I love exploring the science and emotion of brands. I am intrigued by why people will pay $5 for a cup of coffee with a little green logo on it (is it just me, or is the woman in that logo snickering?). Don’t get me wrong, like many of you, I am guilty of a severe case of brand loyalty, or, at least, brand temptation. I sit here in my fancy yoga pants (having done yoga twice in my life), drinking my expensive coffee, typing away on my fruit-emblazoned computer. I choose not to think that I have bought into the hype. Rather, I am influenced by brands that consciously or subconsciously align with my personal value system.
A brand is what separates one item from another. We often think of brands as symbols or designs, like golden arches or a swoosh. But brands can also be a name, a reputation, an emotion, and even a sound. Get ready: I am about to seriously age myself. Do you “seasoned” readers remember that anticipatory sound and the phrase “You’ve Got Mail?” That’s branding. A brand is something that is recognizable and is associated with a feeling. Your company has a brand. It’s on your business card, the company website, and maybe even embroidered on your pocket. And, whether you are aware of it or not, so do you.
Today, I encourage you to take command of your personal brand. Let’s be honest: It’s all you have. Your personal power lies within your brand. Power. Yep, I said it. Is power a dirty word for women? Heck no. Power is influence, projection, confidence, and authority. It’s what you generate when you take ownership of your journey.
What Is Your Journey?
Understanding your brand not only helps you where you are now, but it’s the first step in getting you to where you want to be. I caution you to keep your endgame fluid! Establishing your personal brand isn’t about your job title or progression up the corporate ladder, although command of your brand could absolutely drive that. My experience is that focusing on your path alone can inhibit the journey. A journey that really takes you somewhere is messy. It is full of sideways glances and serendipitous encounters. Be open to landing somewhere unexpected. As your brand evolves, you will know it when you have arrived, or at least when you have gotten close.
Now that we’ve reflected on what “brand” is and where it can take you, the trick is to then brand your ‘why.’ Simon Sinek, in his TED Talk titled, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” provides compelling evidence that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you aren’t one of the more than 30 million people who have watched this incredible talk, it is well worth the 18 minutes. Sinek delves into the topic of the Golden Circle and the fact that so many of us focus on “what” we do instead of “why” we do it. True, authentic brands, brands that really connect with customers, always start with “why.”
So, what is your “why?” What are your passions? What intrigues you? What drives you? Exploring these questions will help your “why” emerge. I can assure you, your “why” is there; your job is to coax it out. Once you do, every decision you make will be governed by your “why.”
Not Just ‘Why,’ but ‘How’
Armed with the clarity of “why,” it is important to establish the discipline of “how.” Your “how” encompasses your guiding principles and values. This exercise often leads to a list to characteristics that the people I associate with have in common: integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, innovation, and kindness. When defining your “how,” I encourage you to turn these characteristics into actions rather than stating them as declarations. For example, you may communicate kindness as “bringing out the best in those around me.” Without an action, your values are a list of words, or maybe even aspirations. My feeling is, if you have to tell me, you’re not doing it right. Stating your values and principles as actions establishes the foundation for accountability. Having the discipline to conduct yourself in accordance with your values and principles, even when nobody is watching, is the foundation of an authentic brand.
As Sinek declares, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Regardless of the job you have, the product you sell, or the idea you share, people are inspired by your “why” and believe you because of your “how.” Those are the things you take with you wherever you go. In addition, people believe your “what,” because of your “why.” With consistency and authenticity, you will attract and motivate people to rally around what you do. This is why it’s so important to align yourself with the brands, organizations, and products that mirror your values and principles. If there is a disconnect between your personal brand and the services you and your company provide, it’s not going to work. You simply can’t “sell” what you don’t believe in. Choose wisely as you make your journey. Be selective, and remember one of my favorite adages: “Eagles only fly with eagles.”
This all may sound easy. It isn’t. It’s not something you can hire a consultant to identify for you or download in template form. It requires work on your part, and it involves abandoning the pretty, pre-packaged things and getting real. Because the only brand that can truly be sustained, and that truly connects you with people, is one of authenticity. Sometimes that doesn’t look like we expect. The good news is that the “real” is always better than the facade. Because it is you. To help find your real you, I highly recommend reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are . I took her online course on wholehearted living, and it changed my life.
Once you’re armed with your “why” and “how,” the next step is to build your personal portfolio. I’m not necessarily talking about a physical presentation of your work, like a resume. I am talking about taking a deep-dive inventory of you. Include the qualities and characteristics that benefit your “customers.” Think about things of which you are most proud and that you shamelessly and unapologetically take credit for. Your skills. Your expertise. Your experiences. Your relationships. Your outcomes. Understanding where you have been and where you are now will help future-cast where you can and want to go.
Take a Power Trip
Once you have thoroughly explored your personal brand and you’re ready, take a power trip—and not in a maniacal, self-absorbed sort of way. You are a powerful being. Use it! Lead. Take the opportunity to grab a pen and paper and craft the master plan. Create a movement. Shape your future. Promote yourself. Get connected (Women Lead HERe is a great place to start). Create a lasting footprint. Write something: People care about what you think. Speak up! Find a way to get yourself on stage, and share your “why.” It isn’t a mystery why we all find Mel Robbins, Connie Perez, and Brene Brown so riveting: They have found their authentic voices and share them in a way that leaves us saying, “I can do that.” The limitations you experience in your career and life are those you have set for yourself. Stand in the spotlight. You deserve it.
Deb Miller is the Elevator at Elevate Marketing Group, chief experience officer for Comprehensive Pain Specialists, and is a principal in the Nashville-based startup, EvidenceCare. Connect with Deb at [email protected] and on LinkedIn.