How to Brand Yourself

Course: The Art of Personal Branding

Institution: offices of Goldman Sachs

Instructor: Ellen Looyen

Location: San Francisco

And I don't mean with a branding iron! I was fortunate to be invited by my friend and AM.com fan, Beth, to a one hour talk on how to create your personal brand. The class was taught by Ellen Looyen, a six foot woman (literally) who looks much younger than her almost 60 years (she turns 60 in August - interesting that I remember this from her talk). She is a former New Yorker who is energetic, informal and like you might expect from a branding expert, slips in promotional tidbits about her clients or website every few sentences.

Ms. Looyen started her talk by asking the room if anyone had a personal brand, and being the eager student, I raised my hand. I was the only one. Which was exactly Ms. Looyen's point. All the hands in the room should have shot up, because everyone has a brand, whether they know it or not. She set the context with this statement, "in business and in life there is no such thing as objective reality; all that exists is perception." Which is to say, how you are perceived or how people experience you and how people experience themselves in relation to you is your brand.

The good news is that perceptions and therefore your brand can be managed. The first step is to understand what are the attributes for which you want to be known. To get us going she had the room, mainly full of high performing finance women, turn to a neighbor and tell each other three things that are unique and valuable about ourselves.

The assignment gave me pause. As a twin, I sometimes struggle with the notion that I'm unique at all, but admittedly I so want to be! Still, I understood the benefit of the exercise. Like knowing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your value and point of differentiation helps you to clear away the clutter of "shoulds" and "coulds" and focuses you on exactly where you fit. It makes your path clearer.

Next Ms. Looyen turned to charisma - in her words, the "secret sauce" of branding. She asked the room to name charismatic women leaders. Silence. While it was a fairly reticent group overall, it was interesting to note how difficult it was to think of names. Why is that? We pondered it a bit, but spent more time on what characteristics make up charisma. We came up with sense of humor, confidence, compassion, empathy, connection, and authenticity, to name a few.

Charisma and the characteristics that comprise it all work to create a mood, environment or attitude of doing business with you. And I thought this was one of the most important points of her talk. Most of your personal branding is done without words, as 80% of the impression we leave on others is non-verbal. To wit, you broadcast how you are feeling when you talk with people. So most of the personal branding work has to be done by...drum roll please...looking within - getting to know yourself.

There was, of course, more packed into her talk. In fact, I believe she could have benefited from focusing her talk more. Still, I enjoyed the opportunity to take time out and reflect on the concept of branding. Marketing-speak aside, it's important to understand how you are perceived, figure out how you want to be perceived, and manage any disconnects. At the end of the day, though, successfully branding yourself comes down to just being yourself.