Brands are among the most powerful tools for companies, but brands are also important for individuals. Learning to manage a personal brand means taking an active role in forming the perception that the world has of you. This process can mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to achieving individual aspirations and goals, according to Roberto Alvarez del Blanco, professor at the IE Business School and author of You, a Personal Brand, published this month by Financial Times-Prentice Hall. Alvarez del Banco spoke with Universia Knoweldge@Wharton about the keys to designing a brand with your own hallmarks.
Universia-Knowledge at Wharton: What is a personal brand?
Roberto Álvarez del Blanco: Every person is a brand represented by his name and attitudes, and associated with a series of characteristics such as personality, interests, activities, friendships, family, personal appearance, assets, skills and profession. That brand will affect others’ perceptions and will influence every relationship. The affability and respect that a person generates will depend on [the strength of] his or her brand. People like to enjoy — and are tied to — other characteristics that are known as “good brands.” A personal brand is the accumulation of everything that a person has created, is doing, and will achieve in the future. Every activity, incident, appearance, and every interaction will affect the brand. Whether or not a person is aware of it, these factors all have an impact on his brand throughout his life. The question is if the brand is being managed actively, and if it permits him to evolve, and if it manifests itself in discipline and consistency over time. A person will be compensated to a significant degree if he or she learns how to actively develop that brand and carry out some practices that have a positive impact on it.
Whether you’re talking about organizations or people, the brand lives and develops in a similar context, under the same sort of ethical, cultural and social influences. When it is well managed, a personal brand supplies visible evidence of an individual’s assets: experience, track record, and skills that permit the person to demonstrate his or her true talent.
UKnowledge at Wharton: How do you build a personal brand?
R.A.B.: The concept of a personal brand can seem strange to those people who view brands as something that is only relevant for products and services that compete in the marketplace. However, think of those politicians who accept that they must actively manage themselves as if they were brands; who already know that their brand will affect relationships that are essential for success and victory, both for voters and for members of their [political] party. For politicians, it is natural to analyze their image and to plan communication moves and programs that have a positive influence on it. Although most people don’t get the same visible results as politicians and celebrities, a personal brand is becoming more and more important in their own personal world.
Outstanding people create value in their personal brands, not just on the job, but in their relationships and in society. Developing a personal brand is a process that requires both self-examination and commitment. A personal brand that is not questioned or is not the product of a commitment to doing things a certain way is obviously directed toward no one. The distillation of identity and relationships for reinventing the personal brand require taking action and then reflecting; knowing oneself; living through contradictions; carrying out great changes over various stages; experimenting with new roles; finding people who are what they say they are; reflecting periodically and opening windows that are relevant.
Building the identity of a personal brand implies enacting strategic and tactical imperatives that create meaning, including the following:
Step 1: Grant yourself new ways to think and act. Search different roads. Take decisions and learn about their results. Each step must clear the path to the next step.
Step 2: Stop looking for a unique ‘me’ and focus instead on the various ways you want to try and develop. Reflection is very important, but you have to avoid making it a barrier to change. Reflecting about what ‘is’ is ultimately less important than testing what you really want to be.
Step 3: Permit some fluctuations during the period of transition. It is better to experience some contradictions than to make decisions prematurely. Enriching your identity implies changes, doubts and some uncertainty. Always take the time to pass from the old to the new.
Step 4: Resist the temptation to make the big decision that will change everything in no time at all. The changes you get are deeper and more motivational when your aim is to achieve a series of small successes.
Step 5: Identify projects that enable you to implement your new style. Take advantage of opportunities to seriously experiment with new values, preferences and peculiarities.
UKnowledge at Wharton: Is there a range of different types of personal brands?
R.A.B.: There are three types of personal brands. First, there are those that are commonly called “unprepared for trends.” These sorts of brands simply ignore social trends and wind up being surprised to see that they have stopped being relevant in their realm of activity. Second, there are those personal brands who respond to trends. These people carefully analyze styles and changes, and adopt their responses so they can stay current and relevant. Finally, there are the sorts of personal brands who ‘drive trends’ by anticipating them because these people actively participate in redefining the class they belong to.
Personal brands that are unprepared for trends are the most common brands in society. These sorts of people are very deeply rooted in their principles, and have little motivation to be informed about social, cultural and technological trends. Their personal brand is committed and focused on their own model and feelings, supported by some type of justification. These people believe that looking at possible changes is a waste of precious resources. They need to be assured that uncomfortable growth and change do not lead to behavior patterns and attitudes that affect the quality of personal relationships and experiences within their group. There is [also] the sort of person who identifies trends but believes that these are irrelevant. And there is another group of people who want to identify, evaluate and respond to the dynamics of the environment but are simply not very good at achieving that goal. These sorts of personal brands are all normally characterized by an unsuitable way of sensing the external environment; a lack of orientation to their target public, and an inflexibility in their behavior. Many cases histories of disastrous personal brands can be explained by these shortcomings.
UKnowledge at Wharton: Do you recommend differentiating your brand? How can this be achieved?
