Personal branding is about reputation and fulfilling your purpose. It isn’t easy building a personal brand and it can’t be built overnight. What are the risks and opportunities one encounters while creating a personal brand? How does one establish a reputation that stands the test of time? I am honored to share this interview with my good friend – Joseph Fernandez, author, writer and communications professional. One of the first authors on Corporate Communications in the country, Joseph takes us through his journey of over 30 years – first as an advertising professional, magazine editor, web consultant, author and marketing and communications leader. He founded Tekton Solutions and is based out of Trivandrum, Kerala. More information is on his website: www.joseph-fernandez.com. Look up more such stories on my YouTube channel and on Linkedin.
- What according to you is personal branding?
A Personal Brand is a human experience that You and I create to communicate our purpose and to build our value in our lives. So, purpose and value are two parts of the personal brand that we are.
I see Personal Branding as a journey in three stages: Create your identity, build your brand and manage your reputation.
When I reflect on my life and career, I felt the first two decades were about creating an identity. It is about building your personal brand through your education, experience and expertise. For the next three decades, you focus on building your personal brand in the professional world. Eventually, you can contemplate your brand and build your legacy in the ‘manage your reputation’ stage.
2.Do you consider yourself a personal brand and how do you know it?
Yes, I do consider myself a personal brand. The quicker we get to that realization, the faster we will get to achieving everything that we set out to achieve in our lives.
A brand can be a person, an organization or a place. So your personal brand is an experience and regardless of what you do, people associate you with certain attributes and a central experience.
But first and foremost, a brand is created through an organic process of communication that begins with a person, gets enhanced in the organizations we work in or set up and gets amplified through the places we live in —be it a home, town, city, country and the world.
3. How do you know it?
I know it because we are human beings and communicating is 80% of all that we do every day. Do you know that you think of 56000 thoughts every single day about how you will communicate yourself in one-to-one situations at home or in one-to-many situations at work.
Let me explain this with an equation I used in my book Corporate Communications: A 21st Century Primer.
The Communication Equation shows you how many ways a group of people can describe your personal brand:
-5 People = 10 ways
-15 People = 105 ways
-50 People = 1225 ways
-150 People = 11,175 ways
If you are in a meeting and you have 5 people attending, the chances of them engaging with you are in about 10 ways. When that number increases, the permutations and combinations exponentially increase. So, when it touches a number like 150 people, which is the most optimal number of an inner social circle, the numbers of perceptions people have been much higher. So, it is important that while we have the power of communication, the perceptions people can have of you are immense and curating it well helps you to build your personal brand.
4. What does one do to go about building a personal brand?
To answer that questions, I always remember this timeless quote by the famous rock music icon Jerry Garcia. The band, Grateful Dead which he led were the inventors of what we know today as ‘freemium’ content.
Jerry Garcia said: “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.” To build your personal brand, you need to be the only one who does what you do.
I also like Raghuram Rajan as a personal brand and he gave us this LinkedIn example when he was misquoted on a fake account on Twitter:
“I have received a few questions about a tweet that supposedly came from me. I do not tweet. The only social media platform I post on is LinkedIn.”
In sum, if you do not build your brand, someone else will build it for you. When people come searching for you, they should find that authentic place where you are building your personal brand.
So again, my recommendation is to use your Education, Experience and Expertise to arrive at your personal brand.
5. What are the attributes of a personal brand?
I would call out two attributes – purpose and value.
Purpose – is our shared belief in a common future
Value – is the impact and influence that we have on our community, market and environment. Value creation is any process that creates outputs that are more valuable than its inputs.
We tend to discover facets of ourselves as we go along. On the point of value, it is different for different audiences. Your value to family is different to the company you work at or the college you studied. How you express these values in different ways helps you shape your brand.
Remember that this time, our 21st century has been marked by the coming together of the entire human family on a common digital platform: the Internet.
From here, you can inspire the new generation in front of you. For example, how cool it would be for people to say that the school or college that you studied in is a great one “simply because you studied there!”.
6.Based on your observations and learning who according to you is a personal brand? What characteristics do you admire about them?
As Socrates said, “May the inward and outward man be at one.” This applies to everyone who is building a personal brand today. It is important to figure out who you are on the inside and project that value. I
Here, I would like to quote from my experience of growing up in Chennai in the 1980s and 1990s. There have been three people whom I have had the opportunity to interact with, that exemplify a personal brand for me. They are actor Arvind Swamy, Chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, and Music Legend A R Rahman. Interacting with them up close in my growing up years, I have deeply admired the way they built their personal brands.
All these icons built their personal brands early life and in my interactions with them, I have found them display the following qualities: Integrity, Humility, Humanity. Over three decades, it is their humility that endears them to people in their home country and around the world.
Vishwanathan Anand is a person whose humility endears him to everyone around him. When speaking about his passion for the confluence of music and technology, A R Rahman strikes you with the integrity of his vision for his craft. Arvind Swami is known for his humanity using his celebrity to reach out to people affected by natural calamities. Anand, Arvind and Rahman are among the most grounded people that I know today.
