Branding yourself professionally needs to go beyond clever social media descriptions. You need to apply the same thoughtful and strategic approach that you’d take for a marketing or business plan to your own brand to make it magnetic and memorable. While your personal brand should be a holistic representation of your interests, values, and skills, there are certain key elements that are crucial for forming the backbone of your strategy.
1. Your focus.
Consider this quote from Bill Gates, “My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” Decide the niche you want to target and who you want to be known as. You don’t have to stay with that niche forever, but a critical step in your strategy is defining and articulating your chosen field or area of interest. It should be a concise explanation—for example, “real estate public relations” or “leadership coach.” This helps you reinforce a consistent message to your audience and keeps you locked into your goals.
2. Your story.
A sentence like “Connecting with others is what drives me” is more interesting to read than “I’m an experienced human resources leader.” One of the “golden rules” of personal branding, according to Forbes Magazine, is creating a story that your audience can engage with. What are the values and passions that have shaped you? How have they influenced the value that you want to bring to others? Stories hook people in, not a laundry list of certifications. For example, the media has widely publicized the story of how Sara Blakely of Spanx turned her idea to cut up her pantyhose before a party into a billion-dollar apparel business. However, your brand story shouldn’t be your full autobiography—the problems that you want to help others solve should be woven into it.
3. Your strengths.
Articulating your point of differentiation shows your audience what you’re ‘selling’ and why they should buy into you as a brand. What makes you stand out from your competition? For example, you could be a great connector or excel at building top-performing teams. This is an opportunity to demonstrate what makes you an expert in your niche, from your experiences to the talents and skills you naturally have or worked to acquire. You want to be the “go-to” person in your niche and the first name people think of.
4. Your personality.
Your personality isn’t an extra layer of your personal brand—it’s the core. People can easily sense disingenuousness, so staying authentic is key for likeability and credibility. Show who you are, whether you’re funny and sarcastic or serious and passionate, and show it as consistently as you can. Displaying drastically different personalities online versus in-person will create distrust and confusion. However, your personal brand won’t be for everyone. If you show your funny side, it could be off-putting to more buttoned-up audiences; or you may not be approachable enough for others. Ultimately, when you’re able to be your authentic and best self in your offline and online communications, you’ll attract the right people and decision-makers who can help you reach your goals.
5. Your target audience.
“One of the biggest mistakes personal branders make is trying to appeal to everyone. Think about the game of darts: you have to aim in order to hit the board,” says Susan Chritton, author of Personal Branding for Dummies. Determining your audience doesn’t have to be an elaborate exercise; you can simply bullet-point a few attributes of your ideal ‘client.’ Are they leaders of a division? An individual contributor? What kind of content do you think they would appreciate? What topics would be the most helpful to them? Once you’re able to determine how you can connect with specific people, you’ll draw in a targeted audience who will want to experience your brand.
6. Your plan to spread your message.
Some might call this self-promotion, but that implies a one-sided connection. The last thing anyone needs is more messages begging them to buy their products. Don’t just talk at people; start a dialogue, ask questions, and listen. Look for opportunities to make connections and ramp up your visibility. Of course, social media is an obvious low-hanging fruit—we’ve written about how to create your personal brand on LinkedIn. Guest blogging for respected websites and publications, partnerships and joint ventures, and public speaking will increase your exposure. You can even find opportunities to be interviewed on podcasts, webinars, and traditional media outlets. Events (virtual these days), lectures, and workshops help you solidify long-term connections with your audience.
In an age where everyone has a brand, you’ll stand out among the noise by being genuine and purposeful. Personal branding doesn’t mean you need to overhaul your personality, but just be thoughtful about the parts you want to show to the world. As long as your message remains consistent, authentic, and trustworthy, you can’t lose.