Jay Denhart-Lillard
Jay Denhart-Lillard 22 February 2016

How I Learned That Personal Branding Is NOT Narcissism

When you see the iconic Apple trademark, why do you suddenly think about design? When you see a flowing script that says Coca-Cola, why do you immediately become a little thirsty? Why does your inner athlete stretch its muscles when you hear the words “Just Do It?” These popular brands only need to display their logo or taglines and you respond immediately. You already know what they do and what they stand for. Their branding can pull all the right benefits, feelings, and connotations from inside of you.

In today’s hyper-competitive world, it’s said that you have a choice to make – you can differentiate or you can die. So when people think of your name, what is the first connotation that they have? Are you the best team player ever? Are you chief innovator and challenger of all that is traditional? Are you a hyper-intelligent analyst? A lead guitarist? Champion saleswoman? The leading iOS evangelist?

What picture forms in the mind of your colleagues when they hear or see your name?

If you want to figure it out, then start by examining how you appear to others. And after figuring out what you want to project, you will need to build up your ‘magnetic field’ – the various ways that you will begin to attract others. In case you’re nervous that you don’t have anything unique or special about yourself to merit this attraction, all I can say is — don’t worry about it! You can always brand yourself like a celebrity, because the fact remains that there is only one of you, no one else can be better at being you than you, and creating memorability around your business qualifications, strengths and personality traits is not rocket science. And it’s not narcissism either.

Like most people, I had often felt that I had something special to offer. But to be perfectly honest, I also had no earthly idea what it truly was, or how I could discover it and bring it to the world. In the long, slow process of building my career, however, I kept running into the same situations at work, and I kept hearing the same tropes repeated back to me over and over:

Jay, you’ve got a real creative way of looking at situations, especially in terms of strategy and technology! We can use that in trying to find a new solution to this problem.

"Jay’s handling of that conflict really showed creativity and strategic thought!Jay, can we get your thinking on this innovation idea? We have some questions about the strategy and technology we’re considering here.” *

Over time, I got to know myself a little bit better each time – who I was, what I did well, and eventually what I really wanted to work on. I realized that the things I uniquely offer are the ones that help me reach my goals and create a strong offering to the world. And they weren’t things that I had to force on people – or brag about – or lie about. They were just core to how I got things done. And powerful product brands work in much the same way. The unique selling proposition of the brand can’t be something that isn’t true, or is just asserted, but it has to be core to the product and the experience that is given to the consumer. Strong brands have a clear vision of what they are, what they want to be, and where they are going. (And not to put too fine a point on it, but they know that to stay relevant in the market they will have to invest in themselves, too, but more on that later.)

So you need to understand your brand’s offering and utilize your strengths to network and promote your unique positioning and experience that you give to others. It’s not about your resume and achievements, but who you are, what is your passion, and how you can help others. That way you can’t come off like a snob trying to sell yourself and push yourself on others. Try these tips to promote your brand without coming off like a narcissist:

  • Stop blabbering and just talk about yourself: The 80/20 rule always works – so talk less, be focused, and listen more than you speak. If anyone speaks about themselves for too long, people lose interest. So make sure you can keep your description of yourself and your work concise and compact when you’re networking. Stay relaxed about it and those weird feelings about talking about yourself will go away naturally!
  • Share updates that are helpful to others: Nobody is interested in the number of journals you published or the patent you made last month. What people are interested in is the information that is helpful to them. So be ready to share your thoughts, opinions and concerns on the topics of the day, and use questions to draw attention from those you interact with. Instead of saying” Nice post! I wrote about something similar recently – here’s a link!” on someone’s LinkedIn article, try to ask a probing question or get something important clarified by the author. By entering into a conversation with an influencer, you establish yourself as a peer by your behavior, rather than empty claims that sound inauthentic. It’s often said that the currency of social media is what you are sharing, so be sure that if you decide to share content, it is- 1) interesting, 2) useful, and 3) unique enough to merit attention.
  • Keep it real: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to tell people what they want to hear. Maybe your job description is “I optimize the customer experience”, but if you can be clearer, and speak like a real person, then ditch the corporate-talk and say what you really want to do. Like “I catch errors in how we talk to our customers to try to make them happier and more loyal!”
  • Acknowledge other people: You’re not in this along, and no man is an island. So give credit to the people who create content you read or share. Thank them for their help, telling them how they help you reach your goals. Giving out a thank you or a like or a share of good information posted by others ultimately alerts your network that you are participating in a community, not just hibernating or stuck on your yourself.

So before you launch into promoting your brand, ask yourself about what are your strengths, what are you passionate about and how can you use your creativity to tell a story that reaches the right audience. Maybe like me, you’ve been slowly developing your offering over time and you just need to spend the time to uncover it and then find a way to make it stand out.

As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” so if you want to create an impact in the social media space and make your presence felt, you’ve got to show up and promote yourself.

Because it’s not narcissism. It’s making sure that what people say about you when you’re not in the room will reflect the real you.

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