You as a brand
Almost everything we buy these days has a brand name which is almost as important as the quality of the goods themselves. The manufacturers go to great lengths to convince you that their particular brand represents freshness, intelligence, trendiness or whatever they think will persuade you to purchase the product again.
Although it’s easy to be cynical about such slick marketing, according to consultant Lesley Everett we can all benefit from taking a few tips from the advertising industry. She maintains that thinking of yourself as a brand can raise your profile in your current job or help you move on to a new one. So how do you become the Burberry of the boardroom?
Creating your own personal brand, Everett explains, is about working out what you stand for and making sure other people get the message. To do so, you must first identify what is important to you and what you would like other people to know about you. “Ask yourself — what are your three key values?” she says. Then look at whether these qualities are coming across in the way you look, speak and act. This requires feedback from others and a willingness to change if necessary. “For example, you might think you’re friendly but other people think you’re stand-offish,” Everett explains. “You may discover that it’s because you don’t smile very much.”But surely colleagues will find it weird if you suddenly go from po-faced to grinning like a hyena? Everett agrees but stresses that personal branding is not about creating a false impression. “It’s about being honest about who you are and minimising weaknesses. But it can be difficult to make changes,” she admits. “If you’re a shrinking violet,
you won’t be comfortable using lots of body language. Changes must be natural.’’ Marketing director Carl Jameson took part in a personal branding workshop and gave a presentation which Everett watched. She then assessed participants’ dress sense, body language, gestures and facial expressions — in fact, everything about their behaviour. “I got off quite lightly,” Jameson says. “Lesley was very direct. She even spoke to one guy about his teeth because they weren’t in very good condition.” Jameson decided his values were creativity and innovation. “I’m in marketing, which is the creative centre of the company, but I used to dress really conservatively,” he explains. “Lesley suggested I stop wearing a tie. I must admit, I nearly bottled it. But it’s about making subtle changes. You don’t have to wear a bright yellow hat to show that you’re creative.” Jameson has also decided to introduce some of the ideas he picked up to the whole department. “I said to my staff, ‘Look at your desk and ask yourself what it says about you,’” he says. “Then we hired two skips and got rid of all the paperwork. We also put lots of designs on the wall so that other departments can see what we’re doing. People walk past and say, ‘Wow!’” Jameson believes that personal branding has made working life easier. “It has removed the fluffiness,” he says. “For example, I gave a presentation recently but instead of using 20 slides, I chose just one which summed up what I was trying to say. But personal branding takes a lot of discipline,” he continues. “I don’t think it would work for everyone, because you’ve got to reflect on it time and time again. Every time I come out of a meeting I wonder what impression I left them with.”
Executive assistant Jackie Buchanan selected fun, integrity and professionalism as her key values for personal branding. She found the feedback on her image particularly useful. “I always used to wear black, but now I wear a bit of colour for fun,” she explains. “Lesley also suggested taking a briefcase to meetings and using a proper pen to appear more professional.” Buchanan also learned that having an accent isn’t the end of the world. “I’m from Birmingham (central England) and as soon as I open my mouth, people make assumptions about me,’’ she says. “But Lesley pointed out that you can make a regional accent a positive thing. You can have a laugh about it and it’s another way of making people remember you. Personal branding wakens you up to new ideas,” Buchanan concludes. “Now I find myself looking at other people and wondering what they stand for.” However, Everett cautions that personal branding should be a long-term project rather than something you try just before an important interview, as modifying your behaviour can come across as insincere if you haven’t had time to practise.