Take Ownership of Your Personal Brand Story

Most professionals understand and appreciate the power of good branding. However, while many know the benefits of branding, far too few think about branding themselves: crafting, managing and promoting their own personal brand story.

Developing, defining and managing your personal brand story is an endeavour that every professional should undertake at some point in their career, especially if you’re taking on more leadership roles and responsibilities. Because the fact is, if you don’t do this — take ownership of your own story — others might do it for you, and it might not be the story you want being told.

Why Develop a Personal Brand Story?

Branding in the business world has many advantages that are well-recognized and leveraged. Outside a company or organization, strong branding can differentiate products or services from the competition, create a greater perception of value, and build expectations and loyalty among consumers. Within a company, strong branding can serve as an ideological compass to guide that organization’s efforts. It can also be the cultural glue that unites and aligns an organization, serving as a magnet to attract the people who share that company’s beliefs and values, and rightly repel those who don’t.

Personal branding can reap similar rewards for professionals and leaders. On the outside, strong personal branding can help you stand out because you stand for something that is bigger than yourself. More specifically, others come to value you for more than what you’ve done, and come to appreciate you more for what you think, believe, and envision.

On the inside, having a strong personal brand story — understanding what drives and motivates you, the impact you’re looking to have, what you value and hope for — can serve as a beacon to keep you on the right path and true to who you are. It can also help others understand what they can expect from you because, in sharing and living your personal brand story, you are showing them what you expect of yourself.

Be Intentional with Your Personal Brand Story

Strong brands are not left to chance. Rather, they have dedicated, disciplined teams of people behind them who are intentional in determining how their brands are positioned, promoted and perceived. The same should be true when considering your own personal brand story. You must have intent in managing that story, because if you don’t, it can quickly get away from you, sometimes irreversibly so.

I remember my story getting away from me during my first “grown-up” job at Grey Advertising in New York City. I started as an Assistant Account Executive on the Procter & Gamble business, working alongside a very intelligent, fun and fun-loving group of people including (shameless name drop here) the talented comedian, Jim Gaffigan. I use the term “working” loosely, because I didn’t really do much work. I did what was required of me, but little more. I never dropped the ball and always fulfilled my responsibilities; but I was certainly not impressing anyone, especially senior executives.

Then one day mid-way through my second year at Grey, the Executive VP for our group, the wise and generous Neil Kreisberg, sat me down in his office, looked at me across his desk and asked, “Bill, what are you doing?” Not recognizing the rhetorical nature of his question, I started listing out the various things I was working on that day, such as traffic reports, budget updates, etc. But he quickly interrupted me. “No, Bill. What are you doing…with all this, this job, this opportunity?” In the absence of a decent answer to his question, Neil shared some of the impressions that he and others had of me: that I was a nice and amusing guy who seemed reasonably intelligent, but I always did just enough to get by and never much more, that I didn’t show much initiative or appear to take my job very seriously.

This was tough feedback to hear, but I kept quiet and listened because I knew, deep in my gut, that Neil was right. He challenged me to think about the future story I’d like to be able to tell about my time at Grey and to imagine the story I’d want him and others telling about me. More than anything, Neil opened my eyes to the story that was forming about me and consider whether it was the story I wanted being told. It most definitely was not, and Neil’s talk — his firm but compassionate kick in my butt — made me realize that I needed to take control of this narrative and make it a story I could be proud of.

Things changed for me after that moment. I leaned into my work instead of just getting through it. I asked for more projects and responsibilities and made sure no one regretted giving me either. And I started pushing and stretching myself and looking at my position at Grey as the start of a career instead of just a job. And from that moment on, I started living the personal brand story that I wanted to become instead of letting that story haphazardly become what it may. And I never looked back.

Things to Consider around Your Personal Brand

At the core of any strong brand are some foundational concepts that define its reason for being, its vision for the future, what it values and what makes it remarkable. But to be clear, these core tenets like vision, mission and values are not, on their own, the full story of a brand as much as they are extracted from that larger, deeper story, even if it has yet to be fully articulated. They can also serve as the fundamental threads of that larger brand story when it starts getting woven together.

The same holds true for one’s personal brand story — i.e., you must first explore and identify the more philosophical ideas of who you are, what makes you unique, what you envision or hope for, what you value, etc. As you do so, here are some things to consider. All of these are questions I ask senior leaders and executives when I’m providing one-on-one coaching for them, and some of them are identical to the questions asked of me when I worked with own coach (and now good friend), Linda Oglov.

  • Without being too humble — and considering not only your career, but also your life — what do you value most about yourself? What are you most proud of?
  • What are the core strengths that help you stand apart and which you should leverage in the future?
  • What do you want your legacy to be? Thinking back from the future, what do you want to be known for? What kind of impact do you want to have had: on work, on business, on the organization, on people, on the world?
  • What are some misperceptions that people have about you? Can you identify where those misperceptions might come from (e.g., My quietness is misperceived as indifference; or my strong conviction can be misconstrued as combativeness)?
  • What are the values that shape and guide you in your career or life? What are the principles or commitments that are most important to you and drive you as a professional and person? In the name of what do you do what you do?
  • When have you gotten off track, in your career or your life? When did you feel you were not being true to who you are or your values? How did you get things back on track, and importantly what did you learn from that experience?
  • What are your growing edges? In other words, what are those traits, characteristics, roles, responsibilities, etc., that have more recently started to emerge and which you would like to capitalize on moving forward?

Take your time in answering these questions and do not try to do so all at once. Rather, treat this is as an iterative journey of discovery. Grab a drink, start writing, walk away from it, come back to it, and write some more. People are complex, and so are the threads of your personal brand story. At some point, your answers to these questions will start to feel right…feel “on brand” and consistent with the larger story you can share about yours.


NOTE: This post is the first in a series about personal branding. In later posts, I will discuss how to find exemplary stories that bring your personal brand to life for others, as well as when and in what circumstances you should share your personal brand story.

Bill Baker is the founder and principal of BB&Co Strategic Storytelling. For over 13 years, BB&Co has been providing Effective Presentation Skills and Leadership Through Storytelling training to organizations such as Coca-Cola, Cisco, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Dell, Prudential, and others. BB&Co’s training helps managers, salespeople, finance directors, engineers, scientists and others understand how to use storytelling to improve the impact of their communications and presentations and, with that, their ability to persuade, engage and inspire others.