Last week at a gathering of CMOs, I had the chance to meet Dorie Clark, an impressive whirlwind of an overachiever. Strategy consultant, author, media consultant, professional speaker, former communications director for a presidential candidate, (Howard Dean, in case you’re wondering), award-winning journalist, director of an environmental documentary film, well, the list goes on. Did I mention she graduated from Smith College at 18 and two years late received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School? Seriously, this woman is all kinds of awesome. Now, she’s focused on her new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.
I have a lot of friends who scoff at the notion of a personal brand and they’re flat out just not paying attention. We all have a personal brand. We’ve all always had a personal brand. It’s your reputation, credibility, experience, capabilities presentation, elevator pitch, story, backstory, what you say, what they say – all that – rolled into one. In today’s fast-moving world, the other thing that your personal brand does is change. Often. This was a great message for a room full of CMOs and I’ll share below Dorie’s thoughts on the personal brand.
What is this Personal Brand Business?
Dorie attributes the personal brand movement to Tom Peters, whose 1997, “The Brand Called You,” got the ball rolling. The basics of your personal brand are pretty simple: your brand is synonymous with your personal reputation. Today, add the power of the Internet and it’s important that when you’re thinking strategically about your brand, there’s an inherent danger if you’re faking it. Dorie advises that a personal brand needs to come from a place of authenticity and not just be you fobbing yourself off, selling yourself as something you think people want.
Why You Need to Focus on Developing a Personal Brand
Information overload plays a big role in the importance of a personal brand. Today we’re all subject to more information, coming at us from more directions, than ever before. That means that people are paying one half a second of attention to you, if that. As a result, it’s incumbent up on us to work to keep people apprised about who we are and what we do. If not, there’s a good chance we’ll miss out on opportunities. If not, they’ll remember what we were doing five years ago, not today. Stop for just a minute and think about that. What were you doing five years ago? Are you still doing the same things today? If not, how is it that you’re communicating those changes and the different capabilities you bring to the table today to the people to whom you’re connected, your clients, or the people you want to hire you?
The Importance of Reinventing Yourself
Dorie gave an example of the importance of personal branding when she spoke of a conversation she had with Steven Rice, an executive at Juniper Networks in Silicon Valley. Rice shared that when he’s interviewing senior level executives, one of the questions he routinely asks is: “How are you reinventing yourself?” He described it as one of his key interview questions. If candidates don’t have a good answer for that, he’s not interested in hiring them. Rice believes the fundamental character trait we need to have today is adaptability and it’s safe to say that Dorie agrees.
That’s one thing that I tell everyone who joins our organization: the one thing I can guarantee you is that the job we’re talking about today is going to change, without question. That excites the heck out of me and is one of the things I love most about what I do. But I know that not all people feel the same way about change, so I make sure to try to weed them out. I don’t hire people I can tell are not adaptable and not excited about regular and constant change. I think it’s fair to say that that’s true of just about any job out there: what you get hired to do isn’t the job you’re doing to be doing two years from now. What do you think? If you agree with that statement, how are you reinventing yourself?
So, it’s probably fair to say that constant change is a given in today’s workplace. And here’s the paradox, and the premise of Dorie’s book — even if you are reinventing yourself, how are people going to know about it? You need to figure out a way to share information about what’s going on with you on a regular basis. Here’s how:
The Principles of Reinventing You
1. Ask for what you want. When it comes to building your personal brand and achieving the kind of career you want, you need to go after what you want. If you sit back and wait for good things to happen to you, that’s not going to happen. No matter how talented you are, that strategy is probably not going to work.
As an example of the kind of chutzpah she’s talking about, Dorie gave the example of Kevin Roose. Today, Kevin is a NY Times best-selling author of Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits. When Kevin was a rising senior at Brown University, he’d already published his first book. How he did that is a pretty amazing story, the shortest version of which is that the summer after his freshman year of college Roose got a job as a waiter in NYC. He quickly realized it wasn’t a great resume-building job and asked himself, “What else can I do while supporting myself as a waiter? “ He knew that AJ Jacobs, a best-selling author, editor at Esquire Magazine and generally an all around big deal was a fellow Brown alum. Roose sent him an email, out of the blue and said “I’m an 18-year-old freshman, living in NYC for the summer. Can I be your unpaid personal assistant?” Jacobs happened to be in the market for a biblical slave that summer (long story, worth the read), and the rest is history. Bottom line: Ask for what you want, even if it means inventing the job for yourself. For Kevin Roose, this was the catalyst that connected him to opportunities that set him on a path for life.
2. What’s your blue bike? Dorie told a story about a job interview that she had where she didn’t have any of the same street cred (or experience) that anyone in the organization with which she was interviewing had. In fact, they were all die-hard cycling enthusiasts and the job was directly tied to cycling. When asked what kind of a bike she had, she didn’t know. So she made up an answer on the fly, “My bike is blue.” As those words spilled out of her mouth, she realized if she was going to salvage the interview, she had to flip it on its head. Everyone might be knowledgeable about bikes, but she knew things they didn’t know, and she had expertise that they needed. So she sold them that – which was her blue bike. Figure our what your blue bike is, and learn how to turn weaknesses into strengths. Learn how to identify opportunities and to articulate what it is that makes you different, and what it is that you bring to the table.
3. Look beyond the obvious. Dorie’s last bit of advice is to look beyond the obvious. Don’t be constrained by what’s on your resume or your LinkedIn profile. If you want to maximize the value you can make in your current position, it’s essential to think about how you can think outside the box. Look at your hidden skills and hidden aptitudes that you might be unaware of and come to an interview or to a business pitch prepared to talk about them. Just because you’ve done one thing, think about what your resources are, what your community looks like, how you can connect that, how you can add value and focus on how you can leverage those untapped resources.
I hear a lot of speakers on a lot of different topics, and I know a lot about personal branding and am a huge advocate of it. Presented by anyone else, this topic might have either put me to sleep or had me zoning out and checking my email. That was impossible with Dorie presenting. She was a terrific speaker, an engaging presence and has written a book that truly is something everyone should read. Whether you are just starting out in your career, mid-career in any profession or further on in your career, a personal brand is an important component of who we are, how we communicate that and how we achieve our goals.
Many thanks to Ben Legg, Anita Newton and the team at AdKnowledge for putting on the CMO Meetup series and bringing senior level executives in the Kansas City together to connect, learn and swap war stories. It’s always a great time. And if you’re not doing that in your city, you should start.
Want to buy Dorie’s book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future – here’s where you can do that. Want to connect with Dorie? You can follow her on Twitter, read her blog or connect with her on LinkedIn. You’ll be glad you did.