Personal Branding – why bother?

Personal branding is a familiar topic, now that the world has been graced with the Beckham brand, the Brangelina brand, the Alan Sugar brand. It’s very easy to think that there’s no place for it in the real business world and yet each of these brands is incredibly successful, so isn’t it worth looking at whether personal branding could help you differentiate yourself, especially in this tough market?

Last month I was preparing a talk to a corporate women’s network and comparing notes with the other speaker for the evening. My topic was “Personal Branding” and hers “Public Relations” and we found a fascinating set of parallels between our two worlds. Where I’m concerned to ensure my coaching clients establish their reputation as leaders, her job is to help companies establish their corporate reputation. We set ourselves the challenge of answering the question “Why bother?” anticipating that both topics would meet with a certain degree of scepticism: aren’t reputations built on what you deliver, so don’t they take care of themselves?

It’s interesting for me, as a woman, to ponder whether men are better at branding than women and to wonder whether it has a bearing on the findings of a recent Equalities Commission that highlighted significant pay gaps for women in the Finance Sector. Ever since I discovered that Florence Nightingale was some kind of statistical genius who invented new ways of interpreting and communicating complicated data, I’ve wondered how she let herself be tagged with the mundane “Lady with the Lamp” (and whether this affected her take-home pay!)

Scott Bedbury, who was instrumental in building the Nike brand, talks of brands working because of the way they have of “tapping into the emotions”. He also stresses the importance of brands being based on values. My new best friend, the PR speaker, confirmed that she advises her clients to make sure they are clear about their company values well before they try to communicate with the outside world. She stressed the preparation work each company needed to do, particularly around establishing the company values, in advance of trying to launch any new product or service onto the market.

Individuals too need to do some preparation to make sure they know what their values are. It’s tempting to rely on the work you do to speak for itself, but remember the lady with the lamp… what do you want to be known for? Ask yourself what your values are, but be prepared to go beyond one word list. If “integrity” crops up, for example, ask yourself what it means to you: does it mean delivering on time – the deadline is the key, you get things done? Or does it mean you’re honest – if someone asks your opinion they get it right between the eyes: good, scrupulously fair, but perhaps slightly stinging feedback? These are the behaviour clues that give us insights into our values.

The next step is remembering your values and demonstrating them at every opportunity: making sure that you are consistent. The PR expert confirmed that this is also what she emphasises to her clients – and for a large company that means ensuring that all employees are “on message”. How hard can it be then in comparison for one individual to do just that for their own personal brand? You’d be surprised. Think about the time that your client asked you to deliver something within a much tighter timescale that you knew was reasonable. Were you tempted to say OK, and compromise on quality?

Standing out from the crowd is easier when you are comfortable with yourself – you have invested the time to know who you are and what you have to offer. Authenticity and consistency will get you noticed. So go out there and be different, be consistent and be successful!

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