(Originally published on LinkedIn on December 9, 2014)
Those of us who work in marketing talk a lot about branding. Usually, we’re talking about logos and colors and taglines…the little things that make a company brand recognizable.
Think about the Red Cross. You see that cross, and you know exactly what you’re looking at. You see a gecko, and you automatically know it’s Geico. And it goes beyond the visual: many companies use jingles or sounds as part of their branding (think about NBC and Intel, for example). These little cues are designed to evoke a specific feeling, a message, or an image that the company wants to convey. Repetition cements these messages into our minds, translating into brand recognition—one of the most powerful determinants of a company’s success.
But have you ever given any thought to your *personal* brand and how it might be affecting your work and personal life?
Whether you realize it or not, you are always selling something—yourself. Every place you go, every conversation you have, and everything you wear broadcasts your personal brand. For example, the guy who rolls up to the office in his convertible BMW is communicating something—affluence, sportiness, and a desire to stand out from the crowd (or maybe a mid-life crisis). A pearl necklace may look conservative, while a wrist full of funky bangles may be advertising creativity and flare.
Your brand influences your career, your relationships, even the nature of your interactions with strangers. Are you conscious of what you’re conveying?
Below are some factors that may be affecting your personal brand. I encourage you to run through this list and ask yourself what your brand might be saying about you. You can ask friends or colleagues for a reality check, too.
- Branding is contextual. Your brand won’t be interpreted the same way everywhere you go. For example, if I work at a Silicon Valley startup (which I do), donning a nose ring and torn-up jeans may communicate my desire to appear hip and youthful (here’s hoping). But if I walked into the office of a hiring manager at IBM with the same outfit, I won’t get the same reception at all. Instead of hip and youthful, I will likely be perceived as sloppy and unprofessional.
- Details are everything. I went to private school from 4th to 8th We had to wear uniforms. Although all the kids were basically dressed the same, it was still obvious who the rich kids were. Their shoes came from Saks, not Sears (like mine). The girls sported diamond studs on their ears instead of earrings they made at summer camp. Their book bags were obviously upscale. Same goes as an adult. Your hair, your shoes, even your manicure…they all affect how you are perceived. As you evaluate your personal brand, don’t overlook the small stuff.
- Your language conveys more than you may realize. Do you say “like,” or “um,” a lot? Do you say “hella” (if you’re over 15, please don’t!)? Do you spell “probably” as “prolly” in your work emails? If you do, you may be coming across as unsophisticated or immature. Conversely, if you pepper your emails with five syllable words, you may be coming across as pretentious, not intelligent. It goes without saying that your spelling and punctuation speak volumes about your education and your attention to detail.
- Entries and exits count. Are you always late? You could be communicating carelessness or disorganization. Are you consistently early? You might be communicating eagerness. Are you the last one to leave the office at night? You may be perceived as a hard worker. Do you walk in with a booming hello, or silently slink to your desk? Try to step out of yourself to see what your behavior might mean in your specific environment.
- Relationship styles speak volumes. Are you stand-offish at work? Are you a hugger? Do you say “hi” in the hallways in the office? Are you a good listener? These interactions are even more influential than the superficial stuff.
Once you’ve run through this list, put them together to create a picture of the brand you are communicating. Maybe it doesn’t match your self-perception at all. As another litmus test, you might evaluate the same factors in your boss, your coworkers, your friends. What cues are they broadcasting?
I look forward to your ideas and comments about personal branding—what you think, how you handle it, and how it might be affecting your life and your career. Feel free to comment, or drop me a line at <a href=”mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com</a>.