“You too are brand. Whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not.”—Marc Eckō, Founder/CEO, Marc Eckō Enterprises
Self-branding—also known as personal branding—has been around for almost two decades. It was first mentioned in a Fast Company article in the late 1990s. At the time, most people did not engage in creating their own personal brands. The ones who did were primarily in the high-tech world—Bill Gates is intrinsically linked with Microsoft. And Steve Jobs will always be associated with Apple. Today, more executives have embraced self-branding, from Sir Richard Branson and Virgin to Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook.
But not all of us are billionaire entrepreneurs. So, what’s in it for executives—whether they are the head of a start-up or a veteran business owner—who aren’t? In two words: a lot. Self-branding offers a multitude of benefits for the savvy user:
- It acts as an identifier as you develop and/or move your business to the level
- It provides you with a distinct advantage over your competition by highlighting your uniqueness
- It assists in opening doors and generating revenue
- It allows you to communicate who you are in a succinct, thoughtful and cohesive manner
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we are all on the same page as to what self-branding is exactly
At its most basic, it is who you are; what you do; want makes you unique. A self-brand that works is one that is nuanced and encompassing. The best definition I have found comes from Wikipedia, which defines self-branding as “the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands…It also involves creating an asset by defining an individual’s body, clothing, physical appearance and areas of knowledge in a way leading to a uniquely distinguishable, and ideally memorable, impression.”
A self-brand is much needed in today’s highly competitive environment
According to a Forbes 2013 article, more than 500,000 small businesses are started in the United States – each month. Does that mean half a million companies are going after your share of the pie? Absolutely not. But what it does mean is that the market is in hyper-drive. You have more competition than ever before going after your client base. Pre-2008, for many of us, business fell from the sky. Post-Great Recession, the new normal is now working harder to keep and get business and protect and grow the bottom line. Hence, you need every tool to achieve that, and self-branding is the tool that can help you to get what I call your “unfair share” of business-building attention.
Creating a self-brand isn’t hard, but it is time-consuming
The outcome will be worth the energy invested. There are five steps in creating a brand. Before you start, a couple of items to note:
- You need to define your objective – what do you want your brand to accomplish?
- If you’re the chief executive and/or founder, you must create a self-brand that complements your company’s brand. Developing a self-brand that conflicts with that of your organization’s own positioning can lead to confusion and mixed messaging. That can cause more harm than good.
Step one: Conduct an audit
You may be surprised at the difference of how you view yourself and how others see you. An audit will bring that to the forefront.
Here’s a list of questions I am traditionally asked when it comes to the audit process:
- What should I ask? The first question is very basic, but you may be taken aback by the answers: “What do I do?” I have conducted audits for clients, and the responses to this fundamental question can be eye-opening. This question will demonstrate how clearly you have been defining yourself – or not. Other questions to ask: “What adjectives would you use to describe me?”; “What value do I bring to the process?”; and, “What are my strengths?”. The question that strikes the most fear into most executive’s hearts is this one: “What can I do better?” No one wants to hear what they are doing wrong. Regardless, you need to ask it. This is an exercise in constructive criticism, and the responses you receive will create a stronger self-brand.
- Who should I audit? Reach out to your professional network: business associates, industry colleagues, networking contacts, clients and industry influencers who you know and trust.
Give respondents the option of doing the audit by phone or by email. This will encourage a greater response. I prefer doing audits by phone, because you get deeper answers through the conversation. However, if the preference is by email, then go with it.
Step two: Research yourself
LinkedIn is a *great* analytical tool, especially in seeing how you are perceived by others. Take a look at the “Endorsements” section and review the top five skills for which you are endorsed. Does this match the expertise that you want to be known for? Are those skills even within the top five? If those skills are number 10, 11, 12, then there is a definite need for realignment in how people are thinking of you.
Step three: Compile your data
Now is the time to review the content you’ve pulled together: the audit results and the research. What are the common threads; what surprises you; what’s missing; is everything that you feel is important adequately reflected (or is it omitted)? Is there a significant gap between reality and perception?
Step four: Create your statement
Now you create your self-branding statement based on the audit and research findings. It needs to reflect your value proposition, and your uniqueness. You need to keep it attention-grabbing and short—it’s akin to an elevator pitch, where you can describe your company in the time it takes to ride in an elevator.
What you can do is test it with a couple of audit respondents. Based on their responses, you will either leave the statement as is, or tweak it.
Step five: Live it!
Don’t spend all this time and effort and then put the project in a draw (I’ve seen that happen). Your branding should be threaded throughout everything you do, from how you introduce yourself at a networking event to your bio; in social media, review your LinkedIn summary and adjust it if needed be. Add in skills—or delete some—from your endorsements section. Look for opportunities—speaking engagements, bylined articles—where you can further support and showcase yourself and your brand.