Jennefer Witter's Top 4 Personal Branding Tips

Reading: #1 Secret to Building Your Personal Brand


#1 Secret to Building Your Personal Brand

Take the step everyone misses

By Jennefer Witter

We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc.

Self-branding is an effective tool to communicate who you are, what you do, and how you differ from others. I won’t kid you—the self-branding process is a long one with multiple steps. Before we dive in, let’s define self-branding to ensure we are on the same page when discussing this tool. The best definition I have found in my research defines self-branding, or “personal branding” as it is also called, as follows: Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. … The personal-branding concept suggests … that success comes from self-packaging. Personal branding also involves creating an asset by defining an individual’s body, clothing, physical appearance, and areas of knowledge in a way leading to a uniquely distinguishable, and ideally memorable, impression.

Self-branding is relatively new and is generally considered to have been first identified in a Tom Peters Fast Company article written in 1997. I used to work in high-tech PR back in the 1990s, and in that field, the CEOs were strongly identified with their company brands. This was a first, as before then, few C-level executives became the identifying faces for their companies. (Anybody remember the name of the head of Procter & Gamble twenty years ago? Exactly.) Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lou Gerstner, Fred Smith: all are immediately identified with their companies—Apple, Microsoft, IBM, FedEx, respectively. I noticed in the early 2000s there was a change, so to speak, in that more C-suite executives built their own brands while they were still within their companies. This is as important for a budding entrepreneur as it is important for an established business owner who wants a strong public association with his or her company, one that complements and furthers the organization, but does not dilute it. Think Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic.

Self-branding has multiple benefits:  It acts as an identifier as you develop and/ or move your business to the next level.  It provides you with a distinct advantage over your competition by highlighting your uniqueness.  It assists in opening doors and building the bottom line.

There are several well-known “self-branders,” as I call them, out there who use different elements to highlight their own brands. When you think of Cher, you think of her clothes; Bethenny Frankel, her acerbic wit; Oprah Winfrey, her passion; and Joe Scarborough, his political views. Cher was profiled on CBS Sunday Morning, where several minutes were devoted solely to her wardrobe selections and how they defined her. Frankel’s verbal quickness made her a standout among the other women on Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and eventually led to her own nationally syndicated TV talk show. With Winfrey, you just feel her passion for the projects in which she is completely engaged, from OWN to Lee Daniels’ The Butler. And Joe Scarborough’s small-government conservative principles are the foundation of his popular show on MSNBC, Morning Joe.

The following tips will help you to create your own self-brand and make it work for you.

TIP #1: Sync your personal brand with your company brand

I call it “umbrella-ing.” If you’re the CEO of your company, you need to create a self-brand that supports your company brand. It can be an element that you own and expand upon. Developing a self-brand that is at odds with your company will cause confusion and lead to mixed messages.

TIP #2: Take your time to do self-branding right

Take the time to finish the self-branding process. It will take a while, but do it because it’s worth the time to plan and focus on what you want your brand to be and stand for. FYI: This is a long tip, as it has several sections to it. Be sure to review each section, as they are interrelated and will have a definite impact on the final results.

There are six steps in the process of self-branding. They are:
A. Define Your Objective. What do you want your brand to accomplish? I usually advise my clients to work backward. Before you do anything else, define the goal. Then start taking the steps to realize it.

B. Conduct an Audit. You may be surprised at how you see yourself and how others see you. An audit will bring that to the forefront. You need to bridge the gap between reality and perception in order to be successful in creating your self-brand.

For an audit, select between twenty and thirty people to interview. They should be a mix of business associates and clients. Approach them in an email, explaining your request and the purpose of the project. Here’s a sample message you can use: Dear (insert name): I am in the process of conducting an audit for which there is a dual objective: learning how I can enhance my services to you and identifying areas for improvement. The audit will be a series of brief questions for which you will have the option to respond either by email or in a phone interview. The time you devote to the audit will not exceed fifteen minutes. I know you are very busy! Please let me know by (insert date) how you would prefer to address the audit and we’ll take it from there. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Give your targets the option of emailing responses or doing a telephone interview. People are busy, so providing them with alternatives will be appreciated and may help to increase the number of respondents. Be sure to let them know the entire process will take a short amount of time, as few will want to participate if they think it will be labor-intensive. Let all targets know that their responses will be anonymous. Have a third party handle the interviews. It can be awkward if you’re the one asking the questions and you want your subjects to answer without hesitation and with honesty.

The person doing the phone interviews must listen, not just take notes. The responses may provoke a question not on the list and unintentionally provide additional information. The interviewer must be proactive in ferreting out as much as possible during the call. The more information received, the better. My recommendation is to keep the list of questions short. Here are some suggested questions:  What does (name) do? (This may sound pretty basic to you, but the answers may be revealing.)  What value does he or she bring to the table?  What can (name) do differently?  What can he or she do better?  List three adjectives to describe (name).  Anything else you would like to add? You can customize the list with a couple more questions, but limit it to no more than ten.

Once you get all the information, compile the material and review it. What is being said? Are there common threads? What surprises you? Are there areas of opportunity that you need to explore further? I think a good way to review is to list all of the responses to each question in one document. That way, everything is captured in one place and you don’t have mounds of paper to sift through. Once the material is compiled, read everything in one sitting. If you need to jot down notes as you read, do it. Let the information sink in. Then read it again. This way, you will become familiar with the material and will catch anything you may have overlooked.

