Definition and Elements of Personal Branding
What is Personal Branding According to Us?
As the CEO and co-founder of RockON I am often asked by people at professional gatherings, social occasions or while talking on the phone: “What exactly is personal branding?” People have heard of it, but they struggle to define it. It seems an important catch phrase that comes up in conversations or articles, or on TV talking head shows. People want to know first what it is. And then they want to know if it is applicable to them, how it helps them, and finally how can they practice it.
Right at the outset I want to point out there is a wide misperception that personal branding only applies to business professionals, managers or corporate officers—the mid to upper levels of corporate America. This is a wrong assumption. Personal branding is a process that powerfully works for a very complete range of people seeking advancement or opportunity: students, artists, actors, athletes, writers, teachers, blue collar professionals, craftspeople, artisans, engineers, doctors, architects, retail store owners, ministers or priests, advice service professionals, politicians, government workers, nonprofit executives, and more fields.
All individuals in these fields harvest the benefits and empowerment of the personal branding art. And all aspiring individuals benefit from our platform RockON’s power of combining a personal website with total control of social media sites and the tools and networking resources of our community.
There are dozens of definitions of personal branding offered by a host of writers or branding gurus and there are many facets or subtleties of those definitions.
Here’s one I like for its compelling simplicity. While at dinner parties or gatherings of professionals Jeff Bezos—CEO and founder of Amazon.com—provides a memorable nutshell defining of personal branding: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Here, as well, is my essential definition I use at RockON; Personal branding is who we are or the image we want to consciously project.
For people I tell the Bezos quote to, or my own quote, they usually understand quickly how personal branding is one’s reputation among those who know them or know of them. It obviously shows how a person’s reputation works in favor (or not) in radiating out through an audience that has the power to decide or help decide the attaining of new positions, projects, jobs or opportunities.
And these definitions clearly demonstrate that we consciously make our personal brand to a large degree. We don’t have control over how a person views us as that is a complex psychological condition, but we can largely shape our personal reputation both professionally and personally to be as positive and favorable as possible.
If you take a look at my RockON definition, you’ll see an important element of it is “who we are.” Personal branding is who we are. That immediately tells us that personal branding is based on the authentic, natural, real life “I.” It is not based on an inauthentic, insincere “I” that is a sort of pretense, acting or false shaping of personality. That will be easily spotted by decision makers, colleagues, friends and acquaintances as a fake “you,” and your personal branding will be negatively impacted. There is no falseness in personal branding. There is always authenticity and truth—the truth of how we lead our professional and personal lives and how we have led our lives in the past.
Another revealing aspect of the “who we are” definition to cognize is that it is the total “I.” “Who we are” is holistically inclusive, not exclusive to a facet of us. This means personal branding is more than our professional skills, reputation, accomplishments, relationships. It includes our entire personal nature, character, subconscious and life: family, friends, pastimes, interests, opinions, psychological and intellectual makeup. Take note of this, as later I will be discussing how we are always personal branding, we are always on the personal branding stage, and how RockON can be the most powerful theater that you use for your stage. And this is what the second element of my definition speaks to: the image we want to consciously project. What does this mean? Consciously projecting our image? Well, in keeping with authentic condition of being who we are we can’t just project a fake “I.” We can’t project an acting version of ourselves. No matter how hard we consciously try to project a false image, it will be instantly recognized as false, manipulative, and hypocritical. What we are doing is consciously projecting who we really are, and as we’ve really been in the past. However, as we are consciously or purposely projecting our image, we can take steps to shape the most positive perception of us as a person and professional. We can use what is called the “ecology” of personal branding to create the most favorable impression to others, as well as to mitigate the unfavorable impressions. Personal branding ecology includes the entire environment you are known in: family, friends, peers, report-to’s, company colleagues, industry colleagues, clients or customers, social media such as Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter, articles or other media you appear in, web sites you appear on, or a personal branding platform like RockON.
