I was on a panel last week at a CIO conference in Minneapolis on the topic of how to build and leverage your personal brand as an executive.

What is a marketing brand?

The Dictionary of Brand defines brand as “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.”

Does a brand apply to people? Logically, yes.

We market ourselves individually not just for new jobs and opportunities, but when attempting to accomplish goals within organizations and marketplaces. Just as a corporate brand is contextual in its message of how the company wishes to be viewed, so a personal brand requires at least minimal effort to delineate who you are and how people should view you and your capabilities.

Defining a company’s brand is a complex endeavor; defining a personal brand doesn’t need to be. Think of it as your elevator speech.

So what are the basic rules of personal branding?

1. Authenticity. It must reflect the reality of who you are, not what you’d like to be. Of course, there is room to describe yourself as a work in progress, i.e. an “aspirational brand.” If you are a transformative leader, it might be appropriate to say: “I’m an analytics executive seeking to change the way companies leverage data for regulatory compliance.” But be able to back it up when people ask you for more information, or you’ll lose credibility.

2. Clarity and energy. A person who isn’t an insider or expert (i.e., a bright 16-year-old) should be able to understand it, and be motivated by its message. If your brand is esoteric and uses jargon, people will dismiss it — and dismiss you.

3. Linear or alternative. “I’m an analytics executive seeking to change the way companies leverage data for regulatory compliance” is an alternative branding statement. “I’m a CEO for analytics startups” is the linear version. Both are appropriate, depending on the audience.

A single, branded elevator speech is a good start, but not enough. You need multiple versions of personal brand, depending on your assessment of your audience. The brand is the same, but it is expressed differently.

For example, professionals might describe themselves at a technology industry conference as “a CFO for SAAS startups” and communicate a wealth of information — that they are chief financial officer, that they prefer to work with early-stage companies aiming for liquidity events and that they specialize in “software as a service” vendors.

The same people at a cocktail party would say they are a “chief financial officer for early-stage internet companies.” The difference is subtle, but it’s important you don’t assume people will understand your jargon unless they are industry peers.

I asked a conference room full of information technology executives how many of them had their branded elevator speech at their fingertips, and only a minority raised their hand. Not having a brand at your fingertips is leaving your presentation to the market vague — and ultimately disempowered.


Isaac Cheifetz is an executive recruiter and strategic résumé consultant based in the Twin Cities. His website is www.catalytic1.com.