You Inc: How to shape your personal brand

In a 24/7 business environment and in this uber-connected world, personal branding has become critical. Think Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga.

Not many Australians are on that list. There’s a reason for that. A new survey by the Australian Institute of Management found that 38% of Australian businesspeople rated their personal brand as average or worse than average. Only one in 20 survey participants said their personal brand was excellent. They were poor in negotiation, networking and communications skills. Other skills lacking included presentation, creative thinking and problem-solving, self-leadership, assertiveness techniques, business etiquette, dress and grooming, time management and customer and sales service.

All of these are crucial management skills.

CEOs did not fare well in the AIM study. About one in three CEO respondents rated their personal brand as average or worse than average.

That’s a problem because leaders and managers, like brands, need to be constantly engaging with their market. Personal branding ensures you get your name mentioned. It’s now regarded as a career tool for leaders. With a personal brand, people know what you’re about.

Most companies do nothing about helping their executives with personal brand, but some are changing their attitude. In the AIM Survey, 44% of companies said they provide training and development to enhance the skills that build a manager’s personal brand and management skills.

Still, we’ve got a long way to go. Experts have identified only three Australians who might make that list: John Symond from Aussie Home Loans, entrepreneur and media personality Mark Bouris and Rupert Murdoch, now an American citizen.

How do you build a personal brand?

Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert, bestselling author and the managing partner of the US-based Millennial Branding, which advises companies on how to handle Generation Y, has recommended steps such as having fancy business cards carrying a personal brand statement, setting up a blog, keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date and having a strong presence on Facebook.

It is also about having self-awareness and honesty, experts say. How do you make people feel? How do people benefit from working with you? What words would describe you? How would you describe your work? Who is your target audience? What do you do that makes you stand out? Now, put that all together in a short sentence or phrase – it’s your tagline or brand mantra. Think of something, for example, the NAB’s catchline – More give, less take – which commits the bank to having lower rates than competitors. That’s their brand. There is no reason people can’t do the same for themselves.

Australian Institute of Management CEO Susan Heron says leaders now need to see themselves differently. Regardless of where you work, you are now running a business: You Incorporated.

“They need to see themselves as the product they are marketing, as a business,’’ Heron says. “They must manage their curriculum vitae as assiduously as they manage themselves. Their CV is a representation of that business and they have to be business-ready all the time.

“People need to see themselves as the product that they are marketing, a product on which they must get a return on investment. You are not going to get a return unless you invest in yourself.

“You are not going to stay in the one place all the time, you are not going to be at one level in an organisation all the time and you are going to have a long working life.

“You need to be continuing to work on yourself as a business and everything that constitutes the personal brand. It’s not something you get right and say: ‘I’ll just sit back on my laurels’. It’s something you continuously invest in because, as you progress in seniority, your personal brand must also adapt to reflect the role you are now taking on.”

Any leader can do it, but no one will do it for you, she says.

“You don’t have to be a Richard Branson, but you do have to optimise your product capability. Don’t expect someone else to develop your brand if you’re too lazy or you’re not confident enough to do it yourself.”

Executive coach Claire Burgess says many leaders don’t have a clue how to build their brand. “I don’t think they really understand it as a concept. They go to work, do their job and go home. I don’t think they get it to be honest,” Burgess says.

The brand, she says, is reflected in everything you do.

“It entails your personal manner, but it also includes your image – the way you dress,’’ she says. “It’s about the way you interact with other people and how effective you are in the workplace,’’ she says.

“For Joe Smith in the workplace, it’s about standing out. It’s not about just doing one’s job and going home. It’s about understanding how to make a difference in the workplace.”

The good news is that is it easy to stand out. Why? Because personal branding is hard work, so few people do it. And besides, it is hard to be objective about yourself.

Burgess says tools such as 360-degree feedback from teams, peers, supervisors, direct reports, members of the board, clients, or anyone in between are a critical part of that process.

The AIM survey was conducted by branding specialist Image Group International, a coaching outfit that has handled politicians, celebrities and sports stars. Its CEO Jon Michail has just returned from New York. His gig there was with Goldman Sachs, a company that has learned what happens to brands when they are not managed properly. The company has weathered its fair share of scandal over the years, from insider trading allegations to a scathing resignation letter from a former executive, printed in the New York Times.

Michail works with clients on all the issues, from negotiation skills to communications, from presentations to dress and grooming. His company even does wardrobe audits. “The grooming and wardrobe is what we call the visual language,’’ Michail says. “Everything communicates and the visual message sometimes communicates more than the words that come out of our mouths.”

Michail identifies several Australian identities with brand issues:

  • Gina Rinehart is gutsy but polarising. “She has so much money and power; she doesn’t give a shit,” he says.
  • Ita Buttrose is formidable but overly guarded. “You don’t get to see the real Ita. She has obviously had an interesting life but she doesn’t share a lot of that openly and I think she can afford to do that at her age.”
  • Westpac CEO Gail Kelly is ambitious but aloof. “She is not very relatable.”
  • Julia Gillard is intelligent but untrustworthy. Most people, he says, suspect Gillard would support gay marriage and bringing in refugees but she has taken a stand because of politics. “True leaders take risks and have the courage of their convictions. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on; you respect somebody who sits with their convictions and she has clearly changed because of her own personal power so that’s why it is clear there is a lot of untrustworthiness.
  • Tony Abbott is traditionalist but regarded as too stereotypic. “He lacks creativity. Somebody who is so traditionalist in thinking is not willing to look outside the box. For him, everything is a formula. But the great value-add for him and his brand is his family. His wife and three daughters add a lot of value to him. If you asked me how he should soften himself up in the market place or his brand, that’s the best way for him: just bring out the family.”

He says people at the top of their game need to constantly reinvent themselves, but they can’t do it on their own. He doubts the effectiveness of 360-degree feedback sessions. “Rarely do people tell you the truth anymore,’’ he says. “They wouldn’t tell you your personal image is down and out. It would be some diplomatic nonsense; you will never get a straight answer.”

Leaders need professionals, mentors and friends who can spell out exactly what needs to be fixed, he says.

Building a personal brand also requires emotional intelligence, the same skill that is so important in effective leadership. “You need to have an awareness of how you affect other people,” he says.

And managers need to be doing it all the time. “It’s no different to a politician planning to get elected or re-elected,’’ Michail says. “We all have to be in campaign mode – this is careerism.”


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