R.A.B.: Brand differentiation is useful for separating one brand from another brand, in order to show that it is simply better. You pursue creative destruction by both demonstrating your personal performance and the way that you think. This means showing your commitment, innovation and quality, and distinguishing yourself from the rest, thus attracting attention from the group you want to target. The attractive thing about differentiation is that you can change if you do a good job of managing things. This is a factor that can be controlled and it is within your personal power. The famous phrase, “sacred cows produce better hamburgers” proves that special things don’t always wind up being the things that people prefer. On the contrary, you find yourself in a situation when there is a high degree of similarity and standardization, but where mediocrity abounds.
Some personal differentiators enable people to achieve a strong competitive advantage. They range from courtesy on a professional level to superlative performance. There are at least six characteristics that can achieve the differentiation process for a personal brand. They are:
· Competence: Possessing required skills and knowledge.
· Courtesy: Being amiable, respectful and considerate.
· Credibility: A high level of precision.
· Confidence: Carrying out activities with consistency and confidence.
· Responsibility: Responding quickly to problems that come up.
· Communication: Trying to understand others and communicate with them clearly.
When you’re trying to differentiate yourself, you have to be able to demonstrate your peculiar [strength], and it becomes your calling card. People are usually skeptical, so it is essential to be in a condition where you can prove the arguments that you make. It is not enough to be better than the other person. People have to perceive that you are better. As a result, every signal and message regarding your personal brand must reflect that difference.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What can you do so that a new identity doesn’t eventually become old-fashioned?
R.A.B.: To guarantee that your personal brand remains differentiated, you need to actively manage it over time, and to justify your efforts for building the brand. The desire for continuous growth often leads to the trap known as ‘trying to make everyone happy’, which winds up leading to the end of differentiation. To avoid this dangerous road, you have to be aware of the following guidelines:
· Respect tradition. Always remember what was, and what brought your personal brand to where it is today. Mistakes and Lessons of the past can set the stage for the successes of the future.
· Don’t join the choir. Robert Lutz, ex-president of Chrysler, made the most intelligent comment in this regard: “When everyone else is doing something, you shouldn’t do it.” Being different requires casting away conventionality.
· Stay firm. Once you know what really distinguishes your personal brand, demonstrate this difference in every activity you undertake, including every move you make, and how you communicate. Reliability is a question of temperament.
· Change over time. Sometimes, you have to do that because you are obliged by circumstances. In such times, flexibility is the best virtue.
· Don’t rest on your laurels. The environment is always changing and evolving, so it is very likely that you will have to make changes in what differentiates you today. Nothing is permanent except change.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What is the relationship between reputation and a personal brand?
R.A.B.: ‘Personal reputation’ refers to how a person is seen by others; what people say or believe about that person. A good reputation adds credibility, building confidence that people will get what you promise them. It acts as a magnificent calling hard. No doubt, it is a meaningful way to build capital. It attracts other people and institutions, and generates respect and a high level of consideration. It confers a series of advantages and privileges for the personal brand.
The reputation of a personal brand does not demand any special gifts, attitudes or skills. On the contrary, it requires doing certain simple things in an outstanding way. It consists in a minimal number of practices that require, first of all, committing yourself to attitudes and behavioral patterns that produce the desired reputation over the long haul, by carrying out habits on a day by day basis. Research shows that between 21 and 30 days are necessary before a new pattern of behavior becomes a habit and that, in order to achieve that goal, consistency is essential.
Because credibility and reputation are naturally dynamic and fragile, they both change over time, and are different moment by moment. Building a reputation involves five foundations:
· Visibility: Regardless of how good your personal brand is, your real reputation only emerges with visibility.
· Uniqueness: You build your reputation when you personal brand occupies a distinctive position in the minds of the members of the group you target.
· Authenticity: People appreciate authenticity. Authenticity inspires emotion, and there is no reputation that has been built without an emotional component.
· Transparency. A solid reputation develops when someone’s behavior is viewed as transparent. People who let other people know a great deal about themselves achieve a greater reputation.
· Coherence: The best personal brands are consistent, coherent and balanced in their behavior and communication patterns. They incorporate and coordinate their various initiatives on time. They create a dialogue with the public, reinforce their identity and incorporate harmonious and consistent messages on a reputable platform, as well as measure their results on a systematic basis.
UKnowledge at Wharton.: To what degree does a strong brand depend on external factors?
R.A.B.: Planning a personal brand is an intellectual process; it is a mental task. It requires reflexive thought because creativity and vision are extremely necessary. You have to decide what to do, and how and when to do it in order to fill the void that exists between where we are now and where we want to go — thus, enabling possibilities to occur, since there is no other way for them to happen. However, the future can rarely be predicted with precision, and uncontrollable factors will have an impact on even the best forecasts. But without adequate planning, people just let things slide [rather than happen].
Various research projects have shown that “losers in life” tend to believe that the factor known as “luck” has a decisive impact on people, and no one can exercise control of it. On the contrary, those people who are successful in life believe that they can exercise a certain degree of control over their destiny.