One of my favorite things about teaching personal branding is when I get to drop the bomb that when it comes to your personal brand, what YOU think doesn't matter. What other people think matters a whole lot.
Why? A personal brand is a perception or emotion maintained by someone other than you that describes your outstanding qualities and influences that person's relationship with you.
Your brand exists on the foundation of a set of perceptions and emotions in someone else's head and heart.
Think about some of your favorite commercial brands: HBO, Amazon, Chipotle, Apple... how do you perceive them? Those companies pay a lot of money to ensure you have a certain perception of them, but how you really feel about them also is shaped by your own experiences.
As individuals, you and I don't have a $500 million ad budget to help shape how others see us. When it comes to personal branding, perception is reality. What you put out there, how you are in public and private, defines your personal brand.
We are judged -- and our brands defined by others -- by what comes up when we're Googled, what we wear, our body language, whether or not we deliver on promises, our social media and personal/professional presence, what we do for others, whether we're seen as authentic, and how we handle ourselves when we screw up.
We're also judged by others' experiences prior to and during their time with us. Fair or not, it happens. For example:
I may think I'm a hard worker.
Ugh, she's a workaholic brown noser and her life is sad.
I may think I'm a strong team leader.
This dude just gives orders and takes credit when the boss loves our work.
I may think I have a great sense of humor.
Girlfriend doesn't know when to take things seriously. Not everything is a joke.
I may think I'm great with clients.
I've never seen a photo of him without a red Solo cup in his hands, and Tweeting drunk selfies with clients is no bueno.
See the differences? I bet we all know people on both sides of those examples above. Perception matters.
What should you be thinking about when it comes to others' perceptions?
- What do I want to be known for?
- What qualities do I want people to associate with me?
- What's the first thing I want to have pop in someone's head when he or she hears my name?
If you choose to be who you are, with distinction and relevance ... if you choose to be authentic and consistent ... if you choose to be mindful of your words and actions, your personal brand will help you build trusted, valuable relationships and allow you to make a meaningful difference in the world.
There will sometimes be a gap between how you want to be perceived and how you are really perceived. The goal is to maintain a very narrow gap.
So, how you find out how you're perceived? Ask. There's a collective groan in the classroom when I ask my Georgetown students to email colleagues, friends, and others a set list of questions to see not just how they're perceived, but if they are consistent and authentic.
What do they ask? Things like:
- How would you describe me to someone else in 1-2 sentences?
- If my name were a brand, what would my 3 key attributes be?
- What's an example of a problem you'd look to me to solve?
- What am I most interested in?
- Where could I benefit from professional development or coaching?
- What do you think my specific expertise is?
Many times, the email replies are surprising. Seven different people giving seven different answers to one person ... perhaps showing a lack of consistency or authenticity. Some students have gotten replies along the lines of "I don't feel like I know you well enough to answer" -- coming from a supervisor of two years. What's going on there, right?
Most of the time, the feedback is interesting, eye-opening, and really helps my students narrow that gap between their intention and others' perceptions.
We all need honest, thoughtful input from others about how we're perceived. It can be uncomfortable to ask for and to receive, but it's critical to knowing who you are, how others see you, and ensuring that your talents and skills are smartly aligned in your work and personal life.
How are YOU perceived? Have you thought about it?