For most of us, job security and the possibility of spending our entire career at the same company are things of the past. Now we have to manage our careers in a different way. To sell their goods and services, most companies have a marketing department that handles everything from brand strategies and packaging to prices, slogans and advertising. Individuals, meanwhile, sell their skills on the job market through résumés and professional references. However, this is no longer enough.
The goal of this article is to help you shape the way you market yourself to advance your professional career. It’s about thinking like a marketing specialist to build your Personal Brand. The concept of “Personal Branding,” devised primarily by Peter Montoya and William Arruda, has been well developed in the United States for the past 10 years.
I. What is Personal Branding?
Whether you’re an employee, consultant or entrepreneur, you have a public image as important as that of any business. Personal Branding enables you to create and promote that image. It also helps you manage your career and think smarter about the strategies you want to employ to achieve your goals. Until today, only an elite group of executives and consultants with the means to pay for a personal coach or costly training courses has benefited from Personal Branding. However, new online services now enable anyone to develop a Personal Brand, and much more. With the Internet, Personal Branding is no longer limited to executives; it is possible for everyone. In the past, you had to be in the news to become known, but with the Internet, no one is unknown. It doesn’t matter if you unplug your computer and cancel your Internet service, because all it takes is for your neighbor, colleague or friend to publish information or an opinion about you and people will know about you. The Internet offers a global public forum for building your Personal Brand. Welcome to the wonderful world of user-generated content! Don’t worry, the information published by your friends will probably be positive. However, there is both “positive” information that reflects who you truly are, and that which does not.
You have values, personal qualities and talents. It is important to know how to effectively convey them to people who will have an impact on your personal and professional development. How can you get recruiters, employers, buyers and decision-makers who are deluged with applications and proposals to see what sets you apart?
Your professional and social references (managers, colleagues, clients, partners, friends,…) are the most important marketing tool at your disposal. What they say about you and your work is what people will remember. Your Reference Network is thus one of the most important keys to your “Personal Brand.”
Here are Peter Montoya’s Eight Laws of “Personal Branding” (see references at end of document):
1. An effective Personal Brand must be specific. You should express who you are in terms of a single concept: a strength, talent or personal achievement. What, at its core, is your business? A person who claims to know how to do everything…knows how to do nothing. In other words, a Jack of all trades is master of none – “It is better to excel in any single art than to arrive only at mediocrity in several.” -Pliny the Younger.
2. Your Personal Brand cannot merely be known; it must be recognized by your peers and associates (your professional and social references). This is the reputation aspect of your Personal Brand.
3. Your Personal Brand must be true to life, authentic. It must present you in a positive light, not make you out to be perfect.
4. If you don’t differentiate yourself, you’ll be just like everyone else and you won’t stand out from the crowd. You need to distinguish yourself from others.
5. You must be more visible than everyone else. The wider your circle of influence, the more credible you become (social networks, networking, etc.).
6. There must be no discrepancy between what you say and what you do, either in public or in private. Do what you say and say what you do (principle of congruence).
7. A Personal Brand takes time to establish itself. You have to be patient.
8. Your brand will achieve better results if associated with a value or an idea that is universally recognized as positive and compelling.
Having a Personal Brand is not a choice. Everyone has one, be it positive, neutral or negative. Thanks to the Internet-or no thanks, depending on your point of view-sooner or later your Personal Brand will become publicly known and accessible everywhere in the world. If you fail to define your Personal Brand others will do so for you, and you may find their version to be distorted.
Personal Branding can be summed up as follows: know yourself better (conduct a full self-evaluation or ask for an evaluation from those around you – 360° feedback) in order to make yourself better known (using methods and tools such as directories, social networks, and networking). We will now look at these two concepts in closer detail.
II. How to get to know yourself better
Know yourself better in order to make yourself better known! Unfortunately, the suggestions offered here are no substitute for working with a professional coach or a friend with an aptitude for coaching. Taking a step back and seeing yourself objectively all on your own is actually quite difficult. Coaching helps people through this process of self-reflection. A coach asks you questions and helps you find your own answers, but doesn’t give advice (you haven’t hired a consultant). If, however, you have neither the time nor the money to hire a coach to assist you, the following tips might help.
