This was originally published in Brand Equity (The Economic Times) on July 31, 2019.
Personal branding is not equal to boasting
‘Personal branding’ is generally assumed to be a dicey topic. Many equate it with ‘boasting’. This perhaps stems from the Bhagavad Gita which has the famous line, “Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma phaleshou kada chana”, which means, “Perform your duties without expecting for a reward”. The ‘selflessness’ referred to in that phrase is usually extended to as the opposite of personal branding.
What most people miss is that personal branding need not be boasting about self at all. Personal branding could be a demonstration of your interest, passion or simply curiosity about themes that matter most to you. And while showcasing those interests, if you also happen to talk about your work contextually, that is both positively beneficial to you and your profession, while being meaningful to your audience.
The real you vs. the projected you
Strongly linked to the misconception that personal branding is boasting, is the other assumption that personal branding involves faking. I’m tempted to quote ‘you cannot fool all the people all the time’ commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but this is truer than ever. Fakery, or lies, travel faster than ever now, along with the fact-checks and truth. So, it’s not worth affecting your credibility.
But then, projecting a self for the purpose of personal branding need not be faking at all. You, as an individual, are an amalgamation of so many interests and talents. If you use the basics of brand building, people could remember only a few facets of a brand, which is why marketing has the concept of USP. In personal branding, hence, there is a need to pick a few topics that you want to be associated with and focus on them. Not talking about other topics about yourself is not faking; it is simply being purposefully selective.
The power of consistency
Habits are powerful. Good habits… even better. We do a lot of small things every single day out of habit. The morning newspaper, a healthy run, morning coffee, diary writing, praying before starting to drive and so on. Most of our habits are inward-looking, known to and affecting only us, the individual. One habit that is outward-looking and still helps us is talking to strangers, or to no one in particular.
We already do this unthinkingly, because social media is free. There is no entry fee, no cap on usage. So, when we feel like, we say things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. These are random utterances that do not add up to anything, primarily because for social media platforms, we are the product being sold. But it need not be this way at all. You could turn your random utterances online into a powerful habit that can be purposeful to you, to build an association with who you are, as a person and your interests. That is simply your brand, demonstrated consistently, to an audience that is mostly strangers! And this is personal branding 101.
The future of work
While most of us continue to hold on to our 9-to-5 employment routines, there is a definite worldwide movement towards looking beyond it. There is a larger trend towards avoiding ownership, and this extends to employers too, to look beyond having full-time employees on rolls. In such a scenario, each one of us is useful for a specific set of skills, and we come in to get work done and move out. To some extent, this trend runs parallel to the evolution in artificial intelligence that is taking on repetitive or complex manual roles.
Most of us ‘market ourselves’ only during select points in our lives – school/college admission, looking for a mate, job interview and so on. And forget the marketing when we think there is no need. But when our individual intellect becomes the product being offered, there is a need to market ourselves passively every day so that it helps build a pipeline of work. This is the future of work. It may not seem rosy to someone comfortable with a predictable monthly salary, but it is already sweeping several industries and the earlier we are ready for it the better. And even for salaried people, passive personal branding helps in many other ways – building connections to do your work better or even indulge in a passion/hobby!
People as media
We have FOMO on social media, but there seems to be no FOMO for newspapers or TV. It used to be, at one point – they were some of the earliest appointment-based content consumption habits. These days, it perhaps starts and ends with our phone! And on the phone, ‘news’ is not just what media organizations produce, but also what people-like-us produce and share. And much of what people-like-us share are from mainstream media, ironically! So, people-like-us have joined the few mainstream media ‘appointed’ curators of news, as fellow opinion-makers.
The opportunity here, for all of us, is to be one such people-like-us source of one kind of news… something that we know well and can opine on frequently. The key is to take such a task diligently and build on it, in a way it helps us as an individual brand.