Personal branding is becoming a hot business topic. But why is it deemed essential these days?
Put it down, in part, to a tough job market. Competition is fierce, and you need to be visible to hold on to a good job, says Dee Madigan, creative director at Campaign Edge (pictured above).
“The only way to be on the radar is for people to know exactly who you are,” she says. “No-one ever gets hired or promoted by hiding their light under a bushel. Personal branding is about making sure the spotlight is on you in the most flattering way possible.”
It’s also about making yourself a highly saleable point of difference. “The purpose of branding is the same whether you’re a person or a product,” says Madigan. “It’s about differentiating yourself in your market in a way that makes people want to work with you, promote you and pay you more money.”
For personal brands that are known and valued among their target audience (an essential indicator of a brand’s success) and consistent in communications across all mediums, Madigan nominates media personality Ita Buttrose, Greens senator Scott Ludlum, journalist Georgie Gardner and film director Baz Luhrmann as people who do it well.
Being in sync
Syncing your personal brand with an organisation’s brand by working for companies with similar values makes branding easier. But, as Madigan points out, that’s not always possible. “More often than not, with a few notable exceptions, organisational brands tend to be very conservative.”
This means risk management of your brand is crucial. For example, there’s a fine line between standing out and being seen as a troublemaker.
But unless you stand out, you’ll never achieve anything better than mediocrity, says Madigan.
“Be brave. Speak up when it’s worth it and you know what you’re talking about. But never rock the boat for the sake of it. The safest way to stand out with your brand is to take people along with you on the journey.”
HR people are wising up to how investing in personal branding can help employees excel, stay happy in their jobs over the long-term and, in turn, sing their organisation’s praises, she says.
The trap of blending in
While some may believe blending in is the best way to ‘get along’ with managers and colleagues at work, it can spell career suicide, warns branding expert Mary van de Wiel, and 2014 AHRI National Convention speaker.
“If you’re serious about reving up your career, bring more value to the table than anyone else. Stand out. Be passionate and persistent in what you believe. Be curious and poised to give your ideas and opinions a voice. This takes courage.”
Organisations benefit from this behaviour because, if employees feel empowered, their willingness to ‘lean in’ and do their best delivers an innovative edge, says van de Wiel. “Personal branding motivates, inspires and allows individuals to dare to explore all kinds of possibilities.”
Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of AltusQ experiential coaching, reels off examples of inspiring personal brands for him. Former Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO David Murray is “highly intelligent, controversial and trusted”; Tim Flannery is “a trusted advisor on our environment”; RedBalloon founder Naomi Simpson is “very focused on the company message of ‘changing gifting’ in Australia”; Royal Perth Hospital burns unit head Fiona Wood has a ‘we’re there to help’ brand that’s “consistent, regardless of conditions and circumstances”; and foreign minister Julie Bishop is “a strong, intelligent, concise communicator”.
There’s a direct correlation between happy employees who feel like they belong within the organisation and productivity up-lift, says Mackenzie. For that to occur, personal branding must match the circumstances and personality of the organisation.
With that in mind, think carefully about the qualities you put forward to the business world, he says. Being seen as visionary, honest, daring, intelligent, quick, deliberate, showy and so on are traits that can work for or against you depending on your circumstances.
He also points out that “someone can have strong personal branding, but not be liked by everyone”.
“And remember, if you have to try too hard at your personal brand, ‘try hard’ will become your personal brand. You shouldn’t have to work hard at it. Simply show up as your ‘true self’ and perform to the best of your abilities, and it’ll shine through.”
Author and Macquarie University professor of media Catharine Lumby cites Richard Branson as the poster boy for personal and organisational brand synthesis because he embodies the Virgin brand with his “irreverence, shameless self-promotion and adventurist spirit”.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Brand you’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.