A brand is not what a company says about itself. A brand is what the market says about the company. A good brand can take years to create and be lost in a second. Similarly, you have a personal brand: “That person is a team player,” or “They can sell,” or “They really deliver.” And just like with a company, your brand can sour almost instantly based on one negative interaction.
You may consciously work on your brand, but it still comes down to what people perceive about you — and that’s usually based on what your dominant behavior is. Think of celebrities. They basically have to be super polite every minute of every day because it only takes one time where the public thinks they acted like a jerk for that to become their brand.
As it turns out, a personal brand is generally accurate. There’s been very, very few times in my career where someone has said to me, “Wow, my brand is completely wrong,” and been right. They might not have been aware of their brand, but it wasn’t that it was wrong. It was that they didn’t understand how they were being understood.
That’s part of the problem. Even if you didn’t deliberately create a brand, you’ve got one. My first piece of advice then is to go on a self-exploration project and find out how you are being perceived. You need to seek out people you trust to get this feedback, and you can’t be defensive when you get it.
Ask peers, managers, and others you have a rapport with, “What am I bad at?’ or "What can I improve on?” I’ll admit I’ve chickened out at times when people have asked me this because it can be hard to give constructive feedback. You can take some of the pressure off and increase your odds of getting an honest answer by asking, “What do other people on the team say about me and my brand.”
As a part of this exercise, you should also think of three phrases you would want the people you work with to describe you as, whether they’re your colleagues, or external prospects or customers. For example, my version would be: “Tony knows my business. He has my best interest in mind. And Tony is a pain, but I mean that in a good way.”
I’m in sales, but I want customers to know that I’m not so focused on selling that I don’t spend time thinking about them and what they do. I want them to know I have their best interest in mind and wouldn’t sell them something just to get to my number faster.
And I want them to think I’m pushy in the sense that as a so-called trusted advisor, I may try to get them to do something they’re not comfortable doing, but only because I want good things for them. As a sidenote, while I love what the phrase “trusted advisor” connotes, I’ve never actually heard a customer use that term. So better to leave it off the personal brand list you aspire to.