If I asked you to describe yourself in a single sentence, do you think you could? Maybe you would say something about your age, ethnicity, gender, where you’re from, or what you do. What about if I asked you to describe a work colleague?
Take a second and think of your workplace. Who is the first person that comes to mind? Try to describe them if you can in a single sentence (actually do it).
My guess is you described a few key traits. Maybe “confident”, or “arrogant” (those two often come together in business). Perhaps they are especially talented in one field or another, they dress a certain way, always show up early, or they tell a lot of jokes. The point is, the description you just made likely varies a lot from the description of yourself. In the workplace, you don’t need to know everything about a person. But this exercise isn’t to see how well you know your co-workers. This is all about knowing a person’s brand.
What is personal brand? When we think of a brand we generally think of a company logo or slogan — for example, when I think of McDonald’s brand I think of the Golden “M” and “I’m lovin’ it”. But a brand isn’t either of those things individually. Rather a brand is any kind of associations we make with something when we think of it. So McDonald’s brand isn’t just their logo or slogan. It’s also the thought of fast food, “supersized” food, cheap prices, and delicious french fries. Each of these associations make up the McDonald’s brand. The fact that they all come so easily, just means that McDonald’s has done a particularly good job at relaying their brand.
So let’s bring this back to personal brand. It’s the same idea: the associations we make with a person when we think of them, whether they are positive or negative. By understanding and knowing your personal brand, you can choose to change it in whichever direction you see fit. You can also choose to perpetuate it, to clarify it, and make it just as forthcoming as McDonald’s.
How do you do that though? You can start by trying to create this same sentence about yourself that we thought of earlier. But this time, fill it with the traits and features you want to be associated. Perhaps you’re known as the first one in the office every day. Maybe you always walk around with a pair of headphones, or wear a specific article of clothing. Try to think of things you already do and that you enjoy doing. Let’s take an example:
Aaron is known for telling dad jokes, showing up to work with an iced coffee every morning, finishing his work on time, wearing fun socks, telling people he’s “swell” when they ask how he is, and color coding his emails.
You’ll notice not all of those things are directly related to work. But they are strong, concrete pieces that make up a person’s personal brand. If you originally thought of descriptive traits like “diligent” or “honest” try to work these out into physical actions. What makes a person diligent? Do they proof-read every email or stay late during intense periods at work? That’s up to you.
What sells your brand is repetition. This repetition shouldn’t be overtly aggressive — which is why most of your traits should be things you already do or enjoy. A good brand is one which is authentic, not completely made up or showcasing someone you aren’t. You can undergo a personal rebranding process, but make sure to do this gradually. As with any company, rebranding takes time and reinforcement.
Try if you can now to think of two people at your workplace. One who has a good personal brand and one who does not. The first should be quick to think of and you should be able to come up with a sentence about them relatively easily. The second should be a bit harder. When you try to describe them, you’ll likely notice a bit of discomfort. In general, we feel comfortable when we know or are familiar with someone. By knowing your personal brand, you actually make people feel much more comfortable around you, like they’ve figured you out.
The more defined your brand, the more readily you begin to come to mind when people think of your company. That’s the McDonald’s affect — when you know your brand you are thought of quickly with most any general association. When I think of Fast Food, the first thing I think of is McDonald’s; when I think of French Fries I think of McDonald’s. Having a strong brand puts you in the same position. It becomes more of an implicit association: when someone asks a coworker “Who do you work with?” the comfort level they’ll have in knowing you and the strong image of your brand will make you an early association. Moreover, they’ll enjoy talking about you to their friends at the end of a workday. Later on when they think of people they’d like to work with at their next company, you’ll come up early.
This is all great, but how does this affect company culture? The internal culture of a company is made up of its employee’s: the general idea is that if a company has 25 employee’s each employee brings 4% to the total cultural build up of the company. In practice, the percentage each employee brings to their company culture is unevenly balanced. Those employee’s who don’t know their personal brand tend to fall into the flow of the company. That is, they don’t bring strong associations to influence culture with, they go with the flow. By knowing your brand and having a strong sense of it, you have a much greater influence of the general culture of the company.
This creates an interesting affect: your company will want to keep you around, appease you and make you happy because you have an imbalanced impact on the company culture. So if you were to leave or be unhappy, it would have a much stronger impact on the company culture and moral.
In the end, simply by knowing yourself and your brand you make yourself indispensable. You’ll also notice that you feel more confident with your decisions in the office, because you’ll be able to ask yourself, “Is this on brand?” Remember, one of the most important pieces of creating a personal brand is trust and authenticity. Your goal is to make people feel like they know you, and in order to do that you need to first know yourself.