If you’re buying something, the first thing you are most likely to look at is the image – whether abstract or in the shape of a logo – associated with that particular product. Everything else, such as the company that makes the product, the product itself, or its price, becomes secondary. In today’s consumer society, brand is everything. So why would it be any different in the world of businesspeople?
It isn’t, says Tamás Tóth, owner and managing director of TT Management Consulting Kft. “The aim of personal branding is to create a public figure who is then associated with the company or the brand he or she represents,” he explained.
The key to personal branding is to know how you are perceived by others. Just as companies brand their products to create some unique associations in the minds of their target consumers, personal branding also involves the creation of strong, unique and favorable associations about you in the minds of other people.
“Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. 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’,” American branding guru Tom Peters wrote in 1997 in an essay published in Fast Company magazine. This was the first public apperance of the concept of personal branding.
However, things are a bit different in Hungary. First of all, the corporate culture of the communist regime didn’t exactly favor personal ambitions or the search for an identity. Standing out of the crowd was not necessarily a positive attitude. And even after the collapse of communism more than 20 years ago, things did not change much. According to Tóth “top managers were already overwhelmed with work and were overloaded both physically and mentally. Also, there was no one around who could draw their attention to the importance of personal branding”.
But things seem to be turning around. With coaching now increasingly popular in the corporate world, developing personal brands has also started to receive more attention. “I have assisted in the personal branding development program of 20–25 top managers in the last couple of years,” Tóth said. “In general, it takes about four to six months to develop a strong personal brand.”
Tóth is very positive about the future of personal branding in Hungary, which he claims has tangible results in people’s professional lives. “If you go to a meeting, and your partner only remembers afterward that they met someone from a certain company, then there is room for improvement. If, after the meeting, your partner says ‘I met X from that company,’ then you’ll know the job is done and you have a good personal brand.”
If you’re linked in, you’re inThe internet has become the hotbed of headhunting these days. While personal networks still come first when looking for recruits or business partners, they are closely followed by social network sites. “We launched our headhunting firm – specialized on the media market – in 2008, and soon came to the conclusion that such sites are the best sources to find the right candidate for a position,” said Zoltán Hajdu, managing director of Smart Staff Kft.
A strong personal brand is the perfect tool to stand out of the crowd – so having your smart online profile is just as important as anything else when it comes to finding a job. LinkedIn.com is widely considered the most effective professional social site. At a global level, the site has more than 100 million users. In Hungary, some 130,000 professionals use it. “I strongly recommend every active and passive jobseeker to use LinkedIn,” Hajdu concluded.
Facebook has also launched its career-networking site BranchOut, another great tool for finding a job. The site builds on your already existing connections, revealing connections you might have never known you had – so you can utilize the advantage of already knowing someone at a company you’re about to apply for a job with to help you along.Creating your own website can also be part of the personal branding process. If you are specialized in a certain area, a professional blog or active participation in professional forums can also add to your brand, Hajdu noted.
Branding, not bragging
While branding is no doubt important, it is quite easy to go overboard with personal branding. But what is it that differentiates it from self-promotion (which often has bad connotations), or from simply bragging? “Even the best-built personal brand can be shaken to its core if adequate negotiating techniques are lacking,” said Hajdu.A strong personal brand can get you into the most important meetings – but once you’re in, the brand does not matter anymore; only substance can put you in a winning situation, noted Hajdu. “The value of your brand can either increase or lose from its strength after a face-to-face encounter, depending on your performance. I think this is one thing that needs improvement in Hungary, because I often see a problem here to which not much attention is paid: namely, when someone has an appealing and strong personal brand but then it proves to be nothing but hot air.”
This article appeared in the BBJ's HR special edition on April 8, 2011.