Today, building a “personal brand” is something we hear about regularly in the media and in leadership, entrepreneurial and professional growth circles. But figuring out exactly what our personal brand is, how that brand matters and stands out, and how to communicate it, is something that remains a big mystery and challenge for many.
To help demystify the process of building a compelling personal brand that will help you not only achieve your core goals and build a lasting legacy, but also help you “sell” your important ideas, products and initiatives, I caught up this month with top personal branding expert, Dr. Cindy McGovern.
Cindy McGovern is the author of the new book on personal branding called Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. McGovern is also the founder of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales and management consulting firm, and the author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Known as the “First Lady of Sales,” McGovern speaks and trains about personal branding, sales and leadership topics all over the world.
McGovern shares below her views on how to build – and embody – a personal brand that creates your lasting legacy and makes the impact you long to in the world and in your work:
Kathy Caprino: Cindy, in your view, what is a personal brand and why is it vitally important to create one with purpose?
Cindy McGovern: Everyone has a personal brand. Each time you meet someone, they are left with an impression of you and form an opinion about you and, in that moment, determine for themselves what your personal brand is. Whether you’ve taken the time to plan a personal brand or not, you still make an impression on others.
The difference between carefully and intentionally creating an authentic personal brand and deciding you don’t need one is who is left in control of determining what your brand is. Do you want to choose your brand for yourself or let others choose one for you based on your behavior and how you present yourself day in and day out?
Caprino: So what is an “undefined brand?”
McGovern: An undefined brand means that you may be creating an unclear narrative about yourself. You might have a general idea of what your best qualities and superpowers are but it’s often not going to be immediately clear to the people around you.
Let me give you an example: If you think you’re presenting yourself as the consummate professional, but you often come to meetings late, or you are seldom prepared for the meetings, then your brand isn’t “consummate professional.” Your brand, in the eyes of others, could be “disorganized,” “disrespectful of others’ time” and “unaware.”
If we aren’t consistently reinforcing the narrative we want about ourselves, then we leave that narrative up to chance. The truth is that most people aren’t paying as much attention to us as we would like to believe, for better or for worse. It’s very possible that they are basing their entire impression of you on one mistake or faux pas, and an inconsistent brand can reinforce that impression. You must proactively promote yourself with a clear idea of who you are so you can keep the narrative consistent. Part of the value of deliberately crafting your personal brand is to help you stay true to yourself.
Your personal brand is you. Don’t let others decide for themselves who you are.
Caprino: How do we establish a personal brand that is authentic to ourselves?
McGovern: When you’re applying your brand to your career, you have to think about more than just your job title. Many people assume that their job title is what does the heavy lifting for their brand.
A job title can communicate some qualities, like creativity for the head of marketing or detail-oriented for a back-end programmer, but these are general characteristics you will find in a job description. They don’t say much about you as a unique individual within that role.
Instead, you should think about what kind of impact you make on the people around and identify the things that you do best. These tend to be the things that people will turn to you for when they need help.
Are you a good listener who makes your team feel heard and appreciated, someone who can listen to frustrations and come up with workable solutions? Are you so detail-oriented that you fix mistakes before they become bigger problems in the future? Whatever it is that leaves a positive impact is one of the many superpowers you should incorporate, define, and promote in your brand.
You also need to determine what is not on brand for you. Branding yourself as a flexible and patient mentor and manager when, in reality, you have rigid, unbending standards for yourself and others, is confusing for everyone involved. Inauthenticity makes people unsure about your brand. If your team and mentees know that you have very high standards and requirements that must be met from day one, they are in a much better position to meet your expectations.
As a result, your brand stays consistent, you’re able to get the results you want, and your team can work more smoothly.
Caprino: Where do our skills come in, when articulating our brand?
McGovern: Your skills should also match your brand. The manager above might struggle with patience as a skill, but clearly excels in other ways. Being dishonest with others (and yourself) about your capabilities threatens the integrity and consistency of your brand. If your skills are not where you would like them to be, it’s an opportunity for you to work on them and then come back to see if they might fit into your brand.
