A Guide to Personal Branding for Business

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg


Personal branding. What exactly does that mean and how can individuals and the organisations they represent benefit from have a strong personal brand? To get some answers, I’ve had a chat with Jennifer Holloway who makes a living out of encouraging people in business to blow their own trumpet.

Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation. And do NOT forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us what you do Jennifer?

Well, I sum it up as I help people in business to blow their own trumpets without sounding like idiots. And that last bit, although it sounds flippant, is actually very important because often what scares people about personal brand is actually sounding arrogant. So it’s helping people understand that personal brand, my specialism, is not rocket science. It has nothing fancy in it. It is for everybody in business. And actually, it’s that thing that can really be making the difference in your career or your staff making a difference to your company.

Do people have an issue with the term “personal brand”?

Yes, I got a lot of, “I don’t want to become a brand. I want to be me.” And I have the great joy of saying, “But that’s the whole point. It’s to be you but to be you in a very clear way, a very concise way, and be all the best. Let’s have the real focus on those.” So what I tend to say to people is think of a personal brand as when you are out there, for people to buy you.

So, “People buy people,” is a phrase that’s often used, and what they’re buying is a personal brand. So it does two things, it has to tell people what you’re offering, and that might be what knowledge you have, what experience you’ve got, what results you’ve delivered. But they also want to know who is bringing that, “What,” to the table. So who are you? What are your values? What motivates you? What’s your personality like?

And what personal brand does is it brings those two things together in one nice, clear package that people can easily understand and therefore decide if they want to buy. I should stress that it’s not about getting a brand that everybody will love because that’s not possible, it’s about authentically replicating yourself so that it appeals and people can can buy it quickly. And people it doesn’t appeal to, they can decide to walk away.

Why is personal branding beneficial to organisations?

A lot of organisations sort of shy away from letting our staff have their own brands, be individuals. And I think it’s a rather short-sighted because, actually, if you can allow your staff to have a brand, to get known in the market, to have connections, have networks that they can really work, that’s going to enable them to do their job easier. If a problem comes up or they need an answer to something, having got themselves out there, raised their profile, make this network, they’re much more resourceful than they might be if they just have to sit at their desk and nobody knows who they are.

And it doesn’t even have to be a network outside of an organisation. Using your brand to raise your profile within an organisation, and people getting to know each other better, knowing exactly what your strengths are, thinking, “Oh, great. I’ll go to you the next time I need X, Y, and Z.” For an organisation, that has to be beneficial.

Could strong personal brands be dangerous for companies?

Well, if someone is out for themselves, they are out for themselves. Organisations can sometimes be scared of people with strong brands, thinking, “We don’t want anyone to really stand out. We don’t want anyone to have their own personality.” In fact, actually, years ago, someone said to me about one of the main consulting companies, I won’t name them, but they worked over there for over 20 years and they said, “You are not allowed to be individual. You have to be a clone that represents that organisation in the outside world.”

So that’s fine, and if you are that sort of person, if that doesn’t bother you, you will love working for that organisation. But I think they’re missing a trick because, actually, organisations can benefit from someone with a strong brand, with a high profile, with a good network, because they’re the people who have eyes on them. The business can flow in through them. So there is a plus and there is a minus to it, though, because if they leave, you could end up high and dry.

What are the steps to implementing personal branding?

Whether I’m working with people on their brand within an organisation, sometimes it’s at graduate levels, sometimes it’s at, as you say, talent levels, sometimes at exec level, the steps that I take people through are exactly the same.

The first step is defining the brand because getting that clarity, really understanding in-depth the who and the what that you are putting in the package needs to be the first part. So that is very important. I’ve actually had the feedback from people, saying, “Wow, they came out with a lot more confidence.” So just understanding yourself is quite a nice thing.

The second thing I do is I get people to check their brand, by which I mean to get some feedback and find out if how they have perceived themselves in step one is how other people are seeing them. And I find this can be a real wake up and smell the coffee moment, particularly when I work with people one-to-one and that rapport is very in-depth. Often, where organisations have benefited is maybe they’ve had someone who hasn’t realised the negative impact they’ve been creating, and the real payback for the company is that person is suddenly gone, “Oh, okay. Now I see it,” which is very important. On the whole, though, people actually get complete confidence based from the feedback because people are reiterating, “Yes, what you think is good is what we think is good.”

