by Guest blogger Katja Gagen
I recently had the pleasure of joining a panel as part of Fountain Blue’s Women in Leadership Series. The event drew about 100 attendees and focused on “Building and Reinforcing Your Executive Brand”.
It was expertly organized by industry veteran Linda Holroyd and hosted by PayPal.
The impressive number of attendees coming together on a Friday afternoon shows how much interest there is in creating your own brand. When speaking with a few of the attendees, I was reminded that we all strive to build a brand that is authentic and compelling. How do you do this successfully? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times throughout my career so I wanted to share my thoughts with you:
While you are not a bag of chips or a luxury car, you share a common theme with all consumer products – you are a brand too. When someone thinks of a particular snack or item of clothing it summons up a unique combination of images and thoughts. In the same way, when a colleague or employer sees you, your resume or a product of your efforts, it calls forth a special mix of characteristics and feelings. That mix is your brand, and managing it is a major part of managing your career.
Unlike a food or other product marketer, you don’t manage your brand with ad campaigns and distribution deals. Instead, you build it with your own personal actions. Here are four key concepts for creating a personal brand that will help open doors, give you opportunities and advance your career.
Branding is about how others perceive you, but it starts within. Before you do anything to create and communicate your brand, you need to know who you are, what you stand for and what your strengths are. Being authentic and confident will make it easy and natural to communicate genuinely with others. And, equally importantly, it will help keep you from building a brand that takes you somewhere you don’t want to go!
After you’ve looked within, direct your attention outward to develop a strategy for your career and brand. At this point, focus on others and listen more than you speak. Be mindful, aware and deliberate. Know what the purpose of any communication is before you seek it. Direct your communication to people who can teach, mentor and support your efforts.
Relationships can make you or break you. You know that. So now is the time to start building those connections because, when a crisis occurs, it’s too late to make friends. Effective relationship building requires a consistently balanced approach. For instance, you need to focus on fixing problems without complaining about them. You need to be someone people can rely on to tell it like it is, without going too far and being threatening. And you have to ensure that you help the people around you succeed, in order to promote your own success. That is real connection.
None of this does you any good if it isn’t connected to you. This is the part where you make yourself visible. If calling it self-promotion makes you uncomfortable, think of it as taking a stand. If you are too accommodating, self-deprecating and unassuming, you may come across as uninterested in reaching higher. Now is the time to let your passion show. But also be ready to be humble, roll up your sleeves and do the hard work or take a leadership role as needed. Think back to when you were crafting an authentic brand in tune with your real self. That will help you to take stands. Be ready to go public, speaking and tweeting to support your position. And be able to change your view if necessary. Should you become a target, you will be extra-appreciative of the support network you put in place.
Attaining and actively managing your own personal brand takes effort and deliberate thought and execution and while it is different than what a consumer products company is up against it still carries the same importance. The most significant difference is that you may not be able to change who you are, but you can change the way others perceive you. Managing that perception is what personal branding is all about. And you don’t have to do it perfectly –doing something better will always beat out doing nothing at all.
So be authentic, strategize, connect and be visible. Your brand is you, and you are worth the effort to take it to the world.