What the hell is personal branding anyway?

by Michael Rickwood —

I ask this question in order to answer it because clarity leads to serenity. 

We are bombarded daily with new concepts and trends, and Personal Branding is another one, albeit a little vague for most of us. People are taking what ideas they think they know from Personal Branding and applying them with gusto. Others are doing it instinctively. One thing is for sure: it’s here to stay and remains a key tool to get ahead in the landscape of opportunity. 

Well, we all know what a brand is, and businesses promote their own brands, but artists and influencers promote their own personal brands. In 2022 we’re all expected to do it to win hearts, minds and gain traction. 

So, to break it down in my view, Personal Branding is on one hand your reputation, what people think of you, how they interact with you and what they say about you and on the other hand, what you project about yourself, the communication of your visual, moral and intellectual authenticity to the wider world via articles, videos, posts, Instagram visuals, tweets, Facebook stories and more importantly how you occupy your space on every stage, in every corridor, every meeting room and at every dinner table. 

There are however degrees by which we can share our authenticity. The brand we share to the wider world is different from the brand we share with our peers, different again with our family members and critically with oneself (bear with me here, I would argue the right authenticity starts with an honest relationship with oneself). 

Firstly let’s talk about reputation. One hears a lot the expression ‘Brand or be Branded’. This is the inevitable trace of our own reputations which follow us everywhere and more critically on the platforms of social media and search engines.  Whether you do anything or not you have a brand. Simply by being present online, appearing in search results and having a couple of social media accounts, people have a perception of you. How we’re perceived and the effort we put into influencing that perception matter greatly. We also receive interaction from others on the grounds of our own likeability and capacity for giving service. I would argue that one’s behavior towards others is now held acutely accountable by our online and offline presence. LinkedIn is a prime example of this which requires both a delicate balance of increasing one’s own visibility and service-giving in order to succeed with it. The different strategies vary greatly from culture to culture but people ultimately need time to get to know you and trust you. Offering service without the hard sales follow-up seems the favorable way these days to win hearts and minds. Peers (even competitors) can become our greatest allies once we build trust and a strong personal brand. 

Now let’s talk about what you project about yourself. This is the power that we have to make a difference to our reputation. Our image, what we have to say to the world and what we stand for. A big challenge in 2022 is that we are now expected to brand ourselves not only on a professional level but also personally. That means what we’re sharing on Instagram needs more crafting, the 15 second TikTok videos we put together need more ideas, and even dating apps demand it! Everything has become a pitch! To advance ourselves using communication there are key tools at our disposal. Articles and blogs which garner and attract readership, a well-crafted visual image, what we wear, the work we put in to it that gets us attention, videos that communicate our personality and charisma, a rapidly firing Twitter account that keeps feeding the feed like popping corn. 

But what about those around us? Our clients, our colleagues, our peers and our prospects? Communication via our soft skills is key. The experience needs to be as effective ‘live’ as it is remotely and this is work, a lot of work. The key here is good old-fashioned personal development. Working on one’s self, sleep, exercise, the right foods, hobbies and passions (whatever floats your boat). This is all part of a creating a more attractive personal brand for those around us. 

Either way, one important thing is having an objective, what we want to achieve and deciding who our audience is to endorse us. That’s where our tools at Ideas on Stage are very useful. Because business is a pitch and life is a pitch. There’s just one word I mentioned earlier that I want to revisit. Authenticity. Authenticity is something that we are more and more encouraged to share. I would just say the context dictates that. We are still driving in mainly two personal branding lanes. Mixing it is the realm of stars. To give you my example on one hand my brand as a coach is business orientated, my photos and videos are relatively corporate and I communicate that I am very passionate about business communication. I have a wide skill set developed over years and people want to work with me…

On the other, my personal brand to my friends is that of a musician, painter and novice dancer. I post regularly to an audience of friends the highlights as they come. They are a tiny adorable following, some whom I have known for many years. I think most of us have this. 

But I do believe there are things we can carry over from our intimate personal brand to our public personal brand which makes for a unique and authentic image. The question is what works? 

So get working, it only works if you work it!