And then the third step is always then how do people promote their brands. Now, depending on what my clients are telling me about the audience in front of me, that will be tailored to maybe at graduate level, the real basics of how you look, things like timekeeping, things like the language in your emails. At the talent level, it’s a bit more about getting out there as leaders, getting more buy-in. And then at an executive level, it’s very much understanding impact, how they come over, and how to improve that.

So the three stages are exactly the same, regardless, it’s more sort of tailored according to what you want the output to be.

What are some of the pitfall to avoid with personal branding?

I think the misunderstanding in some people, whether it’s individuals or organisations, is, “Oh, I don’t have a brand. I’ll choose whether I’m going to have a brand.” The point is you already have one. The famous Jeff Bezos, the guy that founded Amazon, has this quote, “Your brand’s what your people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Now, whether you’ve chosen to or not, everybody will have a thought that they will say when you’re not in the room. And even in the outside business community, it tends not to be companies as a whole that are being talked about, it is individuals within the company.

So years ago, Burson-Marsteller is a research agency, and they did a study internationally, and they came up with a statistic that said, “Fifty percent of a company’s reputation is directly linked to the CEO’s reputation.” So you could have the best service or the best product going, but if people out there think the person in the top office is a complete idiot, that will have an impact on your brand. And conversely, if they think they’ve got a really great reputation, that will have an impact on your brand.

So you take someone like Richard Branson. I think when it comes to personal branding, a lot of people, whether they like him or not, will agree he is very good at putting his own personal brand with the Virgin brand. And actually, Virgin has failed on many, many occasions, but people still have this positive view of him that tends to taint a positive view onto the company.

I mean, I used to do media relations. I used to work with journalists. And I remember a journalist saying to me about Richard Branson, he said, “You know, the thing about Richard Branson is he’s very good at meeting people, seeing them face-to-face.” And he said, “As a journalist, if I have to write a bad story about Virgin, it’s a lot harder to really put the boot in when you’ve met someone, when they’ve built rapport with you, than it is where you’re writing about a company where you have no idea what the CEO is like because they’re completely faceless.” So there is a really black and white example of how that works.

What social media channels are most important to personal branding?

I would say it very much depends on who your audience is. It may know if you are in business and your audience is in business, the number one place you should be is LinkedIn. Now, years ago, LinkedIn was only ever seen as, “Oh, Jennifer, you only go on that if you want to find a job.” I do think that was true then. It was started by recruiters with recruitment in mind. Nowadays, though, I’m going to quote someone who even said to me, “Jennifer, if I go looking for someone on LinkedIn and they’re not there, I just presume they don’t exist.”

Now, that’s quite a flicking comment, but I think there’s a grain of truth in it which is, at the very least, people in business expect, from a credibility point of view, to be able to find you online. And LinkedIn is where they expect to find you. And even from a Google result’s point of view, having a profile will get you in the results.

Twitter, I think, can also be quite good. Again, have a reason for doing it. I have so many people say to me, “Oh, I should do Twitter.” “Really? Why do you want to do it?” “Well, I just feel I should.” Well, don’t do it for that reason. Do it for a specific reason. So I do Twitter as a way of promoting my blogs and watching what people contacts I want to keep in touch, what they’re talking about, and also conversing via Twitter.

So I’ve got a reason for doing it. But I don’t do Facebook because, for me, from a business point of view, that’s not where my clients and customers are. But if you are more a business-to-consumer, then Facebook is where you should be, and LinkedIn probably isn’t. I think those are the main three, though, that people would expect to look for someone and find them.

Is there a way to measure the ROI of a personal brand?

I don’t believe there’s a blatantly obvious way of measuring ROI unless you have a very specific measurable goal at the start of the work you’re doing. So when I work with people, let’s say… If I use an example of maybe an executive I’ve been asked to work with, and something I get quite often is, “Jennifer, this guy needs more gravitas. We want you to work with him.” Now, how am I going to measure an increase in gravitas? That’s very difficult to do. But if you could at least pin down, “He’s got to get more buy-in in these meetings,” or, “He’s going be able to deliver this particular project,” or whatever it is, less about ROI in terms of money, but just more in terms of, “Do we feel that the money spent has given us results at a very straightforward yes or no level?”

