In recent weeks I have come across a number of online articles and posts that covered various aspects of what is now called “personal branding”. Most of them listed relatively specific things to do or avoid. This is something that I think can do quite some damage, when followed blindly. Because at the end of the day you want to convey a picture of what you stand for. So doing or not doing things always needs to be seen in that context.
In my view the purpose of personal branding should be something like an extended version of your resume/CV. The latter is usually oriented towards listing what you did in your professional past and the relevant achievements. What it usually does not show is your personality. Are you a sociable team player or a ruthless egomaniac? Either type could have achieved what you did (or rather claim to have done). But obviously the side-effects would be very different.
In contrast to the “words-only” description of yourself that a CV basically is, the personal brand should be created by “actions”. I am a big fan of judging people by what they do rather than say. And if someone does charity work in their free time, that tells me a lot about this person. Much more than any impressive job role that is listed in their resume. In this context please also have a look at my post Don’t Promote for Performance.
As a non-marketing person I always had the impression that branding is the most difficult thing in marketing. And while I am writing this it seems very clear to me what the reason is (the marketing people will tell me whether I am in line with conventional wisdom here). The challenge with branding is that a company never can create a brand directly. It can ensure that all the prerequisites are there – like an interesting logo and a catchy phrase. But for those to transform into a brand, the market needs to have a certain perception about them. And that perception is the brand.
The problem with this view is that it explicitly denies the organization direct control of the outcome. You can of course try to raise awareness with expensive advertising campaigns at major international airports. But if nobody ever heard your name, putting it next to a conveyor belt for luggage will not help much. Instead brand creation takes time and continuous effort. And of course you need to support this with traditional campaigns etc.
The actual brand will follow this and gradually develop, as customers are happy and spread the word. And this is also what I recommend to people when it comes to their personal brand: Do good things and “talk” about them. Talking here means every form of communication. Especially technical people, who also tend to be shy and introvert, are often not very good at self-promotion in a direct conversation. But they could give a presentations where their achievements are mentioned. This will not feel like bragging to them, but a more neutral description. And a bit of understatement has rarely hurt in these loud times.
So the bottom line is: Find out what you would like to stand for, deliver great results supporting this, and then spread the word. Sooner or later people will recognize you for it.