In 2007, Tom Peters wrote a breath-of-fresh-air article in Fast Company magazine, encouraging readers to think not like a 'worker' or 'manager' or ‘employee’ - but as a microbusiness engaged in interesting projects. And like any business, the continuing flow of customers for that business-of-one (You, Inc) would be dependent on its brand. Peters extended that notion by stressing the importance of taking initiative, participating in interesting projects, life-long learning, networking through association, personal growth, added value through going the extra-mile and the delivery of results. In short, he talked about how businesses function and grow – and the lessons that an individual could learn from that. It was a rallying call for knowledge workers at the edge of an economic abyss to make themselves more employable in an increasingly fluid job market. And it opened a Pandora’s box of flim-flammery and snake-oil promising the easy way to a ‘personal brand’. Most of it is twaddle. THE COLOUR OF MONEY I've just been reading an article in a recruitment magazine from the senior consultant of a personal branding consultancy. Aside from a series of platitudes about brands adding-value and how ‘popular iconic figures tackle the secrets of human nature’ (including Martin Seligman and Robert E Thayer - yes, those popular iconic figures) her schtick is about dressing for success. Successful people (quote) "adapt beauty and fashion trends, and manage their body language to enhance their physique. They also develop a unique positioning strategy to enhance their career prospects by harnessing the power of colour, clothes, body language and posture. In short, they develop a unique personal brand." To put it another way: ‘Haircut your way to promotion.’ Or ‘Power handbags – a woman’s guide to breaking the glass ceiling.’ Basing a personal brand strategy on what colour jacket you wear is like basing a nation’s economic policy on the colours in its flag. (For the record, I accept that some people need advice of how to dress - including me, before anyone else leaps in with that suggestion. And that a well-cut suit can make all of us feel like a million dollars. But that is to branding as the front elevation is to a building; it creates a first impression, but it does not make an entire house.) ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? Branding is NOT about colour. Branding is NOT about look. Branding is about EXPERIENCE. In the same way that a product brand (the logo) is a visual mnemonic - a shorthand for a myriad of other factors - so a personal brand is another way of saying reputation, which is based upon events, not earrings. A brand is a complex, multi-dimensional construct that exists nowhere other than in the minds of your customers. Consider the following, and what they mean to you: Innocent - iPhone – Amazon - Prius See? I haven't shown you a logo, a colour swatch, a brochure or even a product, and you already have an opinion. Values, associations, impressions, memories, understandings, data, stories; they may have been formed through direct consumer experience or come second-hand through the intermediation of the press, the internet or other third party recommendation. Very little – if anything - is to do with look and feel. The anglepoise lamp in the Pixar logo has some connotations of its own; if you saw the studio’s first-ever short, it’ll bring a smile to mind. But the values of that business, and the ‘meaning’ of that brand aren’t on display here – but your experience of Buzz and Woody and Mike and Scully and Edna and Wall*E bring deep and rich feelings to the name. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH Design has a place, but it is not a replacement for content – which in the case of a personal brand, is the experience created by you delivering results. As Peters said in his original article: Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? Forget your job description. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of? Most of all, forget about the standard rungs of progression you've climbed in your career up to now. Burn that damnable "ladder" and ask yourself: What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about? There’s a deep truth expressed and implied in every word of this paragraph: that the building of brand is based on work. Old-fashioned, time-consuming, sweat-breaking work. It can be augmented by customer/colleague recommendation. It can be promoted through comment and the sharing of insight. It can even be leveraged through association with other brands. But it cannot be created by a new wardrobe. CLOTHES MAKETH THE WO/MAN? Peters made it clear that the development of your brand should be a conscious, planned, considered activity. And there is plenty of scope for advice and consultancy here - how you network with third parties and influencers, how you express your core proposition and values, how you attract new business opportunities. All of this needs work, care and attention. (I have sat with many senior people who have achieved extraordinary results in their careers, but who just can’t see the word for the trees). And, of course, the current minefield : using social media and the internet to 'spread the word'. The reason is straightforward - the internet never forgets. Every comment you make, every photo you post will be out there, forever, waiting to be found. That can affect the perception of you in the same way that an indiscretion at the Christmas party can hang a big question mark over you for a long time to come. None of this is a simple process. Your brand (reputation) is a complex thing, influenced by many factors, including the people you work with, the projects you work on, the results you deliver, the company you keep and the recommendations you attract. Changing you wardrobe might make you feel better, but as an ‘outside-in’ activity it’s a short-term fix. Your brand – your reputation – is a long-term project. Think deeply. Act wisely. Manage it with care.
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