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6 Personal Branding Lessons for Professionals

Whether you’re a rule-maker or rule-breaker, these surefire tips will help you gain attention and get things done.

The success of any brand, personal or corporate, boils down to how it performs across six dimensions. Here are some lessons to help you develop your brand in these areas, no matter your personal style.

1. Develop your brand by design, not default.  

Know where you are so you can figure out where you need to go.

Rule-maker: These are the qualified professionals with a solid track record and plenty of experience. The challenge is to incorporate new ideas to avoid appearing stodgy.

Rule-breaker: The infamous Gordon Gekko, of the iconic ’80s film Wall Street, was the epitome of the rule-breaker. Even today, there’s a fascination with those who position themselves as anti-establishment and proudly go against the grain.

Personal brand takeaway: Start by truthfully assessing your current brand and its impact. Is it producing the reputation you want? If not, a pivot to a more powerful personal brand may be in order.

2. Write an anchor statement. 

What is the go-to description of who you are and what you do? This is sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch.

Rule-maker: A terrific example comes from Michelle Seiler-Tucker, a mergers and acquisitions adviser: “I specialize in selling businesses and represent more than 10,000 buyers looking to acquire a company. On average, we obtain a 20% to 40% higher selling price than what the business first appraises for.” It’s specific and to the point.

Rule-breaker: Steve Jobs once said, “What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.” While not strictly an anchor statement, it certainly underscored Jobs’ and Apple’s philosophy.

Personal brand takeaway: What do you say when someone asks about your job at a cocktail party? Can you answer in a few short sentences that pique the listener’s interest? If not, your anchor statement needs work.

3. Develop a unique branding proposition. 

What is it about what you do, or how you do it, that makes you unique, distinct and special? What sets you apart? 

Rule-maker: Brands that capitalize on being the best in their industry can and do build loyalty, if they deliver on their claims.  

Rule-breaker: The rule-breakers understand that now, more than ever, how you do what you do is just as important as being the best.

Personal brand takeaway: Articulate how your brand speaks to the needs of your audience, and the unique way you address those needs. And the more specific you can be, the better.

4. Narrow down your brand’s tone.

What is the consistent mood you bring to all your interactions?

Rule-maker: By following the standards of speech writing and delivery, successful keynote speakers can engage with their audiences and leave them with something of value. Though such speeches are effective in the moment, the chance they will have an impact over any length of time is low.

Rule-breaker: There’s a reason TED talks are so popular. They’re given by impassioned industry leaders who are telling stories, giving a performance, leaving it all out on the stage. Their talks are powerful because they are the only people on the planet who can give them.

Personal brand takeaway: What you say has power, but the way you say it has just as much impact. Be aware of your tone, and adjust where necessary. Taking any tone to an extreme always backfires: Too serious or too snarky both harm a brand in the long run.

5. Write your signature story. 

Why do you do what you do? What’s the essential story that brought you to this place?  

Rule-maker: Gone are the days where a company’s CEO is a nameless, faceless entity, unknown by consumers. People want to know the who and the why behind the what.

Rule-breaker: Being a rebel seems cool, but doing so to the point of alienating those around you is counterproductive. Part of being a successful rule-breaker is knowing which rules to break and when. 

Personal brand takeaway: Never underestimate the power of a good story. A strong (and truthful) narrative about where you came from and what influenced you can connect you with customers, employees and colleagues. Your brand needs to be more than a sound bite or pithy elevator pitch. The best brands feature multiple, complementary messages.

6. Know your signature services.

What are your core competencies?

Rule-maker: Having an MBA or other formal degree is extremely helpful. The knowledge and connections made are invaluable.

Rule-breaker: However, there have always been those who have the creativity, passion, intelligence and work ethic to get a successful business off the ground – no degree necessary. What’s important is having specific core competencies, whether from education or experience.

Personal brand takeaway: The fulcrum of your brand needs to rest on the material ingredients of your values and commitments. Think about one area where your personal brand is being expressed more in talk than action, and focus on aligning the two. 

Karen Leland is a best-selling author and CEO of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm helping CEOs, businesses and teams develop stronger personal and business brands. Learn more at www.KarenLeland.com.