If You Don’t Take Care of Your Personal Brand, Everyone Else Will

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The concept of personal branding is a hot topic at the moment.  It may be defined as the way in which you market yourself to the world.  We all possess a personal brand.  Whether you have knowingly developed it or not, everyone around you has an impression of who you are – their impression.  The challenge with managing your brand is that no matter how realistically you portray yourself to the world, you have no control over the perceptions of others.  Perceptions are potentially one of the most damaging effects on your personal brand.

You see, our brains are wired to take short cuts to reasoning.  More than reason, we are before anything else made up of emotions.  We habitually take the effortless route of creating a quick emotional picture that makes sense in our brain formed from previous patterns and experiences.   At other times, the information provided may be limited so we leap to a hasty conclusion about someone.  This irrational judgement is referred to as cognitive fallacies or biases.  Understanding cognitive biases can give you the upper hand to managing and protecting your brand.   There are scores of biases that can interfere with the accurate judgement of people and situations.  Let’s take a look at the more popular ones.

The Halo Effect:

The assumption that someone is competent due to being physically drawn to that person.  It is founded on attractive qualities identified at the first meeting.  Regardless of negative information that is received afterwards, the observer concludes that the individual possesses only good qualities.  So what does this mean to a personal brand developer?  Simplified, it means ‘first impressions are lasting.’  Most friends will tell you that their first impressions of you were different from the truth.  Fortunately, friends will have time to get to know the real you but what about potential clients and employers?  All you have is the first meeting and you must make it count!  Plan your introduction, dress for the occasion, maintain eye contact (every 5 seconds – be careful not to stare), be polished, take an interest in what people have to say and always smile.

Reciprocity Bias:

There is a human tendency to reciprocate actions that have been done to us – ‘return the favour’ so to speak.  In its reverse, if you harm someone the impulse would be to take revenge.  People in a Sales environment use this partiality to their advantage.  If you receive a free sample of a product in a store, you might be inclined to purchase the product regardless of its cost or if the item is even needed.  Similarly, If 2 car salesmen are selling the same type of vehicle, you will feel a sense of obligation to support the salesman who drove the vehicle out to you for a test drive or threw in a freebie with the deal.  Conversely, if the one did not return your call on time, you might support the other as an act of ‘payback’.  Noble deeds in business never go unnoticed.   Selfish deeds never go unnoticed.  People reciprocate behaviour so act wisely to build a likeable brand.

Stereotyping:

The expectation that an individual belonging to a certain group possesses certain characteristics without having any prior knowledge or information about the individual.  Negative stereotyping are derogatory due to discrimination against ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical attributes however positive stereotyping can be just as harmful on your brand.  Imagine someone stereotyping you as a math expert because of your ethnic background.  This irrational expectation will cause you to appear lesser than smart upon meeting while your actual proficiencies are disregarded.   The best way to counteract the effects of stereotyping is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy.  If you let a trivial remark slide, you are unconsciously giving the approval to take it to the next level.  One who engages in stereotyping will always think it is acceptable to joke or talk about a group that is not present.  Given half a chance, you can be assured that this individual is stereotyping you as well.  I say keep your friends close, and bigots closer.  Instead of a hostile response, educate the individual in a non-threatening manner.  Stereotyping is underpinned by ignorance.  Also, do not permit the prejudice of another group in your presence.  Often I come across people defending their own group but not others.  If you make a stand, it should be for all types of stereotyping.  Remember though, every rule has an exception – if a man and a woman are present and the man is requested to carry a heavy box, it is merely an innocent observation that the man is perhaps stronger in this case.  If the requestor consistently undermines women, it denotes stereotyping.

It is not surprising that the companies who have the most valued brands are also the most successful – personal branding is no different.   In career advancement, your brand is the key differentiator between you and a competing candidate who has the same experience and qualifications as you do.

Are the perceptions that others have of you aligned to who you really are?  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com sums it up best:  “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  Short of eavesdropping, you may want to consider actively managing the perceptions others have of you.