Personal branding: 5 ways to build your career with lessons from big brands

With all the noise, it can be tough to set yourself apart. Whether you’re looking for a job, growing your network or building your career, you want to be memorable and create meaningful connections. Big brands have figured out how to gain attention and make themselves stand out—and we can learn something from their marketing hype that is relevant to our own success.

Attention is one of the most scarce resources today. So how do you gain it through the cacophony and noise? Interesting new research by Duke University found big brands are so powerful at compelling commitment, they can influence happiness in marriage and partnerships (when you have to live with your partner’s brand choices, it can reduce happiness in the marriage). We can learn from the way brands create such a significant emotional connection.

Your credibility is also critical. A study about the perceptions of value is intriguing: Research at the University of Bonn discovered when people thought wine was expensive, they rated it significantly better than when they thought the price was lower. We can learn from this too. When people perceive your value, they will be more likely to remember you and select you for all kinds of opportunities.

So how might consumer branding and perceptions of value influence how you develop your personal brand and build your career? Here are 5 ways to take action that matters:

Be Gravitational

First, create emotional connections and rapport. One of the key skills for the future of work will be the ability to build relationships more deeply and quickly, often through virtual means. Be someone others want to be around by being optimistic and energetic. Positivity is magnetic and we want to be around others who create a positive vibe.

Listen to others, tune in and invest in learning about them. Building your brand is ironically less about you and more about others. Demonstrate humility and avoid arrogance. Be gravitational and draw people to you by genuinely supporting others. Research finds people select companies and brands based on how much they contribute to communities and demonstrate social conscience. Personal branding is like this too. It’s not all about you, it’s all about how you enter into relationships with others and care for and about them. 

Be Brave

Sometimes it can be hard to put yourself out there, but effectiveness in personal branding requires you to speak up, take a stand and move forward with confidence. The most successful brands are visible and memorable because they put the brand forward with gusto. For people, the phrase “fake it until you make it” is apt here. You may not have things all figured out and you may not always feel self-assured, but you can keep momentum and learn as you go. Worry less about perfection and focus on making progress.

The best opportunities come by taking steps into areas you don’t already know—and staying open to possibilities and new learning. Take the new job before you’re sure you’re ready. Jump into the project for which you’re mostly—but not fully—prepared and know you can develop your skills as you go. Consider the saying, “You playing small doesn’t serve the world.” Step up, step out and step forward.

Be Authentic

On a recent panel of powerful, successful women, each of the four was asked to give career advice. Each of them recommended that to advance your career and your personal brand, you should be yourself. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” There is a balance, of course. Learn from others and seek to emulate what you admire about those around you. But also ensure you’re authentically you. People will recognize a fraud. Some brands may be successful as knockoffs, but in general, people want the real thing. In our relationships, we are most drawn to those who are fully (and unapologetically) themselves.

In addition, when brands are most successful, they differentiate themselves from others in the field. You buy a luxury car primarily for the high-end experience it offers even though it may also be a great ride. A detergent distinguishes itself for its smell even though it will also clean your clothes effectively. Reflect on what you do well and consider how you bring unique value. Perhaps you have a distinct ability to organize projects or a special talent to make others on the team feel comfortable and have a positive experience. Embrace what makes you special and distinguishes you from the crowd. Then, build on those talents.

Be Substantive

Building your personal brand must always include substance and reliability. Be sure you have something to offer in terms of skills and talents. Seek to learn and develop constantly. Your best personal brand will be built based on the value you add to others—how you bring your best to a team and put effort into the projects you’re assigned. We’ve all worked with the people who may talk a good game, but then don’t deliver. These tend to be the people who float from job-to-job or company-to-company since they have to move on as soon as those around them figure out they are all style and no substance.

Successful brands deliver value time-after-time and your personal brand is like this too. Be the person who rolls up sleeves and follows through, who others can always count on to deliver quality work and who maintains relationships over time. When you are, you’ll benefit from a strong network and solid and lasting connections. You’ll be able to count on your network connections because they know they can count on you.

Be Predictable

As humans, we crave clarity and tend to avoid ambiguity. We want this in our relationships too. We tend to have greater trust and rapport with people we “get.” In general, people don’t trust what they don’t understand, and consistency is key to great relationships. Be someone others can count on and be consistent in how you interact, relate and come across. Interesting research on leaders found people preferred a leader who was consistently mediocre to an unpredictable one. Most relationships are like this. We want to interact with people we can count on and who won’t demonstrate wild shifts in how they interact. Brands understand this. You go to the restaurant that delivers great food every single time. You choose the product whose quality is always good. You go to the hairdresser who never gives you a bad cut. To build your brand, be consistent.

In Sum

Your success will be based on authentic relationships and meaningful interactions. Being yourself, bringing real value and being someone others want to be around are all part of the magic. There’s no formula for personal branding, but rather it’s a mindset to appreciate others, invest in relationships and be your personal best. This is the approach that will ultimately set you apart and capture positive attention.

Originally published on
By Tracy Brower, Ph.D

I am a Ph.D. sociologist and the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work exploring happiness, fulfillment and work-life. I am also the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations. I am a principal with Steelcase’s Applied Research + Consulting group. In addition to speaking and writing about the changing nature of work, workers and workplace, I also devote time as an executive advisor to the MSU Master of Industrial Mathematics Program and Coda Societies. In addition to my Ph.D. and MM, I hold a Master of Corporate Real Estate with a specialization in workplace. I have been honored to receive the Luminary Award twice, the Stanford Alexander Center for Excellence in Real Estate Award and the Constellation Award for global executives achieving business results. You can find my work in TEDx, Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail (Canada), InsideHR (Australia), Training Magazine, The CoreNet Leader, Facility Executive, Work Design Magazine, Real Estate Review Journal,, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, and more. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to connect!

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