Ever hear of personal branding? We’ve spoken a little bit about it here, but at nowhere near the depth that it is covered in this week’s Time Magazine.
I’ve held the belief that everyone has a brand and can’t avoid sharing it with the world. Think you don’t?
Ask yourself a few of these questions:
Do you have kids?
Are you energetic?
Do you eat everything on your plate?
Did you study in school?
Do you have an iPod?
Do you dress comfortably when traveling?
Are you the life of the party?
Do you like playing videogames?
Do you have a blog?
Do you own a pet?
Did you answer any of them?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions you’ve branded yourself. If you answered “no” to any of the questions you’ve also branded yourself. Heck… if you saw the list and thought “I don’t have time for this” or “this is stupid” or “I want to see where he’s going with this before I answer anything” then… yes… you’ve branded yourself.
Oh, and for you wiseacres that think by shutting yourself in a room and never talking to anyone you’ll avoid branding yourself… Hope that you enjoy being branded as a recluse.
You see, anything about you that you communicate to other people becomes part of your brand. Even if you don’t say a word or move a muscle you can still establish your brand solidly. As soon as you walk into a crowded room you are immediately checked for your brand by everyone that sees you. They see if you’re stylish, confident, good looking, healthy, happy, and just about anything else that you might be showing. They’re even potentially filing away bits of data about you like, “You’re that guy who wore stripes and paisleys together” or “the woman that fell into the cocktail sauce.”
Why are people looking for shorthand? Because we can’t handle the complexity presented by human beings. We need a mental shorthand to help with recall. (Suddenly all those high-school nicknames like “Shorty”, “Freckles”, and “Pig Pen” begin to make sense…) We find one or two things that are distinctive about a person and we use them as the tabs on our mental folders so we can always find who we’re looking for.
So – even before you spend a dime you probably already have a brand. It may not be good, but it is certainly there.
The idea presented by Time (that companies can help you with your personal brand) is pretty interesting to me. People often see themselves as so multi-faceted that they couldn’t possibly simplify themselves down to the one or two things that will lead them to success in life. In job interviews we often throw dozens of great things about ourselves at the interviewer – hoping that at least a couple of ‘em hit the right spot and get us hired. So we say we’re confident, we’re organized, our only flaw is that we don’t know when to call it a day, we get along well with everyone, we’re a natural leader who knows how to be a team member, we’re looking for a job that helps us grow but we have all the skills we need to do it perfectly today.
Not only do most of us not say anything that will help to create a compelling shorthand in an interviewer’s mind, we often contradict ourselves in the hopes that one of the two things we say will match with what the hiring manager is looking for.
So – the idea than an industry would spring up to help people land jobs, write personals, and basically be ourselves(only in higher concentrations) actually seems useful. It helps us carve out mental space in the minds of the people we interact with. If you carve out the right mental space with the right person you can end up with your dream job, the perfect spouse, or the best friend you’ve always wanted. Isn’t that worth a couple thousand dollar investment?
But there are downsides. Once you’ve branded yourself to get that dream job you must find ways to live within that brand. If you’ve misstated yourself at all it can come back to bite you. Did you say that you were “detail oriented” when you should have said “aware that there are details?” When your copy isn’t flawless it isn’t going to go over well with the boss.
Even if you nail your brand perfectly it may lock you into a role that doesn’t allow you to grow in ways that you want to. Branding is usually about finding the compelling differences between you and everyone else – and the desire to do a little bit of everything doesn’t help you stand out. Everyone says (or thinks) it – and most also say they’re interested in personal growth. Once you pin your brand to your chest you’re going to have to live with (and as) it for a while. Are you comfortable with that? Does your life-history tell the same story?
Remember in today’s world we now leave a trail of bits and bytes behind us and Google is there to sweep them into little organized bins. In looking for my name you’ll find hundreds of hits, including articles I’ve written, my own blog posts, memberships in online forums, and even stuff that other bloggers and thought leaders have said about me. If I were to suddenly decide that I wanted to spend the rest of my life as an accountant I might find that my online identity would prevent any reputable accounting firm from hiring me. Anyone with knowledge of computers and the Internet would know in an instant that I had no experience. (You can read numerous stories about bad stuff happening and being found online if you look for ‘em. You can’t outrun your online identity.)
Is personal branding worth it? Actually I think it is – if you aren’t doing as well in life as you think you could be. If you’re happy then why bother? Same goes for big business – if you’re happy with where you are (and where you’re going) then why would you ever invest money in changing that?
(This is actually a pretty big problem for companies that are about to encounter bad times – they don’t see that they need to change and are caught flatfooted when times change and being the best record-player manufacturer goes from being something to boast about to something worthy of shame.)
Here’s the real key, though. Investing in your brand won’t do a darn thing for you if you don’t know who you are or what you genuinely want to do with your life. If you don’t know what direction you want to go then chances are good that improving your directionless brand will improve your chances of landing a job (or mate) that you probably don’t want or can’t support for the long term.
How do you figure out who you are and where you want to go? You could hire an expert. Or if you’re saving your money you could just take a look at your own life. Just by walking around your house you can learn a lot. Are all your cosmetics lined up on the counter? Do you move your furniture when you vacuum? Do you have a piano? Do you use it? How many dirty dishes are in your sink? Do you have art on the walls? Is it original or reproduction? Each one of these questions points to something that you are or believe in. Even seeing where you put your money (electronics, politics, baby-food, your church) could help you figure out who you are.
It’s what you do with the things that matter to you that probably define you best of all. So – you’ve got time, money, and effort. Where have you been investing them? Once you figure that out then you may be in a better position to develop a brand that can support your real goals.
In closing this exceedingly long ramble, you should consider how effective companies have been in trying to rebrand themselves as something that they are not.