Taking a Step Back: What is a Personal Brand? (And why should I care?)

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Over the course of the last couple of weeks and through various conversations and things I have been reading, I realized that it might be wise to take a step back on this whole personal brand conversation from the perspective of convincing people it is important to define what it actually is. And perhaps equally as important, how to authentically and consistently live through your personal brand.

I found myself in a conversation with a couple of smart ladies recently, (Hi, Kathrine! Hi, Christa!) and the comment was made that ‘personal brand’ is a hot topic right now, and with the digital world in which we are forced to now live, (shaking my fist at you, COVID!) it is more important than ever that we truly define who we are and communicate consistently as such.

Upon leaving that meeting, I continued to think about this. And then I started to reflect on my approach to “arguing for” the power of personal branding. In doing so I thought to myself, have I set the right foundation for what a personal brand actually is in my writing so far? And have I left some people behind by not properly talking through what a personal brand actually is?

So, where has this left me? Well first, I decided that I had in fact neglected to properly define a personal brand. And hopefully that means pointing out some important key points to learning about the definition of personal branding and what it entails. Let’s dive in, shall we?

  1. What is a personal brand? First, I think it is important to start with what a brand is. And rather than give a general definition that may or may not be easy to interpret, I am going to tap into my business partner, Anne Candido, here, and give the questions that she asks in order to define a brand. They are: Who am I? How am I different? Why would you want me? I like this format for defining brand because I think it very clearly touches on the key components without any fluff. And it is also the perfect set of questions to ask when defining our personal brands. Because, as I mentioned in a previous blog, we are all brands. The definition of personal brand is made up of a series of things once it is defined. Ready for it? A personal brand is the collective set of your characteristics, appearance, behaviors and actions that add up to make you into a brand. And what do these mean? Here they are broken down:

  2. Characteristics: Your personal features and natural tendencies. Note that you cannot change your characteristics. They are part of who you are.

  3. Appearance: How you physically and verbally show up and the associated perceptions your appearance makes. Some may call this your “image”.

  4. Behaviors: Behaviors are the tendencies that cause you to act or conduct yourself, especially toward others.

  5. Actions: Actions are something you physically do to achieve an aim. It is important to reflect on whether how you are behaving is in line with what others are expecting of you. Many will refer to this as your “reputation”, or what people say good or bad when you aren’t there. I will say that defining the above list of items takes a lot of personal self-reflection and is best with input from others. In a previous blog I outline more specifically how to assess your personal brand, so if you are having trouble I would refer to that. Which leads me to the next point.

  6. Do I have a personal brand? I would argue that every single person has a personal brand, whether they choose to acknowledge it, work on it, or use it to their advantage or not. Because we are all human beings and we interact with other human beings, there are natural impressions that others take away from us when we interact. This is our reputation, as mentioned above. And this includes all people, but we can likely boil it down to those you interact with most regularly for clarity’s sake. Specifically, reference that previous blog and see #2. This is how you ask others for their input. And I would also note that you must be vulnerable and open to feedback. You may not always like what you hear, but it will make you aware and allow you to work to change for the better. And besides, if you don’t define your brand, others will do it for you. Scary thought? I think so too.

  7. Why do I care about my personal brand? This is a big one. I just stated that if you don’t define and proactively manage your personal brand, others will define it for you. But more than that, the big "why" is because it ultimately determines if people are buying what you are selling. And this might mean in business, in your personal life, in your relationships - it is all of this. But the truth of the matter is, you need to be able to sell in order to achieve your goals and dreams. Because we cannot realize those hopes and dreams without other people. We are emotional beings, and while “selling” as a word might seem transactional, it is anything but! 90% of decisions are emotionally led. And brands are emotional. So it’s time to get personal, and get serious about yours.

  8. How do I know if my personal brand needs work? If you do your homework and really dig deep into your personal brand, you will know whether or not yours needs work. I promise you. But to get started, here are some questions you might ask yourself. If your answer to any of them is yes, my forthright response to you is that your personal brand needs work. (See what I did there?) I am struggling to get promoted and don’t know why. My relationships seem surface level and I want them to be so much more. I am trying to lead a big project at work but am having trouble getting the right buy-in. I am having trouble communicating effectively with others. I cannot lead a productive meeting for the life of me and I don’t know why! I want to get a new job, but I feel stuck and don’t know where to start. I feel like I am ready for a change in my life but I don’t know what that is. Now, some of these are really big, life questions and others are work-related. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter - they all ladder back to the success of your personal brand. Does this feel complicated? Probably. And unfortunately, this list could go on and on. But if you need help, use that previous blog to navigate your own brand and define it for yourself so that you can more proactively manage it now and in the future. And then pay attention. Be mindful. Re-evaluate. Continue to ask for feedback. Rinse, wash, and repeat. It is an ongoing cycle, and like every good brand out there, it is a living, breathing thing that is always changing. It is you after all!

So, what is the point of all of this? Well, hopefully, you have taken away that your personal brand is out there in the wild whether you are managing it or not, but the final point I want to make is this: We all have a responsibility to ourselves and others to manage our personal brands. We can all be better people and better to each other if we take some time for introspection and work on ourselves and our relationships. And who knows, you just might learn a thing or two about yourself in the process and learn to sell what makes you happiest and fulfills your wildest dreams!

And now, more than ever, we all need to manage our brands because they are slightly one-dimensional when so much of our lives happen in technological interactions and through screens. And even when we are in public, we are wearing masks - how in-human can you get? So my PSA this time would be to work hard at being you to the fullest extent in every interaction across every platform and be proud of the extra effort and the rewards that you will inevitably achieve. And encourage others to do the same! After all, we are all in this together. And for the long haul it would seem.

And, as always, if you find yourself having a hard time or getting stuck on your personal brand, give us a call. We have been there. ‘Personal brand’ can be a bit of a confusing topic for those of us that have not lived branding all our lives, and we are always glad to share our knowledge and help others. Because, honestly, we are all always a bit of a work in progress, and learning from those that have been there can save us some time and energy. It’s not cheating, it’s called savviness! Until next time...

Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping start-ups, small and mid-size businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.

Check out our podcast! Marketing Smarts. From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so that you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so that whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.