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The Power of Personal Branding for Career Success

Reproduced from The Power of Personal Branding for Career Success, with permission from the publisher, The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. © 2012. All rights reserved.

Walking down the street and thinking about a cup of coffee, you see Tim Hortons, Starbucks and your local independent coffee shop. Chances are good that you will make up your mind very quickly because you already have a brand preference and your preference will likely be the same a day or even a month later. This type of decision-making is not very surprising, considering the extensive marketing efforts of the two national chains (and, to a lesser degree, the local coffee shop) to attract niche customers, understand their values and build the brand. In fact, all decisions made by each business entity on pricing, product range, décor and advertising are based on that predetermined brand.

This book is about using the same brand strategy to advance your career. Your first reaction may be "brand? How does my career resemble selling coffee?" Of course, your career is much more complex and personal than coffee – you are not just a product. However, you are a product in the sense that branding is just as critical a component in marketing yourself as it is in marketing a product. The concept of branding – positioning yourself for success – is a good lens through which to focus on your career strategy.

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Choosing and developing your "personal brand" will help you get where you want to go. Wherever you are in your career – starting out, in the middle or in a senior position – the concepts and strategies presented throughout these chapters will help you articulate and achieve your goals. The focus is on strategies for advancing your career but applies equally to realizing other goals, such as volunteer activities or community works.

Let's return to product branding and look at some questions that come to mind when considering its effectiveness. Think about one of your favourite products that has a well-recognized brand:

How is the product differentiated from its competitors?

How well known is the product?

What adjectives come to mind if you were to describe or recommend this product?

Does the brand effectively make use of the attributes of the product?

Is the product up to date? Is there a risk it may become "yesterday's news"?

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Has the product's brand changed over the years? What influenced the changes?

People have brands

Now substitute the word "individual" for "product" and you will see that these questions are equally relevant when considering a person's brand. But if you have accepted that people (and not just products) can have brands, you might assume these questions only apply to people in the public eye.

Celebrities have brands – from movie actors and sports figures to politicians and even senior business leaders. Their brands are very valuable commodities and can help them earn money from endorsements, get elected, or even (if you are Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or Ted Rogers) brand their companies.

But personal branding is not just for celebrities. Everyone has a personal brand. It involves not just how you perceive yourself but also how people perceive you and what they say about you in the workplace and beyond.

Personal brands are equally valuable assets for people who are not famous. We can all leverage the same strategies to market our abilities and talents. Obviously, this concept readily applies to people, such as salespersons and professionals, who need to attract clients. But it also applies to anyone who has career goals and wants more than just a "job."

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In the course of your career, you have likely noticed people who get the best assignments, are promoted more quickly or have the best staff working for them. You may also notice that these people are not necessarily the smartest, most creative or hardest working. Generally, they know where their talents lie and where they want to go in their careers. This self-knowledge empowers them to invest in the skills that will help them progress. This investment, in turn, gives them the confidence to ask for the opportunities that will advance their skills and showcase their talents. They have the courage to try new things – and the courage to risk failure. And, almost always, you can describe the "brand" of these successful people.

Contrast these achievers with the people who don't seem to get ahead, even though they are smart and hard working. They spend most of their time in their cubicles or offices churning out results. They don't volunteer for new opportunities because they fear failure. They assume that their good work will be noticed and don't discuss their goals with anyone. They may complain in their performance reviews that they have been overlooked for high-profile assignments or training opportunities and are satisfied with a vague promise that "we'll keep our eyes open for things this year." Other people would be hard-pressed to describe the "brand" of these individuals. They are equivalent to the no-name generic products that have an apparent value proposition (they're cheap and they do the job) but have no brand allure. They're easy to forget and no one would pay a premium for them.

What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is both the way you define yourself and the way you are perceived by others. It is the sum total of all of your personal and professional skills, abilities, attitudes and values. It includes attributes such as your appearance (do you look like a polished professional?) and your presence (do you behave and sound persuasive and confident?).

The key to positioning your brand for greater success is to understand both your attributes and how others perceive them. From there, you can decide how to focus and align these key attributes to market yourself for greater success. Investing time in discovering and honing your brand can pay big dividends in many areas of your career advancement as well as in other areas of your life.


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Building your brand step by step

  • Identify your strengths and talents.
  • Differentiate yourself from your colleagues.
  • Find out how people view you today. (What is your current brand?)
  • Decide where to invest your time, focus and energy in building your brand.
  • Build and leverage your network – inside and outside your organization.
  • Use social networking and other techniques to stay in touch.
  • Understand what attributes are valued by your current employer.
  • Leverage your performance evaluation to build your brand.
  • Find a mentor(s) who can help build your brand.
  • Update your brand as you advance in your career.
  • Avoid the pitfalls of being “typecast” or seen as a “generic employee”.
  • Overcome a negative brand.

Ms. Wensley joined The Globe and Mail to take reader questions about how to shape and boost their personal brand in a live online chat on Thurs. Sept. 13 at noon (ET).

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