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What is a Personal Brand?

In these days of social media and internet influencers, the term “personal brand” is floated around in conversation more and more, becoming increasingly common even in casual settings. Just like branding for your company, personal branding can become a key aspect in your future success. But how do you create a personal brand while staying authentic to you? Where do you even start? Let’s start with the basic definition.

What is a Personal Brand?


According to the ever trustworthy Wikipedia, “Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands,” a sentiment originally mentioned in the article, “Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self”. Thought to be first mentioned by Tom Peters in the mid-90’s, personal branding shifts self-help techniques from self-improvement to self-packaging. Your personal brand is how the world perceives you – what is inherently associated with who you are. More importantly, it is what you are actively and intentionally putting out into the world. It is Steve Jobs’ turtlenecks, Waldo’s striped shirt and hat, and Beyonce’s fierce stage presence. Intentionality is key here (except maybe on Waldo’s part).

You are in control of your personal brand, which, to some, can seem daunting. But, creating a brand for yourself doesn’t have to be difficult or an end-all-be-all. Even Oprah herself went through different iterations of style and voice before becoming the icon she is now.

Building Your Personal Brand


Much like building a brand for your company, you need to consider your audience and message. Many people get bogged down by trying to be everything for everyone and that can lead to mixed signals and confusion around what you’re attempting to portray. Try focusing on one thing at a time, specifically, one message at a time. Keeping your message consistent and clear helps associate that message with who you are. And the more specialized and niche your message is, the easier it is for people to link it to you and remember that link. Be more than just a business person, become the business person that specializes in leadership development, or multimedia design, or whatever your heart desires. The point is find that thing and hone in on it.

While you’re developing your niche messaging, be sure to ask yourself: Am I being true to myself? It’s easy to get caught up in the story you’re telling or what the next person is doing to develop their brand. There’s nothing wrong with getting caught up! Go ahead and be passionate, but be passionate in who you are, not what you think people want you to be. The most successful business people discover something missing in a market that they wish was available, and they create their business to fill that hole. They do not seek out a missing piece from some market they are completely disinterested in and then create a business around that. Sure, there may be profit, but it’s likely the business won’t thrive in the long run because the heart isn’t there. Same goes for your personal brand. It may be what people are demanding and consuming now, but when the trend falls away, what are you left with? Build your personal brand on something concrete and genuine – yourself.

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Image via Defining Leaders

Living Your Personal Brand


Once you define the message and story you want associated with your personal brand, you must execute it. Intentionally set out to embody this brand as you put out content into the world. Content here can mean anything from your social media posts to the way you treat those around you. An easy way to start living your brand is to focus on the outward appearance – personal grooming, clothing, and social media. Some people have that signature hairstyle or would never be caught in anything less than heels. Others curate their Instagram so everything is color coordinated and edited with the same 3 filters. You don’t necessarily have to go to this extent, but realize that what you’re putting out there is picked up by the world around you. Develop the style that fits with your message. For Steve Jobs, this was the iconic black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers. For you, it may be a monochromatic get-up with one pop of color. There is a world of possibilities out there, but keep in mind that Jobs’ “uniform” went hand in hand with his personal message and so should yours.

Going beyond looks, your personal brand extends out to how you speak about others and yourself. Creating a positive impact is a great way to build your brand. Something to keep in mind are the wise words of Jacob Shwirtz, head of social partnerships at WeWork, who said, “… remember you are your brand, no matter what your current job is, what project you happen to be working on at any one time or whatever the priority happens to be today… always keep in mind the impact you leave on others…” This goes hand in hand with another great tip on living your brand – let others tell your story for you. There is no better publicity than the honest opinions of others. Look at the way you shop online. If you’re like me, you read as many reviews as you can, both negative and positive, before purchasing a product. If you’re making a positive impact and staying consistent, you’ll have more positive “reviews” than negative.

Developing and living your brand may take some trial and error, and some even say it should fail a few times before you get it right. Timothy Hoang, CEO of Stories By Tim, Inc. says, “You’ll never achieve the best branding until you fail a couple times while pushing past your comfort zone.” While many of us know this to be true with most things in life, keep this in mind when some aspect of your personal branding isn’t sitting right. It’s okay to adapt and change!

Final Thoughts


Personal branding isn’t reserved only for online influencers or CEOs. From selling yourself in an interview for a new job to putting your best foot forward in the parent-teacher organization at your kids’ school, personal branding can change the way the world perceives you. Why not take control of that?


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