personal branding: why you need to be your own billboard

 Photo Credit: Lehmann Sound

Photo Credit: Lehmann Sound

Let me start off with this:

I am no marketing genius. I believe I took one class in college where I learned the 5 P’s of marketing (and then subsequently forgot them), and that’s where my education in that subject ended. Instead, the rest of my coursework was filled with debits and credits, present value calculations, and excel shortcuts. Exciting, I know, but hey, that’s the life of an accounting/finance major. However, I now live with a girl who spent her college career surrounded by marketing campaigns and social media strategies, and thus, I’ve become semi-acquainted with the world in which those with marketing majors live. Seriously, I feel like I’ve learned more about that field in the past 6 months than I did my entire 4 years at college. It’s like staying at a Holiday Inn – I’m now an expert by association.

Anyhoo, one day while sudsing up in the shower, I was thinking how focused companies are on maintaining their brand image on a day-to-day basis. McDonald’s is in the midst of an attempted overhaul aimed at making their restaurants seem more “health conscious” to the public (good luck, Mickey D’s). Budweiser spends millions every time the Super Bowl comes around to get in the minds of one of their main demographics – sports fans. And while I was washing the conditioner out of my hair, I wondered, “Why aren’t we as individuals doing the same? Why aren’t we spending as much time honing our image as companies do for theirs?” We immediately think of class and elegance when we hear “Michael Kors” and cheap and trendy when someone throws out the word “Forever 21” (Is it bad that I’m 27 and still shop there? I don’t care if it is. I’m still going to.), but do we ever actually sit down and wonder what terms our name is associated with?

Personal branding refers to an individual’s ability to market themselves to others – in the words of Forbes[1], it’s all about “who you are and what you want to be known for.” It’s the image you want to project to your prospective employers, your friends, your family, etc., and it’s vital, especially in the professional world, to manage that image. Why? Here’s 3 reasons:

1)      Attracts the Right People

People tend to gravitate towards those who have the same values as they do; thus, if you are putting out there that you are a big-time party girl with little regards for your 5 year plan, you will attract like-minded individuals. Good for you, you wild child – carry on. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you are known as a go-getter who is extremely career-focused, those with similar values will gravitate into your circle…including potential employers. Companies are placing a high emphasis on culture nowadays, which is important for both the company and the individual, and your “brand” can help you (and those hiring you) distinguish how well you fit into that culture.

2)      Forces Your Priorities into the Limelight

By developing a brand, you are stating to yourself (and the world) what you value most. And because this brand is based on how others perceive you, it’s something you have to project on a daily basis. Hence, your priorities in life are automatically thrust to the forefront. Every. Single. Day. If you want to be stylish, well, you better look damn good 90% of the time. If you want to be generous, then you best skip that daily candy bar run so you can save money to donate. See the pattern here?

3)      Helps You Be Who You Want to Be

If you say something enough, you start to believe it, right? And if other people say it, you really are picking up what they’re throwing down. By promoting your personal brand, you are constantly being reminded of who you want to be, which makes you more prone to stick to actions that support that brand. And when others start believing it, you in turn believe it even more. Trust me on this – my mom made a comment one day about how she wishes she was me because she felt I was highly successful and having the time of my life. And you know what? Hearing that from someone else actually made me take a minute to reflect on where I am in my life. I had gotten so caught up in the day-to-day drudgery that I had never taken the time to really think about who I was at that moment. And you know what I found out? In the grand scheme of things, I am totally rocking it right now. No, not everything’s perfect, but that little comment made me appreciate what I had accomplished and who I am, and it gave me the motivation to keep on keeping on – my brand had gotten me that far, but someone else reiterating it to me gave me the reminder to stick with it.

Luckily, you can control your personal brand…for the most part. Your own brand takes its cues from the way you dress to your values to the organizations you choose to be a part of. Want to be taken seriously as a professional? Then it’s time to zip up that pencil skirt and get rid of those scuffed heels, my dear. Want to be known as an expert in everything tech? Well, time to start contributing some articles or presentations in that field. You project your brand based on your actions, so unless you get out into that vast world and start doing something that reflects those qualities you so eagerly want to be synonymous with your name, no one is going to associate them with you.

It should be noted that your personal brand also pulls from your social media presence, which can be a dangerous yet glorious thing. With access at our fingertips, we can easily post that nasty tweet at 4 in the morning about that *itch who lives next door or get tagged in photo where you’re throwing back shots in a bikini in the backyard of a frat house . And let me tell you, when you’re trying to get an internship or job, you don’t want either of those accessible to anyone who knows their way around a good Google search. In other words, you have to be careful and must monitor not only what you post, but what others may be posting about you.

On the other hand, social media can be a great way to promote the image you want to put out to the world. I have a friend who absolutely LOVES quotes (you know who you are), and she fills her Instagram with uplifting and inspirational ones. In my mind, her social media presence reflects that she’s a caring person…and a little obsessed with quotes ;). There is also an individual I follow on Twitter who I feel only tweets about a) drinking, b) smoking pot, and c) her ex – yes, we all know who you’re talking about. Unsurprisingly, my Respect-O-Meter for her has sunk lower and lower as the weeks go on. Amazing how status updates can reflect so strongly on you, isn’t it?

I’ll be posting a blog later this week that walks you through the steps of creating your personal brand. Until then, think about how having your own brand would help you make a positive change in your life. Happy Pondering!

*What are your thoughts on personal branding? Should it be left for the corporations or do we need to focus on this as individuals as well?

[1] “The First Step To Building Your Persona Brand.” Forbes, 4 February 2012. Web. 20 August 2014. www.forbes.com

 Photo Credit: Brooke Cagle

Photo Credit: Brooke Cagle