Personal Branding and the Art of Defining “Brand You”

This post’s key takeaways:

  1. Brands are not just products; they’re people too—including you
  2. At work, your reputation is your brand, and you always have the opportunity to change perceptions by focusing in on what makes you special
  3. Being clear about what your personal brand statement is at work is key; writing it down sets the intention and underscores where you make a difference
  4. Use this template to help you hone in on what your relevant, go-to skills are for the organization you work for


The One Question that Matters

Defining the Brand You of Tomorrow


At its core, a brand is a promise. That promise, in turn, is an expectation of experience. Think of some common brands and take note of your first thought: Comcast, Target or M&Ms, to name a few. What is your immediate reaction, your instinctual response? Whatever comes to mind is very much the brand’s promise–important caveat ahead–as it’s been realized by your frame of reference. Of course, that frame of reference can be good, or…

…it can be bad. To the dismay of brands, the interactions you have with them do not always jibe with the promise they believe they’ve made (I’m looking at you, Comcast.) And in that gap of disconnection exists dissonance, a fancy term I love that simply means that there is a lack of agreement, or inconsistency, between two things; in this case, between what the brand is telling you their promise is and what you have actually experienced the promise to be. When this happens, three things are possible: 1) the brand does *something* to redeem itself in order to reassert its promise to you, 2) you maintain a relationship with the brand, but with less enthusiasm than before; or, 3) you cut ties, walk away and find another brand to give your love too.

Because you always have #3 as an option, brands should always be laser focused on their ability to activate on the experience they promise. Said another way, the primary goal of a brand is to make sure the promise they make is the experience they fulfill. Brands must do this for one reason, and one reason only: brands exist only to be sold. The sale, however, does not only constitute financial transaction. Sure, many brands exist to capture economic profit, but many others exist still to capture a slice of your mindshare, your activism, or even your vote.

Speaking of voting, it turns out that the politicians you cast a ballot for are actually people. I know that may shock you, given our current environment, but they are, and more than ever, they remind us that, yes—brands are not just products, but most certainly people too. Celebrities, athletes and politicians can be quite recognizable brands, but as a person, guess who else fits nicely into this category? Yup. You.

The One Question that Matters

Specifically, in the context of work, you already have a brand, whether you’re aware of it are not. Reputation = brand, professionally speaking, and when it comes to work, your brand promise comes down to one key question:

What do you deliver?

It’s straightforward, short and direct, and the answer is everything. Note that we’re not talking about hypotheticals; we’re talking about current state reality. It’s not what you might deliver, it’s what you do deliver.

If we go back to the idea that a brand promise is an expectation of experience, then the concept of what you deliver at work is a summation of the experiences that your peers have had with you. Take some time to think and reflect about experiences that you’ve delivered to your co-workers in the past three to six months. What defined those experiences? How did you perform? What did you deliver? If you are unsure, or wish you could tap into how others perceive you, here are some strategies on how to find out.

But if you do have a good sense of what you believe your current brand at work to be, the next step is to reflect on the following questions:

  • Is the promise that I believe my brand to deliver the same promise that others experience? If the answer is yes, and the promise is a good one, then that’s excellent. If, on the other hand, the answer is no, or I don’t know, then that’s absolutely okay too. You have the power to adjust, and you can start in short order.
  • Is the brand I have at work today the brand I want to have moving forward? If you feel like you have a firm grasp on the brand that defines you today, the most important question is whether or not this is the brand you want to have tomorrow. If you feel like you’ve veered, or could benefit from a brand reboot, then that’s good information to have—and information that you can act on quickly.

Defining the Brand You of Tomorrow

So if indeed the brand you have today is the brand you want tomorrow, then your next steps are clear: keep doing what you’re doing!

But if you feel like there is some dissonance between what you want to deliver and what you are delivering, let’s talk about what next steps might be.

While it’s important to be clear on what your brand is today, I really believe it’s exponentially more important (and motivating) to be focused on the Brand You of tomorrow. Who do you want to be known as at work? What do you want your peers to think when you walk into a room? What are you going to make sure you deliver?

