Three things that can harm your personal brand

A friend recently came to me enquiring about their personal brand and what they could do to develop it. I must admit; I’m not an expert. Sure, I have accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook; I run my own blog and try to attend networking events when I can, but I’m still trying to figure things out. The concept of personal branding seems to be full of perfectly preened individuals who specialise in nothing other than helping you to look perfectly preened, and in my opinion, this is as far from personal branding as you can get. My friend was concerned that they’d damaged their personal brand and wanted help in developing it and repairing their image.

What is personal branding?

I’ve written a longer article here, about how to develop and build a personal brand, but essentially, it can be distilled to a single sentence;

Personal branding is a method of presenting an image you feel is an authentic representation of your inner self.

I’d recommend reading the larger article if you’re new to personal branding; but for the purpose of this article, I’ll assume you’re versed with the basics.

I asked my friend what they meant by ‘developing’ their personal brand. Surely, if they presented an image that was consistent with their inner self, they just had to be themselves? But that was where the problems began…

Failing to be true to oneself

My friend looked turned to me and said ‘I think I’ve damaged my personal brand. I don’t think it represents who I am. Despite my best efforts, I just don’t seem to be able to get people to react the way I expect, but I feel as though I’m doing everything I should be’.

I’m not usually one for entertaining such nebulous thoughts, so I asked them if they could be more specific. As it turns out, what they really meant was that they felt that;

  • They weren’t ‘elegant’, ‘poised’ or ‘professional’
  • They failed to get their point across
  • They weren’t taken seriously by colleagues
  • They weren’t able to make lasting connections with people around them

Now, I had something to work on. I asked my friend whether being ‘elegant’ and ‘poised’ were values they felt were reflective of their true self? For example, I try to be elegant but certainly wouldn’t consider myself ‘poised’. Instead, I might describe myself as trying to be approachable, focused or wise depending on the situation. But a choice of verbs is hardly a reliable frame for me to consider whether I’ve ‘damaged’ my personal brand. So why did my friend think they’d damaged theirs?

They failed to consistently make a good first impression.

Whether meeting someone digitally through a blog or social media or presenting yourself to them in person, a good first impression is important. Most people go overboard with trying to make as much ‘noise’ as possible, churning out random, ill-thought out ‘first meetings’ in the hope that mining enough coal will produce a diamond. They’ll attend business meetings, networking events and chat to everyone and anyone without a thought for the quality of those engagements.

The truth is that it doesn’t work like that – every first meeting matters and they should all be consistent with your values. Make sure your first impression counts.

They engaged in inauthentic actions.

No matter what you do, it should be true to yourself and your values. You can insist that you’re sensible as much as you like – but if you go on a bender every Friday and cause a scene at the office party, people will soon stop listening. The most successful brands thrive on consistency. No matter which branch of Charles Tyrwhitt I walk into, I know I will be greeted by a well-dressed, knowledgeable salesperson who has got a reasonable understanding of my style and tastes. They don’t have to make excuses for poor quality merchandise or rude salespeople, they don’t have ‘one-offs’ – this is who they are, and I can rely on it every time.

They jumped into action before thinking.

A lot of individuals employ social media tools to increase awareness and visibility of their work and engage in online communities. Thanks to some much cleverer people than myself, it’s now easy to strategically plan messages for the coming weeks and month, reducing confusion and helping to drive the image you want to project.

Face-to-face branding isn’t as straight forward. I don’t have an ‘are you sure you want to do this’ warning before I act. When formulating personal branding strategy, make sure to think through your communication plan meticulously. Think before you act because once an action has been performed, it cannot be taken back. See to it that you have all bases covered.

Conclusion – How to avoid damaging your personal brand

I gave my friend a few tips after our chat, which were basically the reverse of where I thought they’d gone wrong.

Firstly, develop a great first impression which can be rolled out over email, web and face-to-face consistently.

Secondly, decide on what values they want to espouse. If they feel they’re not being true to them, change their behaviour.

Thirdly, to always think before they act.

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