Personal branding is, of course, an outcome of marketing ourselves—which is originally how personal branding was conceived seventeen years ago. It is applying the principle of branding (which has been around since the 1860’s as an advertising concept) to our personal selves. It is the purposeful marketing of us as an individual toward a given goal. Branding used to be what you did with horses or cattle to identify them as belonging to a particular ranch. You burned a brand icon on them. They were identified as yours: easy to identify for selling or as a preventive measure to stealing. Branding then became the process of giving a product—like desktop computers—a persuasive identity of performance trust, coolness and societal necessity. Like the Mac from Apple. Or Wholefoods markets for organic, natural, community sourced, free range food products. Branding is creating a recognizable identity and then marketing that identity in specific markets.
Personal branding is creating a recognizable identity and marketing ourselves in specific job or opportunity markets.
The original coining of the term “personal branding” by Tom Peters in 1997 exhorted us to look at ourselves as a company of “Me Inc.” as in: I am a company. As a company, I brand and market myself.
Tom Peters enthusiastically first used the phrase personal branding in an article he wrote in 1997 for Fast Company magazine. He wrote in summation: It’s a new brand world. You’re branded, branded, branded. We are CEO’s of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called YOU.
That’s the simple, somewhat corporate look at personal branding, but it has evolved powerfully over the past seventeen years.
As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos commented, now personal branding is how others perceive all facets of you—from personality to work skills to character to history and interests to communication artfulness.
So now, the nature of personal branding is inclusive of your reputation, character, emotional intelligence and a rather indefinable sense of quality that comes from the total you. Interestingly enough, it is the process of personal branding that will help you understand yourself better. In fact many branding thinkers state this is one of the first essential steps in the branding process: understanding who you are.
Here is what branding advisor Robin Fisher Roffer observes in today’s personal branding: “to know who you are and be valued for it, to attract what you want, to become more attractive to others, to inspire confidence, to walk your path with integrity, and to distinguish yourself in whatever field you’ve chosen.”
Obviously, this is much deeper than the 1997 perception of personal branding as an analog to a company’s branding and marketing. In today’s personal branding world there is a necessity for being honestly reflective about ourselves—not just an ad hoc projecting or marketing ourselves with a set of skills. Reflecting on who we are as a whole person is now an important feature of the personal-oriented branding. This is self reflection that emerges out of self awareness. Self awareness means, of course, aware of self as a whole—from how we think, emote, speak, appear, react, interact to what we do, why we do it, how can we better do it, or how can we better ourselves. And if this sounds philosophical, it is—for personal branding is both a pragmatic and philosophical undertaking. The more you understand this, the more powerful personal branding will work for you.
With these multi-layer definitions of personal branding in mind, the perceptions, philosophy, purpose and power of RockOn as a branding platform becomes very apparent. And when you combine personal branding with the explosively exposing power (both positive and negative) of the internet universe, the necessity of RockON as the ultimate branding platform is easily grasped and appreciated.
To understand fully why personal branding is so applicable and critical in today’s world, its helpful to recognize that a person’s brand as a social extension of himself and his goals was applicable and critical in historical times—not just in our social technological times.
Take Michelangelo, the 15th century genius sculpture, painter and engineer of Italy. From a young age he was supposed to be doing accounting and banking, but he much preferred drawing. At age thirteen he was apprenticed in Florence to a master mural artist, and he already had a goal of being a great sculptor—the greatest sculptor in the world. He had a personal branding goal, and he was already using his brand skills to maneuver his father into a change of profession. He built his brand reputation with his master teacher as a skilled sketch artist and colorist, and was chosen as one of two young teens to be introduced in 1489 to Lorenzo de’ Medici, defacto ruler of Florence as city/state, one of the richest bankers and businessman in Italy, extremely influential in Italian politics, and humanistic patron of the arts. Michelangelo, as a teen, took the opportunity to brand himself as an extraordinarily gifted sculptor with Medici, and to impress Medici’s circle of humanistic writers, philosophers and thinkers who were shaping the cultural, social, and scientific history of Italy. It was the perfect and very deft expression of personal branding in a period where reputation was spread by word of mouth, letters delivered by horseback messengers, books and the then early news sheets.
