Oprah. Martha Stewart. Lady Gaga. When you hear those names, what comes to mind? Power. Wealth. Outrageousness.

All are brand names like GE, Coke, and Nike, but they are brands build on a person not a product.

What is a personal brand?

The term was first coined in the late 1990s by author Tom Peters in article of Fast Company Magazine where Peters stated that “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.”

Basically, personal branding speaks to the process in which individuals differentiate themselves to stand out from the crowd. Having a strong personal brand can often make the difference by turning positive perceptions of you into profits.

Why do you need to develop a personal brand?

Today we live in a very competitive world vying for people’s attention. As a professional or an individual, you need to be able to cut through the noise to be seen and heard. Having a clear, concise personal brand and then leveraging it across platforms, you can achieve your goals. By developing a strong personal brand you be recognized as an expert in your field, establish a reputation, and credibility, to advance your career as well as building your self-confidence.

How can you create a personal brand?

We all can’t nor should be an Oprah, Martha or Gaga. You need to be yourself. A personal brand is more complex than how you look or the “packaging.” It should have a deeper meaning. A personal brand is the essence of you.

In developing a personal brand, you need to ask yourself three questions:

  1. What do you stand for? You must buy into your own brand. If you don’t then why should anyone else? Be crystal-clear about the image you wish to project.
  2. What makes you stand out? Inject your personality into as many aspects of your business whenever possible. Your personality is unique to you.
  3. What makes you compelling? Figure out what makes you special and why you are great at what you do. You should be able to tell someone who you are in ten words or less. Remember if you make any broad statements then you need to be able to back them up with facts.

Social media has created great opportunities for the personal brand. Before social media, branding was only available to businesses and celebrities. The playing field has been leveled; now anyone with access to the Internet can broadcast themselves and their ideas on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GooglePlus or YouTube. Your social media presence must be in sync with your brand. For example your LinkedIn profile should match your resume.

A word of caution with social media, you are creating a digital footprint, which will stay with you. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (depending on your Facebook privacy settings) are now being indexed by and showing up in Google searches. The Federal Trade Commission recently signed-off on, Social Intelligence Corp, a company that searches social media sites for employers conducting background checks on employees. As the old saying goes, “If you wouldn’t want Grandma to read or see it, then don’t post it.”

Protecting your personal brand is important. Google yourself. Now go to either Spokeo.com or 123people.com and search for yourself. Surprised? Was the information correct, or was it totally off base? These sites are online information brokers, basically “people search engines.” What they do is crawl deeply into the Web and aggregate data that a simple Google or Bing search wouldn’t necessarily produce. The information is already out there, so they aren’t breaking any laws.

If you are concerned by what you find available about you online, there are paid services that “clean up” your online presence. They include DeleteMe.com or Reputation.com. You can also request to opt out through Spokeo’s privacy page and have your information removed from that site.

You can build and project your personal brand. So look out Oprah, here you come!

This was originally published in the Fall 2011 edition of Eastern North Carolina Woman.

Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR, is an accredited public relations professional with over a decade experience bridging the gap between traditional public relations and emerging technologies. Need help reaching your business’s customers, call 302.563.992 to schedule an initial consultation, or contact Mind The Gap Public Relations.

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