As your own coach, you might ask yourself the following questions in an effort to be as objective as possible.
1. Who am I?
To devise a game plan, you must first define your mission, your vision for the future and your objectives.
What are my strengths? My values? My passions? My goals? What is my personality? What do I have to offer?
To help you answer these questions, you can use feedback from your annual performance reviews by your manager. Given how difficult it is to evaluate yourself objectively, you can also solicit the help of friends and colleagues. Decide what questions you would like them to answer, then invite them to do so either in an honest but friendly face-to-face talk or by email. If you send out an email questionnaire, it’s a good idea to call first—both to ask if this is okay and to encourage follow-through.
2. Who are my competitors? What advantages do I have to offer?
What audience do I hope to reach? Who are my peers? My competitors? Who needs to know about me if I want to achieve my goals?
You need to analyze your environment, determine what differentiates you from others, and define your added value. Ask yourself, “What makes me unique? How will I articulate this uniqueness?”
Compare how you perceive yourself with how your colleagues perceive you. This important step can help you come up with an action plan to improve your technical and behavioral skills and/or a communication plan that showcases your as-yet unrecognized strengths.
Your Personal Brand, like any other brand, is defined by the perceptions of others. Your goal should be to gather feedback about yourself from your network of friends and colleagues so you can create the most accurate self-portrait possible.
III. How to make yourself better known
Search engines are used millions of times a day to look up individuals online. People search for information about their colleagues, new clients, friends and others. 47% of American adults (compared to 22% in 2002) have already checked the Internet to see what is said about them; of these, 53% also admit to looking up their co-workers, neighbors or potential spouse (Source: survey of PEW Internet & American Life Project).
It will soon be possible to assert that if Google doesn’t know you, you don’t exist! Your future success depends on establishing your online identity and reputation. Recruiters are going to be increasingly proactive, looking you up on Google and business-oriented social networking sites. You’ll want them to find positive information that is in line with your goals. So you should have your profile online and get it indexed on search engines.
Type your first and last name into Google and see what you get. The information about you may be false, outdated, embarrassing, incomplete, or it might pertain to another person with the same first and last name.
The next step is to evaluate your current online presence and to determine the best strategy for managing it.
A. What is your online reputation? Do you have an online identity?
The simplest place to start is to analyze search-engine results. Type your first and last name into Google and Yahoo (and potentially MSN Search) with quotation marks: “John Smith”.
You can expand your search by looking up your nickname, maiden name or abbreviations of your first name (Jonathon, John or J.). For more details, check out Claimid.
Next, take a closer look at the results. Does the content (pictures and text) that you find on the Internet match the image you want to project? Does it match your Personal Brand?
B. Creating and promoting your online profile: self-referencing, sponsored links or domain names?
Once you know what is being said about you online, it’s time to actively publicize what you do want people to know—in short, to create and promote your online profile.
a. Create one or more profiles on sites that specialize in Personal Brand promotion, such as CV 2.0, LookUpPage, Brand-Yourself.com, QAlias, Ziki, Zoominfo, Ziggs, Naymz, Spock and Wink. Their respective offerings will be covered in an upcoming article.
b. Add a link to your online profile in your letterhead, emails and blogs.
c. If you have something to say, start a blog! Try Blogger, for example. You have to be in it for the long haul, however. If you post content on your blog for three months and then stop, that won’t convey a very positive image of you (lack of perseverance, flaky). A blog can help you, but it can also work against you if your readers don’t like what you publish. Worse yet, if your blog is poorly written, people may think that you can’t express yourself clearly in writing. That said, a blog can bring a lot of value to your Personal Brand—value directly proportional to the value of the content that you publish.
d. You can also use video-sharing sites to publish clips of yourself in professional situations (speeches, presentations, interviews) or simply post a video résumé (who you are, what you are looking for, your experience, your skills). Here is an example of a video-résumé on Youtube.com: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=RAZ37YnYAiU
e. You can also publish your resume as a powerpoint presentation, here’s the résumé of Saranyan, the pioneer in this field: http://www.slideshare.net/saranyan/visual-resume
2. Sponsored Links
Most websites offering online profile or résumé services let you index your profile in search engines (either automatically when you create your profile or upon request). Some offer additional services as well.
