Louise George Kittaka
Nov 30, 2018

Project Me: crafting a 'personal brand' for career success

It can sometimes feel that everyone on LinkedIn is competing to make a name for themselves. But what's the best way to build a personal brand without seeming overly self-promoting—and what are the rewards?

Project Me: crafting a 'personal brand' for career success

Advertising and marketing professionals spend their days shaping other people’s brands, but there is now a growing emphasis on self-branding within the industry.

The concept has been around for over 20 years, and is attributed to American business development guru Tom Peters. In a 1997 article for Fast Company magazine, Peters wrote, “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

As well as helping individuals get jobs, having 'names' on a company's roster will also help them pull in the best talent: according to a recent survey of recruiters by Jobvite, 95% of those polled believe that a competitive personal brand is vital for attracting the top applicants in the job market. So how do you do it? 

The social media equivalent of the elevator pitch

Mike Forster has led agency businesses around the APAC region and is currently the CEO of Korean operations for international activation agency Geometry Global, which is part of WWP. “In Asia, culture has tended to be more focused on the collective (company) brand rather than that of the individual, but this is clearly changing,” he says. “The rise of start-up culture, increasing international travel and online-driven business models are all contributing to this shift for individuals in our region to need and feel that want to stand out.”

Forster notes that a personal brand is used to express one’s skills, personality and values, likening it to “the social media equivalent of the elevator pitch”. “It starts with an understanding of why, in a business context, you matter and how you help your clients matter,” he says, and adds that it takes time to build. “A personal brand is not something that can be conjured up instantly and it is not a short cut to success.”

It is important that you keep your voice, themes and personality consistent across all your social media channels, regardless of whether they are for a personal or business nature

In an industry like advertising, where freelance creators may come together on short-term projects and then move on, personal branding can provide leverage. Tomoya Suzuki is the founder and CEO of Stories, a creative boutique producing branded entertainment, film and TV projects in Japan and LA, and part of the Hakuhodo Group. “Building a good project is based on building a great team. When putting together what I consider to be the best team for a project, company and personal track records are of paramount importance,” he says.

“The creators are also very invested in for whom and for what projects they will be giving their time. Branding is important for people to feel that they are devoting themselves to a worthwhile project, where their time and resources will be valued,” Suzuki points out.

Just do you

Savvy use of social media is clearly a priority if you want to build a strong personal brand. Tyron Guiliani is founder and head coach for Selling Made Social and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. “What many of us don’t realize is that you already have a personal brand. All of us have a professional reputation in the market. Now the question is, do you cultivate that reputation or not? A personal brand is a chance for you to share this reputation in a consistent manner and in a way you have more control over what the market sees,” he explains.

Giuliani says those who are planning to strike out on their own really need to be seen as a “go-to” person and social media is where they can make this happen. “Well-crafted questions and observations on leading influencers’ posts on social media can help establish you as an authority."

You also need to build your audience and this is where social media can help significantly. According to Guiliani, there is no need to worry unduly about pleasing everyone. “You cannot be everything to everyone. Be you, and you will find the audience that resonates with that. Assuming you are genuine with your personal branding, you will attract those that have an affinity for you and want you for your ‘brand’. It means you will only be hired or approached by people that truly want you and what you stand for.”

This sentiment is echoed by marketing and recruiting specialist Emma Osborne. Formerly the managing director of Aspire Asia in Singapore, Osborne recently launched her own consultancy, EverEmmaGreen. “Authenticity is key so there is no need to try to be someone you’re not, but it is important that you keep your voice, themes and personality consistent across all your social media channels, regardless of whether they are for a personal or business nature,” she advises.

You also shouldn't discount the importance of good old-fashioned face-to face interaction. “If you are a freelancer with your own website, brand, logo and marketing materials, then be prepared to justify your creative and tactical decisions at interview,” says Osborne. “Say yes to opportunities to contribute to industry events, magazines and podcasts wherever possible to secure your position as a subject matter expert and help boost your chances against other candidates.”

Personal branding royalty

If it’s inspiration you’re seeking, consider the success of Milan Jiang, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based VeryStar, a mobile retail commerce agency that's part of the Isobar group and the Dentsu Aegis Network. Nicknamed “the Queen of Mobile Commerce”, Jiang has over 100,000 follows on Weibo.

“In this era when social networks are highly developed, it is the person and the story that will eventually be noticed,” she says. “I think that first one needs to clarify his or her own positioning, or character. For example, I tagged myself with three key words: mobile, marketing and technology.”

Milan Jiang

For Jiang, consistency is paramount for self-branding. “I get up early every morning to read, and share the articles that evoke my thinking to WeChat group and Moments, with my views attached. Usually I don’t post food or recreational moments on WeChat. Over 90% of my moments are articles and information about my profession because, for one thing, I hope I can share insights that are useful; for another, I wish to maintain my professionalism.”

Having said that, Jiang adds that she occasionally adds the “human” touch. “A personal brand with warmth and charisma will impress more people.”

A double-edged sword?

Not everyone is enamored with the push for brand building on social media. Tom Goodwin, head of innovation for the Zenith Media agency, points out some of the pitfalls. “In 2018 brands want to act like people and people want to act like brands. We need to stop this strategizing, this optimization, this paranoia and just be a person. We are human beings, we have interests, personalities, characters—I don’t know why we need to strategize and why we can’t just be who we are,” Goodwin says.

“I’m not immune to the commercial gains that come from being a bit of a known person, but most of the time I slightly regret it. For all the attention it brings plenty of detractors, asymmetrical intimacy, people who think you’re an idiot because they assume they know what you’re about as a person.”

There could be a downside to talent with brands; they think they are bigger than the agency, they think they can get their own way and make demands and this is clearly worrying

When it comes to hiring creative talents, a well-developed personal brand may be a two-edged sword. “Unless an agency specifically wants someone to boost the profile of an agency, hiring a ‘brand’ is a bad idea. Hire fantastic, articulate, thought-leading people, and they may well happen to have a brand,” Goodwin explains.

“There could be a downside to talent with brands; they think they are bigger than the agency, they think they can get their own way and make demands and this is clearly worrying. At the same time, a good reputation affords better conversations with senior clients, it helps get meetings, it allows people to do their roles without fear, and this is all super useful.”

If all this talk of personal branding fails to resonate, there is no cause for immediate panic. it is, of course, still possible to build a solid career the traditional way—especially in a corporate-based labour market like Japan.

Timo Otsuki is a producer and the CEO of Tokyo-based firm Connection, a “hybrid lab for production, post production and creative management.” While the freelance segment within the creative industry has been growing, Otsuki says it is still a seller’s market. “Therefore, unfortunately, people are less concerned with personal branding since it’s easier to get work on the market. But… personal branding has been growing and it would be very dangerous for people to think there is no need for it,” he cautions.

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