The image you portray to the world (knowingly or subconsciously) is powerful. People rely on their perceptions of others to assess situations and make decisions, so we are constantly scanning for signals from the people around us and coming to conclusions based on what we’ve observed. Sometimes you may feel that someone’s perception of you is inaccurate or even unfair, but it is part of human nature to try to sort things for meaning, and that person’s brain is picking up on signals and attempting to create order from them.
Here’s the cool part – you get to choose how people perceive you! Are you wondering how exactly you can influence the thoughts of others when they’re around you? It’s all about your personal and professional brand.
What exactly is a personal brand? Tom Peters first used the phrase in 1997, calling personal branding the creation of an asset pertaining to an individual (including body, clothing, appearance, and knowledge) leading to an indelible impression that is uniquely distinguishable. With all due respect to Mr. Peters, it took me a while to get my head around that definition. My own take on it, and how I explain it to my clients is: personal branding is taking the essence of who you are and what you offer the world, and packaging it to leave a lasting impression.
What lasting impression do you leave people with? Is it consistent? Ask yourself: is my own self-perception of my brand in alignment with what most people around me would say is my brand or who I am and what I offer? Or are there some gaps or disconnects between the two? Is your current brand really what you’d like it to be?
When you change your external image and your actions, it changes how others perceive you and treat you. If you are naturally bubbly and lively, will people react to you the same way if all of a sudden you became extremely serious? Of course not. The brand you choose to portray must be authentically you, or it will feel uncomfortable and you will not exhibit it consistently. However, when a change aligns your brand with who you are at the core of your being and your inherent strengths, it also transforms how you feel about yourself.
Some of the essential elements of defining your personal and professional brand are: your external appearance and style, how you communicate, your self-perception and personality, what your life experiences have provided you in the way of skills and wisdom, your passions and values, and your vision for the future. These sound simple on the surface, but each area has a depth and complexity to it that when you delve into it, provides richness to your brand. The elegant personal brand is an amalgamation of all of these pieces of yourself, distilled into a surprisingly simple description of yourself.
When you can define your personal and professional brand, it’s authentic, and aligned with who you are now and where you’re going, you can then manage your brand image. You can dress, act, communicate, and make choices that are in line with that brand. Because if you’re not managing your brand, who is? Your brand is managed by default according to what anyone who comes in contact with you decides that it is.
Proactive brand management is essential for success. It allows you to be in control of your destiny. To be perceived as the perfect person for promotion, or the ideal candidate for a job.
The person with the greatest control over you getting to the next level is you. If you’re not paying attention to how you’re perceived, where you want to go, the opportunities around you, and taking action that is consistent with your personal brand, you’re going to be left behind wondering why others around you are getting promotions or raises.