How to build your personal brand

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? If you don’t know, it could hinder your career opportunities. Whether we like it or not, each of us has a personal brand. The question is: is your brand what you want it to be?

Here’s an interview I did with Mitch Joel, who speaks frequently on this topic. Mitch and I know each other because we run in the same geeky circles. :) I listen regularly to his podcast, Six Pixels of Separation (will launch iTunes). And he knows me because I’m a frequent commenter to another podcast called For Immediate Release. Here’s more about Mitch and be sure to check out his blog:

Marketing Magazine dubbed him, “Canada’s Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and in 2006 he was named one of the most influential authorities on Blog Marketing in the world. Mitch Joel is President of Twist Image – an award-winning Digital Marketing agency based in Montreal, Quebec. Joel speaks frequently to diverse groups like The Power Within and Canadian Marketing Association, and has shared the stage with former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, Anthony Robbins and Dr. Phil. Joel is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for national media outlets. He is presently writing his first book, Six Pixels of Separation – How Marketing Connects in a World Where We’re All Connected.

One of the topics you speak about frequently is the idea of personal branding. What is a personal brand and what can it do for you?

There are two ways that I like to explain it… And I do so by using what others have said. Chris Anderson, who is the Editor of Wired magazine and the author of The Long Tail, recently said that “your brand isn’t what you say it is… It’s what Google says it is.” The other quote is from Jeff Bezos (the founder of He says, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” I know they’re talking here about brands in general, but this applies to personal brands as well. The idea of personal branding is simply the experience people have and their cumulative perception of you. It’s really everything that makes you “you” and how that’s communicated and connected to the people you touch in your day-to-day life.

Can you give us some examples of people whom you think have developed compelling and effective personal brands?

The easy ones are the celebrities and politicians of the world. People like Oprah, Bono, Bill Clinton, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ali, etc… But those don’t really excite me because they can be somewhat aspirational. I don’t think the average person can deconstruct a “star’s” personal brand and make it work for them… It seems unattainable.

That being said, there are tons of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to build their personal brand. Look at George Masters. He produced and published his own iPod mini ad a few years back and got tons of publicity. He’s since gone on to quit his former job and now works in motion graphics - what was once a passion, became his profession. He understood the power of understanding your personal brand, how it connects to individuals and how to make it connect to many people. Just look around your work or within your community, you’ll be able to identify compelling and effective personal brands at every turn.

How can one get started in building a personal brand?

You need to embrace the fact that you can’t “get started” - it’s too late. I tell people the toothpaste is out of the tube. You personal brand “is.” The reality, for most, is that they’ve spent no time understanding it or developing it. If you’re not working on your personal brand, everyone else has already built it for you. So let’s all agree that now you need to further develop your personal brand to make it as effective as possible for yourself. Three simple things you can do is:

1. Define your values, goals and beliefs.
Don’t be fake - be who you are. Define that and see if you’re “connected” to others who are like-minded or congruous to what you stand for.

2. Connect to others.
You don’t have to go to Chamber of Commerce networking event to network. Just get to know the people you are surrounded with, listen to them and help them achieve their goals. Zig Ziglar always says, “you can have everything you want in life if you just help enough people get what they want.” Connect to your community, give abundantly and believe in the notion of “giver’s gain.”

3. Leverage the Internet.
Find communities and conversations about the stuff that interests you and leverage it. Join in. Meet people and connect because you’re passionate about the topic. How did you and I meet, Carmen? Through this exact channel :)

There are obviously, many layers to each of these. But those are a good place to start.

What are the three types of honest conversations involved in personal branding?

When I first got interested in personal branding, it seemed like most of the material and content revolved around tips and tricks to get people to like you. That’s the furthest thing I like to do when presenting my thoughts on Personal Branding. I’ve developed personal branding into what I call the “three conversations.”

1. The Internal Conversation.
This involves defining your values, goals and beliefs. Writing out your story and sharing it. Connecting to who you really are and making sure that you’re message is clear and understood by those who are connected to you.

2. The One-To-One Conversation
This is all about how you connect to people on a day-to-day basis. It could be in networking scenarios or your community work or how you speak with your spouse. It’s about clearly creating your own personal brand elevator pitch, connecting to individuals and making sure that you’re staying in their loop and helping them achieve their goals. This is the “giver’s gain” section.

3. The One-To-Many Conversation.
Leveraging technology to get your personal brand “out there.” This is the “big one.” Corporate brands are able to have a one-to-many conversation by spending millions (trillions?) on advertising and PR. Now, through the online channels, people like you and I can create, have real power and join like-minded communities. It’s amazingly powerful (and simple). I always point people to Christine Dolce (aka Forbidden) on MySpace. She has over 1.3 million “friends.” She leveraged a free (and simple) community to build her personal brand. That’s a pretty compelling one-to-many conversation.

Further Reading:
You can find more Race in the Workplace interviews in our archives.

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. What you missed on Race in the Workplace at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on 04 May 2007 at 8:18 am

    […] How to build your personal brand What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? If you don’t know, it could hinder your career opportunities. Whether we like it or not, each of us has a personal brand. The question is: is your brand what you want it to be? Interactive marketer Mitch Joel gives you some strategies you can use to get your brand to where it neesd to be. […]


  1. Mitch Joel wrote:

    Thanks for giving me this platform Carmen. I love the work you’re doing here. Very powerful. Very relevant. You’re building an amazing personal brand :)

  2. Dan Schawbel wrote:

    This is great content. I agree that your Personal Brand is your current reality and that it already has been created, but feel that with strategy and hard work, you can modify your brand over time.

    If you’re interested, please read my blog on Personal Branding.

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