Creating the Best Personal ‘Brand’

Creating the Best Personal ‘Brand’It’s the new ‘hot topic’ – how to create a brand for yourself.  Dozens of articles have been written about it, even in such august publications as Forbes.  Some of the advice out there isn’t bad, but in general, it has one major flaw: it focuses on how to get yourself noticed, not how to assure that you are what you’re selling.

What’s the difference?  Well, think about Wells Fargo.  Banks build their reputation on your confidence in their commitment to safeguard your money.  It’s foundational to their brands.  Wells Fargo, like other banks, sold consumers on their commitment to safety and wise use of your funds.  Then they did exactly what a bank shouldn’t do – violated the trust of its customers.  Now they’re forced to rebuild a brand from scratch.  In April, they launched a new advertising campaign with this announcement: “Wells Fargo is launching a new, integrated marketing campaign – “Building better every day” – that builds on the company’s commitment to rebuilding trust and creating a better bank for customers, team members, and communities.”

Note that this isn’t all about their advertising campaign.  Wells Fargo acknowledges it needs to re-establish the truth behind its promises to be ‘better’.

So when you think about your personal ‘brand’, let’s start with what makes a good personal brand that is consistent with your ability to deliver on what you promise in that trademark you’re creating.

We can look to how certain products are marketed for some clues about what people value.  For example, insurance products brand themselves as steady and sustainable – “We’ll be there for you when you need us”.  Liberty Mutual touts that you get what you expect, not what the company wants to pay.  The companies all emphasize predictability.

Your brand should also be clear about similar messages:

  • That you are steady and dependable. Companies generally prefer ‘no drama’, so while you may want to bring out your innovativeness and entrepreneurial spirit, underneath it all you need to be sure you can be a reliable long-term performer.
  • That you are what is expected – what they see is what they get. Organizations need to rely on your characterizations of yourself.  Your job is to make sure you can do what you say you can.

Other products play up how the company cares for people.  State Farm Insurance is ‘like a good neighbor’ – always there to help.  Hallmark’s entire brand is built around greeting cards being a brand of caring for one another.  Even Dove’s men’s deodorant and soap is sold with ads about how real men care.

Caring about others is central to your personal brand as well.  It’s an element often missed in the drive to show individual strengths.  But caring commitment to others is a differentiator – even putting others ahead of yourself when needed.  Can you claim a differentiating level of commitment to others as part of your brand?

Many successful ad campaigns focus on legacy.  Several, like Chipotle, emphasize their sustainability practices.  Some get behind social causes, like anti-smoking campaigns, committing to deep and meaningful impact.

Your brand needs to also create a sense of the ‘cultural’ legacy you’ll leave.  It’s not all about you.  It’s about how you will leave your organization – and its ecosystem – a better place through your effort.

Appreciation is another theme that sells in branding.  Proctor & Gamble, had its tear-jerking ‘Thank You, Mom’ ads during the 2012 London Olympics.  Many ads give appreciation to servicemen, mentors, and friends.

Part of your trademark should also be appreciating others and what they do/have done to help make you who you are today – and who help you to become what you’re promising in your personal brand.

Get the message?  Branding yourself is, first and foremost, making sure you are selling – and delivering on – the things people love and respect in everyone, before you ever try to sell what’s new and innovative and unique about you.  Next time you look at a TV or print ad, check out the meta-message: what is the fundamental appeal being made, and what does that tell you about what people value?  Those may very well be some of the traits you want to cultivate in yourself and then make part of your story.


Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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