elevator speech. Let colleagues know if you play in a band on weekends or coach your twin sons’ soccer team if they are important to you. Additionally, a vision statement and measurable goals are important to include in your marketing plan. Then, and this is important, you need to constantly reinforce the elements within the plan on a regular basis.

DO – That makes sense. Like so many things, you need to repeat it to ingrain it in your thinking so its second nature. This will take some work and some thinking initially, but once you get rolling your brand and the perception that others have of you will really begin to take shape and impact your efforts and levels of success.

Personal brands are not yet like CVs in the job search process. It’s a given that when applying for a job you will need to present your experience in a CV. Its not required that you have a strong personal brand when you apply for a job, or seek promotion, or start a business. You can still have a first-mover advantage of sorts. Knowing yourself well and having a clear picture of what you can offer is undoubtedly valuable and gives you an advantage over a colleague or competitor if they do not.

IH – You’re exactly right, David, when you say a personal brand isn’t required; in fact, most people don’t have one. Consequently, developing and maintaining your personal brand will definitely give you the edge over your competition. Also, many people don’t think about the messages they are giving off to the world about who they are and what they do. In today’s competitive environment, having a personal brand helps you to communicate who your are and what is unique about you so you are focused and thus can make more meaningful and memorable connections with potential employers or someone you met at a networking event.

DO – And I’m guessing that like any business strategy, your personal branding and marketing strategy should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it remains true to you.

IH – Definitely. I would recommend re-evaluating it on an annual basis. It can be an informal evaluation, but should reflect back on your marketing strategy to see if it is still inline with your values and vision. There often aren’t significant changes, but people and desires and goals evolve based on experience and therefore your personal marketing strategy should remain inline with your vision for your life.

DO – Great. Well thanks so much Ingrid for your time and the very interesting discussion. And if someone is interested in talking to you more about personal branding and marketing, what should they do?

IH – Have them check out our web site at www.elev8you.com or give me a call at 604.737.3646.