Just as in product marketing, flashy language can’t sell an incomplete package. Make sure your brand includes competencies and character.
There’s a popular personal branding paradigm that suggests a strong brand has three characteristics: clarity, consistency and constancy. While this model is a helpful reminder, mainly of how brands must present themselves, communication represents a third or less of what really comprises a successful brand.
Brand communication is important, and it sometimes offers its own value, such as, helping people feel informed and connected. Ultimately, though, that communication is just talk, unless it’s based on brand attributes that actually exist and matter to consumers. Like icing, brand communication is most satisfying when spread atop two layers of “cake”—two other C’s that are vital for any leader and that form the critical foundation of a brand: competencies and character.
“What can you do well?” That question is at the heart of every job interview, which reflects the fact that organizations want employees/personal brands who can do something of value for them. Individuals offer value through the unique abilities they’ve developed from experience, study, training, etc. As evidence, we often identify others by describing the things at which they excel, e.g., she’s a great accountant, or he’s an outstanding artist. Like a company’s competitive advantage, what we do well acts as a cornerstone of our personal brand.
Most of us can think of times we’ve declined to work with someone not because they were unqualified, but because they possessed some undesirable qualities. That’s why competencies alone don’t make for a strong personal brand. We also want people, including our leaders, to be trustworthy. Individuals inspire such confidence by exhibiting qualities like honesty, fairness, decency, humility and empathy. Ethical lapses, such as those of employees at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo, remind us how important it is to partner with others who don’t just do well, but also do good.
Yes, brands need to communicate, but for that communication to be meaningful, there first must be a real and compelling story to tell. For a personal brand, that story stems from what an individual does well and the core qualities he/she possesses.
In short, competencies, character and communication comprise the three critical C’s of personal branding.