Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
Zuckerberg even wore his hooded sweatshirt to announce his IPO, and while some have claimed that outfit was a mark of immaturity, it’s also a brilliant personal branding move.
Think of Steve Jobs in his black turtleneck or Larry King in his suspenders and you’ll also be looking at some personal brands that have become a positive part of that person’s image. In a world where the competition is fierce to make yourself unique and stand out in your career, such personal branding messages are key.
While you may think it’s shallow to judge someone based on appearance, research shows that our perceptions of others is what affects us the most. So if we see Zuckerberg’s hoodie as a sign of his maverick image and his innovative personality, then that’s good for Facebook and for Zuckerberg.
Catherine Kaputa, personal branding expert and author of Breakthrough Branding, says that a personal brand should show that you stand for something “that’s distinct, that’s different from other people and is relevant to the marketplace.”
Of course, that can be tough to do today as you try to become distinct not only in your company or industry, but also when you are up against the millions on social media venues such as Twitter or Facebook.
“It can be overwhelming,” Kaputa admits. “But the one thing we all have is a unique history. You have your own narrative. Build your brand out of that.”
For example, Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey tells compelling stories about how the services were conceived and launched, and those stories have helped seal his personal brand as an innovator, Kaputa says.
If you’re not in the same mold as Zuckerberg or Dorsey, don’t be afraid you have nothing to offer, she says.
“Really give it some thought. Can you come up with a quirky word or tagline? I know an accountant and he calls himself the Steve Jobs of finance. That’s his way of saying he’s a creative number-cruncher,” she says.
If you continue to be stumped about creating a personal brand, turn to friends.
“Invite some friends to lunch and get their thoughts on what adjectives come to mind when describing you. Ask them what kind of car you would be. What movie star comes to mind?” she says. “Whatever they say, don’t argue. Just take notes.”
Some other ways to develop a personal brand include:
- Playing up your best feature. Michelle Obama often shows off her toned arms in sleeveless dresses or blouses. No matter your age, you have something that is positive about you, so learn to focus on beautiful eyes or a great posture.
- Having good hair. Believe it or not, people often focus most often on your hair. Changing your hairstyle often can cause problems. (Remember the grief Hillary Clinton took while First Lady?) Find a consistent, attractive style that looks good and stick with it. Kaputa says people often get confused when your hair changes often, and that makes them wonder about your personal brand.
- Being color coded. Center your look around a palette of colors or something distinctive like Bono’s colored eyeglasses to achieve maximum effect.
- Finding your niche. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is known for more than her job – she’s also been vocal about women’s issues. Whether it’s telling women to step up and be more ambitious or noting she goes home every day at 5:30 p.m. to be with her kids, “she’s cut it just right” when developing a smart, personal brand, Kaputa says.
- Being personal. Mommy bloggers have shown the world they can expose their personal lives and make money from it. Just make sure if you decide to hang your brand on revealing personal details that it’s something you’re comfortable doing.
- Learning not to brag. When you tell your story, you don’t want it to turn others off “by being an egotistical braggart,” Kaputa says. “Don’t think of your personal brand as bragging. Think of it as telling a story of how your team or you overcame a difficulty with a client. Tell stories that reveal challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them.”
- Being consistent. You can’t talk about how you’re an organizational whiz and then show up late for an event with messy hair and a stain on your shirt, unable to find your conference schedule. Make sure you send a consistent visual identity at business, casual and formal events.
Kaputa, who was the management supervisor of the iconic “I Love NY” campaign, says when trying to determine your personal brand, you should also pay attention to “offhand” comments others make about you, “which can be very revealing.”
What if those comments reveal a personal brand you don’t like?
“It’s all about perceptions. You’ve got to know what others think about you, and what you want those perceptions to be. Then you’ve got to find a way to bridge that gap,” she says. “If you don’t brand yourself, others will. And it won’t be something you’ll want.”