Brand You

29 July 2010 John Purkiss

It's important to cultivate a strong personal brand, writes John Purkiss, author of Brand You.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said: "Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room." What if someone you know was describing you to someone you had never met? What would they say? They might talk about the kind of work you do. For example: "She’s a troubleshooter. She turns things around." They might say where you used to work or where you were educated. They might mention your physical appearance, or a sport or hobby that is important to you. If you are related to someone famous, they would probably mention that, too.

You can turn your brand into a valuable asset, perhaps your most valuable asset. As with any other brand, your personal brand is based on people's expectations of how you will behave or perform in particular circumstances. The stronger your track record, the more confidence they will have in you. Your brand is a promise kept. It can be communicated through symbols such as your name, your physical appearance or the way you speak and write. Some people even have their own typeface or logo.

Your brand has two dimensions: reputation and reach

You may have a good 'reputation', but that is not the same thing as your brand. The Latin root of reputation is 'reputare' – to think repeatedly. There may be five people who think about you often and ask you to work with them now and then. However, what if 50 or 500 people kept thinking about you? How much busier and wealthier would you be? The greater the number of people who think about you, the greater is your 'reach'. The two dimensions of your brand are shown in the diagram on the right.

The more often someone thinks of you, and the higher their opinion of you, the stronger your reputation becomes. The larger the number of people who think about you, the greater your reach becomes. In order to build a strong brand, you need both reach and reputation.

We can all build our brands

"You can turn your brand into a valuable asset, perhaps your most valuable asset."

Your brand is not static. It is constantly developing.

If you are employed, your brand affects your visibility and your job prospects. It also determines the number and quality of job offers you receive from other employers. If you are running a business, your brand will help you win customers and raise money on favourable terms. If you are an investor, your brand will help you attract high-quality opportunities from management teams, advisors and other investors.

Most people have weak brands. When you come back from a conference with a handful of business cards, it is hard to remember who was who, let alone what they did or how you might be able to work with them. As Jonathan Guthrie of the Financial Times once said: "Did he import china from Turkey, or turkeys from China?"

If you want to be successful, you must stand out from the crowd. People should remember who you are, what you do, and what makes you different. The stronger your brand, the more people will value you. They will be pleased that you are working on their project and may pay extra for that feeling of reassurance. Anyone can build a strong brand, including chief executives, electricians, disc jockeys, plumbers, cleaners, psychotherapists, lecturers and portrait painters.

"If you are employed, your brand affects your visibility and your job prospects."

The professional services sector – including consultants, lawyers and accountants – has grown rapidly in recent years. Some professionals spend many years with the same firm, but the issue of personal branding still arises. If you are a junior member of staff, it helps to be well-regarded by several partners, since they will decide who works on each project. They may also support your election to the partnership. Once you become a partner, you suddenly find yourself in a sales role, and required to win a certain amount of business.

Your personal brand is now more important than ever. Some partners rely heavily on their firm’s brand, which can help to ensure they are invited to pitch for new projects. However, it is much better to build your personal brand so clients ask specifically for you.

Your brand should be authentic and consistent

A powerful brand has to be authentic, based on who you are and what your life and work are all about. You should aim to be the best 'you'. Some people project an image that does not fit reality, often by imitating a person they admire or by attempting to conform. The result is artificial and unconvincing. They are sometimes described as 'cardboard cut-outs'.

The key to building your brand is to know yourself. The first step is to identify the talents you were born with. It is best to develop them in a distinctive way, in accordance with your values. If you are authentic, people will know what you do and what you stand for. Some people will keep away from you. Others – including employers, clients, colleagues and investors – will be attracted to you. If you make it easy for people to see what you do and how you do it, their perception will be aligned with reality. If you then extend your brand into a new area, it will make sense to them. They will feel comfortable working with you in a different situation.

You may wish to keep your work and social lives separate. However, it is essential to be consistent. Some people lead two separate lives, which suddenly collide. There have been many cases of people being offered a job, subject to satisfactory references. A member of staff at their new company then visits some social networking sites on the internet, and on one of them is the candidate's name and photograph, with a detailed description of his or her sexual preferences. The job offer is duly withdrawn.

"The stronger your brand, the more people will value you."

The more authentic you are, the more attractive you will be to other people. They will feel they can rely on you to behave in a certain way. Self-employed people often have a natural overlap between their work and social lives. Friends may become customers or colleagues, and vice versa. If so, it is essential to be the same person at work and elsewhere.

Your life will then be integrated and harmonious. Instead of wearing different masks, you can be yourself in every situation.

Your brand can become valuable

A strong brand will make you stand out in the eyes of people who want what you have to offer. They will naturally think of you. If your brand appeals to them, they will choose you, and they may even pay a premium to work with you. On the other hand, if you do not stand out, they will see you as a commodity. Having no particular reason to choose you, they will pay you the going rate at best.

Top musicians and film stars illustrate this principle. Their fans buy their latest album or watch their latest film because they are in it. They earn far more than other musicians or actors, but the extra money they earn is only partly due to their singing or acting ability. Film, television and digital media have given them a global market, which has boosted their earnings enormously. Personal brands can also acquire an influence which goes way beyond money. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa have all shaped our world by embodying and promoting a set of values, as have Che Guevara, Bob Marley and Mao Zedong.

This article is adapted from Brand You, published by Artesian. For more information visiti

In order to build a strong brand, you need both reach and reputation.