Friday, March 10, 2006

Personal Branding

Rajesh Setty had an interesting post up on his blog Beyond Code this week discussing 12  reasons why you might not be focusing on personal branding.  Rajesh is  a major proponent of personal branding, especially for people in high  tech industries.

Rajesh's post got me thinking about how one of the challenges campaign teams face is creating an organizational brand around a candidate who has never had a personal  brand, or been conscious about personal branding.

Does anybody remember the episode of WKRP where Herb Tarlek  was  trying to be a guest on the tv show Real Families (a take-off of Real  People), so he had prepped all his family and coworkers.  When the Real People staff interviewed them, they all said the *exact*
same thing, word for word:  

"Herb Tarlek is a hard worker, a loyal husband, and an all around fine person."

Granted, it was WKRP, so it was ridiculous--and the plot of that  episode ended in a tragic farce for Herb.  But, imagine how much easier  it would be to run a candidate if he or she had such a strong personal  brand that everyone of their acquaintances at every level would  spontaneously volunteer the description of "hard worker, loyal spouse,  all around fine person"--or something similarly positive.

[Let me be clear:  I'm not holding up Herb Tarlek as a model PR agent or campaign staffer!]

Back to Rajesh's article. When an actor is preparing for a role, one of the steps is to go through the script and identify "actor challenges"--aspects of a role that pose a personal challenge for the actor.  For example, years ago I played Brooke Ashton in a stage production of Michael Frayn's bedroom farce Noises Off -- the cheesecake role played by Nicollette Sheridan in Peter Bogdanovich's 1992 film version.  It didn't take any work to identify my main actor challenge for *that* role--Brooke spends most of the 3-act play running up and down staircases in a merry widow, garters, and heels.  The trick of course for me as an actor was to figure out how to *overcome* the actor challenge of public semi-nudity(1)--particularly when both my parents and my then-boyfriend were sitting smack dab in the middle of the audience on opening night. 

Rajesh's article can be viewed as a great list of "candidate personal branding challenges." The article doesn't explain how to overcome a candidate's personal  branding obstacles, but it does a good starting point to discuss and troubleshoot your candidate's challenges.  Once you know what you're dealing with, it is easier to fix.

1. Culture
I was born and brought up in India and was almost "trained" to be  humble. My parents didn't want me to get carried away by anything that  I thought was an achievement. I would always be told that bigger things  are yet to come and I should continue to work hard. Every achievement  was a stepping stone. So, celebrating moderate successes was not an  option. I don't blame anyone but that's the way life was. Everyone  around us were doing the same thing to their kids. The culture was to
not make a big deal about every other success. That in itself is not a  problem but growing up, you get used to what you learn when you are  young. You take it to another extreme and not make a big deal about any  of your achievements. Hence, personal branding takes a back seat.

Having lived and worked in five different countries other than India  and United States, I can say that what I talked about culture is not  unique to India alone. There are many other places where humility is  taken to an extreme.

2. Borrowing brand power and getting used to it
Last month I was in India and spoke at several companies. I got to meet  a number of software professionals as a group and also got to talk to  some of them 1-1. A simple question like "What do you do" would almost  elicit a standard response from many young folks there - something like  "I work for IBM" or "I work for Infosys"

It was almost as if they didn't want to go into the details of what  exactly they do but they were just proud that they were working for a  respectable company such as IBM or Infosys. Hats off to those companies  for making their employees feel that way. It takes a lot of hard work.

While I agree that you should be proud of who you work for, you should  not get carried away to permanently borrow your company's brand. You  will get used to it. How about making sure that your company is also  proud of the fact that you are working for them? That will be the beginnings of building a personal brand.

3. Don't want to "show off"
Personal branding and "showing off" are different. Many people that I  talk to don't want to "show off" and since they can't really make out  the difference, they put off building their personal brand. For now,  think of "showing off" as being in the lowest (or negative) end of the  "Personal Branding" scale.

4. Lack of Training
I have not seen "Personal Branding" as a subject that is being taught  anywhere. There are not many classes that are out there that cover this  topic. So, the quick way is to go and figure it out yourself by reading  books, blogs, mentors and other resources. I am confident that with  training, it gets easier to build a personal brand. The bigger problem  though is "What would motivate you to look for that training?"

