What is a Personal Brand and Why Do I Need One?

I talk a lot about personal branding in my work. It's so natural to me that I forget some people aren't even quite sure what I'm talking about, much less how to follow my advice. So today I'm taking a few steps back and explaining why I believe it's so important to create a strong personal brand that will elevate you as you shape your career.

Personal Brand: Defined

Your personal brand is your reputation. It's how people perceive you. Your brand is more important than your job title or where you went to school.

You personal brand is the collection of stories you tell. It's the advice you dispense. It's why people seek you out over others.

Don't confuse it with your personality. While some of your personality traits may shape your personal brand, it's really more about the professional "you."

Think about Rihanna. Everything that comes to mind about her - her work, her image, her attitude - these are all components that make up her brand. You know exactly how she's different than say, Miley.

Start thinking about your brand by completing the following activity:

Ask 3 colleagues to list what they consider to be your number one professional strength. List these out in a matrix. Then look for patterns.

personal branding for your career
personal branding for your career

What's In It For Me?

Part of the reason I love the concept of personal branding so much is that YOU are in charge of how (and what) you want others to think of you. You can quickly lead people to what you're good at and how they should remember you. This is vital for networking, especially if you're in the job market.

Yesterday I read an article titled, "Screw Personal Branding - I'm a Person, Not a Product." The author argued that she isn't willing to be defined one way and be tied up in a pretty bow, targeted for a specific audience. That's great for her and I hear her frustrations. But the fact is - for most of us early in our careers if we don't lead prospective employers and colleagues to exactly what we want to be known for, they probably aren't going to take the time to figure it out themselves. We'll just be passed over.

I just love this quote from designers Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street of Braid Creative. They say,

"Maybe being an expert is just clearly articulating what you're best at."

If you did the activity above, then you already know what others see as your strengths. Now it's time to figure out if that's the identity that feels right to you.

Complete the following sentence. "I want to be known for _________________________."

Building Your Brand

Like most communication, the more narrow and focused you can be, the better. For example, if you work in fashion, narrow in on how you excel within the larger industry. Who do you support (designer, marketing department, merchandising)? What is your specific sweet spot in your current role? What have you accomplished that has been celebrated?

On the flip side, you may want to brand yourself less on what's required in your current job and more on where you want to be. This doesn't require much work, as long as you have the experience to back it up.

For instance, you may have worked in a corporate setting as an advertising assistant, but now you're more interested in focusing on event planning. Say you've assisted on a few events, especially with logistics, but youve excelled in securing sponsorship and ad space. Rather than branding yourself just as an "Events Specialist," what if you framed yourself as a "Promotional Events Coordinator"? That way you're highlighting your unique role within the events world and remaining true to your experience.

Launching Your Brand

Above everything else, branding requires consistency. It can feel strange to say the same thing over and over about yourself, but people have to hear something repeatedly for it to stay with them.

Start with scripting your personal pitch. Otherwise known as the "elevator pitch," this is your 20-30 second story, highlighting your unique attributes and what you're looking for in a professional opportunity. It's intended to grab someone's attention and leave them wanting to know more. That means you don't have to cover your entire career - from college to current job - just those pieces most relevant to your professional identity today.

You'll also need a short professional summary that can be highlighted on LinkedIn and on your resume as a summary statement. This should be 1-3 sentences max and can be pulled directly from your personal pitch.

As you refine your brand, you'll notice you start exuding more confidence as you talk about yourself with others. A strong brand requires application and an outside perspective. Remember, it's all about how people perceive you! If you're not getting feedback from a coach, ask friends and colleagues to weigh in. What you're intending to communicate may need some refining and that's okay!

And finally, know that your personal brand won't stay the same forever. You will evolve as will your career path, and as it does be flexible to shift how you present yourself. You're amazing and the world deserves to hear about it.