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Personal brand: can you control it?

The boundaries between your personal and professional brands are getting thinner every day. Whether we like it or not, we all have a personal brand. Some may flaunt it more consciously than others, but at some level most of us want to make a good impression.

Just as in the traditional sense of a brand, the personal brand is largely defined by audience perception. Every day we send out many micro-signals, mostly unintentional, that are picked up by the people around us in an instant. Our facial expressions, our physical movements, how we walk, how we talk, how we dress, how we interact with others – these all contribute to the opinions others form about us.

It can be intimidating; the sobering thought is that the impression we actually give might be quite different from the impression we want to give. And, just as we’re being snap-judged, so are we doing the snap-judging.

But if there is a gap between what we think of ourselves and the way others see us, what can we do to close that gap? How can we take charge of our own brand so that others understand who we really are?

As with any brand, communication is the key. It’s hardly news that how and what we communicate – the messages we send – will impact on the impression that others have of us. But what has changed, and gives us even greater opportunity for success or failure, is how many more outlets we have to send out our messages.

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It wasn’t so long ago that the opportunities for reaching the masses were limited to the chosen few: sports stars, politicians, celebrities, royalty and those with extraordinary popular talent or good fortune. Now, almost everyone has an opportunity to shine. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can publish content.

But what, exactly, is that content? Every blog, every comment, every tweet, every place checked into, every uploaded picture or video, everything “liked” – it’s all part of revealing ourselves and creating a picture of who we are in the eyes of others.

Of course, that’s also the challenge. Even if you don’t aspire to be a global sensation, you have a presence in the world as never before. It requires care if you don’t want to “go viral” for the wrong reasons. As discovered by the student who tweeted to the world – and thus, her potential new employer, “COMPANY just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work,” it’s important to manage carefully what you publish.

The ubiquitous personal brand

Just as the boundaries are becoming blurred between our lives at work and not-at-work, so are the boundaries between our personal and professional brands – in fact, these days professional life often demands a stronger online presence. But the internet doesn’t distinguish between your personal and professional brand; your online presence is available to anyone.

For all of the challenges that a stronger personal brand presents, however, it’s also a remarkable opportunity. The more you publish online – the more thoughtful content you add to your digital footprint – the greater the impact on your personal brand.

Now-a-days, all of your business contacts – employers, partners, colleagues, customers and competitors – are looking for you online. But they won’t stop at your professional content, so it’s imperative to ensure that not only does content you publish create the right impression for all audiences, but that it actually takes advantage of this extra “personal-professional face time”.

(Try this little exercise: Collate all your blogs, press statements, comments, tweets, and similar, over the last few weeks or months into one document. Wait a couple of days and read them through all at once. What do they say about you? Do you want your family, your employer or your customers to read them? How can you shape that content into a personal brand that will be an asset on a professional level?)

Manage your digital reputation

Online content never gets tossed in the rubbish bin – it has an eternal shelf life. From the decimation of Harvey Weinstein’s personal brand to the axing of the Russian athletes from international sporting competitions, we have witnessed some quite dramatic brand damage recently. We’ve seen how a brand can pay the ultimate price.

These are extreme examples, but they also point to the need to manage the personal brand when things go wrong. In day-to-day life, we can’t expect others to look after our reputations. Friends, family and colleagues can include any sort of reference about you in the content they publish, so careful communication is required to manage the slow process of gaining control and building – or rebuilding – reputations.

The reality is that we cannot escape digital exposure. Even if you haven’t published anything yourself, it’s highly likely that you’re already online. Your profile on the company or college website, a review of a presentation or thesis you’ve delivered, your participation in a sports event: it all tells a story about you. But is it the whole story?

Now more than ever, the personal brand is professional. Just as any business, monitoring online content should be part of your communication strategy. Your personal brand is your responsibility. And, by adding your voice to the content about you through the many outlets available, you have ample opportunity to help your story to be told the way you had imagined it.

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David Hoskin

I've helped B2B companies create and implement international marketing and communications strategies since 1999. I've been fortunate enough to work with some great companies and highly talented individuals during the years. But the game's changing fast. Although my aim is always to create pragmatic solutions that produce measurable results, there are always new challenges to overcome. I studied engineering and music and I have an Executive MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, University of Reading (UK). Here on Integrated B2B, I want to share my personal opinions and perspectives on the changing face of B2B marketing. I hope you join in the conversation, too.