Personal Branding and Success

Positive personal impact is one of the keys to success that I discuss inStraight Talk for Success.  If you want to create positive personal impact, you need to do three things well.  1) Develop and nurture your unique personal brand.  2) Be impeccable in your presentation of self – in person and on line.  3) Know and follow the basic rules of etiquette.

A couple of days ago, I came across some transcripts of internet radio shows I did a few years ago.  One of them was with William Arruda, coauthor of Career Distinction and a personal branding expert.  As I reread the transcript, I was really impressed by a lot of what William had to say.  Here are some selected excerpts from our conversation.

Bud:  What’s the difference between a personal brand and a brand for a product, like Nike or Reebok?

William:  In fact, there’s not a lot of difference.  A personal brand is based on authenticity, just as true brands are.  Branding is all about differentiation, what makes Reebok stand out from Nike?  What makes someone go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?  It’s not the coffee, they both sell coffee, right?  But what you’re buying into is the brand.  It’s the same for us and our personal brands.  What is going to make you choose one marketing account executive over another?  It’s something that’s unique and authentic and valuable that they have to contribute.

Bud:  You said a brand needs to be unique, authentic and valuable.  Can you talk a little bit about each of those in turn?

William:  Absolutely.  If you’re not unique, you’re a commodity.  If every accountant in the world were the same, then a hiring manager who was looking for an account would just choose the person who would accept the least pay, right?  But if you have something unique to contribute, something of value, then you’re going to be able to command a higher compensation for what you do.  And so that’s unique and valuable.  Authentic is really all about being yourself.  We don’t get away with being fake for too long.  We pretty much get found out.  Remember Milly Vanilly?  When people learned they couldn’t sing actually, they went away really quick and you never heard from them again.  Branding is all about unearthing those things about you that make you unique and valuable to the people who will make you successful.

Bud:  It’s really interesting that you bring up Milly Vanilly because I overheard a conversation the other day.  One guy described one of their colleagues by saying, “He’s a real Milly Vanilly.”  Another guy said “What do you mean?” The first guy said “He’s fake”.  So Milly Vanilly has become an anti-brand.  (Milly Vanilly was a singing group in the mid ‘90s, who actually had won few Grammys.  As it turned out, they were lip-syncing, not only when the were on stage, but they even had other people singing their songs, so they never sang even in the studio.)

William:  Absolutely.  Ann Morrow Lindberg once said “the most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic”.  And it’s true, I think that when we’re being our authentic self when we’re communicating this incredible promise of value we have that is true to who we are, we’re really energized and powerful.  But when we’re walking around faking it, we eventually get caught, just like Milly Vanilly.

Bud:  How do you set yourself up as being unique, if you are not in a very creative field?

William:  Anyone can set themselves up as unique regardless of their job title.  It depends on the individual.  For example, an accountant who is incredibly ethical might be amazingly valuable right now simply because of everything that’s happening with the corporate finance scandals and so forth, so ethical might be a brand attribute that would be highly emotional and would get somebody, a hiring manager, really interested in someone.  Or an accountant, and you might not think of accountants as being really gregarious and funny, but an accountant who really gets people excited in the company about accounting and can make jokes about it and can get people talking about it – maybe that’s a brand attribute that would be valuable, relevant and differentiating. 

So again, it comes down to the individual.  I think what we all need to do is take inventory of those things make us powerful.  We can all look back in our careers and think of the time when we were amazingly successful, when we were just shining and were walking two inches off the ground.  If we did an inventory of what personality attributes and what skills we were using at those times we would find our individual uniqueness. 

Bud:  So it comes back to the notion of authenticity, like Polonius’ advice to Hamlet, “to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou can be false to no man.” I think you’re saying is that you, first of all, need to understand who you are and then look for what’s unique about you within that authentic core of yourself.

William:  Absolutely.  It’s all about how knowing what about you is really valuable to the people who make you successful.  So you might have an accountant who is gregarious and ethical and hard working, but maybe the ethics piece is the piece that’s really valuable and that’s the part that you’re going to want to play up.  So you need to do that inventory to understand who you are and what makes you unique and valuable. 

At the same time, you need to think about who are the people who are going to make me successful and what’s important to them.  Right?  We don’t do this in a vacuum where we say I think this is something that’s great about me, but it may not be relevant or compelling to the people who will make you successful.

Bud:  So in other words, if you decide you’re the world’s funniest accountant, but the people around you really don’t value humor in accountants, that’s probably something that is part of your authentic self and makes you somewhat unique, but it may not be real helpful to you as far as your brand goes.

William:  Exactly.  Because unique is great, but it’s got to be relevant and compelling to your target audience, to those people who’ll make you successful.

The common sense point that comes from this part of my conversation with William Arruda is clear.  A good personal brand has to be unique, authentic and valuable.  When you’re developing your personal brand think about what makes you unique in your field – different from everyone else who does what you do.  Make sure that this uniqueness is authentic, that it’s really part of who you are at the core of your being.  Finally, make sure that your authentic uniqueness is valuable to people in your target audience.  I’m a pretty good rugby prop forward.  That’s something that is unique and authentic about me.  However, being a good rugby prop forward is of no value to anyone except the other 14 guys on my rugby side.  Therefore, it’s not something I want to emphasize in my personal brand.  To summarize, when you’re building your brand focus on those things about you that are unique, authentic and valuable to your target audience.

That’s my take – and William Arruda’s take – on creating and nurturing your personal brand.   What do you think?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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