Three steps to creating a compelling and authentic personal brand

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is famously credited with saying, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” In the Covid-19 era, we may not have been shaking hands and attending networking events in person, but don’t be fooled – it’s never been as important to focus on ‘brand you’ and build your profile, both on and offline.

This doesn’t mean you have to try to be all things to all people. It’s about making a conscious decision about what you want to be known for, not just what your job title tells people you do. The secrets of building a compelling personal brand are to carve out a niche, to shine a spotlight on your strengths, and to make memorable first impressions.

1 Create a strong first impression

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Like it or not, human beings are hardwired to make snap judgements. Our minds instinctively and unconsciously categorize people to help us make sense of the world. This unconscious bias can be based on appearance, age, gender, skin colour and social status, to name but a few. You, therefore, need to take active steps to manage these biases in others – ‘controlling the controllables’ and presenting your unique combination of skills, expertise, values and personality in the best possible light.

A powerful way to achieve this is to focus on the ABC of first impressions: your Appearance, Behaviour and Communication. Firstly, you need to dress the part. This doesn’t mean going out and spending a fortune on a new wardrobe. It’s about wearing clothes that fit you well and are situationally appropriate. Then, you need to manage your body language – 55 % of what you communicate comes from non-verbal cues – so remember to walk the talk. Confidence is contagious – smile, make good eye contact and stand tall. Finally, your opening lines need to position you as an expert in your field and articulate the benefit of your personal brand in a succinct and confident manner. Make sure you have rehearsed your personal brand statement beforehand, so there is no hesitation.

Your overriding aim should be to use your personal brand to help you find common ground and make a genuine connection with the person you are interacting with.

2 Establish trust and credibility

Gaining the trust of your audience is at the heart of building a powerful brand. To build credibility and trust, you need to practise what you preach and behave in a way that is congruent to your brand. Think of your personal brand as a secret weapon – one which enables you to establish your credentials and create value in the minds of your target audience. The American author and salesman Zig Ziglar highlighted this when he said, “If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they will do business with you.”

The key is to remember to present your authentic self. In this age of social media, it can be tempting to present a filtered version of yourself, or to try to ‘fake it before you make it’. Better to be brave and have the confidence to present the real you. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability – it will make you appear more human and believable. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin family of brands, outlined the importance of authenticity when he said, “Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust.”

3 Behave and communicate consistently

While it’s crucial to make an impact when you first present yourself to someone, it’s equally important to build credibility and trust over time by presenting yourself in a consistent manner. Imagine that the first time you meet a customer, you go out of your way to make a connection and have a meaningful conversation. If in subsequent meetings you appear distracted and ill-prepared, your credibility will immediately be eroded. Brilliant brands behave consistently – you trust them because they deliver their brand promise in a consistent manner through all their stakeholder touchpoints and across all channels.

The same consistency should apply in your personal brand and your interactions with others, whether remotely via social media, email and webinars, or in person via meetings, one-to-ones and phones calls. Inconsistencies in behaviour can quickly undermine trust, as the other person will rapidly conclude that you are not what you appear. Bear in mind these wise words from famed investor Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

By following these three steps and proactively taking control of your messaging to present the real you, you will attract like-minded people, who will be more likely to listen and trust you. Remember, you can’t build your personal brand in a day: it takes time to perfect, and it will evolve as you develop as an individual throughout your career.

The secret is to carve out time on a daily basis to refine and polish your personal brand, and present the best version of yourself at each and every touchpoint.

Nicole Soames is chief executive of Diadem Performance and author. Her most recent book is The Presenting Book: Practical Steps on How to Make a Great Impression (LID Publishing, 2020)