QAlias, Naymz, Ziggs, Ziki (soon CV 2.0 & Brand-Yourself) offer subscriptions that take the profile you create on their site and index it as a commercial link in several search engines. Your Ziki or Ziggs profile will thus appear at the top, among the sponsored links (i.e. the commercial links above the web results or in the right-hand column).
However, sponsored links through such services will not redirect users to your blog or Viadeo profile. They link only to your profile on Naymz, Ziki or Ziggs.
In addition, you have to pay for this service since search engines charge for sponsored links. Ziggs and Naymz charge about $60 per year (or $4.95 per month) to put your profile in the sponsored links of search engines. QAlias charges about $120 for almost the same features. Ziki is currently offering this service for 30 euros per year (general public) and 180 euros per year (enterprises).
If you wish to redirect traffic to a particular profile (a blog, professional social networks, your company’s website, etc.), you can do the indexing yourself by opening an account on one of the following sites:
Google AdWords: https://adwords.google.com
With Google AdWords, you only pay when Internet users click on your name in the sponsored links. In addition to listing your first and last name (which are essential to your personal brand), you can also add keywords related to your business, expertise or organization. This could be an interesting advantage over QAlias, Naymz, Ziggs and Ziki, all of which index just your first and last name. However, the more keywords you add, the more expensive your indexing will be!
Your first and last name appear next to or above the search results. There will probably be other web-page hits with your first and last name, though, and no one is required to click on your Google-sponsored link.
Here is an example using the name John Webb. If you look at the right side of the image, you can see the red arrow pointing to the link sponsored by Naymz (click the image to enlarge it):
With Google AdWords, there is no minimum spending requirement (apart from the activation fees). If no one clicks on your name, you pay nothing. You can also set a maximum spending budget, say $5. In this case, your listing will be removed from the sponsored links once your $5 limit is reached. Want a sense of what those $5 will buy you? If the cost per click is $0.01, up to 500 people can click your sponsored link. Depending on how widely you are known, that could be how many people use a search engine to look you up in a single month…or over the span of a year or two! Ziggs and Naymz charge you $4.95 per month, but you receive placement on at least three search engines (Google, Yahoo and MSN) – Only in Google with Ziki. You have to calculate what makes the best sense for you according to your own notoriety and your needs.Note that the cost per click varies. The keywords “DVD” or “travel” used by businesses will probably have a higher cost per click than your last name. That’s the law of supply and demand. To manage your budget, however, you can specify a maximum cost per click, just as you can cap your total spending.
In USA, Google AdWords currently costs:
- Activation fee: $5.00
- Cost per click (CPC): minimum $0.01, more for popular keywords.
For more information, visit the Learning Center.
Cost per thousand impressions (CPM, from the Latin “Cost Per Mille”), used for placement-targeted ads, is an alternative to CPC. You choose the websites where you would like your ads to appear, and you pay each time your ad is displayed rather than for each click on your ad. Click here for more information.
Yahoo Search Marketing: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com
Yahoo has a system that is similar to Google’s.
Microsoft adCenter: http://advertising.microsoft.com/search-advertising
Overall, Microsoft uses the same principle as Google and Yahoo. Here is an excerpt from its site: “Discover Microsoft adCenter, the online marketing tool that allows you to manage your sponsored-link campaigns on Live Search (MSN’s search engine). For a one-time $5.00 fee to create your account and as little as an additional $0.05 per keyword, you can make your company’s website appear above the list of Live Search results.”
Given that Google is the leading search engine, Google AdWords may be the best choice if you are going to pick only one service.
3. Buying a domain name
Buying a domain name is an effective way to permanently establish your online presence. Domain names now cost next to nothing ($7/year). The price often includes the creation of one or more related email addresses – which you won’t lose when you change Internet service providers. This becomes important especially if that email address appears on the hundreds of résumés you have sent out! Domain names often also come with space where you can publish content such as your résumé or profile. If you know how to use web publishing tools such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, you can design your own web page. Better yet, have your domain name link to the website where your résumé, profile or professional blog is listed.
