Whether you like it or not, you have a personal brand. When you come in contact with people, they will “brand” or typecast you based on the image you project. Why? Human brains are wired to do this as a “short cut” to make sense of the world. Without short cuts, life would be too confusing, complicated, and in some cases dangerous. The brain simplifies as much as it can so that it can focus on those things that really matter. Your brain needs to decide if another person, animal, or thing is a friend or a foe that will help or harm you. It does this by categorizing everything according to symbols and patterns that are hard-wired or learned from experience.
Brand Yourself Before Others Brand You
It is useful to think of branding as having two components – a lock and key. The lock refers to the target audience that has a need, and the key is the image of the product you create to fill that need. In the case of your personal brand, you are the product. You have more control of your product if you create your own brand image (key). If you don’t, others will create one for you. More often than not, the image they create will not be flattering or helpful because they may have a negative agenda, lack branding expertise, or have a natural inclination to compete with you by highlighting your weaknesses.
Elements of A Successful Personal Brand
To be successful, you need to project the image that fills the needs of your target audience, which typically includes a prospective employer, an audience you want to sell, or a group you want to join. Your key (the image you project) has to fit their lock better than your competitors. If it does, you will reap the rewards of being selected or followed.
Steps to create your personal brand.
To create a personal brand that works for you:
- Identify your target audience (your lock)? Determine the audience you want to target and what they want or need from you.
- Determine the image you project now (your key). Ask the people you trust to honestly tell you what image you project. You have to be open to listening to their answers even if they tell what you may not want to hear.
- Is it the image you want? If their answers are consistent and represent the image you want, your personal brand is working. If not, you need to make changes related to your appearance, behavior, name, personal symbols, or other branding elements in a way that you are true to yourself. Unless you are a fine actor, trying to be what you are not rarely works.
- Make adjustments to your key. Make the adjustments necessary to project the personal brand that enables you to realize your objectives and better fill the needs of your audience.
- Create branding elements. You need to develop branding elements that help you to create and reinforce the image you want to project. People typically employ names, logos, slogans, hairstyles, or clothing items to help their personal brand.
- Name: Biz Stone’s real first name is Isaac. Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis. Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch. Some people use initials or a middle name if their given name does not fit the image they want to project – F. Scott Fitzgerald, F. Murray Abraham, I.F. Stone.
- Logo: Prince created a symbol that he used as his logo. Signatures are often personal logos that enable personal brands to stand out from the crowd.
- Slogans: Steve Jobs loved to say, “this changes everything.” Paris Hilton trademarked “That’s hot.” Donald Trump has popularized “Your fired” along with the accompanying hand gesture. Charlie Sheen has many but the one that many are using to represent him is “Duh… Winning.”
- Hair: The Beatles were referred to as mops tops, Justin Bieber started out with a similar hairdo, Albert Einstein absent-minded genius hair, and Donald Trump Yikes!
- Clothing: Pee Wee Herman (the small suit and hat that does not really fit), Steve Jobs (black mock turtleneck and blue jeans), Hillary Clinton (pants suits), Spike Lee (hat and glasses), Lady Gaga (always different and unique), Muammar Gaddafi (robes and hat).
- Execute performance. Your product has to deliver on the promise of your personal brand. A bad performance or poor execution, unless your brand is deliberately based on this, will undermine your personal brand.
- Measure results and take corrective action. Repeat steps 3 and 4 and the others if necessary.
Advantages of uniqueness
If you are successful in creating a unique brand image, it will give you more control over your life and enable you to reap rewards. The reason is that if somebody wants what you offer, they will have to pay your price.
Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and over 60 published articles, created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. Various media frequently interview him for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter.
illustration created by Ira Kalb for this article