Women@Work Wednesday: Your Personal Brand


“The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf.” ~ this is quoted on so many websites that I can’t even tell who said it first. 

The premise of a personal brand is simple enough. Whether consciously or not, each one of us has a personal brand. It’s what silently but effectively announces you when you enter a room and what people say of you when you leave the room. It is the impression we make in the minds of others.

In today’s tiny global village, the personal brand has multiple facets: the online presence (social and business media or the absence thereof), the physical presence (appearance – clothing, hair, nails etc.), your manner of self expression (how you speak, emails you write etc.) and your personality traits (honesty, reliability, likeability, edginess or lack thereof).

“Your personal brand is one of the biggest investments you are ever going to make. It’s an asset that will maximize the value of existing opportunities and create new ones,” said John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co, author and keynote speaker. And yet, despite this, very few of us pay real attention to who we tell the world we are.

Perhaps one of the most successful examples of the power of personal branding in South Africa today is Bonang Matheba. Love her or hate her, she has made her name into a formidable brand in the entertainment industry. She recently announced that she has reached millionaire status. How did she do this? By realising early on that she had the power to shape the world’s perception of who and what she is… and then delivering on that perception.

I remember getting this impression of her a few years ago when I read an article on how she started out as a presenter on SABC 1’s music show, Live. I can’t for the life of me find that article now but she speaks openly of the failures that preceded her success. In another article she mentions that it took 9 failed auditions to get the presenter job on Live. What stood out for me in that first article I read was how the panel judging candidates auditioning for the job criticized her style and language. Using that criticism, she went back to the drawing board and remade herself into the classier, edgier and well-spoken woman they were after and then she got the job. She was one of the first SA celebrities to set up a website dedicated to espousing her self as a brand. Her social media accounts all serve to reinforce that brand. AKA, already an established name in his own right when he started dating her, a few months into the relationship commented “I always had style‚ I guess now I have the money and made the connections to dress nice. I’m in close proximity to someone who has made me rethink what it means to be a brand.” That relationship is no more but the truth in his statement stands.

What’s even more interesting about Bonang is she gets a wide spectrum of jobs and recognition: a presenter, speaker, MC, hostess, style icon, brand ambassador (liquor, makeup, underwear) etc. She is not boxed in. Why is that? It’s because she is the brand that she sells, not the service she provides. This lends credence to the idea that people don’t buy what you are selling, they buy into who you are and consequently buy what you are selling. Just look at Apple Inc.

In addition to selling, there is also self-protection in branding yourself rather your product/service according to Deep Patel. “brand yourself separately from the projects in which you are involved. If you just focus on branding your company or startup and it fails, you lose all that work. But a personal brand can transcend the failure of any project.” Brian D. Evans, founder of Influencive.com, adds: “Branding also allows you to transcend your current project or job. It falls in line with the idea of ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’”

A personal brand can be developed and grown no matter what industry you operate in. It also applies to your personal life and traits. You are a lawyer: can your clients trust that the agreement you have handed over articulates what they have requested clearly and concisely? You are a consultant: do your clients know you will show up on time, prepared to engage and give meaningful advice? You are a student: does your lecturer associate your name with well-researched assignments and out of the box answers? Don’t for a second imagine you don’t have a personal brand. You do. We all do. “The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf.”

Are you the go-to person when someone needs something done with excellence and efficiency or quite the opposite? Worse still, are you decidedly mediocre? Just another cog in the wheel at work? at church? at home? at school? in life? #thehorror (unless of course, that is your desired brand). Are you the perpetual complainer? The problem-solver? Professional? shoddy dresser? The listener? Honest? Reliable? Temperamental? Gossip? Negative? Reactive? A leader? A follower? A coward? Brave? Bold? Conservative? Political? Soapbox preacher? Stirrer? Builder? Change-maker? Peacemaker? Pacifist? Fighter?

I am more conscious now than I have ever been of my personal brand and in trying to build it, I will be mindful of Deep Patel’s article’s warning of the pitfalls to avoid in consolidating my personal brand.

  • “A brand cannot be built on a manufactured personality or an alter ego. Simply put, there is no “fake it until you make it” here. If you are only after appearances, you will inevitably be exposed as a phony. You may feel like who you are isn’t good enough, but remember, authenticity is about including imperfections…
  • Don’t be inconsistent…“The number one reason why people fail at building a personal brand is they don’t do it consistently. You want to be remembered as a leader in your industry.”
  • Branding success doesn’t occur overnight, though. You have to be consistent so you start sticking in people’s minds. It can take years to make that happen.
  • Don’t make it all about what you can get. “Building a great brand is not about what you get, it’s about what you give,” Evans said. In support of this Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In made reference to an individual who called her about getting a job and instead of the expected “these are my qualifications and this is why I am wonderful…” she said, “what is the biggest problem you are facing right now and how can I help you solve it?” Sheryl gave her a job.
  • If you frame yourself as having value to offer while building your brand, you will build the best personal brand you can imagine.
  • Don’t try to do too much, or you will end up doing none of it well, Patel said. “Focus on some core skills and showcase them – you can’t be everything to everyone.” Know your limits [and talents], and pick your battles.”

What is your personal brand? What do you want people to say of you when you leave the room?

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