Regular readers of Protagion’s articles may recall that we previously shared insights from Dorie Clark in two formats:
This article focuses on personal branding, building on some of Dorie’s thoughts on this topic, especially as she has been described as “passionate about helping others take control of their professional lives and make an impact on the world”. Her perspective is influenced by her own background in journalism, public relations (including as a spokeswoman), and marketing strategy.
Defining and shaping your personal brand is a topic that surfaces fairly regularly in our engagement with Protagion’s members, so we anticipate that this article will be of wider relevance to our readers too.
For some, the word ‘branding’ conjures up ideas of insincere or disingenuous promotion of a desired personal image, packaged in a way to elicit specific emotions. In our context though, it is all about your reputation and being conscious of it i.e. how others see you.
Carla Harris, who we’ve also written about before, argues that “perception is the co-pilot to reality: how people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you. And it’s important that you if want to maximise your success, you should understand the perception that exists about you in the marketplace.”
Others’ perceptions are part of our reputations, yes, and these views can be shaped authentically by how we behave. Our brand is not something we say (or advertise), it’s something that we live i.e. how we act over time. The key question is then how we can live in a way that people are more likely to get an accurate impression of us.
Dorie explains that you can’t build a reputation “in an obnoxious way... foghorning your way into people’s consciousness. You’ve got to find a better and more subtle way of conveying your value, your worth and what you can really do.”
Some experts are tempted not to shape their reputations actively as they believe that their work will speak for itself. Tai Tran, CEO of Blue and Maslow Labs, and named by Forbes as a 30 under 30 in Marketing & Advertising in 2016, warns that “a narrative or personal brand that is not shaped by you will be formed and told by others”. Rob Brown, author of ‘Build Your Reputation’* says: “If you don’t have a high profile, it’s like being brilliant, but anonymous… No-one will see your brilliance if you don’t raise your profile... It's no good being the best kept secret in the world.”
Your personal brand is a kind of career insurance. It’s the reason that people will come to you and… pay the value that you’re worth because you’re known for something.”
Three steps in building your reputation
Dorie describes three steps in the personal branding process:
1) Discover your Brand: how are you currently perceived by others?
2) Develop your Narrative: what you want to be known for and how do you want to be viewed?
3) Show What You Can Do: how do you manifest your brand and live it consistently?
How you are perceived
Ultimately your brand is what other people say it is, so the first step is to understand how others think about you. Different groups of people can perceive you differently, possibly because of how you interact with each of them i.e. which facets of who you are you show each group.
Asking different people for their feedback on how they see you is incredibly instructive. You may want to include your boss, other senior stakeholders, your peers, employees, clients and suppliers in your list, and possibly friends and family members too. It is important to reflect on both what they say and what they don’t say, and identify similarities and differences between groups.
Your vision for your personal narrative
Once you understand how you are currently perceived, you will have an excellent sense of what you can build on, and what impressions need work. Be careful though not to feel pressure to reinvent yourself as something other people want. To craft an authentic personal narrative (your desired state), consider what you’d want your reputation to be, given the groups of people you interact with, aiming for congruence as far as possible between groups.
Your narrative should celebrate what is unique about you – what can you bring that no-one else can? Our differences and diversity play a crucial role in this, and our uniqueness also depends on the situation or circumstances. You should also consider what drives meaning in your life, what defines you, and what you feel passionate about. Vivid and memorable moments from your past can help prompt ideas, and can point to a common pattern or thread that runs through your experiences.
Personal branding is mainly the idea [of] the representation of the best of you: your flaws, your triumphs, your challenges but also your successes as well."
In summary, your narrative should be a short, succinct story of where you’ve been, where you want to go and why, and how the skills you’ve developed over time will add value in your envisaged future. Visual designers sometimes speak of having a consistent visual identity for a brand (similar to the principles behind a logo) that unites it. A compelling narrative will similarly unite the activities you undertake in the third step of living your brand as they will have a common foundation.
Living your brand consistently
One of the ways to embody your desired narrative is to work towards being known as an expert at what you do. Dorie explains a number of possibilities for demonstrating credibility: “Maybe it’s writing for high-profile publications. Maybe it’s publishing a book. Maybe it’s starting a very popular podcast or web series. Maybe it is consulting for [corporate] clients people have heard of… Maybe it is becoming the head of a professional association… If you want to be recognised as a thought leader in your field, an expert in your field, social proof or credibility is one of the things that you really need to think consciously about how to amass.”
As a generalist herself, Dorie feels it is easier to advance more quickly as a specialist, and recommends being extremely targeted in choosing your specialism as you can then demonstrate expertise in that niche. Once you are seen as an expert in that niche, the halo effect will colour others’ impressions of you beyond the niche, and you can widen your sphere of influence. Dorie argues that, although the route is more circuitous, being a generalist can also lead to success as you have different experiences you can cross-hatch to add value. And, related to this, Dorie believes that cross-discipline training can spur innovation and creativity as it brings together insights from different specialisms. At Protagion, we’ve previously written about specialisation vs generalisation as a career strategy too.
Some communication-related tips around showcasing your expertise:
Dorie also emphasises the importance of your network and relationships in building your reputation: “Make sure that you are networking outside your company so that you know people, and have options and information and opportunities. Make sure that you are trying to build your brand outside your company, whether it is taking on a leadership role in a professional organisation or giving speeches at conferences...
She highlights the importance of becoming a hub in strengthening your network as it allows you to work across and between silos, building relationships across apparent boundaries. In her words: “One of the most effective things you can do to build a strong career, to get known and recognised by your peers as someone with something to contribute, is to become the dot in the middle”. Being viewed as a connector also allows you to learn and share things others don’t know and reaching across and building relationships with other types of people (“bridging capital”) gives you more to contribute in helping others.
Another form of gaining inspiration and insight from your network that Dorie has spoken and written about is mentorship. She recommends identifying “slices” from different people of things you respect or want to learn about, and suggests thinking of it as a “Mentor Board of Directors”, a further topic we’ve written about previously. Her concern is that many workers (from early-to-mid career) are less likely to have mentors than decades ago because short-term performance pressures are crowding out more experienced workers’ capacity to nurture others. She also recognises that new areas or roles by nature have no seasoned experts yet, limiting the pool you can learn from.
Your personal brand is what other people say about you when you leave the room. It's essentially your professional reputation.”
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