Now that you know the importance of branding yourself, how do you do it?
A Gallup Management Journal Q&A with Blaise James, Gallup global brand strategist and principal
In the first article in this series, “It’s Time to Brand Yourself,” Blaise James explained his theory of self-branding. Your personal brand isn’t a couple of adjectives, and it shouldn’t be a résumé either. It should demonstrate your authentic talents and strengths. Your self-brand is integral to your career and your life—and it influences your long-term career strategy and development.
According to James, Gallup global brand strategist and former strategic planning director at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, your personal brand helps you map out the best of who you are and apply it to the best of what your company is. To do that, James recommends writing a statement of purpose, determining your point of view, and ascertaining your principles—not only because they act as guides to conduct your strategies, but also because they’re hard for career strategy and anyone else to replicate. Your self-brand can help you become invaluable to your company or to a hiring manager.
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In this interview, the second of a two-part series, James describes how people can reconcile their brands with that of their companies. He talks about how to define a differentiated brand and how to present it. He explains the difference between tactics and strategies in branding – – and why hiring managers are bored by most résumés. And in the end, he shows why self-branded people are so valuable to companies. Read on to learn why constructing your personal brand may be the best thing you can do for your workplace and for yourself.
GMJ: You said that the first step in the process of building your personal brand is thinking of yourself as an embedded entrepreneur. The second step is ascertaining your talents and those of your boss. What is step three?
Blaise James: Step three is finding the positive aspects of the environment that you and your consumer share so you can make your brand undeniably appealing to your consumer. This is how some of the most powerful brands today achieved success.
The Four Steps to Building Your Personal Brand
Step 1: Think of yourself as an “embedded entrepreneur.” Embedded entrepreneurs have a different mindset; they come up with new solutions to company problems and new ideas to fuel future growth. They understand what makes them unique and use that insight to navigate a profitable and fulfilling path within their company and over the course of their career.
Step 2: Develop an understanding of your talents and strengths—and those of your current or potential boss. Find what you’re naturally good at so you can develop your strengths regardless of what field or position you’re in. Then develop an understanding of your “consumer’s” talents and strengths—those of your current boss or the hiring managers within your industry, for example.
Step 3: Determine the positive aspects of the environment you and your consumer share. For example, an organization’s environment could be a can-do attitude, a specific expertise, or a relentless pursuit of creativity. Understanding your talents, your consumer’s talents, and your shared environment is crucial to building your brand, because your talents must mesh with and make sense within your environment if you are to be effective.
Step 4: Articulate your Purpose, Point of View, and Principles (the “Three Ps”). They are guides to how you will deliver your brand using the appropriate tactics.
For instance, Dove realized that its consumers lived in a world in which individual beauty should be celebrated over the unrealistic, manufactured beauty promoted by the beauty industry. Dove used its “Campaign for Real Beauty” to make this positive challenge. Kaplan University, a top brand in the explosive online education category, realized that its potential American consumer lives in a country in which 76 million Baby Boomers will retire over the next two decades and only 46 million American workers will be there to take their place. Kaplan saw this as a positive for their business: to lead the effort to train the nontraditional American student—which traditional education has essentially failed—to fill this 30-million-person gap. So they are leading the charge to “End Wasted Talent.” This positive brand appeal connects the Kaplan brand name to a real mission in the consumer’s world. In both cases, a larger environmental factor—the way consumers define beauty or a large demographic trend—added special positive significance to their brands.
Your brand needs to do the same. For your own brand, if your consumer is your boss, your environment could be a positive aspect of your company: for example, a can-do attitude, a unique expertise in your industry, or a relentless pursuit of creativity. If your consumer is the hiring managers within a particular industry, that environment might be what’s happening in the industry or business world today.
Say that one of your talents is analytical ability. One key factor in your environment is that companies are trying to get smarter about how to be productive while saving money. So your analytical talents will definitely be a plus, and they should be a featured part of your brand. The point of this step is to think about the ways your talents intersect with the environment that you and your consumer share.
GMJ: So part of your brand offering is your purpose?
James: When I create brand strategies, I go beyond purpose. You need to unpack purpose and help people understand how they carry out their purpose. First, you find the intersection point between you, your consumer, and the environment you share. I call this finding the “you, them, and us.” Then you take that information and create statements of purpose, point of view, and principles.
