While running for president of the United States in 2012, Mitt Romney famously said: "Corporations are people, my friends." Actually, the converse is true as well: People, in a sense, are corporations. Until recently, we thought that only companies had brand identities. That is, until we started thinking of celebrities--such as Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, or Donald Trump--as having them, too. Today, we're increasingly aware that each individual's reputation and attributes constitute someone's unique personal brand.  

Just like household name brands like Starbucks, L'Oréal, and Coca-Cola, you have certain characteristics that define you: ways that you think of yourself and ways that others think of you. Your personal brand is made up of thousands of choices and opinions, from the simple to the complex. Everyone you've ever met has formed opinions about you. You may not be aware of your brand, and that means it might not be the best, most accurate representation of who you are and what you're capable of. Effective personal branding isn't about putting on a show or figuring out how to do as little work as possible while getting the most financial reward. Life is too short not to be the best possible version of yourself.

So, who needs to care about personal branding, anyway? Is it really that important?

The short answer to the two questions above: a) Virtually everyone, and b) Yes, it is. How people see you matters. This is a fundamental truth of being a human being.

What leaders like Mark Zuckerberg realize is that they have a brand just as much as they have a reputation. Let's look at you. Are you the life of the party? Well, that's part of your brand. Do you tend to take control in a key business meeting? That's part of your brand, too. Are you prone to making bad jokes when you're nervous? That's part of your br-- well, you get the picture.

So let's talk about some potential situations you may be facing right now. You might be trying to:

  • Raise your profile in general, by getting better known for the skills that you have

  • Launch your own brand or startup from scratch, and know you'll have to be the best version of yourself for it to succeed

  • Increase your profile to market your brand to prospective clients

  • Digitally connect with your existing customers to figure out what they think, what they like, and how to better satisfy their needs

Personal branding can help you accomplish all of these things. So when do you need to look into refining your personal brand? Here are some situations you might be facing:

  • Your career is just starting out and you're concerned that people don't know what you're capable of.

  • You're looking to grow your influence in your existing company and move up through the ranks, but something about your reputation is stopping you from getting there.

  • You're trying to move from one area of your company to another.

  • You're looking to move from one sector or career to another, and want to convince hiring managers or prospective clients that your existing skill set will be an asset, not a drawback.

  • You've been downsized from a job and need to ensure that you're in the best possible position to land a new gig that's right for you, and you're on the clock.

  • You're reentering the work force after taking time off; perhaps after having children, or even post-retirement.

Personal branding standouts like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Peter Thiel have learned an important lesson: If you don't acknowledge (or choose not to tailor the presentation of) your brand, people will draw their own conclusions. As Branson once put it: "Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful."

Many people like to keep their head down and focus on the day-to-day operations of their job. You're entirely welcome to just focus on your "real" work, as opposed to also focusing on the branding work we advocate. But why settle for that, given how important your career is to you? Is there really a benefit to not presenting yourself well? Look at where you are in your career. Is this where you want to be? If you've read this far, there's a decent chance you've already asked yourself that very question.

Life is too short to do a job you're not passionate about--or worse, that you might outright hate. You don't want to get stuck in a career that doesn't fulfill you or play to your strengths, do you? It's very important for each one of us to explore whether we're doing all that we can to have the best possible professional lives.