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Don’t Work So Hard At Personal Branding

I have a colleague, retired now, who spent his career branding and rebranding financial institutions, mostly banks. He used to say, only half jokingly, that we brand strategists are like “psychiatrists for businesses”. There’s a lot of truth to that. That’s why I politely decline whenever someone asks me to help with their personal branding. Working with one person feels too much like I’m practicing psychoanalysis. And I’m certainly not qualified to do that. Besides, I feel when it comes to personal branding, we can really only work on our tactics. Any deeper issues are not really business challenges but personal ones and really should be addressed in therapy. So, when people ask me how to develop a personal brand, I always say just be yourself. Part of branding is distinguishing yourself from others and you’re already just as unique as you need to be. In the words of Mr. Rogers, “There is only one you and I like you just the way you are.” That said, here are some tactical tips.

The key to personal branding is to not worry about it so much. Relax.You already have a brand. It’s you. To that extent, it’s true what Jeff Bezos says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” You can’t change who you are but you can make sure they’re saying good things about you.

Be kind
This is the number one tactic for boosting your personal brand. Take an interest in your colleagues. Help them when they need help. Share. Don’t gossip or be mean. Just be a good person, like they taught us in kindergarten.

Be known for what you do
This has to rank as number two. Develops some specific expertise at your job. For instance, there are lots of great lawyers out there. But I know only one who is the ranking authority on California franchise law. If you’re an antiques dealer, become the world’s authority on pre-Civil War furniture made in New Hampshire … or something. And always, always, always be improving.

Keep your promises
Maybe this ties as number two. Every market trend points to the single most valuable characteristic any brand will need in the future: trustworthiness. That will be true for giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon as well as for our tiny, little personal brands. So don’t make any promises you can’t keep. And don’t betray anyone’s trust.

Carry your own weight
It’s OK to ask for help but don’t take advantage. Don’t let others do work that you should be doing. Don’t be chronically late. Don’t come back late from lunch when others have to wait for your return before they can go. If you exhibit this kind of discourteous behavior, your personal brand will take a hit.

Dress appropriately
I suppose you can wear that sexy cocktail dress to work. I suppose you can show up like you came to mow the lawn. But that makes the people around you uncomfortable. Everyone deserves to be comfortable at work. So dress appropriately for the work environment you’ll be in.

Be clean
You know … shower, shave, brush your teeth. Basic personal hygiene. This is not rocket science. Oh, and keep your language clean too. My wife very wisely once said, “There are times when only a perfectly chosen expletive will do.” That’s almost never on the job. Count to ten and think before dropping that f-bomb.

Be interesting
This one is hard to pull off because there’s a fine line between being interesting and being a total bore. It’s interesting if you’re into some unusual hobby, or you took an exotic vacation, or you inherited money from a long-lost uncle. It’s a bore if you won’t stop talking about these things.

Avoid hot topics
Do not bring up politics or religion or any other subject that will cause division among your fellow workers. If others bring up a such an issue, don’t join the conversation, not even if you agree with them. Save these debates for Thanksgiving dinner where they belong.

Be a good citizen
Don’t trash the environment. Promote diversity. Vote. While we’re still at war with COVID-19, do your civic duty by wearing a mask and staying socially distanced. Don’t whine about it.

Be open to change
Your brand will evolve over time. I used to be considered the boy wonder in every team I was on. Now I’m regarded as the wise old man. (Maybe not so wise.) Your story will have its arc too. Accept it.

There are probably more tips I could come up with but you get the idea. You don’t have to work that hard at personal branding. My guess is most of the people reading this are already in command of all of the above advice. The first three points are crucial. The rest are just issues of common courtesy.

Protocol is defined as the removal of distractions. To make your personal brand admired and desired, be kind, develop an expertise, keep your promises, and don’t be a distraction. People have work to do. If you need more help, if you really need to change who you are, I can only give you a referral …


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