Developing a personal brand is essential to differentiating yourself and establishing a reputation. Personal brands are developed over time, but can be honed, shaped, and changed at a moment’s notice. Personal brands are good for any professional, but are absolutely essential if your business is you.

A personal brand is more than just subject matter, interest, or task. If your passion is fish, you should be talking about fish as often as possible. You should be reading stories about fish, posting comments on fish-related websites, joining social groups devoted to fish, and otherwise networking with like-minded “fishies.” But, while fish may be your subject matter, it isn’t your brand. Coca-Cola is a soft-drink, but the Coca-Cola brand is so much more. So, what is a personal brand? Ultimately, a personal brand is how you would, or would like to, be described by others. If people think you’re funny, cool, or talented – that’s your brand.

The three part personal brand

In my experience there are three areas for personal branding – social, professional, and technical. Social is the most personal of the personal brand – it is how your family and closest friends would describe you. Professional is how you would be described in a professional setting – work, school, professional associations, etc. The technical brand has more of a categorical purpose, as it describes the subject matter relevant to your brand.

If you take a business, let’s say Coca-Cola, and think about these three areas, you might break them down in the following way: Social/Personal: traditional, sweet, American; Professional: profitable, ubiquitous, corporation; Technically: soft drink, unhealthy, fizzy. Now, these might not be the terms Coca-Cola wants, or tries to have, associated with their brand, but they are what came to my mind as I thought about the product and company.

Discover your personal brand

Here’s a simple exercise to help you determine your brand.

  1. Pick three words or phrases that you would use to describe yourself, socially/personally.
    (For myself I’d say direct, kind, and honest.)
  2. Pick three words or phrases that you would use to describe yourself, professionally.
    (For myself I’d say leader, hard-working, intelligent)
  3. Pick three words or phrases that you would use to describe yourself technically.
    (For myself I’d say technology, social media, web)

Try to get at the core elements that make you, you.

Use these terms to maintain your personal brand

Once you have your terms, start letting them influence your social and professional habits. If you are trying to build a personal brand of being kind and honest, don’t bully and hard-sell – it’s too easy to replace your personal brand with one that you might not want.

Next time you interact with someone, write an e-mail, or send a tweet take the time to think, “Is this interaction direct, kind, honest, intelligent? Does it express qualities of leadership, or a good work ethic? Is it within the technical scope of my brand?” If the interaction can be described by a good number of your terms, then it’s “on message,” or “brand appropriate.” If there’s even a single element that it is opposite of what you’re building your brand to be, then rework the interaction.

There is a little leeway with the technical descriptive terms – not everything I write is about technology, social media, or the web. But, if I spend most of my time talking about fish, I can’t really claim that I’m building a “tech” brand, can I?

However, with the personal and profession part of the brand there is little or no leeway. The biggest story of personal branding this year is Tiger Woods’ story. Tiger’s character was a major part of his personal brand; his brand was more than “golfer.” Tiger’s infidelity has greatly diminished his personal brand – although, to what extent is still unclear. This should be a lesson to all – a single misstep can be disastrous to a personal brand. Maintaining your personal and professional character is essential. We can’t all hire lawyers and PR firms to manage our indiscretions.

Building a personal brand takes time and effort, but it’s time well spent. An established brand is an essential part of any business, organization, or person.