A MUST: You need to be able to accept the findings of your audit. Realize that any criticism you receive is constructive and meant to assist. While the comments may be hard to hear, they will help you grow and strengthen your areas of weakness.

C. Do Your Research. Go to a search engine like Google and see what is being said or written about you. In addition, look at social media, especially LinkedIn. This is an especially good way to see how others view you. Take a look at your LinkedIn endorsements. Who is endorsing you and for what? In which categories do you get the greatest number of endorsements? Does this match the areas you want to be known for? Or is it an area of opportunity where you can grow? Which category gets the fewest number of endorsements? Are all the categories that apply to you represented, or do you need to add new ones? LinkedIn is a great data-mining tool as you develop your brand.

D. Compile Your Data. Combine the audit results with your research. This is the really hard part: boiling it all down to a self-branding statement that’s no more than three, four at the most, sentences. You’ve heard of the elevator message? It’s how you describe yourself or your company in the time it takes to ride in an elevator—about ninety seconds. This part will take a few attempts for you to create thoughtfully. Aside from “who you are,” the statement should highlight what makes you different and the value you provide. Again, I know this is tough, but with some perseverance, you’ll edit it down to the required few sentences.

E. Test It. Once you have your self-branding statement, test it out on a couple of people. Go to a trusted colleague, your mentor, or a business associate and run it past them. You may need to adjust the statement based on the feedback you get, but you won’t have to revise the whole thing. The final statement will be the stronger for the external input you receive.

F. Revisit and Refresh. Every year, revisit your statement and see if it needs to be refreshed. It may not, but an annual check will prevent your statement from getting stale. You may need to revisit one of the individuals you asked during the testing phase to see if the statement still works or needs to be updated. Right now, I’m in the process of updating my own self-brand that will further support my company as we move to the next level.

TIP #3: Use your self-branding words in conversation

You need to live your self-brand. If you’re asked what you do at a networking event, use the statement (but make it conversational, so you don’t sound like a robot). If you are doing a media interview, make sure you sprinkle it, as appropriate, into your conversation. Take a look at all your written content—whether it’s your professional bio, pitch package, or LinkedIn page—and make sure they all align with your statement. You may need to rewrite some content to make sure it is in sync with your branding.

TIP #4: Work self-branding into your fashion

Do you reflect your self-brand statement that you just slaved over to develop? Remember the earlier definition? The Cher example? It’s not just about being able to know what you are and being able to verbally communicate it. You need to incorporate the image into the mix. Think of Hillary Rodham Clinton and her pantsuits. She fumbled around image-wise until she found her image brand. At first, it was always those black pantsuits. You’ll note that she updated her look as time went on. Her outfits, while still the pantsuit template, have a lot more colors, textures, and designs, and she is accessorizing more. And this tip isn’t just for women. Charles Osgood, the host for CBS Sunday Morning, is known for his bow ties. Tom Wolfe, the celebrated author, is often seen in his sartorial white suits, along with his walking cane—which he doesn’t need but is part of his look. And while he is probably too young to be thinking about developing his own self-brand, Dante de Blasio, the teenage son of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, is now distinguished for his super-Afro, which received national attention. So, take what you’ve got or develop a look and use it to your self-brand advantage.

Building Success—How One Real Estate Broker Did It Challenge
The value of self-branding became apparent to Jacky Teplitzky when she was featured in a New York Times article in 2002. The article spurred such a high level of viable inquiries that Teplitzky decided that she needed to focus on building her self-brand to grow her business and differentiate herself among the thousands of residential real estate agents in Manhattan, one of the most highly competitive housing markets in the country. Teplitzky and her public relations agency defined the areas within her professional portfolio and personal history that would create a sustainable, effective self-brand that would further differentiate her from other agents and support and drive her business goals.Those areas included:  Her background as a sergeant in the Israeli army.  Her ability to speak multiple languages.  Her unusual cultural upbringing: she was born in Chile, raised in Israel, and lived in London and Madrid.  Her business background and acumen.  Her ability to get transactions done regardless of the degree of difficulty. Teplitzky’s self-branding campaign—along with her willingness to hire consultants to monitor the market and subtly adjust her personal brand as needed—significantly contributed to her growth and protected her during economically difficult times. As of 2003, she had sold fifty million dollars in Manhattan real estate. She worked primarily, at the time, with New York-and U.S.-based sellers, buyers, and investors. By 2013, Teplitzky had sold more than one billion dollars of real estate in Manhattan and Miami, where she had expanded her business. In addition to U.S.-based customers, clients now come in from South America, Europe, and Russia. Despite the Great Recession, she remained a top-producing broker and ranked among elite real estate agents in the country. Thanks to an effective self-branding campaign, Teplitzky’s business has thrived, even during the worst of economic times.

(Adapted from The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Business Noticed by permission from Jennefer Witter)


Want more tips on self-branding? Bring your questions and join our next Coffee & Conversation with Jennefer Witter and brand strategy consultant Touseef Mirza on Friday, April 13th @4pm EST. 

  1. Hilary Vartanian

    love this! just went thru the “audit process” prior to launching my website and it is already generating results. Many thanks!

  2. Monique Brizz-Walker

    Thank you for these amazing tips. As a new business owner, I am learning (and implementing) as I go. I am prepared for an amazing journey.

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