Do You Understand Your 'Brand'?
The idea has become increasingly popular. Here are tips on how to brand yourself.
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Based on how often the word "brand" is used nowadays, the term might as well be listed by UrbanDictionary.com.
Everyone from big-name rappers to the local barber has been throwing the word around with reckless abandon. Come to think of it, "brand" is almost the bougie equivalent of the more 'hood term "swag."
But what is meant by "brand"? According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, it is defined as a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer.
Wikipedia defines it as a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.
Notice that neither of these widely accepted definitions mention anything about a person being a brand. So does that mean that when people describe themselves as one, they don't know what they're talking about?
Yes -- and no.
"A brand is an identifiable mark often associated with a product," says publicist and brand strategist Tahira Wright of the firm Branded PR, which has worked with celebs like Ludacris and AirTran. "There has to be a proven mass appeal, and widespread recognition of the product, for it to be referred to as a brand.
"For example," Wright says, "Target is a brand . . . the red bulls-eye logo is a nationally identifiable mark. People may also be considered brands, most notably, celebrities and public figures, who likely have brand extensions that serve as a part of their overall brand. Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs is a perfect example of being a brand in and of himself, with brand extensions CIROC and Sean John."
Expert and author Dan Schwabel says that today, personal branding is one of the most important concepts in the workplace. Even if you aren't selling a tangible product, you should be looking at your talents and mere existence as a commodity.
"The difference between today and over 10 years ago when [personal branding] was first mentioned, is the rise of social technologies that have made branding not only more personal, but within reach," he says. "Many people think that personal branding is just for celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, yet each and every one of us is a brand. Personal branding, by definition, is the process by which we market ourselves to others. As a brand, we can leverage the same strategies that make these celebrities or corporate brands appeal to others. We can build brand equity just like them."
"We are all competing for the best positions, best pay, and best opportunities," says Karen Post, author of Brand Turnaround. "Branded professionals have access to more of all of these."
But while all of us would probably love to build a personal brand like Magic Johnson, not everyone has had the luxury (and blessing) of being an All-Star basketball player with a 1,000-watt smile and enough money to open movie theaters:
So how can the average 9-to-5er go about building a brand? Here are a few tips from the experts:
Look at your personal brand as an investment: It's kind of like how people say "your reputation precedes you"; except in this case, your brand also lives on after you.
Take more control of your online identity: You should know by now, but you are always being watched on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Decide how you want to present yourself and how people can connect to you.
Live your personal brand: Practice what you preach, and live what you retweet.
Have something attached to it: If you want to be considered a "brand," it helps to have a product or service associated with the identity.
The term brand is most certainly being overused.
"I believe the influence of reality television stars, and Twitter/Instagram fame, contributes to the abuse of the term, leading anyone with access to screen-print a design on a T-shirt or upload a song to YouTube to believe they're building a brand," says Wright.
But, says Post, despite the term's overuse, people can still consider themselves a brand when mapping out their efforts to get ahead in their personal and professional lives.
"[The biggest misconception about branding is that] if you think of yourself as one, you are conceited or related to Donald Trump," she says. "Not so. It means you are smart about and understand how people get ahead. A personal brand is just understanding who you are, your DNA and leveraging that for things that matter, like attracting the right relationship, getting the right career or earning what you think you are due."