Last night, I had a great opportunity to address a group of young professionals at the I Heart Social Media in DC event, on the topic of personal branding. Leading up to the event — as I was preparing for it — I kept telling myself to keep it simple. After all, we’ve got enough on our plates. And I knew this crowd would be more interested in unwinding after a hard day’s of work, rather than taking notes.
(By the way, I sprinkled pics from the event throughout this post.)
A couple of years ago, I started working with several companies in the Washington, DC area — alongside a fabulous communications design company — to help rebrand their websites and other marketing collateral. It was then that I was kind-of thrown into the world of branding. I snatched up any book that I could find, afford, or check out from the library to quickly get up to speed on some of the techniques employed in strategic branding campaigns.
Later on, I parlayed what I learned while helping small businesses revamp their images, into helping individual professionals make-over, assess, and tweak their own personal brands.
While I never intended for my career to take this route, I’m certainly glad it did, as I’ve learned alot about what makes for a sustainable image in today’s crowded workplace. And believe me, it’s more than just “looking” the part. It takes an entire package of skill-sets, talent, initiative, passion and perseverance, I’ve found.
So today, I thought it’d be great if I rehashed some of the points that I shared last night. Much of what I talked about involved what I call simply the Brand Strategy Summary. It’s a set of questions that I formulated, originally with the help of my web designer friend, to help create a broader picture of who a company is and stands for. Of course, I modified those questions so that it applies to an individual person.
Hopefully, you’ll find them useful too as you start to think more of yourself as a “commodity” rather than just a “worker.” Sorry that I have to objectify you, but the reality is that we humans are a dime a dozen.
And if we don’t take the time to value who we are as individuals, then no one else will. Because most folks — outside of your momma or grandma — will care that much to invest in such an effort, other than in themselves.
But that’s what this exercise is about — it’s about digging deeper inside and pulling out more than just a set of skills, but a set of qualities that makes you uniquely you and uniquely qualified to pursue your dreams.
Let’s begin our session!
1. What’s your mission?
I love discovering what makes people tick. What’s that internal driver that gets you out of bed in the morning and through the day? And, no, I’m not talking about that morning cup of Joe. Hopefully, if you’re reading this you at least have an inkling of an idea of what you were put here on earth to do. If not, as I told a friend earlier today, it’s usually right in front of you. It just takes you deciding to own it and run with it.
Embracing who you really are and your gifts and talents is sometimes a difficult process. Why? Because embracing it means we’re responsible for something bigger than us. It means there’s no turning back to a mediocre life. The people who never go after their dreams are also the people who don’t want to or aren’t willing to put in the work.
Let’s face it, if you want to make it in this world you must resign yourself to a life of great discipline. Trust me, the more discipline you employ in your life, the greater the results will be in the long run.
Your mission should be something that you care deeply about. It should involve an issue, a topic, a trend, industry, a people, or an idea that is woven into the fabric of who you are. It may take time to identify what that is, but keep up the search and it will soon surface.
2. What makes you (or your product or service) different, unusual, or unique?
What are your special qualities? Brainstorm and jot down as many details as you possibly can.
Maybe you’re from a small town that’s best known for its production of pecans. Could this factoid be used in your favor one day?
Perhaps you have a way with people, have deep subject matter expertise and are good with numbers. So much so, that you have made millions as a venture capitalist. But you feel you can make a greater impact on the world as a high school math teacher. Be confident that those qualities along with the experience will benefit you as you transition into a new career.
Maybe you have 7 years of experience working in a customer service capacity. First of all, bless your heart. But secondly, this is valuable experience that should not be discounted just because it was all during a stint at the local fast-food joint.
Or maybe you are a great writer; great listener; film producer; imaginative; you hustle; are intelligent; carry yourself with poise; community activist; help the poor; started an online community forum for people with a rare illness.
The lesson here is simple. You have a very different life than me and everyone else. Your work and life experiences, your educational background, combined with personal characteristics, all make for a very hot commodity. Own it, then work it!
3. Can someone vouch for you and your work?
When I worked with companies, one of the things that I always made sure to obtain from them or elsewhere were testimonials from customers. Similarly, getting a third party to vouch for your services, your character, integrity, work ethic, or past performance, for example, is critical to career advancement.
Don’t you usually by the healthcare products that are “Dr. Approved”? And the most popular movies are those that have won an award, are referred by a friend, or talked about around the workplace water cooler.
In the same way, we gain credibility when people who are familiar with us talk highly about us. And it’s always great to get some sort of testimonial on paper. That’s one of the features that I love about Linked In.
4. Lasting impression. What does your brand convey?
Consider this: all communications make one overall impression. If that’s true, and we are indeed in some way a walking billboard, then that means we’re giving off some type of impression whenever we meet someone new. We’ve all heard that first impressions count. And whether we like it or not, the clothes we wear and how we speak and react, our belief system or educational background, are all indicators of the type of person we are. People’s perception are as real as the thoughts we have about ourselves.
When it comes to your online presence, your image is critical. What you write and what photos you upload onto the Internet has a lot to say about the person you are. So be careful out there and be mindful of the types of messages you might be sending.
With that being said, it’s important to be authentic. No one likes a copycat or snob. So whatever you decide is your “brand,” make sure it’s also an accurate and genuine representation of who YOU are, and not some knock-off of someone else.
. . .
While this is a very truncated version of a branding session that I’ve done with individuals and companies, the key points here are meant to help you think a little differently about yourself. The goal is to help you move forward in your career while taking your personal brand to the next level.
With that in mind, I’ll end with this: The brand you’re building now should sustain you 20, 30, 40 years from now. Do you think Coca-Cola set out to build a brand that would last till next week? Certainly not. Their intent was to develop a quality product and corporate persona that would last a lifetime.
Our days are numbered. At the end of your life, how do you want to be remembered? What do you want your brand to represent next week, next year, and a decade from now?
If I’ve missed anything please share your comments below!
To Jonelle Henry and Adrienne Sheares who organized a wonderful event through an informal partnership between the Alliance for Women in Media (NCAC) and I Heart Social Media DC. Adrienne, thank you for the opportunity to speak to your group about a topic that I care deeply about.