Toward a Theory of Personal Branding (Part I)

Given: Success in many environments comes from a combination of old-fashioned hard work, excellent social skills, and a touch of flagrant self-promotion.

Let us consider flagrant self-promotion as an ingredient for success. Hard work is hardly a topic for much discussion: we know it’s critical. Haul yourself out of bed because the early bird gets the worm. (Though it often seems that the earliest bird gets the worm figured out, paving the way for the second earliest bird to obtain the worm and reap the big rewards!) Social skill-building for business is an excellent topic for discussion, and it merits a full treatment. One of my favorite topics of all time is networking tips and tricks and I very much enjoy helping individuals and groups explore the true size and breadth of their personal and professional networks. It’s awkward under the hot lights, but let’s be brave and take a look.

In order to be clear that building a personal brand is not the same as craving a spotlight, let us first consider a famous name who shun the spotlights when she is not working: Meryl Streep. Considered by some to be film’s greatest living actress, Streep rarely appears in tabloids and keeps her public appearances to a minimum. In keeping with this lack of gratuitous self-promotion, Streep has built a personal brand of seriousness and dedication to her craft.

Close to home, there are plenty of notable characters who work to maintain a personal brand. One well-known consultant wears a bow tie to each and every networking event. A female company president keeps her mane long and blond; combined with the feminine name of her firm, it suggests a welcome differentiation in a male-dominated field. A p.r. specialist at an architecture firm always chose yellow for her social media avatar backgrounds, which worked perfectly with her sunglasses and sporty updates to convey California-born freshness on the East Coast.

Business in general can be seen as having two essential parts: the product and the market. It’s simplistic, but it works well. A product is developed, whether a new invention or a fresh take on a time-tested service. Perhaps your firm was founded by an engineer: that person represents the product. The market has to be represented inside the company, too, whether by a chief of client service, sales, or marketing. Product and market.

In the case of a personal brand, the product and the market are one. When developing and promoting your work and persona, you must see yourself as product, which may be at some level objectionable. What is the product truly? What makes it/you unique? And of course, what does the market want? How does the market want to make use of your talents? Can these two identities fuse together successfully? A personal brand that accepts its true and dyadic nature has magnetism. It has a reputation that shines equally outward and inward. The velocity is spiral and increasing. With applied acceleration, it may go viral.

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