If you want a stakeholder to ‘buy into’ your ideas, believe your communication or take action on your recommendations they need to recognise you as a credible messenger. Whilst you can build credibility over time, you only ever get one chance to make a good first impression and your personal brand will be a major contributor to the impression created in the mind of the person you are interacting with.
Credibility is a vital element in communication, particularly when delivering bad news, and your credibility is closely linked to a person’s perception of you, which is in part driven by your ‘personal branding’, reinforced by your actions and behaviour. So what is personal branding? And how do you create yours??
The concept of a personal brand was first raised by Tom Peters in 1997, and is defined as the process by which we market or position ourselves to others. As with commercial brands, it defines and creates a perception of who we are in the minds of anyone exposed to the ‘branding’.
In the past, ‘personal brands’ were reserved for celebrities and ‘important people’. However, the rise of social media has levelled the playing field and made branding not only more available, but also a key to achieving your objectives. If your next meeting is important, most people will ‘Google’ you before they meet with you, and develop their vital ‘first impression’ of who you are before you even get a chance to speak with them.
From corporate brands to product brands and down to your personal brand, branding is a critical component in a customer’s buying decision – will they ‘buy’ what you have to say or ignore you; will they agree to meet with you or refuse; this decision will be influenced in part by their perception of your ‘brand’. The question is what sort of brand do you want to create and is it authentic?
Fundamentally, as with every successful brand, your brand needs to be focused on value as opposed to features (previous roles, education, etc) and reflect your credibility, your value proposition and what differentiates you from others. This means:
- Making sure your digital footprint is integrated. For example, your Twitter and LinkedIn persona should reflect each other. While you may choose to use Facebook for personal connections, you still need to ensure there’s nothing that could damage your professional profile.
- Use sites like LinkedIn to stay in touch with colleagues, alumni, suppliers and other contacts, but avoid requesting contacts with people you don’t know. In such cases, a personal introduction from a shared contact (which you can find on LinkedIn) is better. You can also ask them to provide a “recommendation” for you on your profile.
- Include your career summary (short and sweet) in all of your online bios.
- You may not be ready to start blogging yourself, but you can still add comments and feedback to other commentators in your field of interest. This is the first step in understanding and engaging with your audience.
- Keep your online profiles up-to-date. This includes job moves, but you can also share content, such as interesting articles and links, to keep your online profile fresh and dynamic. These “shares” should reflect your fields of interest and expertise, and help build a picture of your brand.
- Blogs, posts and tweets should be professional, interesting and add value to the reader. Don’t use social media to simply advertise your business. For longer posts, ensure someone else proofs your work; otherwise poor expression could make it counter-productive.
- If you are employed by an organisation, ensure you are familiar with its social media policy and follow it. If it doesn’t have one, it’s something you should suggest as a risk-management tool.
- Remember, once something is online, it’s often there forever. So be sensible about your personal information, monitor your privacy settings and use common sense about what you do and don’t post. And if in doubt, don’t post it!
Whilst your on-line presence should emphasise your strengths and values, it needs to be ‘you’ or your hard work will come undone as soon as someone meets you face-to-face; authenticity is critical.
The next step in building your brand is meeting an important ‘contact’ for the first time. You need to either make a good ‘first impression’, or if the other person has done their homework, support the brand image created by your on-line presence. The common sense things to do before any initial meeting with an important person is some simple research, this may include:
- Starting with their company’s website, Google the person you are meeting; look up the person’s bio and also Google the person to get other bios or profiles. With the person’s bio in hand, you should lock in your mind the following facts: where they grew up, where they last worked, and where they went to school. Make sure it is the bio of the person you are meeting; there are a lot of Chris Smith’s out there and sometimes they even work within the same company!
- Find an online image of the person. It is always more comfortable (not to mention easier to spot the person) when you know what he or she looks like before the meeting. Having seen the person’s face lets you go into a meeting feeling like you have met the person before and be more at ease. This is also helpful to do for phone calls.
- Get the latest news or analysis on the company.
- Find out who is connected to the person or firm you are meeting and ask him or her to share as much background as possible.
- Know your top objectives for the meeting and the top one to two questions you would like answered.
Knowing this information is important, but don’t show off. Be armed with the data so that you can answer or direct the conversation appropriately; your goal is not to demonstrate what you know of the person or company but to achieve what you had in mind when you first set up the meeting.
The last element in building your brand is your appearance – you need to look the part and dress appropriately. There is no ‘one right answer’ here, but it never hurts to be a little conservative in both dress and demeanour (unless you are selling wild creativity). Do your research and balance conforming to the other person’s norms of dress and behaviour and staying true to your ‘brand’.
Putting it all together.
In any sales situation you have to sell yourself first and then you can sell your time (work of consulting), product, or ideas (communication). But remember the ‘sale’ only occurs when the other person decides to buy. The objective of ‘branding’ is to make the process easier.
Once the other person has decided you are someone they can ‘do business with’, the quality of the message you are communicating cuts in, effective writing skills and presentation skills are still critically important, but they cannot come into play until the ‘other person’ has decided to take the time to read or listen to your message.