5. No short-term benefits
When you say it takes nine months for a baby from concept to completion  :) nobody has a problem. When it takes years for a tree to bear fruits,  again nobody has a problem. However, if I say it takes years before you  see benefits from a personal branding exercise people somehow don't  like that idea. There are a number of things that may yield "short-term  benefits" but personal branding is not one of them.

6. Not a requirement to succeed
If you look at any job application, you will see that they don't  typically look for the strength of your personal brand. It is not a  requirement to succeed in life. However, if you want to thrive then the  game is different. The rules are different.

Personal branding can accelerate your journey there. Many times we look  at things that are required to succeed and not focus on things that are  required to thrive. No wonder they say "Good is the enemy of the Best."

7. Not comfortable with lot of attention
I have met so many people who are extremely successful but don't want  the attention that comes with personal branding. They don't want to  talk to the press, give interviews, share their stories - they just  want to lead a good life. This is a valid reason and if you are one of  them, it's easy to understand why the personal branding journey is not  for you.

8. Fear of losing friends
I have heard this several times. There are some people in your life who  will disappear if you are not one of them. Once you start focusing  personal branding, there is no option but to grow. If your friends are  not growing as fast as you are growing, chances are that some of them  will be not uncomfortable with you anymore. You may be perfectly OK to  continue your friendship with them but friendship is not a one-way
street. So, rather than suffering that loss, you might as well go slow  on the personal branding journey a bit is what you think.

9. It's hard work!
Yes, I have heard this reason too. You may already be working nights  and weekends in your job. It may be taxing on you and your family to  take on this journey. This is perfectly understandable. Although, I  have to say that personal branding is not hard work if you establish  the right configurations and get high leverage on everything that you  do. Well, that's a separate discussion for some other time.

10. Don't think it's important
You just don't think that personal branding is important. You have  heard about it from different sources and read about it but you are not  sold on the fact that you need to put in time and energy towards this.

11. No time!
You are swamped with work and you have absolutely no time to devote to  this exercise. When you get done with your immediate projects, you plan  to look into this in detail.

12. Not having enough accomplishments!
Personal branding is of no use if you don't have the "stuff" to support  your promise. It is important for you to GROW and BECOME that someone  that is worth creating a personal brand for. An entrepreneur can build  a personal brand for himself provided he has some valued  accomplishments in building successful companies. It looks obvious -  but I have seen many people trying to build a brand that is out of sync
with the speed at which they are growing. It is almost similar to  trying to build a super structure on a foundation that can hold only a  single family home. Won't work :(

Of course, as always - this list is not complete. This is compiled from  my observations and interactions with a few people during my speaking  engagements.

Granted, many of you are going to read this list and laugh, because when we talk abut politicians, most of us picture someone like Mayor Quimby on the Simpsons:  obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered, sleazy, and "all-about-me."  However, when you take a look at real politicians, especially people involved in *local* politics (think town council! think school board!), there really are people from all walks of life and a wide range of backgrounds. (Whether or not they can buy their way up the plutocracy food chain is another matter.)  And all those "regular folk" who *aren't* A-type personality lawyers, especially those who are "less traditional" candidates, may need some real help when it comes to personal branding.

Earlier this week in Eureka! Branding and Politics I wrote about how peanut butter taste tests and the recognition heuristic demonstrate why name recognition and visibility are critical to creating a strong, winning political brand.  (And in the process, I might add, hit a new personal level of surreal juxtaposition of superficially dissimilar ideas.  What can I say--I'm a fan of  John Donne.) I'd like to offer this post as another piece in that conversation; specifically, as a took kit towards the creation of a strong, winning brand at the individual level.

What's your personal brand?  Is the concept of personal branding something you give any thought to at all?

If you are curious, don't forget you can always try out your own Johari Window! (And if you do, let me know, so I can tell you how fabulous you are.)

And if you're serious about personal branding, add Rajesh to your daily reads list.  His blog is spectacular.

As a bonus, here's a link to quotes from the WKRP Real Families episode.  I had forgotten  about Johnny Fever making the Nietzsche reference.  And those of you  outside Virginia may not know that Tim Reid, who played Venus Flytrap, was a friend of former Governor Mark Warner's, lives in Virginia, and organized Warner's inaugural ball.  Tim Reid also married Daphne  Maxwell, who guest starred on WKRP in the "Real Families" episode.

(1) I would like to point out to the patient and charming Alexander Wolfe that I believe a blog reference to me running around in public in my skivvies counts towards the public nudity post that I owe him, and I humbly request that he credit my tab accordingly.

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