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BRANDING

How To Build a Personal Brand

Raggedy-looking guys are considered hip. Similarly-dressed women are considered ill-groomed. What to do.
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I think most female tech CEOs can appreciate my frustration: How can male tech CEOs get away with T-shirts and ragged jeans up on stage, but as a female tech CEO, I couldn’t? The guys were considered hip, but I was just underdressed.
 
I needed a brand. A hip female CEO tech brand that I could make my own.
 
Along the way, I discovered that a personal brand is more than what you wear.  Your brand is your public identity, and it can be a great asset if managed well.
 
Here’s how I developed my personal brand, and how I continue to refine it.
 
1. Find Examples
 
I looked for examples of women I wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find many examples of female tech CEOs that dared step beyond the classic professional business look. I was looking for the Steve Jobs effect--casual, but confident.  Sally Jewel was the REI CEO at the time. She always dressed in outdoor gear, representing both her brand and her personal passions.
 
2. Decide on Your Message
 
The first step in any branding exercise is to determine what message you are trying to convey.  What’s the branding goal?  After some thought I decided upon a few key attributes that reflected both my personal passions and my company’s publicity needs: strategic thought leader, trustworthy, confident, smart and successful.  
 
3. Get Help Where Needed
 
Next, I focused on how I could turn those words into a great look. Although I love clothes, I was never particularly good at picking them out, so I got help.  After describing what I was looking for - comfortable, slimming, casually elegant, light and preferably wrinkle resistant - I discovered Eileen Fisher fit the bill perfectly. I quickly assembled a basic wardrobe, mixing in a few pieces from other designers. To my delight, I was spending much less time stressing over what to wear and at the same time looking better than ever.   
 
4. Be Consistent 
 
Once I had my personal message crafted, I began to incorporate it into my psyche.  The best way to build a brand is to propagate it consistently, protecting the integrity of the message.  I used to hear jokes at a past employer about their “brand police.”  Given they are one of the top ten brands globally, it would have been worth hiring an entire army to protect the value of their brand.  
 
Guess what? You are your own brand police. Reflect your brand message every time you tweet, post, pitch, interact, lead or speak publicly. This is a truly empowering concept. Like a spotlight intensifies light, a well-managed brand elevates your impact.
 
5. Evolve
 
Change is a constant in life.  It is important that your personal brand evolves as you do: When you change jobs or take on a new role.  When Sally Jewell left REI to become U.S. Secretary of the Interior, her brand changed.
 
I went looking for an outfit, but found my personal brand.  I thought I’d spend more time getting ready, but now I spend less.  I thought it would be more work to communicate, but in fact it is easier.  Life is full of pleasant surprises.
 
Last updated: Nov 27, 2013

MARY JESSE | Columnist

Mary Jesse is a wireless industry expert with more than 25 years of experience developing and operating wireless solutions. She is currently CEO of Ivycorp, developers and operators of Ivytalk, the world's most powerful enterprise messaging solution.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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