When it starts to get personal

THIS week I delivered a workshop on personal branding to a fantastic group of women in the media industry, and the feedback I’ve received has motivated me to share some of what we discussed with you today. Personal branding has gained momentum over the years, and while many people mistake it for self-promotion and others for publicity, it is in fact neither of those. As a concept personal, branding is a logical extension of branding and in order to be clear it, we can look more closely at branding itself.

By Thembe Khumalo

There are as many definitions of branding as there are experts in the field, but generally, we can agree that a brand is that peculiar combination of attributes that delivers a set of benefits (through a product or service) that meets the needs of a consumer. The brand includes not just the name, logo or packaging that establishes the brand identity — it encompasses the entire brand experience, which results in a relationship with the brand. Some of the elements of the brand include the product, packaging, look and feel, personality, history, values, perceived benefits etc etc. The brand is the total package; and that package is unique. The key worth of a brand is differentiation. In other words, the reason we bother to brand products, is to differentiate them from similar products with which it competes.

So how does this apply to an individual?

In 1997 Tom Peters, wrote an article in Fast Company magazine challenging readers to become CEOs of their own imaginary corporations — Me Inc. To be successful in business, he said, your most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called “You”. Two years later, he published a book called The Brand You: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an Employee into a Brand that Shouts Distinction. He made the case for everyone having their own signs of distinction, which need to be managed by that individual for maximum benefit.

We all have an identity, a uniqueness that defines us as individuals. Each living creature has its own signature — your fingerprint, bone structure, blood type, facial features, race, culture and more. Each of us has a specific DNA and we use it to identify ourselves. In the process of personal branding the important thing is how you communicate that self to your consumers. Yes, you have consumers just as a commercial product has consumers. And you need to find ways to get your consumers to choose you over other, similar products on the market, which might fulfil the same functions.

The process of communicating that distinction is what we call personal branding. It’s an ongoing process, which happens whether you are communicating deliberately or not.

It is the reason why your customers (friends, employers, lovers) will choose you when they could just as easily choose anyone else.

You don’t just want to be a good brand (well at least I don’t!) — you want to be a brand that is attractive, distinctive, compelling. This wont be achieved simply by having a beautiful business card, or a trendy hair-style. This begins with knowing what you want to achieve.

A personal brand needs to be powered by a clear purpose. What do you want to be known for ? Your legacy — what will it be? What will make you feel fulfilled, satisfied and confident that your life has impact and meaning. These are the foundations of a purpose-powered brand. Strong personal brands seldom happen accidentally. As Steve Covey would say, “Begin with the end in mind.” I set out with purpose. Deciding what you want to be known for helps you lay the foundations for your legacy.

To drive that purpose, you will need a set of values: What is really important to you in life? Often we have to give up the things we want for the things that we want more. Decide what you are prepared to sacrifice to achieve your purpose, and what you will never compromise. Establishing a values-driven brand will help you to maintain consistency because your values seldom change. Consistency is the bedrock of brand building, and ultimately, this is nothing more than habit.


Once you have established your brand values, you will then need to foster the kinds of relationships that support your brand values. Relationship building is an important part of personal branding because relationships determine what values you will be associated with — even if those are not your own They can be social, professional, or organisational. You have many opportunities every day to nurture relationships — you will need to decide which relationships are of value in terms of your needs, your goals, your values and what you have to offer (lets not forget that relationship-building is a two-way process).

A truth that is often hard to swallow is the fact that other people’s perception of your personal brand (the brand experience) becomes the reality for the simple reason that they will share and spread what they understand you to be, whether positive or negative. They will make decisions based on how they view you, and those decision could be professional or social. How we present ourselves and how we package ourselves will determine to a large extent how others see and perceive our personal brand.

Visual identity is concerned with how the brand message is communicated to the consumer. For a personal brand this means personal grooming, conduct, interaction with others, attitude, quality of work and whole host of other “moments of truth” for clients, superiors, employees and other consumers. The best way to build and maintain a good reputation is through consistent performance and delivery – in your work, in your relationships, in your values.
A compelling brand is one that is trusted. Consumer brands bank on repeat purchase for their success and this is heavily influenced by how much a product is trusted. The same goes for personal brands.

In the business world, trust represents a competitive advantage — infinitely exploitable and virtually impossible to replicate. And so it si with your personal brand.

Ultimately, people trust what they know. If nothing is known about you, you will have a hard time establishing trust. If what is known about you is only said by other people, you will find yourself extremely vulnerable. Engaging in a deliberate process of building your personal brand means you control the narrative about yourself, because if you don’t manage your reputation, someone else will.

Thembe Khumalo is a brand builder, storyteller and certified life coach. She can be reached on brandbuilder@zol.co.zw and social media handles
@thembekhumalo or @buildtobrandco

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