An Innovative Approach to Building Your Personal Brand in 2024

By Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.

Introduction

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint — and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” —Oprah Winfrey 

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR), it has become easier to build your leadership brand and personal brand. You must know the fundamentals of technology especially the usage of social media to build your brand and leverage it effectively. In this regard, we will discuss leadership branding and draw a blueprint to build your personal brand successfully. 

What is Leadership Branding?

“Just as a product or service brand creates value over generic products or services for its owners, we believe that a corporate brand is sustained and enhanced by that organization’s leadership brand. Leadership brand represents the identity and reputation of leaders throughout a company. Leaders demonstrate a brand when they think and act in ways congruent with the desired product or firm brand.” —Dave Ulrich.

Leadership brand represents the identity and reputation of leaders throughout a company.

A brand can be defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competition” (Keller, 2003, p.3). The purpose of a brand is to identify products or services of a selling organization that differ from the products or services of competitors (King and Grace, 2012). 

Leadership is the ability to lead from the front with energy and enthusiasm. It is the process of setting goals, influencing the people, building the teams, motivating the team members and finally accomplishing the goals by aligning their actions and energies effectively. Branding is about how you want to be remembered and respected. It helps others understand your personality, attitude, and behavior. It helps others value your expertise and experience, and the contribution that you have made. As an individual, people respect you for your character, commitment, charisma, and content. As a brand, people respect you for your knowledge, skills, abilities, expertise, and experience. Seth Godin remarked, “A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” 

As products have branding, the corporate and leaders brand themselves. It is like personal branding wherein you brand individually and personally. However, in leadership branding, it is professional and from an organizational perspective. Leadership branding is all about branding yourself to get noticed for the right reasons rather than the wrong reasons. Leadership is a brand. It is more than an aspiration and comes with inspiration. Leadership comes when you lead in your passionate area. If you are the best in your passionate area then you are the leader. If you pursue and persevere in your chosen field you can build your leadership brand. It requires a lot of energy and effort to craft your leadership brand. It is an investment, not an expense. It is adding value to your personality profile. It is like acquiring the status of authority in your chosen area. 

Research shows that a company’s brand image depends 50% on the CEO’s reputation. For building a leadership brand, the individuals must learn what it takes to build a successful leadership branding. Expertise is essential to have a foothold in leadership branding. Find out your core competencies and qualifications and start exploring and building a base for yourself. Over some time, you will be recognized and branded as a leader in that domain. It requires continuous learning, application, and sharing of knowledge related to your domain. There are branding consultants who promote leadership branding. They charge you peanuts but the results are awesome. 

There are various breeds of leadership such as thought leadership, innovative leadership, visionary leadership, entrepreneurial leadership, versatile leadership, strategic leadership, and servant leadership to name a few. Branding your leadership based on these breeds helps you differentiate from others. For instance, when we look at a specific leadership style, a particular person flashes in our minds. It is because they championed each style of leadership. We recall Robert K. Greenleaf when we talk of Servant leadership. We recall Kenneth Blanchard for situational leadership, Daniel Goleman for primal leadership, Rob Goffee for authentic leadership, Jim Collins for ‘level 5 leadership’, Warren G. Bennis for transformative leadership, Stephen R. Covey for principle-centered leadership, David Rock for quiet leadership, Graham Winter for high-performance leadership, Herb Baum for transparent leadership, Professor M.S. Rao for soft leadership and so on. 

Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood’s authored book, Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value proposes six steps for building a leadership brand as follows: build a case for leadership brand; create a leadership brand statement; assess leaders against the brand; invest in leadership brand; measure leadership brand investment; and build leadership brand awareness to key stakeholders. Some of the global companies how have branded leadership as follows: Wal-Mart— everyday low prices; P&G—managing brands; McKinsey—analytical, smart strategists; Apple—innovation and design; and PepsiCo—the next generation.

What is Your Personal Brand?

 “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” —Jeff Bezos 

Your personal brand is an extension of your personality. When people see you physically they judge your brand based on your personality. When people see you online they judge your brand based on your social media presence and posts. In fact, everybody has a personal brand. When looking at inspiring personalities including Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, Gary Vaynerchuk, Janine Allis, Michelle Obama, and Sheryl Sandberg, they built their personal brands successfully.

Branding helps when you want to make a difference in the world and provide meaning to your life.

There are innumerable advantages to building your brand. Here are some of them. When you want to add value to others, you need authenticity to be taken seriously. It is possible when you have a strong brand. When you want employment, you must have your online brand to grab employment offers easily. When you want to excel as a thought leader, you must have credibility on social media. When you want to strike rich, you must brand yourself. When you want to earn income passively, your brand helps immensely. When you want to explore speaking opportunities or sell your books, your branding helps. Above all, branding helps when you want to make a difference in the world and provide meaning to your life.

A Blueprint to Build Your Personal Brand Globally

Adopt ABCDE of branding where A stands for anchoring your aspirations and expectations to your audience; B stands for building your audience as per your passions, principles, and philosophies; C stands for communicating clearly with your audiences about your ethics apart from sharing your domain expertise; D stands for demonstrating your domain expertise continuously; and finally, E stands for engaging your audiences with etiquette to establish yourself. According to Martin Lindstrom, there are three steps to create a powerful personal brand―Attention, Bridging, and Re-Invention. If people believe that you are transparent and trustworthy you can build your brand easily. You may not have money and resources. You can still build your brand with your ideals ideas, principles, and philosophies. Some people have audacious visions without any resources but they built their brands successfully. They expanded their resources by leveraging their brands. Some entrepreneurs were bankrupt but their brands helped them bounce back because of their values and principles. Here is the ten-fold process of building your personal brand globally. 

