Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world. “She’s very good at collecting information,” says Thomas Strerath, head of the advertising agency that designed her campaign materials. “She gets into the details, she hesitates, and then she makes her final decision at the very last moment.” When several potential coalition partners suggested that support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage would be a condition of their cooperation, Merkel ceased blocking the matter, allowing it to pass in a snap vote! Her actions determine her brand. She also has this signature hand gesture known as the “Merkel Diamond”. Merkel says the hand gesture came to be when she was struggling to find what to do with her hands in public situations and this attention to detail in body language plays an important role in her personal brand.
But Merkel’s personal brand isn’t about her being female, neither is her brand feminine. Her brand is one of gender transcendence. She gives us a glimpse into the future where women don’t need to prove themselves even before getting to the starting blocks. (Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merkel-Raute)
Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, says “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. While everyone is remembered for some aspect of their personality, creating a personal brand requires you to deliberately pitch content that makes you a recognizable persona. Founders like Bezos, Elon Musk are recognized for challenging the industry standard and acting as thought leaders who can bring about unprecedented change. While this brand cascades to their companies too, but it’s largely how they see themselves and how the world sees them.
Personal branding isn’t about how much or what people know about you, but about how much of that talks to your target audience and how relevant it is to them. It’s important to understand what the other person truly values in you, because that and only that brings you to the table. Merkel’s brand is about how one can be powerful in the challenging political arena. Bezos is relevant to everything disruptive and out of the box. He has single handedly changed the way we shop for everything and made convenience even more convenient.
But what is personal branding all about?
- Bringing home Self-awareness – This isn’t about who you are in your head, rather about how do people experience you. Does your personal identity match your public reputation? When starting with leveraging your self- awareness, decide who do you want to be defined as and then figure out what you have to do to bring it out to others. Caveat: you can’t bring out what isn’t already there inside you.
- Living your story– Every time you speak to people, you are constantly being evaluated for how credible you are, for why you are doing what you are doing and for why you aspire to particular things. The simplest thing to do is to be authentic, to stick with the reality about why you are you. Be unapologetic about your aspirations, your past and your present. And this isn’t philosophy, it’s the only way you can be you without worrying about what everybody will/ should think about you. People want to understand if you fit with them. So tell them the story that gets their attention, is relevant to them and has some recall value. It’s simpler than you think. It’s not just the best of you, but also your flaws, what holds you back, what you want to challenge about yourself and also what all you’ve overcome that brought you to this place. An interesting story to tell is how you came to this realisation that you had to be you.
- Deepening relationships – Build trust and loyalty; recognise and anticipate future needs of your target audience so that they know to count on you. Do you notice this sudden rise in Netflix in the non- Netflixing nations? Over the last 3-5 years, Netflix has suddenly become the internet entertainment medium of the future. It is simplicity and convenience. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings understands that original content is what the future needs and content that resonates with the context of the viewer. He questioned the team ‘Is there anything else at Netflix that can show people new ways to leverage the internet for their entertainment?’ and then came along Netflix originals. They have competitors plenty, similar products, lower cost, but you are looking up entertainment on that medium only, because they are better at anticipating the future. Hastings’ personal brand is confidence. He dreamt up Netflix when he owed $40 to a store for a misplaced video! Talk about taking things personally.
Technology has further complicated influence and personal branding. Everybody is accessible to anybody from anywhere in the world. One person can toy with the possibility of having more influence than an entire organisation; one person can inspire a cult like movement. The bottom line of personal brand is doing what you love doing, fearlessly. And align your brand to the what the people that you are speaking to value.