It is hard for some individuals to think of themselves as a brand. For most, ‘brand’ pertains to a product and ‘personal brand’ to famous individuals. However, the fact remains that everyone does have a ‘personal brand’. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” What does personal brand mean for the careers of leaders and for their organisations?
Bernard Cragg, Senior Independent Director, Mothercare plc and Associate, Criticaleye says, "The challenge in career management is not to become stereotyped. I have found that there is a huge tendency to put you in a box. Thinking about your personal brand can facilitate you to communicate what you regard as your key skills and characteristics and that may (and I mean may) allow you to break out of your box."
The term ‘Brand ME’ infers that personal brand is all about the individual. However, it is also about the companies they lead or represent - leaders that cultivate their personal brands, create more authentic and genuine organisations, in turn engendering trust from stakeholder groups and, ultimately, creating a more effective, profitable company.
Molly Jackson, Commercial and Finance Director at the Southbank Centre, says, “I suspect that most of us practise brand management even if we don't call it that. We all have personal values that we apply in our business lives as well as our private... we also know where our strengths and weaknesses lie. All these add up to the essence of our personal brands – and, if we are inconsistent here, then ultimately we will fail. This is particularly true in the current climate wherein customers and wider stakeholders are seeking transparency and consistency from the brands and companies they invest in. They want to trust.”
‘Brand ME’ is a culmination of life experiences, beliefs and, most importantly, passions - it is who leaders are and what they project to others. Savvy organisations can leverage the personal brand of their leaders into a powerful tool to garner respect with their stakeholders and wider business community. Companies who have leaders that are consistent and genuine will be more successful than those that don’t. Companies should heed this and encourage their leaders to discover their own individual drivers.
Stephen Pain, VP Global Communications, Unilever says, "Personal brand? Think of it in terms of 'dress down Friday' - a concept that has always puzzled me. It's like someone telling you that you can be who you are on a Friday - by wearing what you want - as long as you conform to being someone else the rest of the week. So, ask yourself some honest questions, give yourself some honest answers and see what happens. Being clear about your personal brand is liberating - it means you can be who you are seven days a week. In this search engine society, having a clear, consistent identity makes you stand out from the crowd and, more importantly, helps people to find you."
Andy McFarlane, Marketing Leader, Vodafone Global Enterprise adds that "Being authentic and true to oneself at every turn is a must for leaders today and for those who want longevity at the top... especially with the blurring of boundaries between people's digital personalities, business personas and personal life. Strong self awareness and a clear understanding of one’s own differentiators are all important factors, but beware too much ‘self brand management’... personal integrity, authenticity and consistency of actions are what will ultimately drive people's perception."
So what are people saying about you when you are not in the room?
Your brand should seek to inspire people. It is important, without arrogance, to convey your achievements to your audience – and convey them in the form of genuine, heart-felt stories that offer real learnings. These stories need to stand out for the right reasons. They will give you the confidence to engage with others and become a more effective leader.
We can all see how a strong brand identity aids the recognition of an organisation, so why can’t the same apply to an individual? Such brands are able to draw us in because they emotionally engage us in some way. For some, Apple is an exciting quirky brand at the forefront of design and technology... for others, it means something else. Either way, it draws an emotional response that affects, among other things, buying decisions.
To achieve brand success and retain brand loyalty, you need to be consistent. We adopt brands only if we trust them fully. Every contact with a brand (including Brand ME) must be on-message: everything must be true to identity and values, from the look and feel of the product to the service environment in which it is sold.
Siva Shankar, Corporate Finance Director, SEGRO plc says, “Just like a commercial brand, a few themes that people quickly ‘get’ ensures clarity, differentiation and consistency on personal brand. Consistency is important to prevent inadvertent mixed messages. Paying great attention to 360 feedback from people within your organisation, for example, is a great sense check for consistency on brand themes. But, while consistency is important, it is also sensible not to get too rigid on sticking just to the current knitting. This is because we evolve with new experiences, through increasing the scale of difference we make around us, and through meeting people who have an impact on the way we think - and the key themes of our brand should be accordingly managed so that they comfortably and naturally evolve with us.”
