A History of Branding
The focus of this article is to discuss branding, specifically personal branding. As Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, is often quoted “It’s what people say about you when you leave the room.”
Before we delve into my definition of personal branding, let’s journey back thousands of years. Branding is derived from the Ancient Norse word “brandr” meaning “to burn.” This refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back to the Indus Valley.
The definition of branding has changed over the centuries, what we brand, how we brand it, and why we brand it has evolved. It wasn’t used as a verb until the Middle Ages when it came to mean “make permanent with a hot iron.” By the 17th Century, it referred to a mark of ownership made by branding.
Michelangelo introduced a new type of “personal” branding. He signed his name, rather than a symbol, to his work.
In the United States, the original attempt at establishing federal trademarks was made in 1870, and in 1881 a Trademark Act was passed and then revised in 1905. This legislation protected companies’ product trademarks from competition. It formally allowed organizations to use logos and names.
Today, we want to make an emotional connection with our brands. There are a number of types of branding for humans: personal, social media, or professional. I feel people focus too much on social media branding. This is not who you are. It’s what you think or want people to believe you represent.
Personal Branding Defined
Clearly, branding is not a new concept; however, the idea of personal branding is a fairly new phenomenon. It was introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich. He talked about all “great fortunes begin in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of ideas.”
With Napoleon Hills’ definition in mind, I offer my own definition of personal branding. It is who you are, what you stand for, the values you embrace, and the way you exude those beliefs. It is your uniqueness. Or to make it succinct, “it is the real story about who you are.”
I’m not talking about using your personal brand for monetary purposes, like Michael Jordan, LeBron James or any of the Kardashians. I’m talking about how you are perceived by your peers, friends, colleagues, family, etc. A recent study found that 85% of hiring executives report that a job candidate’s personal brand influences their hiring decision. Your personal brand will signal to employers and professional colleagues whether or not you are the right fit for the organization.
Why Do You Need a Personal Brand?
Many people ask, “Why do I need a personal brand?” That is an appropriate question. A personal brand helps determine who you are and where you are going. Without a clear direction, you may never get out of your current rut. As the adage goes, “If you don’t have a direction, any road will get you there.”
Whether we like it or not, we all have a personal brand. Therefore, we might as well take control of what others say or think about us.
Building a personal brand can show the skills and qualities you possess. You define why they are important or how they differentiate you. Ultimately, a personal brand improves your value and worth. It gives you the opportunity to pinpoint where you want to go and not have other people control your destiny.
So what type of value proposition do you bring to your personal brand? What are you known for when you leave the room? Here are a few areas where people judge you:
a. Do you have a strong network? I’m not talking about having thousands of LinkedIn contacts. This focus is having people count on you when needed.
b. What about former colleagues? Do you still stay in contact with them? Do they reach out to you?
c. Are you an active member of a professional organization? Can the membership count on you for more than dues support? Are you there to pitch in and assist at functions?
d. Are you a giver or a taker? (You willingly assist when people turn to you when they need help. Or, you rarely respond when someone reaches out for assistance or guidance.)
e. Do you thank people when they assist you or your friends? Statistics show that only 30% of job seekers respond back to people who network with them when they secure employment. What happens to the other 70%? Do you think this same network will assist this person when he is seeking another position? What does it say about this personal brand?
a. What is your behavior at work? Are you there to support your colleagues or a hoarder of information?
b. Do you build teams? Are you a good team member? Do your coworkers want you on their team?
c. How are you at developing people? Do you only develop those who work for you? Do you spend time outside of work mentoring young professionals?
a. Are you considered a thought leader in your field? Can you recommend people who are content experts?
b. Can you hold confidence? Can you be trusted? Reputation and being trusted are the cornerstones of your personal brand.
c. Are you a good listener? Don’t forget, it’s not always about you.
d. Do you tell people what you think they want to hear? Or do you give them other options?
How Do You Maintain Your Brand?
Nothing irritates me more than watching a professional sporting event and not knowing if one of the team members is going to “show-up” and perform. One game, he is the star. The next game, he should be sitting on the bench.
This analogy holds true about our personal brand. Can your colleagues count on you to perform when they need you, or do they have to reach out to someone else? Consistency is critical to your brand.
Once you define who you are, make sure you’re okay with the direction you are heading. If you are not comfortable with your path, it takes time to adjust to a new course.
As you mature, your brand changes. Your experience evolves, your network expands, and more people count on you. Make sure you control this new direction. Your personal brand is never static.
It takes a long time to develop and build the personal brand you want to project. Like many celebrities and sports players, you need to be vigilant about what people say about you in the marketplace and how you perform. It’s easy to lose your positive brand so be purposeful in your actions. Personal branding is about you, who you are and what you can do to assist other people. It’s not who others want you to be.Career Advice