Master Class #1“Everyone has a personal brand—it’s recognizing its value and communicating that effectively that makes the difference between being in control of your career or business and just going through the motions” -Paul Copcutt

You may have come across the term “personal branding,” but there are many interpretations as to what personal branding is, and the length and depth that personal brand strategists and others go into with clients varies considerably.

My intention in this “master class” series is to explain the importance of following a logical series of steps in building a personal brand and using that for your career marketing documents. All too often, I work with clients who have been “branded,” only to find that they have no true connection or relation between who they really are and the brand that has been created for them.

In fact, this is one of the problems with personal branding. The two are intertwined and inseparable; you cannot develop and refine a strong personal brand without spending time defining who you are, what you stand for and what drives you. That foundation becomes the cornerstone of your brand.

The great news is you already have a personal brand. The key is understanding what that brand is, determining what makes you unique and then communicating it effectively to the people who need to know. The people who are going to make you successful. Your ideal target audience. They could be internal contacts, external hiring managers or buyers of your product or service.


You’re Already Using Personal Branding

“That cross-trainer you’re wearing—one look at the distinctive swoosh on the side tells everyone who’s got you branded. That coffee travel mug you’re carrying—ah, you’re a Starbucks woman! Your t-shirt with the distinctive Champion “C” on the sleeve, the blue jeans with the prominent Levi’s rivets, the watch with the hey-this-certifies-I-made-it icon on the face, your fountain pen with the maker’s symbol crafted into the end…

You’re branded, branded, branded, branded.

It’s time for me—and you—to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work.

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” –Tom Peters, Fast Company, 1997

When Tom Peters wrote this in Fast Company, I’m not sure if he expected it to take as long for the noise of “Brand You” to be finally heard in the mainstream of people’s careers. But it has finally arrived, and it’s only going to get louder.


The New World of Work

Less than 30 years ago, we were told that our career would be spent with one company from leaving school to retirement. Now, our career is spent with numerous companies in more than one industry.

Less than 20 years ago, we were told that the biggest challenge in the 21st century would be what to do with our leisure time. Now, our challenge is maintaining a successful career and work-life balance.

Less than 10 years ago, we were told we were entering a long period of prosperity and unlimited opportunity. Now, our economies are recovering, but people haven’t made the career moves they’ve wanted to.

Less than 5 years ago, we were told that due to the retiring Boomer generation, the shortage of talent would be so great that we could name our price. Now, the big job news is offshoring and delayed retirement for many.

Students in the first year of a science program at a university will find that by the time they graduate, 25% of what they learned in year one is either revised or already obsolete.

The elementary or pre-schoolers of today will have careers that will span four different functions and industries, an average of 19 employers, and 70% of the jobs they will end up doing are yet to be developed. They will likely be continually training professionally.

Several surveys have found that the average executive can now expect to be looking for a new opportunity every 3-5 years—and, in fact, the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer in a Fortune 500 company in the U.S. on has on occasion been as short as 23 months! (Although according to a recent Spencer Stuart survey, this has steadily climbed to 45 months.)

There is one thing we can all be certain of over the next 5, 10, 20 and 30 years: the job market and how our careers are defined will be in constant change.

Global costs and technology are completely changing the landscape of work and business as we know it. With the advent of social media profiles and that fact that anyone can be “Googled,” you can now build a profile (and a perception) of someone easily. It’s highly likely that with a little effort, your work history and experience could be discovered to the point where a resume would become redundant.

Money and benefits are no longer primary motivators for the generations coming into the workforce. Yes, a fair day’s remuneration is expected and deserved, but beyond that, individuals are craving recognition and have a stronger desire to know that what they’re doing is making a difference. That their values are aligned with those of the organization. That they are appreciated and included in important projects and decisions.

We cannot necessarily predict where the world will be, even in the short-term, but we can take greater control of our careers and position our success through personal branding.


Personal Branding Is No Longer Optional

Various surveys show that between 37% and 73% of executives and professionals are using the Internet to research people they’re meeting with prior to that first face-to-face interaction, and a Reppler survey in late 2011 had it as high as 91%!

Today, your online identity is as critical as your references and experience. If you don’t have one already, go to or and buy your own domain now—before you end up with!

The vast majority of executive recruiters are using the Internet to search for candidates and are rejecting a high number of those candidates purely by what they find out about them online. The rise of product branding, employment branding and even celebrity branding have raised our awareness of the influence of branding, and it’s becoming a commonly used word in conversations.

The 21st century is witnessing the collision of two societal trends that are creating the demand and opportunity for personal branding. The first trend is that in the new world of work we’ve already explored, companies are being forced to react so much more quickly and to be innovative. And our uniqueness as employees provides that supply of creativity. Tied to that is the second trend of “egonomics,” a term used by Faith Popcorn that identifies our need to be recognized as unique individuals who crave non-conformity at work, as Dan Pink writes about in his book Drive.

It’s at the intersection of these two trends that personal branding is evolving—where companies demand unique contributions and we crave the recognition of our unique value.

Personal branding is a real opportunity to identify what is important to you and clearly identify and communicate those differences and qualities to guide your career, using your strengths, skills, passions and values to separate yourself from your competitors.

One of the fastest-growing areas for personal branding is within corporations, as organizations realize that the success of their own brands will be determined by the feeling of ownership and belief held by their employees. Companies are realizing that the best way to retain top talent and keep employees engaged is to allow them to develop and recognize their own brands and then “present” the company in their own unique style.

We just have to look at the huge success of SouthWest and Starbucks as examples of this employee power driving the success of brands. In the next post in this series, we will explore how you can use this 21st century strategy to bring your career marketing documents up to the same level.


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