10 criteria for brand you

A few weeks ago, in response to some inquiries by colleagues and friends, I wrote about personal branding.

As a reminder, I suggested that a personal brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define:
–  the value that a person delivers to his/her “customers” (business partners, bosses, hiring managers, family members, community, etc.) , and
–  the way that person operates that is the basis of his/her relationships with them

My main point was that, contrary to most of what is said about personal branding these days, brand-building — whether for individuals or brands — depends on increasing the value you deliver and how you do it.  So, your brand is not the perception you want to create; it’s the reality of who you are.  I got some great comments here as well as through email –- thanks for the feedback.

At the time, I promised I’d follow-up with a Part 2 to address what makes a strong personal brand, and so here it is.  Actually I’ve decided to try to do this by applying the 10 criteria from a tool I use to assess the strength of any brand (I originally distributed the tool in one of my newsletters, and then brandchannel.com asked me to expound on it and show that the ways to strengthen your brand depend less on how much, or little, marketing money you have these days.)

I found the tool works pretty well as an assessment of personal brand strength, with a few adaptations and in a different order.  So here we go — a strong personal brand distinguishes itself by:

  1. being meaningful – a strong personal brand is relevant and compelling to our customers.  As noted above, when I say “customers,” I mean business partners, bosses, hiring managers, family members, our community, etc.  So having a meaningful personal brand means we offer something of value that these people want.  For example, if we’re applying for a job, we bring the requisite skills, experience, attitude, working style, etc. to do it.   If we don’t, then we shouldn’t be applying for it.
  2. being differentiating — a strong personal brand gives us a distinct advantage over others who might be competing for the same job, promotion, attention, or resources.  This isn’t simply about looking different or standing out from the crowd per se.  Lately people have been giving all sorts of job-seeking advice based on how to create a stand-out resume or how to make a memorable impression – while these tactics are important, having a differentiating personal brand is more dependent upon delivering unique value to our customers by being the only person who does what we do the way we do it.
  3. being transcendent — a strong personal brand conveys value beyond the specific job or role — e.g., the waitress who genuinely cares whether her guests are satisfied with their meal, the co-worker who always gets the job done regardless of what it takes, the manager who takes personal responsibility for developing and nurturing those around him.  People with strong brands do more than what’s expected of them and inspire others to do the same.
  4. adding “business” value — a strong personal brand produces “business” results.  I use quotation marks here because, unlike the brands for which I usually use this criterion, our personal brands aren’t limited to business situations – yet, in all situations, we should be seeking to deliver tangible, measurable results.  Simply put, having a strong personal brand means making a difference.
  5. being operationalized — a strong personal brand must be more than a vision of who we want to be — it must be what we do and what we deliver.  Operationalizing a brand involves the deliberate and systematic management of the business around brand – in the same way, operationalizing a personal brand means identifying, prioritizing, and implementing the things we do to deliver our brand values and attributes.
  6. being used as a tool — a strong personal brand inspires, informs, and instructs our daily decision-making and actions.  Instead of something we use to promote ourselves, it should be used as a resource we draw upon to drive everything we do – if we were cars, our brand would be our fuel, engine, and GPS all combined into one.
  7. being clearly articulated — a strong personal brand is clearly defined and can be easily described.  Before we develop a great “elevator speech” or memorize a sound bite to go along with a firm handshake, we must do the hard work to clearly define what our brand stands for and determine the best way to communicate it.
  8. being consistently experienced — a strong personal brand is a consistent one.  That is, we do what we say, and we say what we do.  We all know people who present themselves one way when they first meet someone (on a date, in an interview, etc.) but turn out to a totally different person once you get to know them. Surprises are great for parties, not for relationships.
  9. having integrity (this criteria is “believable” in the original tool) — a strong personal brand doesn’t stretch too far or over-promise.  “Know thyself” has proven a worthy discipline since its origins in ancient Greece and it serves people well today as we are all feeling the pressure to do more with less.  Rather than taking on more than we are capable of doing well, or stretching the truth in an effort to make ourselves more attractive, we should act with integrity.
  10. being sustainable — a strong personal brand enables us to be successful now and in the future.  Instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by our current circumstances, we should be developing a big enough platform to sustain us beyond our next gig or job.  We should be constantly growing and learning so that we can continue to deliver our value as new positions, technologies, and opportunities open up.

Just as the tough economic climate has caused some business leaders to cut brand investments, we may be tempted to try to cut corners with our personal brand development.  And if we heed most of the advice about personal branding that’s out there these days, we might simply focus on things like developing a personal website or dressing to impress.

But hopefully the above criteria show that the ways to strengthen your brand have less to do with how you express yourself, and more with what you deliver.  Many companies focus their brand building too much on external marketing activities, instead of channeling their efforts internally and putting their brand at the core of what they do and how they do it.  Let’s not make the same mistake with our personal brands.

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