Michelangelo used the technology available to him for his personal branding. Thomas Edison—the most prolific and breakthrough inventor in history—used all the technology available in the 1890’s to enhance his personal brand. This included the telephone, radio and audio recordings and motion pictures. The telephone was the internet of those times, and newspapers were the social media of those times. The technology of the 1890’s empowered the personal branding of every individual seeking advancement or opportunity. Newspapers and the telephone became instrumental as personal branding technologies for the women’s vote movement, for instance.
The evolution of communication, of the ability to spread information more quickly to individuals or to larger pools of audiences, has rocketed personal branding into the realm of exponential power. It has also been a deeply driving force for the creation of personal websites that are one of the common personal branding channels that are being utilized today—along with the popular, planetary wide social media sites Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.
The internet and all of its evolved offshoots of websites, email, online social media, texting, blogging, instant and 24-hour news coverage has wrought a revolution in personal branding. Approximately half of the over 7 billion people on the planet are online. There are nearly one billion websites, and out of those websites there is a small percentage that are personal websites. These personal websites are, for all intents and purposes, branding sites. They are such either by intention or without intention.
At RockON, in recognizing the combined power of social media outlets and a dedicated personal website, we have engineered a new, revolutionary, comprehensive type of platform that gives the user all the tools and exponential reach to craft the ultimate personal brand. And to maintain and deliberately shape that personal brand into its most useful and efficacious expression(s) now and into the future.
Today the technology is so advanced and encompassing for worldwide communication for individuals and groups of interest that personal branding is at the level of being close to instantaneous. In some cases it is instantaneous. Politicians these days have to be very cautious about what they say in public (or even supposed private events) as a person recording them with a digital video camera can upload controversial content to the internet within seconds of its being captured. And the ability for outlets on the web to pick up interesting or provocative content from other outlets also approaches instantaneous.
The 21st century technology has even changed the meaning of personal branding. The term personal branding was first coined seventeen years ago when the internet was in its infancy. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Linkedin, no YouTube, no global video conferencing on laptops. There were none of the social media powerhouses we take for granted today. Back then it was more akin to marketing a product—yourself as your own brand. Now it is more akin to your holistic reputation as expressed by your person-to-person relationships with the right people and your social media or web identity as it is known by the right people. Now, the right people can include an international circle of influential decision makers that can range from Iceland to China, Dubai to South Africa.
Our essential RockON perception—or one of several kernel perceptions we had— was that a single well-conceived and built platform could enable users to brand intelligently and consciously through social media and also have the best features of a personal website that is driving branding—all this within the context of a platform that has a huge array of resources to help the user along with the platform’s own community connectivity. The combining of these three is logical and obvious. Consider that social media outlets reach an enormous audience with an almost shotgun dispersal approach of eclectic content, whereas a personal site reaches a much smaller, more focused audience and is comprised of very specific content. The platform tools empower the SMM and personal site, and the platform creates a synergy that is integrated into the greater platform community. The result is speed, growing exposure and purposely shaped positive personal branding.
Until recently, the reality was that personal branding came in a sort of binary state, an either social media or personal website approach. RockON changes the binary state into a single state by having both SMM and the personal site, plus the tools of a platform and the exponential reach of that platform’s broad reach community. So, having the benefit of a personal site combined with the connectedness of a platform defines our user experience.
The RockON platform is designed as a richly robust tool chest and integration hub. It provides unique, insightful measuring features that no other personal branding channel or author offers. It encompasses image and profile, career history, centralized social networking, professional development, brand authentication, and a score keeper, called Brand Power, that quantifies the essential elements of branding that we’ve identified.
