Most people think of branding as something to do with cows and bulls! While it’s true that the term ‘branding’ originally applied to heads (or rumps, more appropriately!) of cattle meant for the purpose of identification, many of its implications in today’s context still remain true. In a sense, you are identifying the “ownership” of an object through branding.
In advertising, this makes a lot of sense. A ‘brand’, in this context, is essentially a stamp of approval that stands for certain qualities. For example, whatever the iPhone may or may not represent, the iPhone ‘brand’ brings to mind innovation, experience and exclusivity. Similarly, irrespective of whether or not you like Levis, you know that the Levis ‘brand’ is known for certain things like ruggedness, comfort and casual clothing. In advertising, however, the branding – unlike in cattle farming – is not a simple process. It often takes years of sending consistent messages to the public and then backing that up with products that deliver on their promises.
Personal branding is much the same. It is often a lifelong effort to achieve a consistent image that appeals to everyone who is important to you. The fact that “everyone who is important to you” has been included in the definition is of significance: you cannot and should not attempt to please absolutely everyone through your branding activities – it is meant exclusively for those who can further your career and life. As such, it then becomes easier to identify your true target audience.
Who is your Target?
This is a very important step in the branding process. As you identify the target groups that are most impacted by your efforts, you will realize that not everyone is after the same thing. In the iPhone example above, some people may find the design aspects alluring; others might not care about design but might look at functionality and convenience as the most important factors; yet others might just want an iPhone because it’s cool to have one! This divergence in preferences need not confuse you. After all, if the iPhone can appeal to so many various sub-groups, why not your personal brand?
Once you know who your potential ‘takers’ might be – prospective employers, potential girlfriends/boyfriends and so on – it is time to review your own qualities and see where you can make the most impact by positioning your brand appropriately. This is done in much the same way as a product advertisement would approach the problem: list out your best qualities, find the right words that highlight and emphasize each of them, and then come up with a tagline that represents the ‘new you.’ This is your verbal brand, and this is what your ideal social network profile or your résumé title might read.
The next stop is your visual brand.
This part of your personal branding is the way you look – a very important part, in face. Unfortunately, in a world where people pretend not to judge a book by its cover, that is exactly what they will do with you. Therefore, be prepared. Don’t let your physical appearance be your weakness. We’re not talking about being beautiful or handsome; we’re talking about being presentable, pleasing to the eye, color-coordinated and fashion-conscious.
Of course, your visual brand will depend entirely on your career aspirations. If your ultimate goal is to be the head of a corporation, then obviously the Ozzy Osborne look isn’t going to cut it. Similarly, if you’re an aspiring rock star, then don’t dress up like a butler. The way you look should be dictated by the way you want to be perceived. If you want to be seen as a business professional, then dress like one. If you want to look artistic, the same applies. Your look should be congruent with your chosen profession, which, in turn, should match the personal tagline you’ve developed.
Next, you need to make a trip to the professional branding section.
This part is about setting yourself up for successful career. This might include the people you know casually and professionally. Choose your associations very carefully because, like it or not, you’ll be sharing their branding. If you’re looking for a position as a senior manager in a software company, then your online professional contacts should ideally have similar profiles. You don’t have to choose who you’re friends with on a personal level, but you need to build a network of professional contacts that may even just be acquaintances.
The purpose of building such a network is fairly obvious: when a prospective employer searches for you online, he should be able to see that you’re serious about your career and that you have like-minded professionals as friends. It really helps if they know one or two of them, too. It helps build trust in their minds, and that’s basically what branding boils down to – setting the foundation for that trust.
This is not something you will be able to read about anywhere, but everyone knows what it is. Essentially, this is the after-taste that people have about you after meeting you and working with you. It can be in the form of references from former employers, recommendations from friends in the industry, etc.
In a sense, this is your past, and should contain all the good things that people have said about you in the past. In format, it could be a collection of testimonials and thank you messages. You don’t have to be elaborate about the way it looks, but the content needs to be rich and meaningful. If your former CEO once sent you an email congratulating you on something, hold on to that email – that’s one of the things that should definitely go into your reputational branding.
Putting it all Together
Once you have all the above branding elements in place, you need to put it all together. You might think of creating a dossier of sorts, with all the information in sequence, or you might have each in a separate format and put it on a CD.
Irrespective of what formats you decide to have your branding in, they need to be attractive and easy to read at a glance. Make sure you highlight what’s important and leave out the non-relevant bits. Only put what’s essential and relevant to your purpose.