This question was posed on LinkedIn recently, and the majority of responses were predictable. Most people said “yes.” Simple enough question–easy answer. But, let’s think about it a bit. I took a slightly different approach to the question. “Yes” would be a valid answer to a question like: “Can individuals have a brand identity?,” I think. But, the answer to the question of whether individuals can brand themselves is a bit more complex and is the same answer I would give organizations interested in establishing strong brands. The short answer is: “No, we do not brand ourselves.” Brands are created
by those who interact with and form impressions about “the brand” — whether we’re talking people, products, companies or services. Brands are defined by others; the best we can hope to do is effectively identify what our brand is and take steps to manage or shift our brand based on the various ways in which we interact with and impact others.
This is a critical distinction because, far too often, brands are managed internally, “from the inside out” I like to say, rather than externally, or “from the outside in.” But it’s complicated… Because certainly we can manage our brand and we can take steps to influence the perceptions of those on the outside and, over time, bring those perceptions closer in line with our desired brand image.
For companies, here’s how it works:
- Define the brand identity you wish to have or aspire to relative to your key competitors. This requires a combination of considerations that includes attributes that your target audiences finds desirable or valuable, as well as attributes that will make you “stand out” from the competition.
- Determine your current brand. This can only be accomplished by understanding how you are perceived by others. It is not enough to simply state your desired brand image. You need to assess whether what you desire is reflected through how you are viewed by your key constituents. They define your brand–you only aspire to have a certain brand image.
- Identify the gaps. Based on how you would like to be perceived and how you determine you are actually perceived, identify the areas where there is a disconnect. Prioritize those areas and decide:
- In which cases you will accept, and work to capitalize, on your audience’s perspectives. Suppose you discover that your audience perceives you as family-friendly. That hadn’t been an attribute that you included on your list of your desired brand attributes, but it could be a positive attribute and, as long as the perception exists why not take advantage of established viewpoints?
- In which cases you will work to change these perspectives. Suppose it is very important to you that your brand be perceived as high quality, yet you find that your key constituents do not currently believe you offer high quality products/services compared to the competition. You decide you don’t want to give up on that brand attribute. What to do? You must work to make changes in your brand — at every touchpoint — to shift the market’s perception of you.
And if you’re an individual? The process works the same way. Can you brand yourself? No. But you can take steps to influence the perceptions that others have about you and, ultimately, you can move the needle to adjust your brand in alignment with your desired personality.