So how do you actually define all of us this? As a brand, the essence of the promise you want to deliver is the value you’ll offer. In my mind, the best and most coveted brands (products and people alike) do a great job at showing their value by creating propositions that do three key things:

  • They resonate: brands that resonate speak to or solve a need or problem that their target customer not only has, but cares about solving. In the context of work, this means that you need to be clear on what your organization not only needs, but also what they realize they need. If you are solving a problem that’s not really seen as a problem, you will not resonate. But if you have a soft skill, hard skill or vision that your company sees as necessary for organizational success, you’re on to something. Make sure the value you’re offering helps the company achieve its objectives, and your brand will resonate.
  • They differentiate: brands that differentiate offer something unique; something that competitors cannot or do not. In the scope of work, your co-workers are really your competition. While you must work well with others, it’s imperative that you realize that you and your peers are all vying for mind share of the same leadership team. There are only so many ‘rising star’ spots one company can assign, so while it’s important to be collaborative, it’s game shifting to be special. If you can articulate a meaningful difference that separates you from the pack, you are differentiating yourself.
  • They substantiate: brands that substantiate deliver proof to back up their claims. Words are just words, but facts are forever. If you can prove the value that you’re offering, you are building credibility, confidence and—my favorite ‘c’—corporate capital. Don’t just talk about it; be about it. The more your brand offers in terms of outcomes (and publicizing said outcomes,) the more you substantiate your value position.

For your brand at work, these three key points most effectively come together as a personal brand statement. While not particularly fun to actually work out, taking a block of time (pair with wine if possible,) to put your personal brand statement into written word creates a sense of intention and focus that I promise will motivate and energize you. Best part: your statement doesn’t need to be long or drawn out—it’s actually better to keep it short and sweet.

Here’s the framework I like to use as a template for what your final personal brand statement might look like:

For [department/organization], [your name] delivers [your special sauce,] which benefits [department/organization] by helping to achieve/solve/move forward [goal or problem.]

So, for example:

For the Marketing team, Emily Johnson delivers a differentiated approach to understanding unmet customer needs, which benefits Marketing, as well as R&D, in creating relevant and meaningful product road maps that ultimately drive profitability and revenue.

While good and jazzy (side note: I would advise Emily to work this into her resume in place of a mundane objective statement,) it will only work as an effective branding statement if it is truly relevant to Emily’s organization. If getting to the heart of what customers want is a big deal to leadership, then this statement will resonate. If, however, R&D drives product development without much taste for customer needs, then this statement misses the mark.

So, if you feel really tuned into what your relevant, ‘go-to’ skill is, then jump right into filling in the blanks. If, however, you want to map things out a bit first before committing to a brand statement, check out this template, which will help you to hone in on which of your star qualities matter the most to the objectives your organization is driving toward.

Once you use the template and complete your statement, the next items on the agenda is to publicize it, and substantiate your promise by letting the right people know, in the right way, every time you deliver on it. We’ll tackle that very necessary skill of responsible self-promotion in next week’s post. If you wrinkle your nose at the thought, please dewrinkle and have an open mind. No one likes a braggart, I get that, but no one promotes someone who they don’t know is winning and delivering either (most of the time, anyways.)

Until then, if you like this post, don’t like it, can think of 1-2 ways I could have made it better or just have questions, leave a comment below.


2 thoughts on “Personal Branding and the Art of Defining “Brand You””

    1. Thanks, Brigitte, and I totally agree! For me, I’ve struggled in the past with wanting to make something I felt was a valuable skill relevant to the company I was working for. It’s hard to push a skill that the organization doesn’t put much stock in as your brand and get rewarded for it. Sounds like common sense, but I had to really learn that. It can be hard to figure out the intersection between what you’re good at and passionate about and what the organization really cares about. The hardest part might actually be the next step: sharing and promoting wins that substantiate the brand you’ve defined. It might be challenging, but I’ve always seen that folks who are sure about their value, and publicize in a non-annoying way, get points for doing so.

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