If you were a brand – what would it say about you?

A view on personal branding by Rob Shimmin

This is Stephen. He sells the Big Issue outside Charing Cross station. Do you recognize him? He quite literally ‘stands out’ by holding this amusing pose for ages, breaking it only when customers spend their £2.50 on a paper designed to help people get back to work and up on their feet again.

What’s that got to do with personal branding? Well there are lots of people around London selling the Big Issue, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt that when I buy one from Stephen I’m going to leave the transaction uplifted. He’s going to make me smile, his attitude and his daft stance brings smiles all around.

If Stephen were a brand and not just a person, one of his main brand attributes might be ‘uplifting’. My expectation of an interaction with that brand would be set…I’m going to be uplifted.

Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame) once said that a brand is what people are saying about you when you are not in the room. It’s interesting that he chose a very human dynamic and applied it to a corporate brand. Can the analogy work the other way? Why not apply corporate branding approaches to yourself?

My day job is helping major global brands get stronger on their good days and protected during the bad days of crisis. Essentially, you want the brand to stay true to its values whether it’s having a good or bad day.

People are central to a successful outcome in either scenario and over the years I have found myself increasingly asked to extend communication training into full blown executive coaching. With that in mind, last year I joined 15 other executive coaches seeking to complete their Professional Certificate in Executive Coaching at the excellent Henley School of Management. I was struck by how much of what I learned about people could be applied to brands and vice versa.

So, if you were a brand, what would your brand attributes be? What would people expect when anticipating contact with you? Are you a problem solver? Calm in a crisis? Do you hang back with your opinion before nailing it at the close? Are you super-creative and excitable? Do you deliver on your promises? Do you have attention to detail or leave that to others? If you want a clue as to how your personal brand is shaping up, dive deep into your filing cabinet and pull out that last 360 degree feedback document HR gave you. Do you see any trends among your colleagues’ comments? Positive or negative, those are your perceived brand attributes. Are you happy with them?

Developing a personal brand. You need to start with a pretty clear view of who you are so that you avoid the pitfalls of trying to be something you’re not. This is about enhancing your strengths and managing your weaknesses. A 360° feedback process is helpful but to really gain insight I’d recommend some psychometric analysis. An approach I’ll be introducing in 2016 is to offer a session with a chartered occupational psychologist who uses market leading psychometric profiling to bring clarity to a person’s strengths and weaknesses. This will help myself and the person being coached craft a realistic and attainable personal brand that reflects reality rather than pure aspiration.

So how to surface the positive attributes of an individual? In her book ‘The Coach’s Coach’1 Alison Hardingham suggests executive coaches encourage visualisation to help people become clearer as to how they might wish to be seen. She describes a technique she calls the ‘Praise Party.’ With apologies to Alison for this truncated version, try it!

You may want to close your eyes for this.

We are sometime into the future and you have been chosen to attend a praise party.

At this party, someone selected by you will talk to an assembled company, including many of your colleagues, friends and family, about you, your life, and your achievements.

You are notified of your praise party some three months before it happens, and then you choose the person who will speak about you; you don’t talk to them at all about what they would say.

Imagine that you are there, at your praise party. You are standing with people you know and like well, sipping a glass of your favourite drink, in a beautiful room with a stage at the front.

A hush falls. You see the person you chose to speak about you walk across the stage and approach the lectern. They are about to speak.

What do you hope they will say?

The positives generated by this approach can be cross referenced against existing 360 degree feedback and the learning from the psychometric testing to see what’s real now, what’s aspirational and what might need to be done to make goals achievable. It’s a fascinating process that will bring a ‘behavioural compass’ to all sorts of situations and challenges ahead.

Ogilvy’s 360° branding. David Ogilvy preceded Jeff Bezos’ personification of the branding process by many years. He’s quoted as saying: “You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.”

I spent a wonderful decade at Ogilvy PR where Ogilvy’s 360° branding ensured that the above brand personality rang true at every point of contact with the consumer. That means staying true to carefully crafted brand attributes across advertising, direct marketing, PR, online …right down to the tone of teams talking to customers in a call centre. Think about all your personal points of contact. In a meeting, on the phone, over email, on stage presenting…how do you come across? Do your actions always reflect the attributes of your personal brand? When they don’t they erode it. When they do, they strengthen it.

Just for fun, try opening your email and putting in ‘sorry’ as a search term. If you believe the hype the Brits will get the most results, but take a moment to look at why you’re saying sorry. Any trends there? That’s an unintended driver of a personal brand attribute. If a bunch of them are apologising for missing a deadline, you may be seen as being prone to over-promising and under-delivering. If they’re climbing down after a sharply worded email, you may being seen as being a tad volatile. You get the picture.

Personal branding as a builder of self-awareness. When I grew up, calling someone ‘self-aware’ always seemed to have a negative connotation…perhaps of arrogance. A study by Malcolm Higgs and Victor Dulewicz2 at the Henley Business School showed that the most statistically significant factors contributing to career success (as measured by increases in job position and salary) were self-awareness and emotional resilience. I think that both can be improved by developing a personal brand for yourself and then living by it. Over time, executives will develop the ability to step out of themselves and imagine how they are coming across…are they living up to their personal brand? It’s a view that can temper some of the more visceral reactions to stimulus and help people keep building rather than eroding their brand.

Benefits at home. Of course a personal brand extends beyond the workplace. Have you ever arrived at your front door and paused for a second to put your mood to one side and ask yourself…what would the people on the other side of that door expect from a great father/mother/partner? That’s self-awareness working in your favour and a quick reminder of who you are and what you stand for might even make you a nicer person to live with.

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