I mean, if you did take it a bit further in other organisations, though, someone’s personal brand using that to get new business, you can directly show that they raised their profile in an industry, and because of that, a new client came onboard, you could then show some ROI with the value of that business. But I think that it’s more just a case of just a general, “Is the person more confident? Are they coming across more positively? And are more people buying into them or buying into them more deeply?”

How do you manage and promote Jennifer Holloway, the personal brand?

For me it’s all about consistency. So when I manage my brand, what I always have in mind is, “What is my brand, and whatever I’m putting out there, is that representing it?” So, “Does this tweet give a clue to my brand? Does this LinkedIn post give a clue to my brand? These emails, do they sound like me? When I stand up, what outfit am I wearing? Is that giving clues to my brand?” And it’s all about creating a comprehensive sort of image out there and people getting a very clear and very concise, “Ah, yes, Jennifer. I know exactly what she’s all about.”

My book that I wrote, “Personal Branding for Brits”, happy to say it’s number one on Amazon for the subject, also goes a long way to helping my name get out there. And also, the presentations I do when it comes to promoting my brand, I’ve had people come back to me. Last week, I had a woman who said she saw me two or three years ago do a presentation. I got totally stuck in her head, and now her organisation needs brands, so she’s come back to me. So it’s about making sure if you get your brand out there, it can be memorable.

How would you define the following…

  • Personal brand: Personal brand, as I said before, that is an individual’s what and who they are selling wrapped up in one brand.
  • Professional brand: Now, professional brand, to me, is purely that personal brand in a professional space. So it’s the same thing but maybe with a bit more emphasis on the, “What are you delivering in a corporate world?”
  • Personality brand: A personality brand, for me, is where…this is a bit more…it could also tie in with a celebrity brand where someone is very much putting their personality out there. I mean, it tends to be used with companies, so something like innocent drinks is a personality brand. Technically, it’s a product, but it has a personality to it. And I think celebrities, in some ways, do the same thing inasmuch as. Technically, I’m a celebrity, but I’m treating myself as a product. So I think the two sort of interchange.
  • Thought leader: This, to me, is someone who is getting themselves out there as a go-to person for a particular subject. So they are really saying that this thing, that is what I’m pinning myself out there as. I would consider myself a thought leader, a thought leader in the personal brand space. Someone might be a thought leader in the risk analysis space, someone might be a thought leader in the online marketing space. So the thought leaders, though, are the people who are trying to get themselves out there as, “I’m someone who should be listened to because I’ve got opinions and ideas about this particular sector.”
  • Influencer: Possibly going hand-in-hand with the thought leader, the influencer is someone who has a created a brand as, “I’m someone to listen to,” and often, going back to the thought leader, in a certain space.
  • Image: Image, for me, is think of it as the packaging of your own personal brand. It’s what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and how you’re looking. And specifically, what clues that is telling people that they can pick up on to decide what sort of brand you have.
  • Celebrity: The celebrity brands are the people out there who are very much leveraging themselves as, “I’m more than just a person.” The Kardashians are probably the biggest celebrity brand out there at the moment. They can just put their name to something and purely because of that, that is worth money. And they’re very good at keeping their profile out there and feeding the media with information about them and their brand to keep people interested.

What’s the next big thing for personal branding?

At the very basic corporate level, I think it’s going to be just that much like years ago, coaching…some organisations did it, but a lot of people were going, “Oh, coaching. That’s a bit new wave, a bit different.” For me, I think it’s just going to be…personal brand will become like coaching is now, which is just a totally accepted part of corporate life. So I think that, “Is that the next big thing?” I think it’s probably more of a slow burn.

Not A big thing, but I wonder if we might go the way that a lot of Americans have gone, though. And even take personal branding, though, to people starting to have individual websites for themselves. There’s a lot of things out there like about me and stuff like that where you can put individual pages, that’s particularly a service. But I just wonder if people would start to do a bit more of a, “Here’s my domain name. Here’s my life on a website that I’m totally in control of.” And I just wonder will we start doing that a bit more.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter @Jennifer_Holloway.



Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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