“Personal brand” was a term first used by Tom Peters in 1997, but has only been in widespread use over the last decade. When I first heard this term I had a viscerally negative reaction; I’d been intensely schooled in marketing during my 15 years of working for client Procter and Gamble, the world’s leading branding organization, and I’d learned that branding was about how you wanted the marketplace to view your product. Personal branding seemed more about trumpeting one’s awesomeness.

There are a couple of fundamental differences between product branding and personal branding. First, product branding (at least that practiced by P&G and all other decent consumer or business product marketers) is based on extensive research of the marketplace, aimed at finding the right niche for a product. Most personal branding that I’ve seen is not; it features a lot of chest pounding and focuses on the “features” of the person (e.g. extensive experience in, passionate about, expert in, etc.) rather than on what those features offer to the prospective employer (“improve efficiency, reduce costs, attract new business, etc.), or on where there might be a niche that offers particular opportunity.

Your Niche

Second, most people seeking my career counseling services aren’t at all sure about which niche to target because they’re unclear as to their career direction, or are interested in exploring several directions. Attempting to create a personal brand in the absence of clarity about where you want to go in your career is a recipe either for frustration and disappointment, or for fuzzy and ultimately ineffective communication.

Now if you do have clarity, by all means create your “brand.” Learn how to succinctly and persuasively state how your strengths, skills, and accomplishments will benefit your prospective employer.

P&G used to use a simple branding formula that led to huge successes in dozens of product categories. I’ll illustrate by talking about Crest, an account I worked on for several years at my first advertising agency. the formula consisted of three sentences.The first was the brand promise (e.g. Crest is a superior cavity fighter). The second was the support for that promise (Crest contains fluoride and is recommended by the American Dental Association). The third was the “tone” statement; in essence a brief dfescription of the “personality” that the brand wanted to convey. In Crest’s case it was a combination of wholesome, family-friendly, and scientific.

Think about using this structure in creating a personal branding statement. What benefit are you offering? Then, how do you support that claim? And finally, what kind of personality do you want to convey?

Two examples:

Targeted to an ad agency: “I stimulate out-of-the box thinking for agencies that are seeking new and distinctive ways to communicate with their customers. I am able to do this particularly well because of my ten years as an award-winning copywriter. I make sure that fun is an inherent part of the creative process.”

Targeted to a tech startup: “I facilitate cooperation and mutual support among brilliant but sometimes difficult personalities, thanks to my extensive training in organizational development and my inner nerd.

A couple of weeks ago William Arruda posted an article on the Forbes magazine website that critiqued Donald Trump’s personal brand as not being a good model for most people:

“Sure, personal branding requires being visible to decision makers and influencers. Strong brands don’t go into hiding. But being visible is only part of the personal branding equation, and it’s not the biggest part. Demonstrating your value is the key. Obviously, you don’t want to be the world’s best kept secret – you need to make sure others know who you are and what you have to offer. But the emphasis needs to be on their needs, not yours”.