As a trainer for Warwick’s ‘Sprint’ programme one of the sessions I run is about personal branding. When I ask students to identify well- known company brands, almost every time the same few come up: Apple, Google, Macdonald’s and Coca-Cola. What can we learn about these brands? Why are they are so instantly recognisable? And how can some of the lessons of these successful brands inform the creation and development of your unique personal brand?
When I ask students to identify words they associate with these organisations they are quick to highlight, in the case of Apple, for example: ‘quality, iconic, covetable, attractive, intuitive, expensive.’ For MacDonald’s: ‘Quick, cheap, tasty, convenient, red and yellow, bad for you.’ Not all the qualities are positive . But overall, the size and reach of the brand along with their popularity outweighs the negatives.
Your personal brand
Whether you like it or not, you already have a brand. People who know you and even those who have simply met you briefly will have formed an opinion on you based on what they’ve seen and heard and according to how you behave. Think about other people you know and take a moment to consider five words to describe them.
People will subconsciously do the same about you. Maybe it’s worth asking one or two close friends or family members which words they would use to describe you as a starting point. Are you happy with what you hear? Is it what you’d imagined they would say? We all have blind spots so feedback from others is valuable. Once you have this feedback you can decide how you’d like to cultivate your brand.
Identify your values
Values are your starting point. Your values will determine how you respond and react to situations and ideas. We rarely take the time to reflect on our values but we all have them. Some will be ingrained through our upbringing, others we will develop over time. Our values may change over time in terms of the order of importance and sometimes we will embrace some new ones, based on our life experiences. Take a look at this values activity to identify yours and complete the suggested ranking exercise.
Do your behaviours reflect your values?
Your values are your inner compass. If your behaviours stem from your values, you will demonstrate congruence. People observing you or listening to you will view you as authentic. When your values are compromised but you don’t stand up for them, you will feel uncomfortable internally and what you say may be at odds with what you really feel and think. This undermines your brand.
The power of the visual
Does your image reflect your values? Are you comfortable with it? It’s up to you how you present yourself to the outside world. You need to be comfortable with your image. Some people make no concession to image and ‘what you see is what you get’. At this end of a spectrum a person will be extremely comfortable with their image. At the other end a person could feel a need to compromise their image in order to ‘fit’ the expectation of others. ‘Love Island’ contestants are the extreme end of visual brand management. We will each find our place on the spectrum and this will inform our brand.
How can you develop your brand?
Advice I have found particularly insightful from two University of Warwick academics:
1) Professor Gwen Van der Velden (Academic Director, Warwick International Higher Education Academy) suggests we should all have 1 or 2 ‘kites’ to fly…those things that we are passionate and knowledgeable about and that we become ‘go-to’ people for. You may already have ‘kites’ that you fly. You can use social media and public platforms such as societies to develop a following for these and build your brand with things you genuinely care about.
Your kites may give an indication of potential career directions you choose to follow as these are likely to resonate with your values.
2) At one of Warwick’s ‘Inspiring Women’ talks, Professor Ng (Warwick Manufacturing Group) suggested that rather than having role models, who are after all human and fallible, we should learn from others’ behaviours and observe what they do well. We could then ‘try on’ some of these behaviours and test them out to see whether they work for us. If they do, they can be absorbed into our repertoire – and our brand.
I really like this notion of a ‘dressing up box’ of behaviours. It illustrates that our brands will evolve and become clearer over time both to ourselves and others.
In summary, we all have a unique brand. Understand yours and cultivate it in order to develop your personal power. Understanding yourself and what’s important to you can inform the decisions you take, the people you meet and want to cultivate and the career choices you make.