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Almost every time I give a speech, lead a workshop, or meet with a private client about personal branding, I get the same question. “What exactly is a personal brand, and where does it fit into an overall brand marketing strategy?” Before I answer that, let me tell you what it’s not. A personal brand is not:

  • An exercise in ego and bragging about how great you are
  • A clever marketing ploy that positions you as the top dog
  • An elevator pitch that promotes a bottom line about who you are

These limited definitions reduce a personal brand to a clever statement or quick quip. Instead I encourage my clients to think of building a personal brand as:

  • A way to differentiate yourself in your company and the marketplace
  • An opportunity to add more value to your company and career
  • A necessity in a world where 77% of the people you do business with check you out online

In short, I think a personal brand is about “leveraging the assets that comprise the totality of you.” Let’s break that down.

Leveraging. Defined by the dictionary as the power or ability to act or to influence people, events, and decisions. When you create leverage by building a personal brand, you are positioning yourself to make your unique contribution. In my experience the CEOs, entrepreneurs, leaders, and C-Suite executives who have the strongest positive personal brands often have the most well-developed—and robust—platforms for expressing them.

Assets. Defined by the dictionary as a useful or valuable thing, quality, benefit, advantage, strength, or resource. The assets of your personal brand can include your history, knowledge, talents, and more. Most people have reduced their personal brand down to a few qualities or a description of what they do. In reality a powerful personal brand goes beyond this to a deeper narrative that includes more defined core elements including:

  • Creating a unique business branding proposition and promise. What is the thought/industry leadership that you bring?
  • Using language and behaviors for powerfully communicating your presence. How can your use of language and presence create greater influence and meaning on a broader scale and with a bigger audience?
  • Developing a personal or business brand story that is both authentic and informative. What is your brand narrative, and how can it be most powerfully presented?
  • Achieving clarity on your current brand and where adjustments are needed. Where do you stand today in terms of reputation, and is that where you want to be?
  • Identifying brand diffusers and neutralizers and coming up with an enhancement plan. In what ways are you helping or hurting your brand?
  • Uncovering your core brand energy and passion and infusing your brand with a distinct energy, mood, and tone. What is the essence of your brand?
  • Creating a parallel brand that integrates the personal brand within the overall brand marketing strategy. How can your personal brand enhance your overall business brand?

You. Defined by the dictionary as one or ones being addressed. There’s no way around it; personal branding is about you. For those who feel uncomfortable being the center of attention, taking on a personal brand can be challenging. But to my mind, everyone from CEO to secretary needs to think about how they are going to go about creating their personal brand. The three core questions to ask yourself include:

  1. Where do I have an opportunity to express my personal brand that I am not taking advantage of?
  2. What is the weather I bring with me? In other words, what are the unique gifts and contributions I bring to any team, group, company, or situation I am a part of?
  3. What are the specific ways I need to focus on my personal brand in the marketplace?

Going through the process of building a personal brand in parallel with your overall brand marketing strategy takes time, patience, deep reflection, and a commitment to putting yourself out there in a way that is vulnerable, authentic, and powerful. Just remember that in an era where everyone is shouting from the social media rooftops about how great they are, actually delivering on your brand promise will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Karen Tiber Leland is the founder of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding & marketing strategy firm helping individuals and companies build stronger brands. She is the best-selling author of The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand. For more information please contact