February 10, 2015 / Alice / No Comments
Much has been written about how to cultivate a personal brand online. For people trying to build a social empire, there’s plenty of advice available. But for everyone else, personal branding has little meaning. Or does it?
Recently, I did an experiment. I guided a group of 12 impressive mid-to-senior-level professional women from a range of industries through a traditional corporate branding workshop. Only instead of talking about business, we talked about their personal stories, differentiators and goals. We discussed what it would take for the people in their lives to clearly and consistently understand what makes them special and valuable.
In short, I encouraged them to think of themselves as brands. And to their surprise, the results had far-reaching implications for their professional and personal lives.
In the workshop, we followed a basic framework. We could have been more exhaustive in our research and planning, but our time was limited and our purpose simple. For many of the women there that day, it was the first time they had thought proactively and critically about the positions they occupied among the people they most wanted to influence.
1. Understand audience
As I would in a corporate branding exercise, I started by encouraging the women to analyze their respective audiences. We identified the groups of people whose opinions mattered most to them…people who held the keys to their personal and professional goals.
I asked them: Why do each of these groups of people (colleagues, professional networks, family, friends) need you? What problem or concern do you address for them? What values and skills do they associate with you? What values and skills would they never associate with you?
As we scrawled the answers on flip charts, some themes emerged. Each woman found parallels across her audiences. Her key differentiating strengths—her brand attributes—began to rise to the surface.
2. Identifying a competitive set
Next, we moved on to competitors. Rather than look for adversaries, I encouraged the women to identify people in their lives a) with similar goals to them b) vying for the attention of the same audiences as them.
Colleagues, bosses, friends, family members, their children’s teachers—all were vetted for inclusion in the women’s competitive sets. Each woman then tried to define the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor from the viewpoint of their shared audiences.
3. Isolate “white space”
The first two exercises helped each woman to understand the following:
From there, we worked together identify each woman’s white space: the position in their audiences’ minds they could distinctively and comfortably occupy.
4. Define a brand
For many of the women, identifying their white space was a revelation. They were suddenly more conscious of the unique position they occupied in their own lives. And it was positive. And productive. And useful to the people around them.
As much as possible, we worked together to distill their new brand attributes down to simple concepts that would be easy to perpetuate and reinforce to their advantage in their daily lives. Everyone walked away from the session armed with a brand strategy to help them achieve their goals.
One woman’s story
One particularly successful outcome of the workshop was the impact it had on a senior marketing specialist from a company known for its assertive and strident corporate culture. The woman’s personal life was similarly full of strong characters with even stronger opinions. During the branding exercise, she said she often felt restricted at home and work because others saw her as passive and compliant.
By engaging with this brief but effective exercise, she discovered her personal brand. She realized that among her audiences and competitors, she had the distinctive ability to be the consummate Peacemaker. With strengths that lie in team building, consensus building, stakeholder engagement and diplomacy, she found she could occupy a unique position that could both give her a niche and get her ahead.
After the session, the woman was able to reinforce her position in a positive way. She thought about how best to communicate her role as peacemaker in words and actions. She was clear and consistent in every area of her life to all of her audiences.
Eventually, she turned what some saw as weaknesses into strengths. She is now celebrated for her peacemaking skills. She is often brought into work and social scenarios for the mediation and harmony her audiences believe she—and she alone—can bring.