What’s Your Brand? 8 Questions with Personal Branding Expert Dorie Clark

Call it whatever you’d like: reputation, image, or personal brand. They all mean the same thing—they describe what you bring to the table professionally. Without that personal branding, you risk being just another face in the crowd, which is not a good position for anyone seeking advancement. Of course, there’s a fine line between polishing your image and shameless self-promotion.

Dorie Clark is an author, professor and personal branding expert. During a recent visit to Kansas City for the third installment of the CMO Meetup, which Adknowledge co-sponsors, Clark offered insight into why it’s important to have a personal brand—and the best ways to manage it.

Why is personal branding more important today than it was even five years ago?

In order to be tapped for the right opportunities — promotions, job offers, and the chance to take part in key initiatives — you have to be top of mind, and that’s getting harder and harder. The competition for attention is much more strenuous than it was five years ago. We’re not just going up against a global talent pool; we’re also competing to be noticed amidst a cacophony of Facebook streams, Vine videos, and Pinterest boards. So how can you set yourself apart and make sure others understand who you are and what you can contribute? That’s where having a strong personal brand comes in, because your brand is a form of career insurance — it shows the world what you’re truly capable of.

What’s the best way to manage our online reputation?

As we all know, nothing ever really “goes away” online — there are always residual traces. So as I describe in my book Reinventing You, the best way to proactively manage your reputation, and to protect yourself in case something negative arises about you online, is to start creating content now. If you’re blogging about your field of interest, or curating interesting tweets, or regularly update your LinkedIn profile and share high-quality articles you’ve read, that will rank highly in search results and present a strong professional image to the world. The goal is to ensure that the right kind of “on message” content rises to the top, and irrelevant or negative things drop in search results.

What’s your advice for those who think a LinkedIn profile is sufficient online management?

Having a LinkedIn profile is certainly necessary in today’s professional world — but it’s not sufficient. Your online reputation is as important as your offline reputation in many ways. After all, the moment someone meets you and starts to contemplate doing business with you, Google is the first place they’ll turn. LinkedIn ensures you’re “findable” — people can see who you are and get a sense of your professional accomplishments and background. If you’re using the platform well, they may even get a sense of your expertise (you might be blogging on LinkedIn or sharing articles or contributing to LinkedIn group discussions). But LinkedIn isn’t the only game in town. Ideally, you want to find multiple ways to share your expertise and demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about — contributing articles to industry journals, being active on other social platforms like Twitter or Quora, etc. — because the more credible sources they can find about you, the more they’ll trust you and your expertise from the outset.

Why are most people such bashful self-marketers?

Culturally, we’re often taught that humility is a virtue. For some Americans (and for many professionals from other countries), personal branding can feel strange or unnatural — like it violates that precept. The truth is, personal branding will always feel bad if we frame it to ourselves as a sleazy exercise in bragging. It’s important to understand that, when done right, personal branding isn’t about selling yourself aggressively; rather, it’s about understanding and identifying your core strengths, and then helping others understand them, as well. That’s a win-win.

Why does the phrase “personal brand” make so many people bristle?

Many people viscerally reject the idea that they — as a unique individual — have anything in common with a corporate brand like Coca-Cola. Why should I have to sell myself? But that’s missing the point. Sure, big brands pay a lot of money to advertise. But what makes them powerful as brands is the fact that they stand for certain principles — they have values and attributes that we all recognize. If you can get clear on who you are and what you stand for, you can add a lot more value to your job and your profession, and your reputation begins to precede you.

Professional contacts don’t follow our every move. Is that a revelation to many?

When we consciously think about it, we’re not surprised that others aren’t following our career moves very closely — we know they’re busy and have plenty of other things to do. But we don’t think about it very often, so it can seem jarring when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while, and they ask you about what you were doing two jobs ago. It’s an important reminder that it’s our responsibility to ensure that others are kept updated on what we’re doing, whether through periodic “check-in” emails, or networking lunches, etc. — because if they don’t know what you’re doing, they can’t connect you with the kind of opportunities you’re most seeking.

You sometimes talk about “moving where the wave is going.” What do you mean by that?

One of the best career moves you can make is to establish yourself as an expert in your field. But, of course, the competition is fierce. Plenty of people write and speak about news, or sports, or business. One technique to gain momentum for your ideas is to find an underreported, emerging niche and specialize in that. When I interviewed technology thought leader Robert Scoble, he cited wearable technology as an example. It’s hard for an upstart to become “the tech expert” because there’s far too much for one person to cover. But if you become recognized in a certain narrow sector, eventually you’ll be called upon to share your thoughts on broader issues, as well.

What happens to those who don’t consistently reinvent themselves?

The job you were hired for is probably going to change drastically in five years — maybe even two. If you want to keep pace, and perhaps even excel and show your real value, you’ll need to adapt. Reinventing yourself isn’t just a one-time phenomenon; it should become a habit and a mentality. We need to reinvent ourselves constantly, so we can offer new solutions and take on new challenges. That’s how we make ourselves indispensable.

About the Author

Paul Herdtner

Paul Herdtner is the corporate communications manager at Adknowledge. He has spent most of his life as a storyteller, first as a journalist working at television stations across the country and now in the business world. Paul is based at the Kansas City headquarters.

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