[My friend, Ed Schipul of Tendenci wrote this fantastic piece for the Houston Chronicle way back in October of 2009, and published a slideshare along with it. I was going through some archive documents and stumbled across an old post referencing it. As I re-read it, I couldn’t help but think about John Oliver’s takedown of Donald Trump as a brand and working to recalibrate it as “Drumpf.” So, I asked Ed if I could republish it here because his observations, over five years later, still resonate for lawyers today, even if some of the social media mechanics have changed. The era of personal brands is definitely in full swing, despite what the curmudgeons tell you.]
It’s time for me — and you — to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work.
Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs 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.
Wikipedia defines Personal Branding as: “the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands.” A personal brand is how others perceive you. It may or may not reflect who you really are.
I find the evolution of Personal Branding similar to the evolution of advertising, initiated by Ogilvy, written about in a series of articles on the subject of positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and then distilled in the book Positioning. Advertising shifted from “product feature advertising” to “positioning” in which a product needed to occupy a position in the mind of the consumer to break through the clutter.
To put it another way, your personal brand is a managed account that has a very real effect on your earning potential, your legacy and your future employment.
So while I agree with Peters that The Brand Called You is important, I’d like to extend that thought and propose that in fact we are entering The Personal Brand Era. And it is an era that will be disruptive to the business status quo. Yet, if managed correctly, the Personal Brand Era can be profitable for both individuals and the companies for which they work. The success of your personal brand and the success of associated corporate brands are additive; they are not a threat to each other.
In the new Personal Brand Era, it is not enough for a company to recruit and retain the best talent. The talent must also develop individual personal brands that occupy a position in the mind of coworkers, clients, prospects and relevant communities. The gold standard will be brands that reflect light back on the larger organizational brand, yet are strong enough to stand out in an “economy of free agents,” as Peters calls it.
What do you have to do to begin shaping your personal brand? From the individual’s perspective Tom’s original article provides clear action steps. However, the increased influence of sites such as Twitter and Facebook have changed things a bit. Personal brands need to be distinct, yet supportive of the corporate brand.
What are the major concerns of a personal brand manager (i.e. each one of us) given the significant influence of and opportunities presented by social media tools? The Personal Brand Era requires you to define and manage the following:
- Story – define your story. What makes you different? Find a way to tell your story that will define you in the mind of other people.
- Creation – create content, everything from original thoughts to comments to art to business process improvements!
- Curation – choose what you want associated with your personal brand. Eliminate the rest.
- Distribution – what are your channels of distribution? From the watercooler to Facebook to billboards, how are you getting the message out?
- Monitoring – what are people saying about you and how do you measure success?
- Terms of Service – what are the conditions you are putting on sharing your content now and in the future?
Of the six defined elements of the Personal Brand Era above, four have been discussed at length; storytelling, creation, distribution, and monitoring. What I am not seeing is much discussion on the importance of curation and what I am calling “terms of service“.
Curation in the Personal Brand Era is crucial. Forming a personal brand is like growing a bonsai tree. It takes time and it takes pruning. When forming your brand you have to work with nature, not against it. Guiding the brand is possible through curation. This is the process through which you actively shape people’s perception of you through inclusion, omission, deletion and applied PR strategies. It IS okay to untag that photo on Facebook. It is okay to skip an event because you don’t want to be photographed in the same room as Citizen X.
We are humans. We are very complex. And we make mistakes. Every brand needs a curator.
To tell the whole story of your brand you will need to promote content by other people that mentions your brand. Similar to a business brand reprinting news stories, it may be in your best interest to promote a coworker because they have an accurate and favorable view of your brand. Thus curation of content also includes promotion of other related content, events, art, and conversations that further define your personal brand.
Terms of Service (TOS) is my way of saying that we can no longer assume things we could assume in the past. This isn’t a new problem, which is why actors and top executives have morality clauses in their contracts. Their personal brands affect business outcomes. If our Personal Brand is external to us, existing in the minds of others, it makes sense that we need additional rules explaining how people can and should interact .
This blog post, which in the past perhaps would have been submitted for editorial review as an article, is now published as a blog post on a newspaper’s Web site. The rules have definitely changed. What are the Houston Chronicle‘s rights to the content? And what are my rights? If the paper is sold in the future, what happens then? We need a method of expressing these desires that is more refined and situational, although Creative Commons is a huge step in the right direction.
Why can I not retain rights to this post, publish and extend rights to the paper, and set the TOS to switch to creative commons attribution commercial after my death? We aren’t used to this type of situation, and the Personal Brand Era will make a seemingly esoteric debate a very real issue.
Your personal brand has a right to expect a certain level of ethics from the company brand. I’d hate to have Enron on my resume. And how many people have removed Arthur Andersen from their resume because the company brand now hurts their personal brand through association?
Personal brands for celebrities are narrower than personal brands which have more subtleties. They have the advantage of agents to negotiate their terms of service. Now we as individuals will have to evolve new social norms and acceptable terms of service particularly in the area of interaction between personal brands and corporate brands. You can’t separate Lee Iacocca’s personal brand from the Chrysler brand for example. By definition personal brands and corporate brands are interwoven.
Profitable. Brand building is not mutually exclusive. The development of your Personal Brand can be profitable for both you and the company you work for. The fact that Yao Ming has a strong brand does not take away from the Rockets brand. Rather the back light from the strong personal brand increases the brand value for the parent organization. Yao’s popularity equals more Rockets ticket sales.
Yet this is new territory for most businesses who view individual brand building as something less than profitable. I would expect most businesses are nervous about employees using company resources to build their personal brands, particularly during work hours. I can offer a few examples from our company.
We have 25 employees. Of those 23 are on Twitter. Combined they have 14,830 followers on Twitter. All are on Facebook with a combined friends list of 14,530. Surely there is overlap on both lists and reasonably you can exclude us following each other. Yet even if you cut the numbers in half, if we needed to reach out for help we have somewhere between 14,830 and 29,360 people who care enough to listen. Say cut that in half for spammer Twitter followers and duplicates, you are still talking about approximately 15,000 people we can reach. If we can motivate those 15,000 to retweet our message, the numbers start to get scary.
Let’s monetize the value of blogs. In the last six months, employee blogs have referred approximately 3,400 page views on the corporate site. This comes from people talking about the company of their own volition. Mind you we never say, “You must blog this.” It is the employee’s choice. If this was pay per click advertising with $1 per keyword, that is about $6,000 worth of advertising dollars per year. And I predict the number of “trusted referrals from personal brands” will go up, creating even more value.
A win/win. If Peters is right that you are a brand, and if my extension of his theory is right that this is truly The Personal Brand Era, then a lot of changes are ahead. And the rapid rise of social media is increasing the speed of this change, as is the innovation that goes along with any recession. This is literally a renegotiation of the agreement between employers and employees forced upon everyone by outside circumstances. Peters concludes:
It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.
Not only must you ensure that YOU are not left behind, but you must also make sure your company is not left behind. Companies must now help people build their personal brands in order to succeed, which takes resources, time, and a whole new mindset for the executive suite. If done correctly it IS a win/win. And it is profitable for the company as we have seen.
The Personal Brand Era is literally a brave new world. Are you prepared? Is your organization prepared? If not, get started. Or else.