What is personal branding?

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When Socrates proclaimed we should ‘be as we wish to seem’, the Athenian philosopher wasn’t encouraging his followers to blindly model ourselves after others. The thought leader was suggesting that if we wish to change, we should consider how we seem to others and work towards being the most authentic version of ourselves as reflected in the eyes of others.

In the professional context, the best way to present yourself to others authentically and consistently is to create a strong, discernible personal brand. Branding itself is the practice of putting your stamp on who you are, ensuring you stay distinct and ahead of competitors.

In the context of a company, they may do this through everything from logo design to packaging copy and social media presence. In the context of personal branding, this could be anything from your Linkedin page to the way you work in a team. If you know yourself well enough, you can use your personal brand to ensure those around you have a clear understanding of your strengths and unique value.

Creating a strong, consistent personal brand isn’t about ‘selling’ yourself—it’s about setting yourself apart. It’s about boosting your ability to pivot and take jobs in areas more aligned with your values and ambitions. You’ll make a faster, more consistent impression to employers, clients, and customers, ensuring that you’re always memorable.

personal branding group of young people standing casually

Image by Milkos via Canva Photos.

What is personal branding?

If you assumed personal branding was a concept reserved for career development, think again. Before we even consider it in the context of your life, remember that personal branding is what it says on the tin; it’s personal. It’s you. It’s what you wear, your sense of humor, your favorite ways of wasting time.

Are the one in the room who typically wears red with polka dots? Or do you tend towards cool, calm beige for every social occasion? Do you prefer to break the ice with a stranger by employing a joke, or do you think a helpful, bridging anecdote works wonders?

You are already your own unique brand, and those who know you well (your partners, friends, and family) would have little trouble answering this old chestnut: ‘describe your friend in three words’.

When work requires us to be a little less individual and more of a cog in a machine, however, your personal brand can get lost in the fray, somewhere between your job role and the prevailing culture of a workplace. Focusing on building, projecting and scaffolding what makes you uniquely you can do wonders for your professional development.

If you need the concept, in a nutshell, it could be helpful to think of your personal brand as something comprised of a few key elements: both hard and soft skills (that is, skills based on practicality such as software or those based on experience, such as teamwork), experience and qualifications. The final element—and arguably the most important—is your personality.

personal branding photo of left hand with colorful nail polish

Image by Analia Baggian via Unsplash.

Why is personal branding important?

Homogeneity isn’t exactly a desirable trait. It might be something you’re after if you like your coffee how you like it and visit your local cafe based on this information. When it comes to people, it’s the combination of varying strengths and diverse perspectives that really give a community, a friendship group, and a workplace its edge.

Representing yourself as who you authentically are isn’t just about a company being able to find and place you, though. It’s about knowing your skills, values, and aspirations deeply so you can make decisions informed by your personal compass. Knowing what you stand for goes a long way to fulfilling your own goals and capabilities too, if you know what means the most to you and what you’re most capable of achieving.

The DNA of personal branding

Although we previously discussed a nutshell idea of personal branding, there are several elements that combine to create a strong personal brand. If you know yourself within the context of these ideas, you’re on your way to creating a solid, everyday expression of who you are—both in and out of the work arena.

Core values

Your values are the principles you live by, both directly and indirectly. Your individual value set creates behavioral and psychological benchmarks for you in life and in work and when you’re living in alignment with them, you’ll feel more comfortable and able to contribute. Consider nutting out your three core values by utilizing a value card set to understand what drives you.

Ecosystem

What you do obviously says a lot about who you are. Your ecosystem of socializing, hobbies and friends, for example, supports the picture of your personal brand. It’s likely that if you’re an outdoorsy type, you’re also interested in the environment. If you love film, you’ll obviously spend time watching movies. If you love a laugh, it’s likely your friends do too. Your ecosystem is the wider representation of you and plays a big part in informing who you are, too.

Personality

What do you bring to a room? It could be humor, an empathetic ear or it could be an organized ‘let’s-get-going’ attitude. In pondering your personal brand, it’s helpful to know what you contribute to a team or workplace, beyond your skills with number crunching or calendar organization. Whether you’re someone who likes to take their time or, conversely, race to the finish line under pressure, has an effect on the people around you.

Inject your personality into any digital presence by customizing everything from your business cards to your personal website. Canva’s Black & Yellow Manager Professional Business Card commands attention while the Red Minimalist Writer Business Card template gets straight to the point.

 

Interests

Our interests and hobbies play a huge role in defining the people we are and by extension, our personal brand. Our hobbies are huge motivators—they move us to spend our precious spare time on something for the sole purpose of making us feel happy and fulfilled, which is why they’re so important when considering our personal brand. Your passions can also direct align with your career, which is an additional reason to define this section when it comes to your personal brand.

