By Mary Ellen Harden
The term personal brand is turning 20 this year, and by all accounts, is more important than ever. A quick search of the term lists articles in publications such as Forbes, Fast Company, and Psychology Today, all addressing the relationship between a person’s personal brand and their career success.
What is it?
Your personal brand represents the values that people can consistently expect from you, and sets you apart from your peers and competition.
We are all constantly being evaluated in the workplace, particularly by our clients and those we serve. While there are many aspects to the concept of branding, an important but often overlooked component is your written communications.
You don’t have to be reminded that your personal brand is developed every day through your social media activity. The browsing audience is forming a positive, negative, or indifferent (sometimes the costliest) perception of you with every tweet, post and like you share.
In her book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, Ann Handley tells us, “In an online world, our online words are our emissaries, they tell the world who we are.”
Do you know who you are?
Take a moment to consider your personal brand.
Ask yourself these four questions to develop a personal brand that echoes your true professional insight and inspiration:
- What is my history (background, heritage, birthplace, or education)?
- What characteristics do I value in others?
- What traits do I value in myself?
- What is my highest goal and how do I plan for it to be achieved?
It is a good exercise to define your personal brand in a few sentences or a 30-60 second elevator pitch. Do not wait for someone to ask. How can you develop your sales, marketing, and growth strategies without outlining the foundation of why and what you are doing professionally? Remember, your personal brand sets you apart from your peers and competition. If you have not articulated specifics to your brand you will be lost in the crowd.
Once you’ve developed your professional brand, consider how you are using your written communications as a reflection of your brand.
How are you sharing your personal brand within social media? Have you considered creative ways to reflect your professional message outside of social media? While it may sound low tech in today’s world of 24/7 digital media, personal, tangible, thoughtful interactions are more impactful now than ever.
An email or tweet can quickly be forgotten. (Or not, in some cases—you’ve been warned!)
In today’s fast paced environment your message must be intentional and it must be intriguing. Furthermore, you must overcome the obstacle of getting your message noticed. A well-planned written communication plan—integrating digital and traditional hand-written correspondence—is a good idea.
Think of what is important to your clients and contacts.
Most people share in the same universal experiences and emotions surrounding life events:
- Annual holidays
- Local events
- Career successes
- Family transitions such as weddings, new babies, and the passing of loved ones
“No business truly sells to another business,” Handley reminds us. “We all sell to people.”
If this is true, how is your written communication reaching your clients and contacts on an emotional, personal level? Find ways to insert your brand into these shared experiences and make a personal connection.
You can start by sharing what’s important to you in your own life.
How are you focusing your digital written communication on what matters most to you? As we’ve seen, your personal experiences will most closely connect you with your clients and prospects when they are shared experiences. This is where social media comes in most useful.
However, it takes courage to write about yourself. You might hesitate to seem too self-centered or become labeled as a show-off. Therefore, be strategic about what circumstances and stories really resonate with your audience. Then, concentrate on bringing the shared emotions to life without putting all the attention on yourself.
For example, could you write about watching your son pitch his first game and thinking back to your childhood days mustering the courage to do something new? That is a shared emotion between your son, yourself, and most likely a portion of your contacts.
Don’t forget the power of the old-fashioned note or greeting card.
To reach out to clients in the midst of their lives and share in their experiences, it is often useful to return to the traditional greeting card and exercise the use of a handwritten note.
Yes, an email is better than nothing. “Congrats on the new baby,” you might type out hurriedly, fitting it in among the other important office emails going out that day. The recipient is pleased that you noticed, but is well aware of the few seconds of time it took.
A card shows that you spent more time, which equates to putting a higher value on the relationship. This point hasn’t been lost on powerhouse banks such as Bank of America and U.S. Bank—they start planning their holiday card design themes in early spring. And while the home-town greeting card stores of the past have been disappearing, card sending is at an all-time high as a tool for cultivating professional relationships.
This trend is also reflected by the rapidly expanding sales of the card retailers that incorporate business themed cards into their product lines. This time of year, office groups and individuals receive their annual holiday card catalogs and carefully select the perfect card to represent their personal and professional brands. These are the brands that know that the holiday card makes clients pause, think warmly of the sender (the brand) and most often, will be displayed in a home or office for a week or more.
It’s a small and relatively inexpensive gesture that tells people that they are important to you; that you remember what’s important to them, and that you share in their achievement or loss. As a result, your brand is instantly enhanced. You’re perceived as more than just an informed advisor or manager.