By definition, brand strategy is a long-term plan for the development of a successful brand to achieve specific goals. In corporate terms, a well-defined and executed brand strategy affects all aspects of a business and is directly connected to consumer needs and emotions, and competitive environments. You build a personal brand similarly; replace all aspects of a business with aspects of your life, employer needs replaces consumer needs and emotions, and competitive environment with similarly qualified applicants.
The development of a graduates’ personal brand, or career capital, began many years prior to graduation and continues after graduation. The reality is that whether conscientiously or otherwise, your parents or guardians were the architects of your personal brand strategy. As you mature you eventually become entirely responsible for developing your personal brand.
Your personal brand is comprised of elements such as where and what you studied, the sports you have played and at what level, the clubs and organisations you have joined, etc. Each element also has its’ own brand that, by association, contributes to yours. At its’ core, your personal brand is a promise of what employers will get when they employ you. Typically, is it reasonable to expect that a graduate from a top 10 UK University who has studied English will have above average written communication skills?
It is the way others perceive your personal brand that defines it. Accepting that City University London and Aston University are regarded as the best institutes for studying Optometry, you as an Optometry graduate from these universities will also be perceived as amongst the best. Similarly, internships at highly sought after employers such as BP or Citi Bank would add more to your personal brand than working at your local corner shop. You can clearly influence this perception factor of your personal brand.
Based on your brand promise and perception, employers will develop expectations about you and so expect you to deliver accordingly. If you fail to meet expectations they will search for a brand that does meet their corporate needs. Hence it is common practice for new employees to have an initial three month probation period.
Think of your brand as a person and, therefore, it has a persona. What are your brand’s characteristics? From appearance to personality, what can you expect when you interact with that brand? Remember that potential employers evaluate and judge your brand’s persona.
All these elements must work together to communicate consistently your brand promise, reinforce brand perceptions, meet brand expectations, and define your brand persona. If one element is awry your entire personal brand can be damaged. Typically, having five internships with five different but significant employers is impressive. However, if none eventually offer you a job when you graduate the obvious question is, why not?
Defining a goal is the fundamental starting point for any strategy, and a personal brand strategy is no different. In tennis, the strategic goal for the Williams sisters was set by their parents when they were both young. Similarly, the stage was set for Liza Minnelli, daughter of superstar Judy Garland and Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli. Whatever the goal, timing and how you spend your days to achieve your set goals is what it is all about.
However, while it is easy to get caught up in short-term, day-to-day tactical activities, your personal brand strategy should be focused on long-term goals and sustainable growth. Being rejected from LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) the first time of applying does not mean that a goal of becoming a chief economic adviser for Morgan Stanley is suddenly out of reach. A recent example is of a client who wanted to shift his studies from engineering to business and finance after receiving an Oxbridge rejection. Remaining focussed on the engineering goal, he later won a one-year internship with Rolls Royce before being accepted into Oxbridge to study engineering. Brands are not built overnight and so being short-sighted is a brand killer.
As a recent graduate, or a professional, you should understand the value of, and actively grow your career capital. This can be done by developing and implementing a personal brand strategy. First establish a sense of what you want, being realistic about your abilities, strengths and motivations. Second, outline the necessary strategic steps needed to achieve your goals. Finally, routinely review and adjust your plan to take advantage of new opportunities
The bottom-line is that your personal brand should be designed to allow you to reach your goals, it should be clear, reliable, and believable to both yourself and your potential employer. You must understand your competitors and audience so you can develop a brand that promises the right things to the right people. And finally, a strong personal brand needs to be continuously fed, it takes a long time to build but very little time to tarnish.