We could term it in many ways… image boosting, ego polishing, self marketing, self branding. In fact it has been practiced over the ages by all civilisations in all situations, from the barmaid to the statesman.
Without a little bit of ego polishing and self boosting, our potential, our worth, what we could do and what we would do would live and die unseen. The quantity and quality of our self marketing would depend on ourselves with a few pertinent questions – What do you want? Where are you now? Where are you heading to? How do you get there?
I have come across a wide spectrum of the working class, from the lower to the highest echelons over more than three decades of sourcing and placing people in key positions, as pioneer head hunter in the country.
What has fascinated me is the unconscious, unpractised yet highly-effective self-branding projected by some whilst others who seem to have it all appear not to have mastered the art and the craft of selling themselves… a hugely important yet invisible component of personal and professional success. Why has this component of our personalities, one which has such potential for financial success, been underemphasised?
Unless you are amongst the lucky ones who have acquired natural vibrancy of personality along your youth, image building has to be worked on. It takes time to establish a proper identity the way you want it.
Looking at branding in top marketing firms, it is clear that effective branding of a product reinforces its identity, attracts the customer and gets results. No matter how good the product, how big the company, there is still a need for continuously reinforcing the product’s image to retain customer interest and loyalty.
The same applies to our own personal branding efforts. It is an ongoing process. It helps in attracting people not only to the particular target area of your skill, but towards its persona – you. It is also a relentless process that continuously needs polishing. Celebrities do it all the time.
It is clear that the successes we want for ourselves hinge on the relevant personal brand that we have created for ourselves. Thus we have no option but to actively market our personal brand as this is an area we generally cannot delegate to anyone else.
One of the best outcomes of personal branding is that once the brand (image) has established itself, as it gets reinforced it gradually develops to automatically selling and advertising itself. Your image is built, you have succeeded in branding yourself to the target audience, whether it is your family, the town you live in, society, your friends, your workplace, your employer or the business circle you move in.
On a note of caution, in as much as an image could be created, it is also easy for an image to crash in a few seconds of thoughtlessness, as we all know watching events taking place around us.
Saleem recalls that around three decades ago, it was common for an entire career to be spent in one company until retirement. Being in the same company for decades indicated capability, responsibility and loyalty.
There was another era, balancing work and social life successfully. Talent was ample and quickly grabbed. Self branding was not necessary. The trend has changed today. Remaining in the same position is a ‘rut’ situation of stagnation, a disadvantage to you.
The employee needs to move on to seize the best opportunities. He or she would require to ‘know’ and ‘be known,’ in order to stay above the competition. As unique as you are, you need an effective personal image that can be recognise by others.
Are we born with our branded image, or do we have to work for it? This interesting question gets more and more interesting as you study those around you, the top personalities you may know or have heard of. All of them have established themselves very well, needing no further effort if at all they did make an effort in the first place though some effort would have taken place, consciously or unconsciously.
The need for strong and sustained self branding is undoubtedly of utmost importance and would be perhaps the strongest factor apart from our educational and professional achievements that would take us to where we want to be.
Building an image cannot be done overnight. It requires an identification process, execution, feedback, follow up, refinement and reinforcement. Each of these components entail an in depth study of your own self and a plan of execution.
Preparing a personal branding plan could be regarded as a most interesting project with a beginning and an end which of course only you would know. Getting a portfolio together to create your brand is much more than having hard documents in a presentable folder.
Branding is simply highlighting one’s strengths to the target audience – prospective employer, making a sale, meeting a new group… The reassuring factor is that one does not require branding expertise to successfully create your brand. Rather, a few day-to-day changes in some of our habits are all that is necessary.
Knowing the qualities necessary for a special brand is the beginning – these qualities are many, indeed they are commonly expected in us and are not special. They encompass simple mannerisms such as kindness, helpfulness, generosity, graciousness, friendship and developing relationships with friends, peers, competitors, etc. Such qualities were abundantly visible in the past and somehow seem to have got lost in the hubris of life, including technological innovations that tend to isolate one.
Networking is a clear path to creating a brand. Using a base of people, enlarging that base, maintaining the network, feeding and nurturing it, watching its ripple effect spread more and more outward are all simple and easy steps to building an image. Would networking alone do?
Networking exercises would go hand in hand with certain other behaviour imperatives – building credibility, establishing trust, invoking the confidence of others and earning a reputation – the reputation you seek as your own image.
Effective branding is a mix of trust, credibility and reputation. When people trust you, you have influence. Visibility and trust gradually builds into influence and influence enables you to affect behaviour – the behaviour you wish to see in others.
Being excellent in your profession by continuously seeking knowledge, networking healthily in all segments of society, social interaction through community service backed by the personal attributes mentioned are definite steps towards building your true image with quiet confidence.
Each of us is our own MD, running our personal company, responsible to ourselves for our own success. Developing a powerful and attractive personal brand, a word that was not so long ago unlabelled although it had been practiced for ages, would ultimately affect not only our personal happiness but also our earning capacity. Since we face an era of competition with many others, it is our unique personal brand that gives us that competitive edge over others. Consider athletes, actresses and public personalities. They are surrounded by an aura created by careful planning to draw continuous attention to themselves and this publicity enables them to rise in their chosen careers, complemented of course by intensive self development.
Professional capacity, being exceptionally skilled and having unique talents could go unnoticed if such talents are not showcased. This is where the branding exercise takes place. Where marketing oneself was a process that happened naturally, it now appears to need re-learning.
The rush to be in everything at the same time, the hurry and scurry of life may have played a part in submerging our natural self marketing abilities which if brought again to the foreground, may be considered as half the battle, the other half being professional competence and - business acumen (an absorbing factor, to be dealt with in a later issue).
(The writer is a head hunting guru and MD/Principal Consultant of Executive Search Ltd./Appointments of International Management Specialists – AIMS.)