The mechanics of evolving and growing Brand ME
The direction chosen for your personal brand evolution is a constant journey that must be fuelled by curiosity, conviction and drive. Here are some key points to consider along the way:
• When starting out, identify and head-up new opportunities and projects in your current organisation, eg, partnerships or alliances, overseas expansion, new markets, and new agendas. These all give you marketable knowledge and experience as well as the opportunity to lead and shine.
• Explore – if you find yourself moving in a direction that you do not like, note it, take stock and move on.
• Identify senior mentors (informal or formal). There are always wise people who are happy to help and to advise.
• Feedback - like all good brand marketing, you need to engage with those that influence you and see if the perception of your brand fits with their perception of you.
• People are increasingly aware that they have a personal brand and a personal P&L that they can manage, manipulate and utilise. The upside is that people feel more accountable for their lives. The downside is that there are many others trying to share the same spotlight!
• Raise your profile by being active within your organisation and networks.
• Develop new connections and engage with powerful external networks. This opens new horizons, and gives you the chance to test your thoughts in a challenging environment devoid of politics. Use this environment to test the receptiveness of your ideas and start raising your profile.
• Ask yourself if what you are considering really fits. Consult with as wide a peer group as possible about what you might want to do. Then keep those relationships open, because you need to engage with all walks of life – and you never know when each one may be relevant.
• Gain NEDships or advisory roles, as they provide real opportunities for new insight, challenge, stimulus and connectivity. With such exposure, you gain useful knowledge that not only supports your current role but also your future potential. NED roles can be within very diverse organisations, all requiring and bringing you different levels of exposure.
• Finally, to reference another famous brand, Just Do It. Don't plan it to death – just get on with it.
Wide use of the internet has created great business opportunities and the ability for individuals to disseminate and increase the reach of their personal brands. However, it also affords people the opportunity to ruin their reputation and therefore their personal brands. Having a brand that is consistent online and offline is vital.
John Allbrook, Executive Chairman, Syscap Ltd says, "I had not realised how far my personal brand had evolved in the internet age. In fact, I was not even aware that I had a personal brand until it was pointed out to me. But sure enough, the Google robots pick up a lot more than you think! More importantly, everything that was out there did not give a true picture of my career, my achievements, my business beliefs and the value I bring to the table; so I decided to take action. Now I am not only much more comfortable with my public image but also believe it is representative of the real me. I have worked hard to make that image consistent with my values and beliefs. Undertaking this simple exercise helped me understand my personal values better and what really makes me tick."
It is easy, when surrounded by the same individuals for a long period, to be pigeonholed as something that you may not feel is true to your brand. “I once had an American boss who exemplified the truism that you can re-invent your personal brand. He flew across the North Atlantic and landed a different person from the one who got on the plane. However, when he returned to the US after some years in Europe, sadly he had to drop the wonderfully charismatic, larger-than-life inspirational leader he had become because he was returning to an environment where too many people knew the ‘old’ him. The lesson is that, even in the online world, a lot of personal branding comes from the inter-personal interactions and relationships we have,” says Clive Ansell, Managing Director, Technology, Tribal Group plc.
When re-evaluating your personal brand, ask:
• Do you have a unique offering?
• Do you have a strong network of peers/colleagues?
• Can you really sell your idea and do people believe you?
• Even if you have all this, have you packaged your personal brand with a resonance that captures the imagination of your audience?
Wherever you are on this journey of realisation, constantly re-evaluate and enjoy the transformation, the challenge and the newfound confidence that ‘Brand ME’ can bring.
This Update has been inspired by an article currently being developed by Charlie Wagstaff, one of my Co-Founders of Criticaleye. The article, entitled Give Yourself a Brand, is now available on the Criticaleye website.
Please get in touch directly if you have any comments about the issues raised here.
I hope to see you soon,