Lesley Everett, founder of the Walking Tall Foundation, and an authority on personal branding, on her recent first visit to India for the Sales and Marekting Executives International (SMEI) meet, spoke to Domain-b's Dhruv Tanwar about personal branding, and its significance for corporates and individuals today.
''We already have a personal brand, whether we have consciously developed it or not,'' says Europe's leading authority on personal branding, Lesley Everett. ''Your personal brand is what people say about you, behind your back,'' she explains succinctly.
A personal brand, according to Everett, is a collection of powerful and clear ideas people have about us, when they think of us, though most of the time we're not clear about what people are actually saying about us behind our back.
Often, the creation and management of the personal brand is left to chance, because we as individuals are unaware of what perceptions other people have of us. Personal branding is about taking control of your personal brand, managing those perceptions, in a way that reflects who you are as an authentic person, and making sure people ''get you'' when they mean you, rather than judge you to be someone you are not.
A personal brand evolves over time, with a layer being added by everything you do everyday. Everett says that simple things, like a chat at the coffee machine, the email you sent, the message you left on the voice mail, every meeting and presentation contribute to building your brand. These interactions work as the counterpart of ''brand touchpoints'' for product and corporate brands.
Just as the old maxim ''your reputation precedes you'' goes, your personal brand too travels far and wide, and its reach is almost limitless, says Everett. ''Like ripples, you know they travel outwards, though you don't know how far they will go,'' she explains. This makes it all the more important for you to take proactive control of your personal brand.
Is it all about the image?
''Image is part of the personal brand,'' says Everett, ''but on its own, image can be perceived as being very superficial.'' Personal branding, as taught by Everett and her Walking Tall methodology, starts developing the personal brand from inside out.
Motivators, drivers, beliefs, values, standards, and strengths are those parts of the personal brand that are not visually apparent to people. What people do see, is the stuff that is ''the tip of the iceberg'' as Everett chooses to call it – the myths that they judge you on – which comprise voice, body language, dress and appearance, attitude and behaviour.
Personal branding is about creating a congruence between the apparent, and the inside. ''The starting point,'' according to Everett, ''is to think about what you really stand for, and then think about how you are going to package yourself and how you are going to project yourself so that people judge you in the way that you want to be judged.''
The personal brand and corporate brand
''People are becoming the strongest element of the corporate brand,'' explains Everett, irrespective of the fact whether you are an entrepreneur, or whether you work for a large, global organisation. So, how do you personify the brand attributes of the corporate brand? In situations where you fail to deliver more than once, people tend to see you and inefficient and unreliable, which if different to how you see yourself at that point of time, as you may not have been able to get that report delivered, or do that promised call back on account of other interruptions that life threw in your path. Everett shares the example of working with a company that had responsiveness as one of their values, but each time she telephoned them, their voice mail would kick in, and it would take three days or more for the call to be returned. This made an absolute mockery of their brand value of responsiveness, says Everett.
The 7 big strides of 'walking tall'
The first big stride is thinking about who you really are, what is your true authentic self, says Everett, as strong personal brands are build from inside out. The image needs to reflect who you really are, so as not to be superficial. This includes thinking about your natural style of doing things, and how you see your self.
The second stride is abut the first seven seconds, that makes the first impression. ''It has been said that it can take 20 further experiences with somebody to change a first impression,'' she says, but when you think of it, even thereafter that first impression still holds some sway. This first impression comes from non-verbal cues, the dress and appearance, and body gestures. Thereafter, we take in not what they say, but how they say it. As human beings, once we've decided that we like what we see so far, we would then hook in to the content more quickly.
First impressions are created by how you look, how you sound, and what you say. Everett says, ''I don't believe that image is everything, or that it is more important than content, but what I do believe, is that in business, we place an awful lot of emphasis on content, about meetings, about presentations, and the tasks we're involved in. We don't pay anywhere near enough attention to the way that we package ourselves, and the way that we get our messages across.''
Dressing like you mean it is the third big stride. This is the packaging of the brand, and this should be an extension of your personality. This says something to people about our standards, values, and the way you think. And this is also the ideal way to reflect your individuality though your personal brand. However, there are some things that need to be considered to avoid the image associated with the way we dress, to get in the way of who we really are.
So, how do you know that you are dressed appropriately? Everett says there are four areas that need to be considered to figure out whether you are dressed appropriately for a particular situation. First up, you need to think about the client, and what their expectation are, or who your audience is. Then comes the situation, or the environment that you're in. Thirdly, you need to keep in mind your industry, and what is considered appropriate. Lastly, you need to understand what are you objectives, for that particular situation.
Silent indicators are the fourth big stride to personal branding. This is going beyond the much discussed topic of body language, and the biggest thing to be wary of is not to translate a gesture or non verbal cue at a time, or translate words for the sentence. Posture, smiling, eye contact, and the handshake, form part of these indicators, with smiling being a very important business tool, the importance of which cannot be understated. A good firm handshake is important as well.
The fifth big stride, is called speak easy – or how the voice impacts the personal brand. Not just the content, but the tone of voice also communicates a lot, says Everett, and is what communicates your personal brand on the telephone, or the voice mail.
Social skills is the sixth big stride in Everett's personal branding programme. This she calls, ''the interested and the visible''. She says that when you're interested in other people, you come across as a more interesting person, which is when you come off having more impact, and making you more memorable. ''Visibility is absolutely key,'' she says, because you can't have a strong personal brand if people don't know who you are. She says that it is a good thing to make a list of the top 50 people in your ''target market'' who need to know who you are and what you do. Thereafter, a ''visibility plan'' can help you get to these people, so that they know who you are.
The seventh big stride, is consistency, which Everett calls, ''each time, all the time''. ''Its no good thinking about your brand one day, and then being inconsistent with it the next,'' she says. That creates confusing messages. Celebrity brands are a good example of this phenomenon. Madonna gives us a picture of reinvention, since each time she creates a new album, its different from the last one. Richard Branson is another example that she talks about – specially when it comes to image.
Talking about her Indian experience, Everett is very impressed with Dr Vijay Mallya and the Kingfisher Brand – which she says is a wonderful example of personal branding, and how he has come to create the Kingfisher Brand, but choosing to staff the airline with people who have a strong personal brand, and yet, allowing them to do it in their own individual ways.
Will Walking Tall come to India?
''Absolutely,'' says Everett, though she is still working on the details of that plan. The need for personal branding is clear, and with the success of Mallya's Kingfisher as testament, you can hope to see more success stories on personal branding.