Personal Branding For Business – Brilliant, Not Backwards

Personal branding, the science of establishing a brand identity for individuals, usually related to career/professional development.  The personal brand idea is taken from what companies have been doing since the dawn of capitalism, and an individual uses these principles to find a way to stand out from the crowd, figure out what value he or she adds, presenting a consistent personality online to develop a reputation in this space of too-much-information.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about personal branding lately; as a marketer, it fascinates me.  And I realized that some of the tenets of this practice are employing major principles of marketing that have atrophied in business, principles which need to be reexamined if brands are going to survive.

Me, Inc.The following is a list of 10 reasons individuals, especially job seekers, should be concerned with personal branding.  It comes from personalbrandingblog.com, the brain child of Dan Schawbel, one of the current proponents of the field, and author of Me 2.0.  I took these principles and turned them right back around to business branding, because businesses often seem confused in their Web content and social media strategy, as well as branding as a company-life-long effort. Which technologies to use?  What kind of content?  What does our audience want from us?   The information below is taken directly from Schawbel’s blog. I’ve added my comments in italics.

 1. Generations are colliding online

Facebook started out as a hang out place for college students, but now we’re seeing older generations adopt social networking. Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010. This means that communication between age groups is occurring more and more each day, and your audience is changing rapidly. Entire families are interacting online and 70% of parents friend their kids. You have to be aware of your audience and the content you’re publishing because if they don’t match, it can have a negative effect on your personal brand.

Understand your audience. What are the demographics of the largest portions of your customers?  Don’t exclude older users from technology tools, including social media.  And consider your content and how it relates to them. 

2. Your online reputation can make or break you

Your brand is on the line, wherever your name and face is seen. Clients, managers and other professional stakeholders in your life have access to what you post publicly on the net. You can even lose your job over blog comments or attacks from people that already have a negative view on your reputation. For instance, Madhu Yarlagadda was hired by Skype as the new Chief Development Officer, and after a TechCrunch blog post, people came out of the woodwork to expose Madhu. Skype replaced him after a month of employment….

The brand of your employees matters as much as your company’s brand.  You must consider what your people are publishing, and encourage them to develop their own brands as experts in your industry, especially the execs.  And watch out for negativity.  Have policies in place about commenting or responding on blogs!  Transparency is great for business, so you don’t want to have too many watchdogs, but there ought to be some guidelines for avoiding bad publicity traps.

3. Employers are reviewing your online personal brand …

Almost every website on the planet has a search engine component to it and employers are using them to find more information about you.… Make sure your personal brand is consistent and up-to-date.

Make no mistake, people are Googling your company.  With the dollar tighter than ever, people want to know they’re making the right choice when they spend their money.   Check your Google results, and your online reputation.  Make sure it’s consistent with how you want to be perceived. The challenge is always aligning audience perceptions with your own, and how you wish to be seen.  It’s a give and take, but you can help it along with the right Web content, professional profiles, and SEO.

4. Perception (how we present ourselves) is king

It’s the little things that count, whether you’re in an interview, or interacting with people online. A CareerBuilder survey states that 67% of hiring managers say that failure to make eye contact would make them less likely to hire a job candidate and 38% said lack of smile. People will judge you on small things that make a big difference. By being professional, using good eye contact, shaking someone’s hand, having good posture, and using appropriate images online, you will be more successful when communicating with others.

Your customers will judge you on the small stuff, too.  Make sure you’re portraying your brand in a light that engages with your particular audience.  Know who that is.  If it’s a family friendly atmosphere you want, smile in all your photos, talk about your kids in your blog posts, and provide Web content related to child safety or education.  People need to perceive that you are who you say you are, and the tone in your blog and even the way you answer the phone matters.  Tell your employees to always answer the same way, with a smile – others can hear it. 

5. Stay relevant or stay unemployed

You need to be relevant to be desirable in the marketplace. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60% of all new jobs in the twenty-first century will require skills that only 20% of current employees possess. You need a sense for what skills are important in your industry, and which ones might be significant in the future. By keeping yourself relevant, you’re keeping yourself employed. For instance, if you’re in the marketing world, you can’t avoid online advertising, and mobile applications.

Keep up to date with your company brand, evaluating and checking in every once in a while.  Survey the competitive landscape and make sure the skills, values, and method of service your company provides is in line with what consumers want.  This includes new technologies, if they are appropriateyou’re your audience.  Stay relevant.  Showcase these updated skills on your Web site, blog, and social media campaigns.

6. Job searching has been replaced by “people searching”.  If you apply for a job through a job board, you will be disappointed.