B. What Do We Believe and Perceive at RockON?
We’ve defined personal branding through its evolution over the past seventeen years (and historically) up to today. We’ve logically presented how RockOn is a 3-in-1 perfect storm solution for personal branding: social media marketing right from RockON, a personal web site on RockON, a rich resource platform with an exponential outreach to RockON’s online professional community.
Over the past three years we’ve had hundreds of hours of discussions as to how personal branding can be most powerfully practiced and utilized, how it can be consciously formed to the most successful outcome. We’ve also looked very deeply at how personal branding is an integral expression of every part of your life, not just a few facets of it.
We’ve arrived at a number of important perceptions as a result of our insight thinking and discussions. One of the first phenomena we observed is that people are, in general, very careful about managing their financial capital. They know their bank account balances, securities investment status, net worth, credit card score. People spend a lot of time in understanding financial matters and tracking how they’re doing financially.
However, when it comes to personal capital, or professional capital, people are either ignorant of it or rarely tend to it. They are not aware of where they truly stand professionally (or personally) in the minds of others who may be decision makers directly involved in their prospects. This is a real capital. A very important capital as it represents your knowledge and decision accounts, your stock as an individual in a company or institution or field, your net value to others who hire you, and your performance score. Consider this: without personal capital there would be no financial capital. That’s how critical it is.
So, if you’re ignorant of, or not utilizing, your personal capital, you will be in an unfortunate, uninformed and powerless position when circumstances change. For instance, the job market faces a downturn, there is a job loss, a passing-over for a promotion or opportunity, or something unforeseen happens that affects one’s position or employment. Suddenly in the face of adversity, men and women are forced to take stock of who they are personally and how they perform professionally both in their own view and, more importantly, how others view them. They are examining their personal capital, and personal capital is the prodigy of personal branding. They find themselves pondering: “What skills and knowledge do I have? “What are my qualifications?” “What are my attributes?” “Where do I begin in terms of going forward, improving how others perceive my abilities and knowledge?” At this point they are directly contemplating the phenomenon of personal branding.
One of the most imperative perceptions we’ve arrived at in developing RockON for users is: you are always branding. As many brand gurus point out, every time you talk, or write, or emote or express body language or in any way communicate out to the social public you are branding.
3.) Do We Know the Direction of our Personal Brand or Does it
From my perspective at RockON this is one of the most vital questions to be asking ourselves (continuously) if we are to succeed in using personal branding consciously and optimally. The obvious answer if you think about it for a few moments is that personal branding does just happen and will continue to happen to you, and has happened to you continuously over your life. Branding is always there, always happening, whether you like it or not, whether you do anything about it or not, whether you’re even aware of it at all. You could be the VP of research and development in a company making chip technology for driverless cars and you could be totally ignorant of your overall brand—or even smaller measures and pieces of your brand. You might be slightly aware of how a few people view you in your company, and that is certainly part of your personal brand reputation. You could be cavalier about your reputation with a I-don’t-care attitude about what other people think about me because I do great work. We are getting back to the basic branding definition of Who We Are. That cavalier Who We Are attitude becomes part of your personal brand. Because it is Who We Are. It just happens. And branding is always happening. You can’t stop it. As long as you’re interacting with the public in a personal or professional expression your brand is evolving. And it is either evolving as an ally for you or in many cases your branding can harm your prospects. However, you can direct or shape branding towards a Who We Are reputation that is continuously enhancing and helping you. Imagine the power available to you if you do cognize the direction of your brand, you understand your brand reputation and how it works as a social exponential force, and then you choose to direct your brand towards a greater, always authentic, expression and projection of yourself.
In thinking about whether we’re directing branding or just letting it happen I quickly realized that we’ve been branding all our lives—from the age of 3 or 4 when we start interacting with others at a social and peer-awareness level. We were practicing personal branding when we went to preschool and learned how to positively impress other kids who then chose us for a finger painting activity, an outdoor game, or maybe invited us over to their homes for a play date or cookies and milk.