Strengths

This element is a fascinating one to consider the value of personal branding. If you define your strengths well enough, you can harness them and present yourself in the best possible way. If you understand your best features, whether it be teamwork, presenting or working behind the scenes on very detailed research, you can home in on them, develop them and consistently seek out opportunities to reiterate your strengths in these particular areas. This will help you carve a niche in your company and team.

Aspirations

We should all have aspirations, whether specifically or vaguely defined. Knowing where you’re going will have a profound impact on how and when you get there hence why it forms such an important part of your personal brand. Consider building your aspirations around your core values (for example, if you value ‘creativity’, perhaps commit to a project at work that allows you to invest time in bringing this out) for a more focused approach. Chances are if your goal aligns with your core values, you’re more likely to achieve them.

Get your goals together with an easy list-making template on Canva. The Navy Blue and Red Cross Lines Simple General Personal Planner is a great place to start, as is the Pink with Triangle Pattern General Personal Planner.

 

Experience

You are nothing if not a product of every experience you’ve had; both personally and professionally. You might assume that pizza slinging job from first-year university isn’t relevant to the way you work now but it might have taught you deeply held lessons about teamwork. Although it won’t make the cut on your CV, it does define a portion of your personal brand just as much as your first corporate job. Consider a few lessons you’ve learned from even the smallest, shortest job or perhaps a subject you thrived in during school or uni that wasn’t related to your degree.

The full package

Although we’d like to think we don’t use someone’s external appearance as an indicator of who they are, appearance continues to count for a lot, thanks to hard-wiring from biological impulses. Studies show that we make judgments on the appearance of others within a tenth of a second and although these ideas of others aren’t necessarily lasting, it still pays to remember that how we present ourselves is important. This isn’t a nudge to change a single thing, however; more a call-to-action to do you externally, too. Whether you like to look neat or outgoing, make sure your exterior matches the interior for a consistent representation of self.

Do you shine bright like a diamond? Or keep it a little more low key? If you fall into the former, try creating a logo to visually reflect your personality for use on your social channels or personal portfolios. For those who like to grab attention, try the Peach Simple Art & Design Logo. And for friends of the latter category, a sleek and simple option such as Dark Green Elegant Attorney & Law Logo is perfect.

Examples of great personal branding

You’ll be more than familiar with prominent people who’ve done a good job of consistently representing themselves in an authentic way. Is it any wonder, considering that from a personal branding perspective, the proof is in the pudding in that their reputation precedes them? We can learn an immense amount from this authentic and consistent personal branding and how it matches the right people with the right tasks and aspirations.

A great example is Richard Branson, Virgin Group’s CEO and founder. The entrepreneur has done tireless work to present himself—and his business—as a little left of center.

Despite his wildly successful Virgin empire, he’s become known as the ultimate anti-businessman; he’s more often in a t-shirt than a suit, he doesn’t take himself too seriously (he’s previously dressed as a female flight attendant for a rival airline, in a spacesuit for Virgin Galactica’s launch and also as Elvis when his airline launched non-stop flights to Las Vegas) and he’s open about failure (remember Virgin Brides? Us neither). Consider just how much you feel you know about him without ever knowing him at all—in short, he’s a master of personal branding.

personal branding richard branson

Image via Richard Branson's Instagram.

Former first lady Michelle Obama is another fabulous example. Despite her husband, former President of the United States Barack Obama, rightfully taking the limelight, Michelle made concerted strides towards cementing herself as a real, honest, focused but ultimately relatable sidekick. Alongside her important work to inspire young people into education and exercise, she maintained a sense of ‘normalcy’, allowing the international community to relate to her on several levels; she sweated through push-ups on The Ellen Show, she made jokes alongside Jimmy Fallon, all in conjunction with her tireless work, always fronted by a friendly face. She’s known for her approachability, ultimately making her efforts to gain support for the causes she fronts that much easier.

personal branding michelle obama

Image via Michelle Obama's Instagram

Personal branding action plan

Now that you understand the importance of personal branding, it’s time to develop your own. Before diving straight into building your comprehensive personal branding strategy, here are a few questions to ask yourself to better understand some of the above elements.

  • What ways do you provide value?
  • How do you communicate this value to others around you?
  • Which successful people do you admire and would like to model yourself after?
  • What kind of project gets you truly excited?
  • What do you enjoy about your job? Why?
  • What new things would you love to learn?
  • Where do you want to be in one, five and 10 years?

It’s a good idea to record your findings about your personal brand to keep you on track. Capture all of this information in a stylish, easy-to-read format with Canva’s Pink Simple Minimal Project Planner or Yellow Bold Type Simple Grid Project Schedule Planner template.

Want to learn more about personal branding? Check out Personal branding: How to design your personal brand image in 10 steps. You can also take a look at some branding basics at How to build a brand strategy.

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