First research about yourself. What are your ideas and ideals? What are your principles and philosophies? What do you want to be remembered for? What is your leadership legacy? Second, identify how you are different from others. Third, carve a niche area. Fourth, create your brand identity. If someone recalls, they must be able to associate your unique aspects. Fifth, identify your audiences and target them by adding value. Engage them effectively. Explore innovative tools and techniques to be in their good books. Author books, offer keynotes, participate in podcasts and interviews and travel widely to connect with people to become a thought leader and influencers. Choose your social media platforms carefully to spread your ideas and ideals. Sixth, communicate your brand. Have a clear vision and mission and invest your efforts consistently. Walk your talk. Avoid kicking up controversies as controversies are like steroids on social media. Avoid inconsistency between your words and deeds. Avoid adjectives and think about nouns. After you create followers, reward your followers by understanding their aspirations and expectations. Seventh, take feedback to improve your strategies and sustain your personal brand. When you want to brand authentically, avoid selling. Eighth, offer advice and share free stuff to add value to your audiences. Be magnanimous. Be a human first. Be a giver, not a taker. Ninth, be authentic and natural. Believe in excellence. Tenth, make a promise, and keep up your promise. When people recognize your authentic intentions and actions, your personal brand will skyrocket beyond your expectations. Remember that branding requires passion, patience, and perseverance. After branding, you can consider rebranding based on your changing principles and philosophies. But ensure that the core of your personal brand is not compromised.

Interweave Internally and Externally

“Storytelling is the game. If you’re unable to convey your story, consumers will not consume your product, whatever that may be, whether it’s content entertainment or food. Whatever it may be, if you’re not capable of telling a story, you are not in the game with human beings, because that’s what they want, that’s what they do, that’s how they roll, and it’s the main principle of marketing in our society.” —Gary Vaynerchuk 

You must build your professional image internally and externally. Internally, acquire knowledge regularly in your passionate areas and externally share it with others systematically. Join as an advisory board member; be a member of the panel discussion and participate in conferences. Be a volunteer in your area of interest. Work in both profits and non-profits the way Peter Drucker did it. When you work in profits you earn money for your livelihood. When you work in nonprofits you make a difference in the lives of others. Hence, you must balance your time properly.

Gary Vaynerchuk is an inspiring example of personal branding globally. He is a storyteller, hustler, and digital marketing expert. He is a serial entrepreneur who has built his brand successfully with the usage of the internet and social media. He is a New York Times bestselling author and a sought-after speaker. When it is possible for him to build his personal brand, it is possible for you as well. You must invest your efforts innovatively and consistently to build and sustain your personal brand.

Who we are speaking louder and longer than what we do and may even overpower real character flaws. But what we do is what creates our enduring brand. Winston Churchill’s enduring brand highlights his ability to rally citizens to fight in major world conflicts; it largely ignores his difficulties. Jack Welch will be remembered for his ability to create enormous wealth through strategic clarity and organization disciplines; his early “Neutron Jack” image is largely forgotten.

Harness Social Media to Build Your Personal Brand

“Being human in the digital world is about building a digital world for humans.” ―Andrew Keen 

Social media has changed the face of the world. It has converted the world into a small village. People interact with others on social media and access the information easily. They connect and disconnect with others easily. Social networking platform―Facebook has revolutionized the world because it has become a democratic platform for people to voice their views and to brand themselves. Previously people approached print media to voice their views. Currently, they post their views on Facebook to get noticed quickly. The professional networking platform―LinkedIn has revolutionized the world of networking with professionals. It offers several opportunities including employment and branding. It allows people to post their views and publish their articles. Previously people chased eminent publications to get their articles published. With LinkedIn providing such an amazing opportunity, people post their articles to get their knowledge disseminated quickly. Previously people enjoyed reading print editions. However, they appreciate reading digital editions presently. People prefer digital books to print books currently. What a tremendous transformation the social media has brought! 

Undoubtedly, technology has changed the world rapidly in the last decade. Previously information was scarce. Presently there is abundant information. Previously people retained huge information. Presently people have short attention spans. Likewise, there are several ways social media has influenced and changed the mindsets and attitudes of people globally. 

As times and technologies are changing rapidly, we must change accordingly because change is the only thing constant in this world. We must learn how to use social media. Instead of treating social media as an enemy, we must treat it as an ally. 

Be Magnanimous and Make a Difference

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” —Andrew Carnegie

Build your social media team who can work hard consistently to share your content and communicate with your audiences regularly. When you deliver keynotes and participate in podcasts and interviews, break the content into pieces and share it on different social media platforms by contextualizing and customizing it as per the expectations of your audiences. 

To summarize, draw a long-term strategy by researching yourself, identifying your unique aspects, shortlisting your greatest strengths, and creating a niche area to stand out from others. Remember that everyone starts small. Hence, take baby steps to build your personal brand globally.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” —Warren Buffett

About the Author

M.S. Rao, Ph.D.Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty-three years of experience and the author of fifty-two books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: https://www.amazon.com/See-Light-You-Spiritual-Mindfulness/dp/1949003132. He has published over 300 papers and articles in prestigious international publications including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 URL: http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html.  He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs including http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com. He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at msrlctrg@gmail.com.

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