[…]As you progress in your career, networking becomes more important because it’s almost 100% a hidden job market when you’re an executive job seeker.… Your best bet is to focus on building an enormous Rolodex throughout your career, giving value to them, and then asking for help when you need it.

Networking, we all know, is as important for client management and growth opportunities for business as it is for individuals looking for a job.  Make yourself visible in the community, and get out there every once in a while.  Even with more technology involved in the workplace, it’s still about the people.  Collaborate with other organizations that serve the same population and grow your network exponentially.  Volunteer for committees or nonprofits; go to the Chamber of Commerce meetings.  Circulate!

7. You have to stand out, to get noticed, and uncover opportunities

People are starting to go to extreme lengths to stand out in this crowded world. …[T]here are a lot of things you can do to build your personal brand and get attention. For instance, creating a video resume of yourself and sending it to a hiring manager is one way to get through the noise. Also, having a blog that depicts your human voice is a great addition to a stale resume that employers don’t trust anyways.

Do something to get attention.  Guerilla marketing tactics work.  Make a splash.  Buy a town, like Half.com .  Let loose thousands of bouncy balls down the hills of San Francisco, like Sony.  Hold an event in collaboration with other businesses, organizations, and individuals in your community – with beer trucks and Sufi dancing.  Start a program for kids.  Accept video submissions from customers and put them on your site.  Inject some real personality into your blog and stop playing it so safe.  You can’t appeal to everyone, but those you do appeal to will respect you more for taking a stand and being creative.

8. You have to specialize

You need to be known for something and don’t try to be everything to everyone. Being a generalist will help you adapt to new jobs because the market changes all the time, but specializing will make you more desirable to hiring managers. In fact, 71% of hiring managers are looking to fill “specialized positions” while 61% of job seekers considered themselves to have “broad skill sets”. Companies are looking to hire experts in their fields to solve real business problems. Become an expert in an in-demand field and you will have leverage over the recruitment process, make more money, and secure a stable position.

You have to choose.  As in #7, you can’t appeal to everyone.  And Wal-Mart’s already been done.  As a business, if you can find a niche that you fill better than anyone, you have a better chance of surviving in today’s marketplace.  Can you specialize your service or product?  How about your audience?  Do you make auto equipment?  Can you get a booth at all the retro car shows and become known as the antique vehicle collector’s place to go?  Are you in technology?  Can you focus on the Web developers specifically, or the field of Healthcare IT? Make sure your target audience is growing, or big enough to sustain you.  People have made businesses out of some pretty specific niches.  And determining your Web content is easier when you’re specialized.

9. The competition is relentless

The competition we’re facing online is getting tougher by the day. There are 75 million people on LinkedIn, 150 million blogs, 500 million people on Facebook, and 200 million people on Twitter. With the amount of noise/content available now, you have to work harder, faster, and smarter to get your name out there. People who have known brands in their industry will flourish because people already know, like and trust them. Everyone else has to put in the effort to build a brand that can compete…

We’re well aware of the white noise out there, especially online.  But if your brand is not known, you’re going to have to work at it to avoid being drowned out.  This is why truly understanding your audience, your mission, and your brand personality is important.  It will help you stand out and keep from being another business doing the same old thing.  Don’t be noise – say something important with your work.  What’s your mission statement? If it’s boilerplate, revise it.  Make it count and get your brand out there.

10. Interpersonal skills are becoming more valuable

A brand requires a personality if it’s going to be distinctive. Your personal brand needs to be personable and attract positive attention. Organizations are starting to place a higher value on interpersonal skills (communication, teamwork, organization) and cultural fit, instead of technical skills and experience. Technical skills and experience are easily replaceable in most fields, but it’s harder to replace people who fit perfectly in your organization and work well with your current employees. A new survey by Right Management shows that 31% of companies feel that organizational culture and motivation fit is important, while only 12% are for technical skills, and 11% are for relevant experience.

What’s your corporate culture?  You have one, but if you don’t know what it is, you may want to take some steps to shape it.  People pay attention to your culture and its consistency with your overall brand image.  Does it mesh?  If your mission is to help others, are your employees allowed volunteer time each month?  If you’re a green energy-saving business, what do you do in-house to stay green?  Are you LEED certified?  Do you have a compost pile or all LED lighting? Again, what does your audience want from you? Give it to them.

In addition, positivity and personality should be showcased throughout company/customer communications.  Establish a voice for your blog and social media and keep it consistent. 

 

Follow these 1o tenets and rise to the top of the heap – and the Google search results….

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