Networkingby Heather White
Personal branding, messaging/identity
Part of networking is to be memorable – for the right reasons. If you see your career as lying within the same company, but in different roles, then align your ‘brand’ with that of the company. If you see yourself changing to another company in your future career, make sure your personal brand is aligned to your expertise, your personality and values.
Personal brand – what it is
Your personal brand is what you bring with you into the room and your message is what you leave behind you.
A brand is a ‘collection of perceptions’ others have of a product, service or organisation – it is what sticks in their minds and helps them make decisions on what to purchase. The same can be said of our personal brand – it is what people remember about us when we are not there and it affects their decisions as to whether or not they want to build the relationship further, hire or promote us, or do business with us. And when we consider research suggests that, in the world of commercial brands, word of mouth accounts for over 80 per cent of the influence on an individual’s purchasing behaviour, we can start to appreciate the potential impact of our own brand – whether we are growing a business or developing our career.
In his book Brand it Like Beckham (2004), Andy Milligan outlines the key factors of David Beckham’s brand. It is split into his public and private ‘selves’ and what he is broadly known for in each area. In his ‘private’ brand (which in fact is anything but private!) are included son, father and husband; in his ‘public’ brand are included celebrity, footballer and fashion icon.
These are the core elements of what has become a very successful brand, combining the ‘ordinary East London boy’ with the more exceptional professional and celebrity status. Added to these are other elements, such as values, motivations, ambitions, personality, interests and passions and connections, plus more tangible aspects, such as appearance and communication style.
What is probably most important about this model of personal brand is that it is broader than simply his professional reputation – there is a recognition that the whole person needs to be considered when identifying the brand.
Applying this type of format to myself, to give another, more down-to-earth example, I could describe my core brand thus:
- Private – entertainer, home (Greenwich/London), endorphin junkie
- Professional – networking expert, speaker, coach and trainer.
Then the other elements are added to complete the picture.
Why it’s important for us ‘mortals’ when networking
Let’s bring this concept of personal brand from that celestial plane inhabited by celebrities back down to earth. Why should the likes of you and I care about our brand?
Below are three key areas where our own and others’ awareness of our brand can help (or hinder) in networking.
Creating an impact
Your impact on others happens in three stages:
- The immediate impact – when they see you, before you’ve even opened your mouth
- During the initial conversation – what you say and how you say it, how you build rapport
- After the conversation – how you follow through and develop the relationship.
Your personal brand will affect your impact at all three of these stages.
Raising your profile
Whatever you ‘put out there’ in terms of your brand will dictate how you are remembered, recognised and ultimately recommended by and to other people.
Enabling your contacts to inform and connect you
Only if your contacts are clear about what you are trying to achieve, and they like and trust you enough, will they be able and willing to pass you the information you are looking for and connect you with the right people.
Identifying and communicating our brand therefore becomes an essential ingredient of successful networking.
If you translate this to the corporate world where, as a manager, you want your people to network (whether internally or externally), then it is the personal brand of those individuals that will determine how the corporate or team brand is formed and recognised.
Getting the brand ‘out there’
Once we have identified our brand and tested it, then we need to get it out to market. In order to do this, we need to be quite clear what behaviours are required to do this. For example, if ‘networking expert’ is at the core of my brand, then what do I need to do to demonstrate my networking expertise? It is not enough simply to say ‘this is what I am’.
Below are some of the things I need to do.
- Be an expert – gather as much information and knowledge as possible around the subject, not just networking itself, but networking events and groups, the skills required, what are the ‘hot topics’, such as ‘online social networks’, what are people’s barriers, the benefits. I really need to be ahead of the game in my knowledge and understanding in order to keep my brand fresh.
- Share my expertise – I need to share appropriate expertise with people I meet. This may mean offering free advice or information, or mentoring or coaching, or pointing them in the right direction for their own networking.
- Be well-networked and connect people – I really need to be ‘walking my talk’; I need to be seen at events, moving around with ease, and be able to connect people.
- Not become a ‘networking bore’ – this is also very important and relates to the concept of a ‘broader’ brand incorporating different elements. I do not want people to think ‘oh no, she’s going to talk about networking again’, so I need to be prepared to have conversations about a wide range of topics – this adds to my being recognised as a good networker.
In order to get your brand out there, consider how you will address the above four issues.
If someone wants to establish a brand as a ‘project management guru’ then they will have to do much the same thing; this goes for any brand message.
Review and refine the brand
As mentioned above, the brand needs to be kept fresh and relevant. Fresh in terms of keeping up to date with what’s new, and interesting and relevant in terms of what you are trying to achieve with your networking.
Taking my example again, if I wanted to diversify my business, then ‘networking expert’ could become too narrow a message. I might want instead to become a ‘soft skills guru’ or ‘business relationships expert’. Then I would need to identify the message and behaviours required to do this.
Likewise, in career development, if someone has build their brand around being ‘the person that gets things done’ and now wants to build a more strategic profile, then they will need to examine the message and behaviours required to do this.
Our brand and message are within our gift to change – it is our brand after all, so we need to grasp it, make sure it’s what we want it to be and then get it out there, working for us.