Your statement of purpose comes first, and it will be a guide to how you’ll conduct yourself and a filter for the decisions that you’ll make as you deliver your brand. So, for example, the statement of purpose for an HR manager, Jane, might read “I’m in the business of providing senior managers with the human capital they need to feel confident in leading our company to growth.” A CEO might say, “I’m in the business of inspiring global organizations with the leadership, management, and futurism they need to create value for the world’s shareholders.” And the statement for John, a marketing director for a nonprofit hospital, might read “I’m in the business of providing visionary executive directors with the strategic new audience development expertise they need to achieve their healthcare mission.”
A statement of purpose is good, but it’s possible someone could replicate it. Although purpose is important, it’s only one step in creating differentiation. The second step is to determine your point of view—your beliefs and unique take on the world. You do this by completing this sentence: “I believe the world would be a better place if . . .”
This exercise is valuable to establishing your personal brand because it’s hard to replicate beliefs. They also give you a real motivation for doing what you do. Most people and companies never answer this question for themselves, let alone for their consumers.
The Three Ps of Your Personal Brand Strategy
When crafting your brand strategy, a statement of purpose is important. But it’s also crucial to “unpack purpose” and help the consumers of your personal brand understand how you carry out your purpose.
Statement of Purpose: This statement is your guide to how you conduct yourself, and your talents can provide key clues. To build your statement of purpose, complete this sentence: “I’m in the business of . . .”
Point of View: This statement affirms your beliefs and your unique take on the world. State your point of view by completing this sentence: “I believe the world would be a better place if . . .”
Principles: Principle statements articulate how you act on your purpose. Either you make good on them, or you compromise your purpose. These statements begin with phrases like: “I always . . . ” or “I only . . .” or “I never . . .”
GMJ: What should your statement of beliefs include?
James: Your statement of beliefs should articulate what you will do that’s positive in the world.
Let’s go back to the example of our nonprofit marketing manager John and look at his point of view. John believes that even the best ideas need the genius of execution and follow through to make a difference in the world. Remember, his purpose statement is “I’m in the business of providing visionary executive directors with the strategic new audience development expertise they need to achieve their healthcare mission.” So his point of view now answers why he’s trying to achieve this purpose.
The answer why really helps us differentiate ourselves. For corporations, this why statement can be incredibly motivating to employees who deliver the brand.
GMJ: What else can help you differentiate yourself when crafting your purpose statement?
James: This is another reason why knowing your talents is so important. Let’s say that John has taken Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to help him identify his talents. John’s top talent themes include Analytical and Activator, which in this context provide insights to how John thinks and how he influences others. John knows the type of executive director that he wants to attract: He wants to work with people who consistently look toward the future—this is a talent often found in the StrengthsFinder Futuristic theme. Many people in nonprofit organizations embody the theme of Adaptability; they have to dance on a dime to accomplish their mission with limited budgets.
Now we’ve reached our brand intersection: where Analytical and Activator meet Futuristic and Adaptability. So John’s brand focus is as a realizer of visions. He can help executive directors activate their ideas. And because this statement is genuine to John, it’s valuable and hard to duplicate.
The point of view tells us the why, the purpose tells us the what, and the principles are the how. They’re how you achieve your purpose.
GMJ: Explain principles. Do you mean values or ethics?
James: Think of principles as either/or statements. Either you make good on them or you’ve compromised your purpose. Statements of principles begin with “always,” “only,” or “never,” and they give a structure to and are a litmus test of your personal brand.
Let’s use John as an example again. His statements of principle would be something like this: “I will only work for executive directors who have real vision.” “I will never send a résumé to a nonprofit organization with a mission that I don’t believe has lasting, significant relevance.” And “I will always ensure that I have a yearly strategy in place to guide marketing initiatives.” These principles will help him achieve his purpose. Just like any good brand strategy, they act like a filter that guides his decisions.
By the way, CEOs are often shocked when you tell them their corporate brand can’t be everything to everyone. It’s the same for your personal brand: You can’t stand for everything or you everything or you stand for nothing. You have to focus.
GMJ: Of what value are social networking sites to self-branding?
James: Don’t confuse strategy with tactics. This is just a word of warning: Many personal brand coaches lead with “Build your brand on Facebook” or “Do self- branding on Twitter.”
