Seven Steps to Developing Your Personal Brand

Personal Brand… is this a topic that you think or care about? Or do you discount it saying to yourself, “I don’t need to be concerned with this.” As entrepreneur, author and humanitarian activist Dan Pallotta stated, “Brand is everything, and everything is brand.” Just as companies care about their brands, you should too.

Part of the issue may lie in that many people have a misconception of what personal brand is and how powerful an attribute it can be. Personal brand has been defined as “the ongoing process of creating, establishing and communicating a clear statement or image of who you are to others.” I like to think about personal brand as the intersection of how you see yourself and how others see you (see chart below) The overlapping space is where your personal brand sits.

As for personal brand power, according to Ryan Erskine in Entrepreneur, as employees we can have 10 times more followers than our company’s social media accounts and the content we share as employees can receive eight times more engagement than content shared by brand channels. In fact, ninety-two percent of the population trusts recommendations shared by individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands. Makes us take a step back and recognize how powerful we can be with a personal brand that resonates and connects with people.

While there are many ways to assess our personal brands, following the construct that companies use in marketing provides a logical and rational way of going about this. Each of us can construct our own personal brand strategy and make progress that helps us reach our destination.

Organizations do research to understand what their brand reality is. They create a vision statement of where they see the company going in the future – their ‘north star’ to guide them and an accompanying set of values. This forms the platform they represent in the work they do, the products they advance, the employees they engage and the stakeholders they are connected with. Similarly, our personal brand can be informed by market research we do on ourselves, influencing those areas we have control over and would like to accentuate and identifying the areas we would like to diminish.

The following seven steps provide an organized way to look at your brand, what you need to do and helps you build a plan for future success.

Step One: Identify Your Desired Brand Traits. What specific traits do you want associated with your brand? I generally advise five, as it gets harder to support more than that. Do you want to be seen as Creative? Organized? Trustworthy? However you want to be seen, you need to identify what those traits are and how you want to be viewed. Someone pundits will tell you, “Your brand is how someone describes you when you leave the room.” So write down a list of traits you want to be identified with and select the most important ones for your personal brand. There will be time to add to this list of five later but first you need to ensure you are mastering the list at hand.

Step Two: Researching your Personal Brand Perception. The second step in this process is to determine what is your brand reality? How do others perceive you? This requires market research and to conduct either quantitative and/or qualitative research on your brand. Central in this process is asking the salient questions that get at what you need to know to understand about how others view you and to inform how you can make your own brand more meaningful. Like a 360-degree feedback often conducted in the workplace, this research seeks feedback (which should be anonymous to maximize your response rate and quality of feedback) from others who know you, have worked with you and have an understanding of who you are.

Identify your stakeholders – people who have a connection to you that is meaningful and have an influence on your success. We often do not list our stakeholder groups, but just as we do for organizations, we need to identify who are our publics – who do we care about in connection to our personal brand? Construct a written survey or if possible and the subjects are willing, a series of interviews. Whatever works best to find out this information. Getting a sufficient number of people to weigh in will be important.

The second step of this part of the process is to conduct an assessment of yourself on the social media channels you control. This can be an eye-opening experience for many. What type of content are you posting on your social channels? How active are you on those channels? Does your content have similarities or is it dramatically different? Put that content into a word cloud. What words come up more prominently in that word cloud? Are they words you want associated with your brand? Are the types of comments, photos and content what you want associated with those five traits you wrote down in Step One?

Step Three: Your Vision. Often we don’t apply these marketing and organizational concepts to ourselves but they are fundamental. Where is it you want to be? What is the vision you have for yourself in five to eight years. Where do you see yourself headed? Having a clear understanding of what your personal vision is for yourself will be helpful to understand the work you will need to do to support your personal brand. Are you an entrepreneur looking to grow your business? Are you seeking to expand your network, as you potentially will be looking for a job in a competitive marketplace? Are you looking to build your career as you have just graduated from university? Or are you looking to head in a new direction after many years of being in a certain profession? As you think through the goals you have for yourself then you need to understand how your own personal brand and that profile will need to support the Future You! While a personal brand plan cannot replace your capabilities, background and experience, it can help support the endeavors you are working towards and the impression you want to make.

Step Four: Your Values: As organizations have established value platforms they set for themselves, identify what are your core values. What do you believe in and actively support? Either through the volunteer work you do, financial or other types of donations you make and organizations and causes you might be involved with. What do you stand for? This is a good question to ask those you are conducting research with. For example: If they had to name your values what would they be? We frequently don’t ask ourselves these questions but they are important. So do you care about the environment? Are you committed to human rights? Are you focused on the arts? Whatever the things are that you value, state them. Then as we do with a marketing or communications strategy, what are YOUR proof points? What are the tangible things you are doing in support of those values and are they visible to the public? The values you advance publicly are the ones people will know you for. This question is a tough one for many as some may a hard time finding sufficient proof points to firmly establish recognition that these are your values. If that’s the case, consider this as an opportunity.

Step Five: Analysis: At this juncture, you need to do some analytical work. What is the sentiment that is out there among those you did research with and how do others see you? What is the controllable content that you post saying about you? Then, how is it you want to be seen? There will be gaps. There are for everyone. You may find that others surface traits about your brand that you never thought of about yourself. You may decide those five traits you want to be seen as need to be adjusted. No matter. This is a plan you will be constructing and deconstructing over time. Don’t look at this as something you will start and finish. You will always be fine-tuning it.

Step Six: Establishment of Your Strategy: Following the analysis of your research and your identified personal traits then your work is this: identify what are your opportunities to improve? Are there things you found out about yourself that surprised you? Do others see you as you see yourself? Were there traits about your personal brand that other see in you that you have not considered? Do you want to reflect on (and maybe even reconsider) that list of traits you selected as your focus? Is the content you are posting about yourself on your social sites the way you want to be seen? Are you connected with people who will help you move your personal brand forward? These questions and others will become the salient ones as you think through your next steps. As you answer these questions you can then set about determining the specific goals you want to establish for yourself and the tactics that will help you achieve those goals. This helps form your personal brand strategy.

Step Seven: Measurement: Since you have a baseline from the research you have done you can monitor your progress. You can measure the improvement in the content you post about yourself on your social media sites. For example, have you established new social media sites? Have you taken down old social media sites you have abandoned? Have you gained followers? Do you have stronger pithier proof points for your values? Are you making progress toward your vision for yourself? You might also repeat your research in six to 12 months to see if the sentiment about you has changed. It is not just enough to have ‘anecdotal’ feedback to think you are making progress, you want to have tangible proof you are. Measurement is critical for this.

So get going! This process gets you started. It provides a roadmap for you to organize, address and develop a personal brand strategy. And as with strategy you will need to make adjustments along the way as you learn new things about yourself and grow, your aspirations change or you find alternative paths you did not expect. Importantly, don’t be hard on yourself. No one has a perfect brand. We are all a continual work in progress. As the wise Chinese proverb states, “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”


Jacqueline Strayer is a faculty member in graduate programs at NYU and Columbia and a principal with The Sound Advisory Group, Inc. She served as the CCO for three global publicly traded companies. You can follow her on Twitter @jfstrayer or reach her at jfs2002@nyu.edu.

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