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A Brand New You

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by Andrea Katz, founder and Chief Ideonista at Ideon

looking in the mirror

Branding is no longer just for brands. Anyone looking to carve out a promising career, and “future-proof” themselves professionally, will need to focus on treating their personal reputation as a distinct brand name. Until recently, the notion of branding individuals was reserved almost exclusively for Hollywood stars and Washington politicians. Now those same tools for expression and communication have been so flattened that expectations and realities surrounding self-promotion have changed. Making a name for yourself has never been so critical, and crafting an identity is exactly where branding (when done right) excels.

Microsoft’s recent $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn shows that the confluence of self-publishing, social networking, and professional development is too big a trend to be ignored. According to leading career site Glassdoor, the average corporate job-posting receives 250 resumes. The explosion of interest in “personal branding” is a natural response from a job-seeking public desperately seeking to differentiate. Nearly all existing advice on personal branding, however, boils down to posting regularly on social networks, blogging, establishing “thought leadership,” and other such purely tactical prescriptions. Self promotion without a broader plan will ensure efforts that are scattershot and ineffective. Carrying over proven processes and best-practices from the world of branding will empower you to take charge of your own personal brand.

All powerful branding initiatives start with discovery. The discovery phase precedes any branding effort and involves pinpointing your strengths, beliefs, values, etc… Introspect carefully and interview friends, family, and colleagues to assist you in concretely formulating your identity. With a clear concept of self in hand, now create a cohesive narrative that ties these elements together. When someone asks “So what do you do?” how do you answer in a compelling, concise, authentic way? Finally develop a system for expressing your identity via a distinct look and feel. What impression do you hope to make? What is your personal style? Steve Jobs’s hallmark anti-style was not only instantly recognizable, but echoed his personal, stated beliefs about the power of functional elegance and simplicity. Mark Zuckerberg’s cheap, jeans+t-shirt mimicry of that style falls flat because he does not clearly demonstrate values in harmony with his wardrobe’s statement. This inauthenticity even inspired an elaborate April Fool’s Day hoax poking fun at the Zuck’s fastidious fashion.

Modern celebrity culture provides a crash course in both the promise of cultivating a powerful personal brand and the perils of not painstakingly protecting one’s image. A well-crafted and maintained public image enabled Angelina Jolie to seamlessly parlay her acting success into work as an acclaimed director and celebrated humanitarian. Going from Esquire’s “2004 Sexiest Woman Alive” to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2008” to special envoy to the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees in 2010 signals an incredible degree of brand flexibility on Jolie’s part. Demonstrating similar savvy is  Emma Watson, who bucked the trend of child-star burnout by quickly establishing a name for herself beyond the mega-hit Harry Potter franchise, thereby lending her the latitude to deftly step into the new role of UN Global Ambassador for women’s rights.

Focusing on building and strengthening identity beyond singular achievements, and aligning your future plans with those stated goals, is crucial to steering and growing your personal brand. A striking counterexample has been the squandered goodwill of comedy superstars like Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy; whose pre-2000’s heyday has been overshadowed by a series of ribald and tasteless  rehashing of the same tired concepts, without any of the daring or originality if their earlier, acclaimed work.

Hollywood culture and image maintenance might seem disconnected from the needs of the average professional, but there are a few key parallels. Roles in the acting world have always been incredibly fleeting, and the competition fierce. Therefore, actors invest in building up their own unique brand identities instead of riding the wave of any single successful project to allow themselves to move easily between jobs. Today’s emerging professionals face a similar challenge. A recent Pew Report estimates that the average worker beginning their career now will switch positions roughly once every four years. Given that the length of the average career is only set to increase, that means a professional in today’s emerging workforce will have roughly 15 jobs over his or her lifetime. Defining professional identity by current position is not a viable long-term strategy, given that position is likely to change in the (relative) near-term. Strong personal brands need to exist beyond and outside the imprimatur of any single employer. Choosing to work for brands that align with one’s own stated mission is a must, but they need to fit your brand not vice versa.

Branding is no longer solely the purview of movie stars and sneakers, cars and toothpaste. The work of personal branding is a new professional necessity—and a skill set that requires seriousness, attention, and mastery if one hope to have the opportunities to do one’s best work.

 

Andrea Katz

Andrea Katz is founder of Ideon, a New York City-based strategic brand consultancy, and serves as its Chief Ideonista. Leveraging 20 years of experience in branding and marketing, Andrea has ignited smart, bold and fresh brands for corporations, non-profits, agencies and the public sector. Andrea’s brand insights originate from her work in diverse industries spanning automotive, beauty and consumer goods; to education, financial services and healthcare; and to media, retail, and technology.