In her Words
A Personal Brand is Your Best Friend
Finding ways to stand out from the crowd will bring you respect. Just ask Oprah.
Do you have a personal brand?
Years ago, when I was working at American Express, CEO Kenneth Chenault gave a speech to employees about establishing a personal brand. It was a fascinating theme, especially coming from an intelligent and thoughtful executive like Mr. Chenault, who already had the corner office and seemingly more pressing issues than honing his image. Turns out, that’s exactly what successful leaders do to stay on top.
First, what’s a personal brand? According to Seth Godin, the best-selling author of 10 marketing books, it is “a way of identifying and communicating what makes you a star and using those qualities to separate yourself from the herd to increase your success.” In fact, Mr. Godin says personal branding is the real strategy behind the world’s most successful people — not where they went to business school or who they ski with in Aspen.
For example, when we think of Oprah, we’re resonating with Oprah’s persona — her brand. We think of Oprah’s do-goodness through her Big Give programs and her work in Africa. We think of her women-centric empire: The Oprah show and her two magazines, and how Oprah’s Book Club can make or break a new author. We know she’s wealthy (and probably a bit controlling), but her down-home style reminds us of her hardscrabble upbringing and her triumph over racial and gender discrimination. And that’s exactly what she wants.
Mr. Godin gives a great example of why brand counts in our careers. Say you’re in the market for a job. Would you want the hiring manager to see your resume and say to himself, “Here’s an average guy with an average academic background and really exceptionally average work experience! Maybe he’s cheap!” That job hunter didn’t do a good enough job of promoting his brand on paper.
A personal brand goes beyond a resume, too, extending to everything you do at the office — from what you wear to how well you polish your PowerPoint decks to how you manage a crisis situation. You can create your brand by being exceptional, being passionate, and being true to your words. Leave a lasting impression, whether by wearing spit-shine shoes, remembering a colleague’s children’s names, or finishing a project with aplomb and sharing the credit. Remarkable people with remarkable careers seem to switch jobs often with far less effort, says Mr. Godin. And I’m willing to bet they are better compensated.
Even companies try this out from time to time. In June, Wal-Mart announced that it will change its logo to reflect the “refresh inside its stores.” The new logo is rounder and friendlier; the stark blue star will change into a soft yellow-orange spark. While it will take more than a million-dollar logo change to shift customer perceptions, perhaps Wal-Mart is changing its logo — its most noticeable “brand” — to signal more positive change that’s yet to come. Now, if only humans had logos, we’d have a nice place to start, wouldn’t we?