How to hone your personal brand


Do your colleagues, clients and the outside world see you how they ought to? Stay one step ahead of the curve by ensuring your personal brand reflects your positive attributes, not your negatives ones, say experts

Tucked into a corner of the London Transport Museum a 90-year-old full-length mirror catches the attention of curious visitors with a top-to-toe inscription: ‘Drivers watch your personal appearance. Cap brushed. Badge clean. Face shaved. Coat brushed and buttons clean. Boots Clean.’

In today’s world where bus drivers wear polo shirts, captains of industry turn up jacket-less for TV appearances – and tech entrepreneurs proudly hop off a skateboard wearing scuffed Converse trainers, a clean button is more likely to refer to an IT recommendation than a grooming essential. The old adage of dressing for success may still ring true but, the City aside, not every executive feels the need to fit into a sharp, tailored, uniformed look.

Many business leaders have begun to wake up to the idea that defining their personal brand is more than what you wear. It’s what you say, what you do, how you are perceived and ultimately what you reflect back.

Chris Baréz-Brown, founder of leadership training company Upping Your Elvis, believes it’s imperative for every business leader to have a personal brand – because inevitably they do.

“To understand your brand is to understand what makes you unique, special and what makes you stand out,” he says. “We’re like a box of soap powder on a supermarket shelf. If people come to us and we resonate as a brand, we attract their energy. The more we can attract an unfair amount of energy and resonate your brand, the more chance we’ve got to win.”

Regardless of the size of their business or sector they’re in, Baréz-Brown says too many executives fall into the trap of asking themselves the wrong question.

“A lot of people think, ‘I’ve got to do my brand, I’ve got to work out who I am. Who do I want to be?’ That is pointless. What you’ve got to do is ask, ‘Who am I and which bits of my brand do I want to accentuate?'” Then use all that energy to achieve success.”

It’s not enough just to have a brand, says Baréz-Brown. You need to be attuned to that brand for it to achieve maximum impact.

“Tap into your emotions to discover what you truly value and believe in. Over the years in your career what are the things that made you feel fantastic? What are the things that made you feel as if you were wasting your time and you were completely stuck? Look at those and see what sort of values, beliefs and needs that you have that really resonate. They either give you lots of energy or don’t. They will be a core part of your brand – the building blocks for who you are,” he says.

Some businesses leaders may find his next tip – gaining feedback – a little harder to swallow but Baréz-Brown assesses that the people we work with get to see us in all sorts of situations. “They can give us really good feedback on what it is that makes us unique, what it is that creates more energy in the way we do things and what it is about us that has a little more specialness.

“By gaining that feedback every single day you have a much greater chance to resonate the things that you think are going to have more impact and downplay the things that you don’t want to resonate so much,” says Baréz-Brown.

But, in reality, can business leaders’ egos withstand asking for a score sheet? “The best people I know who understand their personal brand demand feedback from every big interaction,” he says.

“Every time they run a meeting they will stop at the end and say, ‘Tell me what I did fantastically and tell me what I can do even better. Give me the data, give me your interpretation of it and tell me how you felt because of what I did.’ They build that over time and they start to see some very resonant themes. Then those become the foundations for what you want to show to the world.”

Personal audit

In his book Making Your Marque: 100 tips to build your personal brand and succeed in business, James Espey says everything is a brand – from people to countries. Enduring brands will grow steadily but are constantly refreshed.

“You may think you are a successful and wonderful person but the truth is your reputation is what people say about you when you leave the room,” says Espey, a stalwart of the liquor industry who was responsible for the launch of Malibu, The Classic Malts, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Chivas Regal 18, among others.

He warns against taking your brand for granted, recommending instead to keep networking and building up a list of positive contacts who could be useful as customers in the future. “It’s easy to sit at home if you don’t feel like going out, but I always find when I make an effort, I make one or two useful contacts and meet interesting people.”

Humility is key. Espey, holder of an OBE for services to the whisky industry, points out that leaders who climb the corporate ladder are likely to be rewarded with stays in top-class hotels and other perks that come with success.

“Every now and again it’s probably a good idea to look in the mirror and decide who you really are.” He suggests holding
a personal audit every five years. “The higher you climb the lonelier it will get. You have all the material benefits of success, but will you maintain the values you started out with and treat everyone with respect?”

Taking stock

Early in his book, Espey discusses the need for good personal style and the idea of treating people properly. “I am always appalled when I see arrogant, rude behaviour from senior executives, who treat their underlings as commodities rather than valuable assets.

Companies and brands are built on reputation, which can be damaged very easily by such behaviour,” he says. Espey recommends listening to others.

“Take stock of yourself from time to time and listen very carefully to the constructive comments – and possible criticisms – that you will only ever receive from close family and true friends. If you adopt this maxim, not only will you have a more gratifying business life, but when you eventually retire, the transition will be painless and enjoyable.”

Personal coach Martin Newman, founder of the Newman Partnership, says leaders need to be authentic. “Greek philosophers said ‘people’s greatest asset is their ignorance’… Being able to ask the basic questions and feeling fine about it.”

He says business and political leaders often ask him how they can project more confidence to an audience. His answer
is to show confidence in others; the underlying theme of respect recurs.

“Give respect and you’ll get respect back. Rather than holding the mirror up to yourself all the time think about the other people and put into them what you want to have fed back to you,” he says. Newman cites Lord [Sebastian] Coe, who he worked with on the London 2012 Olympic Games bid, as an example of a leader who creates an atmosphere in which anyone who meets him, however briefly, feels respected and valued.

“It’s impossible for anybody to meet him to emerge not feeling like ‘I can do anything’. If you are an achiever the greatest gift you can give to somebody is a sense of their own potential.”

And by hanging a mirror in the mess rooms, perhaps that was the aim of the directors running London’s buses in the 1920s after all.

Brand aid

Need extra help honing your personal brand? We asked IoD Fellow Derek Wilson, president of Andros UK – the company behind Bonne Maman – to review James Espey’s Making Your Marque: 100 tips to build your personal brand and succeed in business. Here are his thoughts…

Whatever stage your career is at – you may be looking for a job, a business novice, an entrepreneur, a newly qualified MBA, a responsible manager or a chief executive – Making Your Marque is a must-read to get ahead and prosper.

Espey’s highly entertaining book is written in a pithy, witty style, harnessing decades of a long and dynamic career in the liquor industry. Espey has refined his wisdom into 100 bite-size gems of advice. At the heart is the central importance of creating and building ‘Brand You’ – making your marque in order to prosper in business and to build successful, trustworthy teams.

Once you start, the book is a page-turner as each chapter leads you thirstily on to read the next. Chapters include things like: ‘Friends in the office – true or false?’ ‘How long should you stay?’; ‘Punctuality – not just a virtue but a necessity’; ‘Admitting you are wrong’; ‘The consumer does not have a financial year’; and ‘Getting fired is not always bad’.

Much common sense prevails, along with guidelines and thought-provoking issues – while it concludes with a great list of quotations to enhance any speech or presentation. I came out the other end
a wiser person with a touch more humility, and changed attitudes and behaviours. And so will you.

Making Your Marque: 100 tips to build your personal brand and succeed in business by James Espey is published by Whitefox

About author

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett is an associate editor who writes about entrepreneurs, SMEs, FTSE 100 corporations, technology, manufacturing, media and sustainability.

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