With today’s vast interconnectivity and instant speed of social media, your personal brand as it has been created (often unwittingly and unpurposefully) throughout your life is now open to exponential exposure and conscious shaping.
Branding Becomes a Major Factor as Early as High School and College
It’s important to realize that personal branding for career purposes can start early—particularly with the exposure power of social media. The life/career impact of personal branding can be as early as high school. Take the example this year (2015) of two seniors in high school down in Texas who are star basketball players. Both were closely looked at by recruiters at the University of Kentucky, the top rated college basketball team in the country. One of the players was recruited, and his overall personal branding was excellent and thoughtful, with careful attention to all aspects of how people perceived him—including social media posts he’d been making during high school. The other player did not get an offer to play for Kentucky. The reason he was not picked up by the team—as the recruiter explained—was a problem with Twitter and Facebook posts he had put up. His personal branding—though great on the basketball playing side—was given a negative tone by his communications in the wild west of social media.
Of course this applies to young men and women who are pursuing specific university educations towards specific careers. University enrollment opportunities are extended based on reputation, and reputation in the university world relates to the branding factors of high school academic performance, character building activities and altruistic social-driven activities.
Ask yourself this question: are you branding now? As I’ve discussed above, the answer is clearly yes. Yes, you are branding right now. It is clear that the process of branding starts at a very young age and continues for your entire life. Even in retirement branding is critically instrumental as opportunities for you arise in doing social, economic or spiritual work for your community or getting into societies you wish to belong to or any other endeavor in which you are evaluated by others.
If you’re aware that you’re always branding, then you will start to actively brand yourself consciously. Picture a VP who heads up an R&D department who has called together his team to introduce a new line of super high definition televisions. He’s amiable and friendly, joking and teasing with his team, working a rapport that stimulates their creativity and participation. His body language is open and non-territorial. He’s the leader, very knowledgeable and has his own ideas, but he catalyzes others to speak, share and get their ideas out into the discussion forum. He’s smiling and exudes warmth. He’s thinking on his feet. He is, in short, creating a remarkably positive brand impact with his team. He shares or gives credit and appreciation on his social media posts. A new person on the team—just hired—or an attending company executive in charge of product development who sat in on the meeting would walk away very impressed with that VP’s personal brand. His talking and warm emoting, inclusive body language (even his private thinking), and social media writing all sculpt an impromptu personal branding sculpture of him. If some of his team were contributing to a blog or writing on Facebook or Linkedin, or the executive was meeting with other company executives for dinner that night, the VP would be mentioned favorably. His personal branding just spread geometrically sideways and upwards.
Imagine the opposite: a VP calling a meeting and he’s curt and closed in his speaking, protective and territorial in his body language, cool in his emotional connection, angry and scolding when someone speaks out of turn or contributes an idea he doesn’t like, and he uses social media to be critical. Personal branding again, yes. But very negative. His personal branding will spread the same way as the inclusive team leader, but it will be negative and he can’t realistically expect to advance.
Personal promotion or self-promotion goes hand-in-hand with the projection of your brand. It is like a campaign for yourself. Obviously, social media is one of the most accessible vehicles for self-promotion. Promotion is a process to be consciously executed consistently by interacting with your entire social network. Also very importantly, there is the process of intra-acting too. Intra-acting means promoting yourself within your company. Be open to interacting and intra-acting as part of your brand image projection. Although interacting and intra-acting may be new activities for companies (including those with policies that exclude the use of social media), and may also be new activities for people that haven’t yet realized the benefit of social networking, intra-acting promotion ends up helping the company and the individual.
Imagine being the employee who is overshadowed by colleagues that are natural self-promoters. It can be uncomfortable, not to mention inauthentic, trying to be someone you aren’t. Our team thought of a solution for people that are good at their work, but are less likely to sell themselves or self-promote. We saw personal branding as their saving grace and RockON as the best solution for their beginning or advanced branding efforts.