When we think of personal brands, we normally think of celebrities. People like APJ Abdul Kalam, Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone or Virat Kohli.
Each of them is a strong personal brand, with well-etched characteristics and appeal. But what is less clear to us is how non-celebrities, including many of us, can build our personal brands within our own networks.
The fact is that each of us is a brand because our colleagues and friends carry specific perceptions about us. They have views regarding our functional strengths, our maturity (or lack of it) and our overall personality — all of which makes each of us a distinct brand.
Therefore, given that we cannot avoid being a personal brand, we have only two alternatives — either permit our brand to grow by default, or make a conscious effort to evolve our own brand imprint.
In my view, the latter is by far the preferable option, because we can then, like good marketers, sharpen and shape our own personal brand, and make it one of our most important assets in life. On the other hand, if you don’t work on your own brand, then others will shape it based entirely on their own perceptions, and the result may not necessarily be to your liking.
The question then arises, what are the factors that go into the making of a personal brand, with specific reference to professionals?
A good understanding of these factors is important, so that we can be conscious of them, and also work on them.
I would like to submit that there are five factors that go towards creating a personal brand — Expertise, Expression, Emotion, Engagement and, interestingly, Everything Else.
Here is a brief exploration of these five Es.
At the core of a professional’s personal brand is his or her area of expertise. Some of us may be skilled in marketing, others in manufacturing, and yet others in brain surgery. We build these skills over the years, and at any point in our careers, we have already accumulated a set of skills through experience and learning — which constitutes our expertise. The deeper we build these skills, the more our expertise will be respected, and sought after, by our organisations and colleagues.
Your personal brand will then revolve around your expertise as a consumer marketer, or data scientist, or Professor of Finance. To build this attribute, we need to constantly hone our skills in at least one core area, and do everything we can to eventually achieve mastery in this subject of choice. Some versatile professionals can also consider building expertise in more than one area.
Expertise alone is not enough in building a personal brand. What is your preferred form of expression, through which your expertise is conveyed to your colleagues? Are you, by nature, a man or woman of detail? Or, on the other hand, are you a big picture person, who would rather not be obsessing about every small detail? Are you a problem solver, who derives fulfilment from constantly evolving solutions to issues? Or are you a lateral thinker, who relishes generating new ideas all the time?
Are you a left-brained, data-centred analyst, or are you a right-brained storyteller who thinks and talks visually all the time? These are all alternate modes of expression, which highlight what need you are most likely to fulfil within your team, and hence will feed into your personal brand.
A third factor that contributes to building a personal brand is the primary set of emotions associated with the professional. Some people are serious and matter-of-fact in their dealings. Some others are constantly critical and enjoy being in fault-finding mode. And then there are people who always radiate positivity, even as they are objectively critical where required. There are some professionals who are calm and composed at all times, and others who are prone to mood-swings and temper tantrums. Your primary set of emotions add to your personal brand image, creating a third dimension that is very different from both expertise and expression. You need to be aware of the emotions you are radiating every day to your colleagues, and also which of these you would like to further strengthen or change.
Your brand is also defined by how you engage with your colleagues and friends. There are professionals who confine themselves to formal engagements in conference rooms or offices. At the other extreme, there are people who engage very informally, discussing the most relevant matters with great ease, over a cup of tea, or during walks after lunch.
Some people wait for others to drop into their offices, whereas others reach out actively to engage, walking across to your cubicle for a conversation. How you engage leads to perceptions about how accessible you are, thus contributing to an important aspect of your personal brand.
Finally, the fifth factor in building a personal brand is “Everything Else” in your life. Are you a foodie, or a movie buff, or a marathon runner, or a pet lover, or a photographer, or perhaps a trekker? How do you bring your passions into your professional networks, seamlessly and constructively — and, ideally, how do you add value to the lives of your colleagues through your passions? “Everything else” adds zing to your brand, because it speaks about you as a person, and not as just another efficient cog in the wheel.
As you think about building your personal brand, do reflect on these five factors, because you can then consciously shape them through your daily actions. Most importantly, be aware that a personal brand is for everyone, and you can build your own.
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