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Personal Branding and Me 2.0 (Part 2)

Posted on Sunday, Apr 26th 2009

By Guest Author Dan Schawbel

[Dan continues with a discussion of what a personal brand is and things to consider when building and maintaining one.]

What is a personal brand? Since personal branding is used in public relations, marketing, entrepreneurship, social media, and more many different interpretations of the term have arisen. I was able to solve this confusion by generating a wiki, which is a website that enables collaboration through real-time editing. I then organized a team of global branding experts, including William Arruda, Krishna De, and Mike Myatt, to edit the wiki and develop a definition that accurately summarizes the objectives and goals of personal branding. That definition […] can be boiled down to this: how we market ourselves to others.

What It Means to Be You Inc.

We need to keep certain unspoken guidelines in mind when creating You Inc. Successful personal brands need to be authentic, have a good reputation, and be discovered by the right people.

Authenticity Is Required

Why do you need to be real? Because everyone else is taken and replicas don’t sell for as much! To be a brand means to be authentic. Marketing spin is counterproductive; people filter it out of their minds and send it into a black hole, never to return. If you are presenting yourself as a marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company when you are really a cocktail waitress at a nightclub, you obviously aren’t legit. You will notice that many individuals who label themselves as “experts” or “world-recognized” professionals are exaggerating. Those who pretend to be someone they are not run the risk of being exposed. Just as good romantic relationships are based on genuineness, openness, and a willingness to be up front from the start, in business, your relationships depend on authenticity. Authenticity showcases exactly who you are and what you can deliver. For example, if you brand yourself as a freelance writer, you should be able to back that up with a portfolio of solid writing samples. There is a misconception that branding is all about changing who you are in order to fit others’ expectations. While image management is typically just that—a product of conscious manipulation—personal branding is about sincerity. Being authentic also includes maintaining open communication and assuming accountability for your actions. Dishonesty will attract more attention than honesty, and the truth always comes out eventually. Rather than constructing a false image and working hard to maintain a deception, you should pay attention to what is truthful and amazing about you and work hard to make the most of it.

A company fails to maintain authenticity when it uses false advertising or when its sales force persuades prospective customers to purchase a product they won’t enjoy. Would you trust someone who sells you an ugly jacket by telling you that you look gorgeous in it? Each salesperson needs to carry an accurate and truthful message, because that sales rep’s customer interactions are a reflection of the corporate brand. Any malpractice must be cleared up and the proper spokesperson should apologize immediately. As your own best salesperson, you need to represent brand You authentically. To be authentic is to be transparent—online as well as in person. Online deceptions are just waiting to be discovered. Thanks, Google! Here are some examples of brands that maintain a positive online authenticity:

  • Redfin: Glenn Kelman, known as the “see-through CEO,” set up a blog, where he posted about the nasty politics and bad practices conducted in the real estate business (Wired magazine, 2007). He publicized Redfin’s internal debates and arguments about its website design. He even spoke about how he was at a college campus and not a single student went up to network with him. As a result of the blog, Redfin was closing many more deals a day, despite the comments section, where old-school agents fought back harshly.
  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest started a coauthored blog by 30 employees from the top down to the bottom of the corporate ladder, with conversations relating to work life. 
  • Zappos: This company has a companywide wiki that acts as a feedback loop between employees and management to get problems resolved.
  • You need to represent yourself accurately at all times. Just like a corporation, if you don’t take ownership of your brand, you’ll be stuck forever with how the world initially judges you. To have a successful career and save yourself the agony of harsh judgment, make transparency and authenticity an important concern.

    Your Brand Reputation Can Make or Break You

    Why do you think customers purchase from certain corporations over others? Why do companies spend the largest portion of their marketing budget on branding? Customers purchase based on trust and are willing to pay more for a product and brand they are comfortable with. Effective branding creates customer loyalty, even evangelism. Companies that maintain reputable brands are more successful in gaining and keeping customer attention.

    So what does this mean for you as you think about ways to develop your personal brand? As a brand, you can achieve a positive reputation, much like the reputations of companies you admire. Beyond garnering customer attention and loyalty, a major benefit of maintaining a reputable brand—either individually or corporately—is that people will be much more willing to forgive a historically trustworthy company if it fails to meet a specific expectation, such as fast service, provided it shows efforts to resolved the problem. In contrast, when a company has a long history of poor service and there is yet another problem, customers will be likely to seek better treatment from a competitor—and there are always lots of competitors eager for the business. Your brand reputation should operate in the same way—building credibility and showcasing your character, attitudes, and actions in ways that instill good feelings in others.

    It is your responsibility to put your brand in a favorable light without engaging in excessive promotion. Too much self-promotion, whether among friends, colleagues, or potential contacts, can make you come of as egotistical or self-superior and have a disastrous effect on your brand. Your trail of self-promotion will leave behind a dark cloud that is visible to all. For example, an excessive self-promoter who constantly reminds coworkers of personal achievements in a desperate search for attention and gratification actually alienates potential colleagues and allies.

    This segment is part 2 in the series : Personal Branding and Me 2.0
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