Caprino: You’re a leading expert in the process of sales, and you describe how selling yourself is, at its core, a sales job. Can you explain the connection between personal branding and sales?
McGovern: Every day we interact with all kinds of people in different situations. During these interactions, we sell our skills, abilities, and competencies whether we are aware of it or not. Thoughtfully creating a powerful personal brand will help you successfully make the sale that you want to make each and every time. For example, whenever you ask someone to do you a favor, you must sell that person on saying “yes.” If you apply for a job, an internship, a promotion, or a grant, you must sell the decision-makers on saying “yes.”
Requests for extra vacations days, shift changes, or raises also can be thought of as sales jobs because you are selling the person as to why they should say “yes” to your request. One of the most important things to remember when trying to get that “yes” is that people prefer to buy from those that they like and trust. If you create and live a personal brand that sells you day in and day out as “a hard worker,” “smart,” “reliable,” “likeable” and “giving,” you’re more likely to hear a “yes” than if you’re not consciously presenting yourself to others in any particular way.
Not having a thoughtfully crafted personal brand can make your behavior inconsistent and sometimes unlikeable. “You” are the most important thing you will ever sell—and you do have to sell yourself in most aspects of life. So why not sell like a professional? Why not learn the skills and strategies that professional salespeople use to make their sales and use them to sell yourself?
Caprino: People may get turned off by the idea of making a “sale,” even (and especially) if the “product” they’re selling is themselves. How would you address this viewpoint?
McGovern: Many people have a negative view of sales because they think salespeople can be manipulative, dishonest, and pushy. I used to feel the exact same way about sales until I tried it for myself.
When I started to sell, I learned that the old-school style of manipulating people into buying things they don’t really need wasn’t for me. Instead, I believe a good sale only occurs when I have a product or service that the person wants or needs or will solve a problem for them.
In the end, it benefits both of us because I land the sale and then the person gets something they want in return. On the other hand, if I don’t have anything that’s right for them, I’m not going to try to talk them into buying something they don’t need. I’m going to thank them for their time and walk away with the hope that sometime in the future, I will be able to help them in some other way. That’s called consultative selling and that’s my brand of selling.
Rather than pushing a product or an idea onto someone, you invite them to buy. Consultative selling is a great way to sell your personal brand to others without forcing yourself on anyone. Instead, you’re authentic, honest, and just as interested in how you can be an asset as you are in what you can get out of it.
The brand you establish for yourself should be authentic to you. You want to sell a brand that you believe in, just like you would want to sell a product that you genuinely think would be useful to others. You shouldn’t try to be anyone else because in the end, it won’t benefit you or the people you’ll be working and interacting with. Knowing what your brand is will help you sell yourself in a way that is good for you and good for the person you’re selling to.
Caprino: In your new book you explore how your personal brand shapes your legacy. Can you explain this a bit further?
McGovern: At the end of the day—whether it’s at the end of our careers or even at the end of our lives—most of us will not have a library named after us or have a statue erected in our honor. Most people will not become household names or celebrities, and very few make truly historic achievements.
Instead, our legacies will continue with the people who know us and be shaped by how they believe we have treated them. Were we kind? Were we reliable? Were we honest, trustworthy, helpful, and respectful? Did we work hard? Were we professional? Did we give as much, or even more, than we took? Ultimately, our legacies will depend on the images other people have of us, whether we like it or not.
At the beginning of my professional academic career, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to present myself to the world—both professionally and personally. Once I had established that for myself, I created a personal brand that would serve as a guide for my life. It is an integral part of my daily life, and guides what I say, how I respond, the way I treat people, and what image I present to others.
At the core of my brand are the words “helpful” and “kind.” These are the attributes that I value highly in myself and are what I want to be at the forefront of my personal brand. I also value professionalism and reliability, which are extensions of my core branding. My personal brand keeps me on track. It reminds me what I want and how I want others to think of me—now and forever.
Now is a perfect time for people to hone—and live fully into—their own personal brands, to help them build not only a more rewarding career or business but also a happier life.
For more information, visit Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. And hear McGovern speak in depth about this topic here.