Ever since Tom Peters first wrote The Brand Called You , the phrase “personal branding” has had an incredible impact, from those who read it when it first appeared August 31, 1997 and all the way down to the present day, as others first encounter the concept. In its original context, Peters meant it from a career management standpoint—but of course, like any good idea, it didn’t take long for smart career management professionals to see its applicability to the job search process.
Today, Dan Schawbel maintains a personal branding blog and even a LinkedIn group, the Personal Branding Network. And if you do a search on the phrase “personal branding” on Google, you’ll get 1.88 million results in 0.09 seconds. Personal branding is everywhere but let’s talk about why it’s so important: where it really delivers ROI for the job search process.
Let’s begin with something very basic. We all know the stat about 70% of jobs being filled through networking, so presumably, educated job seekers are attending networking events to maximize the likelihood of being in that 70%. But I think we’ve all had this experience: we attend a networking event and afterwards, when that person reaches out to us, we don’t remember them. Or worse, maybe you want to reach out to him or her, but you don’t remember a blessed thing about that person or perhaps how to contact them.
That’s an embarrassing situation to be in, but imagine how much worse if you’re the one who’s failed to make a (positive) impression. Indeed, perhaps you’ve even been in that position, too, unbeknownst to you.
The solution is personal branding.
As Peters himself put it:
“What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.
If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.
Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”
A lot of people make the mistake of interpreting this as being about marketing. And make no mistake, personal branding is part of it. But to dismiss it as being nothing more is missing the forest for the trees. At its heart, a personal brand is your professional essence.
It’s crucial to understand that understanding one’s personal brand requires a thorough understanding of one’s strengths, aptitudes and experiences. It doesn’t work to hear someone else’s great branding statement and adopt it wholesale, as it speaks to strengths, aptitudes and experiences that another person will not possess. That isn’t personal branding, because it addresses the superficial without engaging the substantial.
So why does it matter?
Two words: corporate culture.
People have been discussing corporate culture and how it can provide a competitive advantage since the 1980s, but at its heart, I think it’s fair to say that corporate culture is really about “the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization”, per Wikipedia.
For several years now in staffing circles the big question is fit: does the candidate fit? Sure, he or she has the right experience and skills, but is this candidate a good fit for our organization?
Doesn’t this sound to you a lot like: is this candidate’s personal brand a match with our corporate culture?
This is why you care.
By now, we’ve discussed personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why you care. So let’s discuss how to propagate your brand and let the world know what your accomplishments are.
In ways both large and small, here are some ways to do so.
- First things first, business cards. Not just for the employed set, business cards (available for just shipping & handling at VistaPrint.com) are a great way to incorporate a little pizzazz in your typeset contact details. If you’ve ever tried to read someone’s e-mail address or phone number from a smudged, hastily-scribed piece of paper, you’ll know just how important this is.
- Social networks. Not just LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but also some others. If you have sufficient experience and facility with the written word, try blogging. And even if you don’t, try writing a guest blog for a blogger you respect and with whom you’ve established a rapport. Hint: you can easily forge a rapport with a blogger by commenting on his or her blogs consistently. Bloggers love commenters because even a blogger with a great read/comment ratio is 12:1, so by commenting, you stand out above 11 other readers. And offering to guest blog? The odds are very good the reaction will be more than mildly positive.
- Speak at events. There are tons of local networking events going on. You can use LinkedIn Events or Meetup to identify them and the organizer(s), who will likely be open to you giving a small talk, maybe off the formal agenda at first.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of other methods whereby one can propagate one’s personal brand. So what did I miss? Comment and let me know!
 Even now, 14 years after the fact, it’s a great read.
 whom Fast Company, publishers of the original Tom Peters article, dubbed a “Personal branding force of nature”
 That’s what I got when I wrote this.