Developing Your Personal Brand

When my niece was two, she pointed to the alarm bell button in her building’s elevator and yelled “Taco Bell!”  At a very young age, she could recognize the iconic symbol thanks to years—and millions of dollars— they’d spent developing their brand.

As a business leader, it’s just as important to develop your own personal brand. Think of it as a value proposition.  And behind every effective value proposition is a strong sense of WHY.

You may have heard of it, but Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book, Start with Why, lay out how every successful business and every inspiring leader has a strong why behind what they do. Those that focus more on the what (e.g. “We make cellphones” or “I invest in stocks”) target short-term gains at the expense of long-term success. Those with a strong why (think Apple’s “we challenge the status quo” or TOMS’ “One for One” model) achieve consistent brand recognition and continuous profitability.

In order to be successful in this ever-changing marketplace, make sure to articulate your why as you develop your personal brand.  Why do you do what you do?  Why do you get out of bed each morning?  What motivates you?  Communicating this to others will help them better understand you and why they should take you seriously.

The best way to deliver this why is through a powerful story.  Stories (one of the most effective SHARP tools), give your listener a front seat to who you are and the passion behind everything you do.  Perhaps it’s a passion for developing others or a passion for protecting the environment.  As an example, when Blake Mycoskie, TOMS’ CEO, describes the why of his “One for One” model, he tells the emotional story of meeting children in Argentina who had no shoes.

As you navigate your career, start to develop your own personal brand story.  It might start with, “Ever since I was a little girl….” or “When I was four and discovering how things were made…”. Then transition this story into a strong Point of View—one that clearly defines why you do what you do.  An impactful personal brand statement will allow you to raise your hand to new opportunities and will communicate to others where you want to go in your career.

We recently worked with an incredible non-profit, Forte Foundation, whose mission is to get more women into MBA programs.  In a series of workshops, we helped these business school hopefuls create their personal brand stories.  As you can imagine, developing these messages is paramount as these women meet with admissions representatives.  Using the Decker Grid as the framework, they were able to craft brand statements that were high-impact and were not likely to be swept aside on the desk of an admissions officer.  And of course, what made these messages so meaningful were the stories that accompanied them.  As these women found their stories, they were able to uncover another big why—why business schools should accept them into their MBA programs.

One woman wanted to get her MBA in the effort to provide financial opportunities to those in developing countries. She told a powerful story of the hardships she observed abroad and then launched into her point of view: “Imagine if immigration was only by choice, and not due to a lack of opportunities. What if people only left their home countries because they wanted to, not because there were no jobs. That’s what I want to create – opportunity for all, and anywhere they want it.”  Consider how much more effective this was than just listing her credentials.

So whether you are applying to graduate school, seeking a new job opportunity, or asking for a promotion, let your personal brand story guide your conversations.  And don’t forget to start with why.

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