I also consider this: we live in a world of reality show celebs who do the exact opposite to raise TRPs for their few moments in the spotlight. Everything we experience today can show us how to build our personal brands. Or…how not to build them!
7.What steps did you take to build your brand?
The first thing to know is that your personal brand gets built with every single interaction that you make: whether it is with a single person or with a group of people. The first thing to realize is that it is not what you send the message that matters, it is the message that they receive that matters. Always think in little ways about the message you send out and how it will be received.
8.How do you know it is working?
I have always been very interested in what makes most communicators succeed – that is, work through all the senses. Personal brands, for the most part, are built through the human senses. We need to be conscious of who we are and what we project. It is good to stand out for what you do—often in a league of your own.
When I wrote my book on corporate communications, there was no other book on the same subject in India. I look the narrow path. To me, I know what makes me different and the only way you know if your personal brand is working or not is when you become the go-to person in your chosen area.
Be in it college, or in your workplace or in the business you run, if you can solve problems or present like no other, it is the first sign that you are known for a unique talent or quality. In essence, when people seek you out what you for what you do best, you know it is working and that you are on the right path to building your personal brand.
9.What challenges did you face while building a personal brand?
In my journey it was the acceptance and support of the people closest to you: family, friends and support. So, to become a butterfly, the caterpillar needs to leave behind its familiar and comfortable world and learn to fly. There’s an important life lesson you pick along the way: if they accept you, its fine and if they do not accept you, it’s equally fine.
For me, the decision to become a communicator and a writer, and eventually an author was a journey of 30 years. I worked in the media and then seamlessly into the areas of digital media and information technology. The steps you’ve taken become the path that the others who come behind you take.
In your inner circle, not everyone may accept what you want to become. Like they say, the prophet is without honor in his or her own home. If you are a visionary and see what no one else is not seeing, you will experience disbelieving friends and family. Not because they don’t like you but because they don’t see the horizon you see. If your purpose is strong, it becomes a difficult but a fulfilling journey in the end. And they respect you for that journey!
10.What techniques did you use?
I followed the ABC of Clear Communication: Accuracy of Facts, Brevity of Content, Clarity of Thought
Get your facts right. Keep it short. Keep it clear. You need to remain the same. If you have read the book, ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins and he discovered that the biggest companies “preserved the core and stimulated progress”. Be focused, ensure there is progress and try new things. These are some of the techniques I use.
11.What did you gain in the process? What did you lose?
It isn’t an easy process. The importance point to note is that this process starts in your early 20s.
You need to build your presence. The gains I have seen are to do with self-reliance and have a values-led approach as a cornerstone. You need to build your brand ethically and create lasting success. Enjoy the success and do it the hard way. When you align with what the company does and believes in, you gain experiences and live the shared values and gain togetherness.
The downsides are they if you are an idealist, you are in for a rough ride.
To achieve your goals and dreams, do it in a small way first. Then, scale it up Plant at least a tree if you can’t build a forest. The tree will soon become a grove. And the grove will become a forest.
12.In times of crisis like COVID19, how must people view building their personal brands?
Personal brand is an extension of your efforts to make a difference to the world. Many people face paralysis in their thinking during such crisis situations. Technology is such a blessing during these times. This is an opportunity to empower people. Also, with great power comes great responsibility. You can get involved and help by staying positive, being a source of positive news and spot opportunities from the lens of your own education, experiences and expertise. Collaborate with others.
13. How can someone starting from scratch build a personal brand? What is the first step he or she must take?
You need to have a sense of purpose, figure out what you want to do and get immersed in it. If you are a student in high school, irrespective of what you are doing, invest in knowing yourself. I recommend keeping a journal that tracks your thoughts – not a diary, which is a collection of events. These days, many of my friends use their smart phones and apps as journals.
14.If you had the opportunity to change something about the way you built your personal brand, what would that be?
I would have told my younger self to start earlier! The most valuable thing we have is time.
It is not money or any material possession. Life is fast tracked today so you can get started much faster. You need to be confident about what you do. Start your personal brand building now!
15.What is your recipe for personal branding success?
We live in an incredible time of opportunities and challenges. Like I said earlier, the entire human family has come together on a single digital platform: the Internet. The three cornerstones of building your brand are to inform, involve and inspire your family, friends and community around you!
Use accuracy, brevity and clarity to express your thought in a unique way. Every time you express yourself, think of yourself as water. Be as clear and transparent as a crystal mountain stream as opposed to a muddy canal whose depths you cannot fathom.
16.Who according to you are personal brands whom others can follow and learn from?
Here are 4 people whose personal brands we can follow and learn from:
Author Bill Bryson known for his travel books and historical conservation work
Musician Jack Johnson known for his soft rock hit songs & contributions to ocean conservation
Social change makers Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg who are founders of Kanthari that has helped create 140+ social projects across 40 countries in little over 12 years.
Liked this interview? Please do share your feedback and comments.
Keen to get ahead with your personal brand? Here are some resources:
- Take a FREE assessment on personal branding.
- Refer to the 3C model on Personal Branding
- Sign up for a 60 minute personalized chat on personal branding
- Personal branding for corporate communicators