Personal Branding: Defining and (Re)-positioning Yourself In the 21st Century


By: Howard Forman, Ph.D.

What imagery do you think of when someone mentions the brands Coca Cola, Nike, or Facebook? If they are positive images, then these companies did good jobs cultivating their brands and the imagery associated with them. People’s notions of brands go beyond popular brand names. Other organizations and entities also have brands. Democrats, Republicans, and the Los Angeles Lakers are brands and have images that they are quite careful to cultivate. Non-profit organizations such as the Susan G. Komen and Tomchei Shabbos here in Los Angeles are also brands. Brands are also prevalent in Hollywood. When actors represent certain types of characters/roles, we often say they are typecast. Few people, however, conjure up any imagery of themselves as brands. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, just like Hollywood actors, not only is everyone a brand, but everyone represents multiple brands.

It is helpful to think of these personal brands as roles. People have multiple roles and thus multiple brands. Adults often play the roles of parents, friends, siblings, spouses, co-workers, etc. In each of these roles, the same people mean different things to various audiences, or in marketing terms, various segments. For example, I am a father. My role as a father is much different from my role as a husband, which is much different from my role as a professor. So, my students will view me (my name and/or my person) differently than will my kids. That’s because I have different brands for each of these audiences, or if you will, target markets.

You may not know it, but you probably work very hard to maintain these brands and to build on them. You want to be recognized as good spouses and good parents. You also want to be recognized as excellent employees so when your boss hears your name, it means something relevant, positive, consistent. Brands are receptacles for meanings and/or feelings and they become psychological constructs residing in our target markets’ knowledge structures. At best you can funnel energies to influence it. That said, you need to be vigilant about your brands, especially when looking for a new job or career. So let’s explore your personal brands.

You should start off by asking a general question: What is your personal brand? To answer this, you need to objectively assess who you are in the minds of your target audience. For example, what does your name mean to your co-workers or your boss? Does your name represent someone who works hard or someone who is not motivated? Does your name represent professionalism or something less than that? Does your name suggest that you are a person that will go the extra mile or someone who watches the clock? These are not easy questions to tackle. In order to objectively make this assessment, you need to be able to identify the following:

First, you need to understand where your strengths lie. Once you are confident with your relevant strengths, develop a plan to leverage them. For example, these strengths can be problem solving, communication, or program management skills. For this, you need to be honest about strengths and not to under or overestimate them. If you are a good communicator, then think about careers or activities that leverage excellent communication skills. These may include teachers, researchers, or speakers. Problem solving skills are excellent for managers, inventors, etc.

Second, you need to keep in mind that everything doesn’t always come up smelling like roses. You need to understand where your gaps lie. You need to make sure you are able to honestly recognize personal limitations. Individuals who recognize their gaps are able to overcome them by several means.
You need to recognize the fact that gaps are not weaknesses but rather skills necessary to improve overall strength. They provide a trajectory for you to improve your overall skill set. You should keep in mind that gaps must be addressed and NOT overlooked or ignored.

Gaps can be addressed personally by seeking those resources that will enable you to bridge them in an effort to strengthen your brands. These resources can be in the form of a college degree, software training, learning a new language, etc. Finally, gaps should be addressed incrementally, not all at once. This is especially true if the gaps happen to be larger and more challenging.

If you take these first easy steps, you are well on your way to building your strong personal brand. There are, however, many more things to do. We’ll address them in future issues.

Howard Forman is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the California State University, Fullerton. He is available to speak or conduct a workshop for your organization or conference. He can be reached at