Personal Branding Story
Put your best foot forward. Focus your message. Clearly define your value proposition. These are a few reasons I decided to embark on a journey of personal branding, but ultimately my motivations boiled down to a single theme: to stand for something true and meaningful.
Brands are so much more than a logo, the products/services they sell, or their advertising campaigns. In the end each of these are functions of a broader brand strategy, which influences the words and actions everyone sees. Therefore, as part of the process of branding myself, I had quite a bit of strategy and work to do before working on anything public.
When brand managers begin the process of marketing a new brand, they must first understand everything they can about it. They analyze where the brand is today, both quantitatively and qualitatively, read everything they can about the industry, talk to customers, pull data, learn from subject matter experts, etc. All this preparation is done before creating a brand strategy. Considering I intended to market something one-of-a-kind, I needed to be creative with gathering data to influence my strategy.
One tactic I used to generate data on myself was writing down every word I could think of that described my personality or work experience, reflected my strengths or passions, articulated my career goals, etc. Over three days, I had over 150 words or phrases written down—my first set of data to build my brand. I also “interviewed” friends, coworkers, and family who knew me well to understand how others perceived me and my strengths.
Now that I had some data to work with, I set out to create my brand strategy. Over several weeks of revisions, I eventually defined my core doctrine: a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to communicate the value I offer, a Vision Statement (of which I created Long Term, Intermediate Term, and Short Term goals supporting that Vision), a Mission Statement which articulated some core principles of what I would do along the way to achieve my vision, and a Brand Pyramid which is one tool marketers use to articulate the strategy for a brand.
For those not familiar with a Brand Pyramid, imagine a pyramid with five levels, and as you climb up, you get more focused and differentiated from others. At the base of the pyramid are Brand Attributes—qualities that describe you, but do not necessarily set you apart from you competition (others in your industry/role). The key takeaway here is that while these skills, etc. are important, they do not offer any compelling reason for people to choose you over the competition. Up a level is where your Brand Pillars come in—points of difference that separate you from the competition. These traits are what make you stand out. As you categorize what is a brand attribute vs. a brand pillar, remember to keep in mind the frame of reference vs. your peers and competition.
Climbing up the pyramid, you start to get more strategic with your brand promise—your unique value proposition of what you have to offer. The most important thing to keep in mind as you write your Brand Promise is that it should build from your Brand Pillars.
One of my favorite definitions of personal branding is by Jeff Bezos, “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Taking another step up the pyramid you get to the External Response, what you would like others to say about you. With a strong brand and consistent message, you can expect to see this reaction in time.
Finally at the top of the pyramid is your brand essence, the simplest form of your brand. Everything you represent, summed up in 2–3 words. It is important to summarize your brand into an essence, because it is something people can understand and internalize.
Defining a brand strategy is a very iterative process. Over several weeks, I received considerable feedback, making revision after revision until I felt I had a sound tool to help me bring my brand to life.
Once I had my brand strategy defined, I was ready to activate my brand. How you bring your brand to life is up to you and highly dependent on your profession. For myself, I chose to focus on a website and social media because I wanted to use my newly learned web development skills to build a website from scratch. However, for those who have limited interest in the technical side of websites and just want something functional and aesthetically pleasing, there are hundreds of great sites that let you build a website with the help of pre-made templates.
Within months, I planned how I wanted my site to look, created a wireframe, wrote the copy, and built it. I had a professional photograph taken, tweaked my Linkedin profile, made sure my other social media profiles were current, and committed that any content I put on the internet would now be on-brand. I also started a blog and became more active on social media, sharing content that continued to support my strategy.
Without a doubt, the most important thing I could do now that I had my personal brand was to live it every day. Whether I am setting personal goals, planning next steps for my career, deciding what projects to take on at work or with whom I choose to build relationships with, I am always putting these decisions through the lens of whether they are on-brand or not.
Of course, people—and therefore personal brands—are certain to change. Big brands change too. So whether you continue to grow in your same line of work, decide to pivot to an adjacent area, or even choose to completely rebrand yourself, ultimately knowing who you truly are will help you make any big decisions in life with confidence.
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.