If you hear that, proceed with caution. These folks are confusing strategy with tactics. Your résumé, your interview, your networking groups, your Facebook page, your tweets, your LinkedIn connections—all that stuff is tactics. They’re the ways in which you reveal your brand. Your purpose, your point of view, and the principles that guide you, those must come first.
GMJ: So how do you use these sites in a way that is consistent with your strategy, your brand?
James: When you have a solid personal brand strategy, who you’re following on Twitter makes sense. The tweets you send have common themes because they come from your sense of purpose, your point of view, and your principles.
Depending on what your principles are, you may decide never to shotgun a résumé to monster.com. You may not subject yourself to the decision process of TheLadders.com. Instead, you may send a creatively packaged snail-mail letter to the senior vice president of human resources, or you may join the arts committee that the CEO and her husband chair. Those are all tactics that send a message about your personal brand.
But are they the right tactics? You will only know after you’ve put your strategy in place. Once you’ve done that, your résumé stands out because you’re focused like a laser beam on what you want and how you talk about it. Hiring managers get a real sense of your difference and are clear about why you want to work at their firm.
So much job advice these days is about just getting a job. Just get it—and so what if you take a step down?
GMJ: But that’s a reality for many people.
James: It absolutely is, and it’s bad for companies. This is exactly the cross- purpose that hiring managers are facing. They don’t want to spend the money to bring in workers who are just looking for any job. Instead, they’re going out of their way, in my estimation, to sniff out people who are just trying to get a job for the sake of working.
GMJ: What gives people away when they’re doing that?
James: Résumés, for one. There’s a whole way of gaming résumés nowadays, and it’s not at all strategic. If you’re cramming your résumé with buzzwords that you think are right for the job but have nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done, how have you differentiated yourself from everyone else applying for that position?
What pops out at HR VPs are interesting facts that authentically come from who you are and that tell them how you will realize the mission of the job and the purpose of the company. That makes them want to call you in, because you gave them a sense of your unique value.
This is key: Don’t start on tactics until you have your brand strategy. Then, when you get into the tactics, don’t just do what’s hot. Bring a sense of who you are to how you present your skills and experience. Think about how to differentiate yourself and your brand over the long term.
Remember: You’re now an embedded entrepreneur. I hope that opens up a different way of thinking for people. The way the world is going, markets are so cluttered and competition is so acute—and companies can basically replicate a product or service overnight. Their brand is crucial to differentiating their company, product, or service from all the others. The same is true of people.
GMJ: How does thinking of yourself as an embedded entrepreneur change how you approached your work?
James: Having a personal brand also helps you realize that meeting your goals matters as much as meeting the company’s. When you’re pursuing your goals—and they’re aligned with your company’s goals—you’re much more engaged to act on the company’s and the customer’s behalf.
It also gives workers a sense of control. Right now, 7.2 million people are unemployed, which is a daunting number. Most workers still have jobs, but many of them are feeling uncertain and fearful.
GMJ: How are embedded entrepreneurs valuable to companies?
James: Embedded entrepreneurs point their brand toward the problems of the business. If you don’t know what your talents are and you don’t know what your brand is, it will take you a lot longer to get up to speed, and you’ll be less productive. Anything that helps people express their talents leads to increased engagement, which benefits the company. Ultimately, people feel more engaged in their jobs when they’re coming up with ideas, thinking creatively, and pursuing an agenda—being proactive rather than reactive.
Gallup knows that people who work from their talents are more likely to be engaged, engaged employees are more likely to engage customers, and engaged customers are much more profitable to your business. So if you’re a CEO, you want your workers to know their talents and use them to construct their identities in the company. That takes some work, some really profound thought, but it’s worth it—self-branded employees are self-directed and more innovative. They’re problem solvers, and they’re a lot more engaged.
GMJ: What can managers do to help people build their self-brands?
James: Ultimately, people have to do this on their own. It’s a personal process that factors in someone’s whole life. It’s not top-down—it works from the bottom up. But managers can encourage employees to develop their brands, and they can focus on their own brands and chart their own way through their companies. Your personal brand is more than just words—it’s actions. Live out your principles. Don’t pay them lip service. That’s something managers can do: lead by example.
Interviewed by Jennifer Robison
Copyright © 2009 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.
What is the first step you took to develop your personal brand?