How to build a personal brand: 5 lessons from Omniwomen

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Omniwomen panel at Google New York
Omniwomen panel at Google New York

Define your values, time is of the essence, blurring the personal and professional, and other themes from yesterday's panel

People in the marketing communications industry spend so much time building their clients’ brands, their personal branding often falls by the wayside. But building a personal brand is crucial for women in the industry, because their voices continue to be underrepresented.

This was the subject of Omnicom’s latest Omniwomen panel in New York yesterday. The panel was moderated by Barri Rafferty, CEO, Ketchum North America, and included: Beth Viner, CEO, Interbrand, NY and SF; Debbie Millman, president and CMO, Sterling Brands; Amy Cowan, director of agency development, Google; and Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, Huff Post live host and producer. Here are five key takeouts from the event.

1. Define your brand, or someone else will do it for you

Before you can build a personal brand you have to think about what you stand for and your values. "When we talk about branding ourselves, we are talking about positioning ourselves in the market place," said Millman. "But before you do this, you must discover who you are, what you want to represent and stand for – and that is the hard part."

Viner said that if you don’t define your own brand, someone else will do it for you. "People will start ascribing attributes to you. You should start to understand what you stand for," she said.

2. Authenticity

Authenticity is a buzzword that is widely used in marketing speak, but when it comes to personal branding, it’s a vital element. Rafferty said it’s crucial to develop a natural voice, rather than trying to replicate someone else’s. "If you're trying to be something you aren't that doesn’t work," she said.

Modarressy-Tehrani talked about the need for her voice to be authentic and reflect her personality and views. She pointed out that traditionally, journalists were considered "the voice of God," and not supposed to be personally involved. But with the rise of social media, "that has gone out of the window. People want to know what you stand for," she said.

3. Give yourself an online audit

Today there are so many spaces online to build your personal brand. But it's important to examine your voice on each channel, and work out what works best for your brand. Modarressy-Tehrani said she is attuned to the difference in tone of Facebook and Twitter and adapts accordingly. "People on Twitter expect a certain kind of voice from me," she said.

Viner, who prefers Instagram to Twitter, said that before she took up her current role as CEO at Interbrand, she had to assess her presence on Instagram, to understand how she projects her personal life in a public sphere. "What I stand for professionally is being transparent, so having to curate my Instagram feed to be more professional would have been entirely against that," she said. 

Cowen suggested an exercise to help define your online branding. She said it is important to search for yourself, and take screen grabs of how you appear across different platforms, including words, images and videos, put it all on a wall and ask "Is this who I am, or who I want to portray myself?"

4. The fallacy of the work life balance

The panel discussed the blurring of the line between professional and personal. When it comes to branding, therefore, women have to be comfortable with merging the two. Millman argued that the idea of a work like balance was "a bit of a fallacy" and there shouldn’t be "delineation between practice and purpose". 

"I think that it is sad that we have to separate or there is an intention to separate that. If you are fully invested in what you are doing at all times, it’s not work, it’s part of who you are and your purpose."

5. Busy is a decision, start now.

Being too busy, or not having enough time, is one of the main reasons women say they haven’t started work on their personal brand. "Busy is a decision," argued Millman. "We always do the things we want to do, because we prioritize them; if we say we are too busy then we are letting ourselves off the hook, because we don’t have the guts to say, ‘this isn’t important enough for me to do’".

Millman conceded that she has found the time to write six books, because she doesn’t watch a lot of TV. The panel also discussed how many women wait for confidence to hit. But because time is of the essence they should "take a leap of faith," said Rafferty.  

"Don’t wait until tomorrow," concluded Viner. "Go and do something tonight."

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