What is a personal brand – and do you really need one online?

In today’s fast-paced, interconnected world, whether you realise it or not, you have a personal brand, separate to the company you run or work for – and if you haven’t already, you need to start cultivating it into something of your choosing before it gets defined by those around you instead, particularly online.

Gone are the days of being able to hide behind a strong corporate logo or successful product range because the world of marketing has fundamentally changed – and consequently, the ways in which people interact and shop have followed suit. According to www.ceohangout.com, most people head to the web when looking for products and services, generating up to 77% of all social media discussions with their requests for advice and information. Of this, 92% of them only trust recommendations from individuals – even the ones they don’t know – over a company – and go on to share these endorsements 24 times more frequently. This means that if you have a strong personal brand and are perceived as a credible source, your individual recommendations receive 561% more marketing reach than those of your company. Ultimately, the respect people have for your personal brand has more clout and listening power than anything else.

This makes personal branding – especially online – more powerful than ever before. It’s far more than the buzzword it became in 2006 when Times Magazine named ‘You’ as Person of the Year. It’s what gives you credibility, makes you stand out, allows you to charge a premium and ultimately, convert leads into sales.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon has been famously quoted as saying that your brand is ‘what people are saying about you when you are not in the room but in his TED talk, marketer Time Leberecht points out that, thanks to hyper connectivity, the room is now always open for conversation.

Donna Rachelson, CEO of Seed Engine – and founder of Branding and Marketing YOU, says that ‘your name is continuously coming up through online searches and social media channels and if you do not take control of it, you will miss out on being able to own what you stand for and how influence your network. Focusing on your brand pushes you to think about what you stand for and where you want to be, in terms of positioning in people’s minds. What is it that makes you unique and different?’

She cautions however, that the way in which you nurture your brand must be authentic. ‘We are seeing two major shifts in the world from a personal branding perspective at the moment – a huge increase in online impact, where you are evaluated every moment of the day, based on what you post; as well as a lot of buzz around disruption and innovation. In this world of constant change, where technological boundaries are continuously being pushed, it’s crucial not to get confused between disruption and maintaining a solid, personal brand – the bedrock of your success.’

‘Messing with your brand confuses people about what you stand for and what makes you different,’ Rachelson continues. Stability equates to consistency for people and that’s what they like to trust. It’s not about conveying an image you think people want to see but rather, consistently showcasing the values, attributes and characteristics that you want to be known for.’

‘However,’ says Rachelson, ‘this does not mean your personal brand can stand still – where disruption becomes relevant is in continuously keeping your skillset updated and having a thorough grasp of the changes and opportunities in your industry. Stephen Covey summed this up so well when he said that you need to begin with the end in mind. His book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ lists this as ‘habit number 2’ and says that ‘if you don’t make a conscious effort to visualise who you are and what you want in life, then you empower others to shape you by default.’

Clearly, the most important part of your personal brand is taking control and while there is no single path to success, Tom Peters, who wrote about ‘A Brand Called You’ on www.fastcompany.com, suggests that the only right way to do this is to simply start now.

Rachelson suggests starting with her book ‘Branding and Marketing YOU’, that shares innovative and powerful ways to help you build and market your personal brand. In it, you will find the best practices of nine inspiring, highly successful South Africans who have used personal branding to market themselves to great effect. It also delves into the importance of being in control of your personal brand and maintaining a strong sense of awareness around the fact that everything you do, puts you in a position to influence perception advantageously.

To this end, www.businessinsider.com reports that it only takes seven seconds to make a first impression – a very short moment to make a lasting impact. Rachelson adds that ‘it’s very difficult to change perceptions once they have been created but if you are prepared and can control the moment through a positive encounter, you put yourself at an advantage.’

In most business situations, you only get one chance to market yourself and www.psychologytoday.com says that one of the best ways to take advantage of this is to give people a reason to trust and value you – achieve this and www.cmdsonline.com says you will not only secure long-term advocacy but also higher conversion rates, bigger transactions, shorter sales cycles, better retention and stronger referrals – now that is personal branding done right, online and all the way to the bank.

For more on Donna Rachelson, visit www.donnarachelson.com. Donna is a driven entrepreneur with a passion for helping women and entrepreneurs to make their mark. As an active advocate for diversity, she drives her agenda through the books she has authored, the keynote presentations she delivers, the media opinions she provides and the ecosystem lobbying she spearheads. In her current role as CEO and shareholder of Seed Engine, which includes Seed Academy and the WDB Growth Fund, she focuses on social impact and creating economic inclusion through entrepreneurship.