In doing research and talking to dozens of women for my new book, ‘Women Who Brand: How Smart Women Promote Themselves and Get Ahead‘, I was struck by five personal branding habits that all women, and any leader, should adopt:
1. Stay “on brand”
Marketers think of being “on brand,” consistent at every touch point where people come into contact with the brand. And they evolve brands slowly over time so they are relevant while being true to the brand.
Look at Angela Merkel. Regarded as Europe’s most powerful leader, Merkel’s brand is non-nonsense, rational and pragmatic like the scientist she was trained to be. Merkel’s image has a certain nurturing quality reminiscent of a practical, hardworking mother. So it’s not surprising that early in her career her political enemies poked fun at her somewhat matronly image calling her “Mutti” (“Mommy”). Some of her political advisors even recommended that she update her look.
Wisely, Merkel ignored their advice. Now Mutti is a term of affection that Germans use for Merkel though she has no children of her own. Another popular phrase, reflecting the belief that she will make the right decisions, is “Mommy will sort it out.” Merkel’s brand emphasizes her pragmatic philosophy and “step by step” approach to problem solving,
2. Don’t hesitate to network and market yourself
Successful leaders don’t leave things to chance. They build networks and go after what they want. Case in point, Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head up the International Monetary Fund and the first woman finance minister in France.
What is interesting is that she became the first woman to head up a G8 economy and lead the IMF, yet she didn’t have a degree in finance or economics, but in law. Lagarde is no doubt a master networker who’s great at pitching her ideas and herself. Being appointed the French finance minister gave her finance bona fides that she leveraged to be considered for head of the IMF.
But Lagarde didn’t leave things to chance. She led a proactive marketing and networking campaign for her IMF candidacy, crisscrossing the globe to drum up support with leaders in developing economies like India, China and Brazil as well as with Western leaders to make her case. (Viva la France.)
3. Fake it until you make it
Leaders shouldn’t afraid of stretch assignments. If they see a gap in the marketplace that they can fill, they go for it even if they’re not perfectly qualified in the beginning. Look at real estate entrepreneur and television personality Barbara Corcoran. After cycling through over 20 different jobs in her 20s, Corcoran landed in New York City determined to succeed in the real estate business. Corcoran’s company was tiny with just 11 apartment sales the first year and she was a newbie to real estate and hardly an expert at the time. But she noticed something interesting.
The high-end residential market was a very secretive world: there was no reliable information on the sales prices of apartments. Corcoran saw an opportunity to “fake it” and to brand. She added up the year’s sales and divided by 11, which came up to $254,232. She rounded it to $254,00, and labeled it the “average New York City apartment price.”
She branded the one-pager she put together, ‘The Corcoran Report‘, made 60 copies and sent it to every reporter at the New York Times. The next Sunday on the front page of its well-read real estate section was a feature article that began: “According to Barbara Corcoran, president of The Corcoran Group real estate company, the average price…” Previously a nobody, overnight Corcoran and her company became the experts on New York real estate. Faking it helped her make the big time.
4. Stand for something different
The cardinal rule of branding is “be different.” Marketers put together a unique selling proposition (USP) for each brand, and successful women do too whether they do it consciously or instinctively. Having a different idea for your brand is powerful. No woman has done more in recent years to put women’s leadership front and foremost on the world’s consciousness than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her book ‘Lean In‘.
Sandberg’s book and her TED talk was good personal branding for her, too, since it gave her an important platform – promoting women’s leadership – that no other high level business women was addressing as prominently as she did with her book, talks and celebrity friends. Now Sandburg is a global business icon who is inspiring women and girls around the world.
5. Be visibility minded
Despite things we’ve been told like “talent wins out,” the reality is more like, “visibility wins out.” Talent is important, but visibility separates those who are wildly successful from those who are just doing okay.
Marissa Mayer was employee number 20 at Google and its first female engineer, a distinction that Mayer made the most of in her self-branding. Besides her gender, Mayer stood out in one other very important way at Google, she was an “articulate geek,” two words that rarely go together. So Mayer was tapped as the spokesperson and public face of the company. This made Mayer not just the highest-ranking woman, she was the most visible person at Google. She was soon perceived as a Silicon Valley superstar and the leading force behind the design of the Google home page and its search product. Today, Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo charged with turning the company around.
These personal branding principles are easy to understand, but highly successful women act on them. After all, if you don’t take charge of your brand, who will?
Catherine Kaputa is a brand strategist, speaker and author.
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