For example, on the site 1&1 (www.1and1.com) you can, for 7 US dollars/year, get a domain name, an email address and 5 pages of web space (you even get the software to create the pages yourself). Also check out the offers on Godaddy (www.godaddy.com).
For your name to rank high in search results, your domain name should include your first and last name separated by a hyphen; otherwise, the search engine will think it’s a single word. For example: www.firstname-lastname.com (or .net, .org, .ca, .us, .uk, etc.). Domain name is one of the first indexing criteria used by search engines, and is analyzed before a page’s HTML code, structure or meta tags. By setting up your domain name this way, you increase the chances of your page appearing at the top of search results, although this is no guarantee; it also depends on the contents of your profile and how common your name is. If your name is Igor Pszczolkowski, you will get better results than John Johnson, Brown, or Smith.
Ziggs has just launched “Ziggs Name Manager.” You buy your domain name through Ziggs, then they handle getting your domain name redirect to your Ziggs profile. Naymz and Brand-Yourself.com have the same offer (coming soon with CV 2.0).
Managing your Personal Brand is not a one-shot deal, but a long-term strategy. You can’t be haphazard about building a truthful and effective Personal Brand. A permanent domain name can help.
IV. Cultural hurdles: discretion, privacy, non-sharing of information, etc.
Is Personal Branding compatible with every culture? Are there generational differences: digital native vs. digital immigrant?
Promoting your personal brand is important. Still, you may very well be uncomfortable with the very idea of Personal Branding. You may sardonically be thinking, “…only in America” or “So now we’re reduced to ‘selling’ ourselves like a product?” How repulsive! No way! But wait…it is not about selling yourself. It’s about knowing how to sell what you can DO, knowing how to better communicate the qualities that you can bring to a company: your qualifications, expertise, experience, know-how, way of being…
However, this isn’t the biggest problem. In places like France, people will be reticent to embrace Personal Branding because of the information sharing and necessary transparency it involves, especially given the personal nature of the information. For many, the idea of making one’s profile or résumé publicly available on the Web simply doesn’t compute culturally.
According to Pascal Baudry, president of WDHB Consulting and an expert on cultural differences, “The importance of explicitness in American culture is consistent with the Protestant idea that the community—and, as a consequence, the individual—has more to gain than to lose by making as much information as possible available to the public. Conversely, the French protect themselves against such dissemination, which they regard as excessive and potentially hazardous, for instance through their law on Information Technologies and Liberties. Americans see what they have to gain by sharing, whereas the French see what they have to lose by it.” (“French and Americans, the Other Shore” by Pascal Baudry, translated in English by Jean-Louis Morhange. Les Frenchies, Inc. 2005, p. 44. I recommend the book, which you can download for free at http://www.pbaudry.com/cyberlivre/ in PDF format).
What is true for the French culture is of course also true for many cultures worldwide. These obstacles may gradually disappear as companies understand the benefits of encouraging their employees to create their own Personal Brand. In his excellent article, “Quelle marque voulez-vous tatouer sur votre corps ?” (What brand do you want to tattoo on your body?), Gilles Martin approaches Personal Branding from the angle of what companies stand to gain: “It’s the sum of employees’ strong Personal Brands that creates the force and durability of the company brand. For people who have nothing to say about themselves beyond talking about the company they work for, the question to ask is not ‘Are you proud to work for your company?’ but ‘Is your company proud that you work for it?’” I recommend that you read his whole article (in French… sorry!).
This is a win-win situation. Employees who are well known and recognized in their own right add to the prestige of the company, just as a well-known and recognized company adds to the prestige of its employees. Visionary companies should therefore encourage their employees to develop a strong Personal Brand.
The first step is to know yourself better in order to make yourself better known. That’s the first step of your Personal Branding. But then you also need to become recognized, that is, renowned for your qualities. And that means managing your online reputation.
Key authors on Personal Branding in the United States
Site for the book Career Distinction. Stand Out by Building your Brand by brand strategy experts William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson:
Website of Peter Montoya (expert in Personal Branding):
Articles for further reading:
“Personal Branding to Win the World” by Kishu Gomes.
“The Brand Called You” by Tom Peters
“Web 2.0 and Personal Brand Development Presentation” by Boris Mann.