Branding is a marketing concept, and as Seth Godin teaches us, all marketers are liars.
For many, the idea of a personal brand is an unwelcome extension of the perceived superficiality of marketing, and suggests the kind of bogus outward appearance that one might expect from a sugary drink telling us that consuming its contents is tantamount to living happily ever after.
But the idea of personal branding shouldn’t be so readily discarded, and the power of a well crafted digital persona should be ignored at your own risk.
How does a personal brand differ from a CV?
A CV is an account of past achievements and notable experience - what you’ve done. An authentically crafted personal brand that weaves your values into a coherent and compelling story can be an effective way to express who you are on a deeper level, and what you’re going to do.
A CV tells an employer about who you are and what you’re good at, a personal brand shows them.
Chris Platts, founder and CEO of recruitment technology startup TalentRocket, has witnessed first hand the evolution of recruitment from both sides of the table.
"We’re not just looking for jobs anymore, we want an experience. People are increasingly searching for companies that further their personal story or at the very least, align with their personal values. It’s becoming increasingly important for individuals to share their story and values with an audience, and similarly for companies to be able to articulate a transformational purpose that resonates with the type of candidate they are looking to attract."
You the storyteller
The foundation of any personal brand is the story. Your story is the narrative behind why you do what you do, and provides context and emotional resonance to your work. A powerful story, told concisely and compellingly, adds a dimension to your character that a CV never could. If you don’t know how to craft your story, start by examining the 12 stages of The Hero’s Journey as derived from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Whilst Campbell’s narrative includes 12 stages, powerful professional stories should incorporate five basic elements: The protagonist (that’s you), the protagonist’s desire (what you want to achieve), the antagonist (the struggle, the challenge), the transformational journey (the change and the choice), and the theme (the question you’re trying to answer, the problem you’re trying to solve). For more on the anatomy of a story, start with John Yorke’s Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them.
Start a conversation
A personal brand is rapidly becoming an essential ingredient to a successful 21st Century career. In the age of an increasingly contingent workforce, cultivating a powerful online representation of who you are, what you care about, and what you do best is the fastest and most effective way to communicate with potential employers. Significantly, a well crafted and authentic personal brand allows you to communicate with potential employers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But the value of personal brands extend beyond just freelance workers. The average job search takes 10 weeks, leaving you with a relatively short amount of time in which to find a job and greatly decreasing the likelihood of happening across that perfect opportunity. With a powerful personal brand communicated through a fully optimised website and consistently generated content, you’re able to passively attract relevant opportunities even when you’re not actively seeking them out.
"The chances of finding the perfect job in a 10-week window are pretty slim," says Chris, "but we all wait until we’re desperately unhappy at work before we consider looking elsewhere. By that point it’s too late as you’re comparing new opportunities with an increasingly desperate reality. People are increasingly realising the value of maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the wider world, including potential employers, by creating an online identity that demonstrates their talents, interests and values."
The pitfalls of personality
A refined and honed personal brand doesn’t always do what it says on the tin. Many members of Generation Y are skillfully adept at constructing a digital persona, but neglect the fundamental character development that generates a truly outstanding and effective individual. A personal brand, almost by definition, focuses largely on what author Stephen Covey derides as the Personality Ethic that is the idea that we create our advantage by manipulating our image and refining our appearances.
The underlying assumption of the Personality Ethic is that who you are matters less than who people think you are. A slick website and consistent flow of content, even an impressive portfolio, may well boost an individual’s short-term advantage. But style without substance is an unsustainable strategy, and an outside-in approach focusing on personality before character often results in long-term frustration for both the individual and employer.
The mismatch between the expectations set by a well honed personal brand, and the reality of somebody’s effectiveness, is an increasingly evident phenomenon. With a growing contingent workforce, the dark side of the moon is that some workers become short-termist in their approach, relying too heavily on their outward appearance for short-term success. Oftentimes the net effect of this is an erosion of trust, and a lack of confidence that people are who they appear to be.
80 per cent of employers Google prospective employees. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to communicate far beyond your CV, and to own your valuable digital real estate.
So how do you do it?
Owning your personal brand online is an ongoing process and cannot be achieved overnight. However, by following these basic steps you will cover the fundamentals perfectly aptly.
Own your name, and build a website
Either include your name in the domain itself (www.yourname.me - the domain extension doesn’t matter), or put your name in the metadata of your otherwise named website or blog. Including your name in your site’s metadata will optimise your SEO, so Google can identify you. For non techies, use Squarespace or Strikingly for sleek, simple website building and in-built SEO optimisation.
Develop a message
Martin Luther King Jr. in his I have a dream speech spoke about being judged on the content of your character. To borrow the term from Dr. King, the content that you produce online speaks volumes about who you are. Consistency is king, not frequency. Posting once or twice a month consistently is far more effective in the long run than bursts of content creation. Have an opinion, and contribute to a conversation.
Use multiple channels
This includes the usual social media platforms - Twitter, Instagram and so on - as well as LinkedIn, and other platforms more relevant to your area of expertise. For writers and bloggers, Medium and Ghost are great platforms to have a presence, Dribbble for graphic designers, and Behance for creative professionals from UX designers to illustrators and photographers.
Keep your message, and your story, consistent over each channel.
Building your personal brand is an inside-out process, and takes time to cultivate authentically. But the value of creating an ongoing dialogue with an audience that includes potential employers before you need them cannot be understated.