The first week of my Personal Branding class at Georgetown, I ask my students: Who are you?
To begin the real work of personal branding, and get to the core of who we are, I tell them:
- You are not your job title
- You are not your affiliation with an employer
- You are not your passion
- You are not all the things you've failed at.
Your personal brand isn't "I'm a PR manager" or "Wine and cheese is my passion". (barf) Your personal brand isn't "I'm divorced." It's also not, "I'm a government wonk."
Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.
When we think about what that means, we need to reframe how we think about and talk about ourselves.
When I'm not in the room, I wouldn't want someone to describe me as "oh, she does marketing for a tech company." Why? Because tens of thousands of other people do that. That's not memorable. That doesn't set me apart.
So, I work with my students to identify their functions, attributes, strengths, emotional appeal, and differentiators.
- Functions: What do I do? What services do I offer?
- Attributes: What are the characteristics or qualities that describe me?
- Strengths: What am I good at? What am I known for being good at?
- Emotional Appeal: How do I make people feel?
- Differentiators: What sets me apart and makes me memorable?
Every semester I have taught this class -- EVERY SEMESTER -- at least one student says, "there's nothing memorable about me" or "I have no idea what sets me apart". At least 5 other students nod in the affirmative. I used to want to just hug them and tell them it will be okay ... but now, hearing that makes me excited. Why? Because I know that person is going to have a pretty damn remarkable semester in my class digging deep and finding out what sets them apart from others. Because it's there. They just don't know it yet. When we find it (and we always do), it's magic. I wish you could see it. The energy and momentum that comes from it is infectious.
I don't use the word "unique" in my class. I think it's unnecessary in personal branding. When I see personal branding presentations or articles with the words "unique value proposition" I automatically know two things: 1) that person's personal brand is Boring King of Finger-Guns City and 2) they are not in my tribe. Using "unique value proposition" is the kind of marketing gobbledygook that turns people off from the whole exercise of figuring out what they're great at doing, how they can pursue those talents in myriad ways, and how they talk about themselves and interact with the world around them. Our DNA makes us unique. But in terms of talents, skills, values, and experiences, "unique" is not what we're going after. We're going after what makes us memorable ... what makes people want to engage with you when they meet you or have heard about you. What makes you magnetic. What helps you find your tribe.
For one student, her memorable moment was that she had her pilot's license before she could drive a car. For another student, it was having written and submitted a spec script for "How I Met Your Mother" (which never got used, but the very action of doing it is a fun story and shows part of that student's personality and gumption that might not have shown up in a regular networking conversation). Yet another student had done more than 100 drops out of a helicopter in the military ... didn't seem interesting to her, but in conversation with others it made her memorable and also kind of a badass.
So, who are you?