You are a brand. Just like Coke or Nike or Starbucks.
People think of you in a certain way. It's how you look and what you wear. It's how you act and what you say. It's what you've done.
You've heard "Your reputation precedes you." That's true even if you don't have a reputation — or so you think.
The idea that you have to create and cultivate a personal reputation, or brand, isn't new. As far back as the 1930s, workplace experts were talking about it. Management consultant Tom Peters made a big splash about it in 1997 in a Fast Company essay.
"Your most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You," Peters wrote, initiating a flood of "free agent" advice.
Ever since, it's a given that you — just like your startup business or your established organization — have to be able to succinctly and clearly identify your brand.
What do you stand for? What do you do? Who are your customers? And "customers" means potential employers, if you're a job hunter.
But you don't just need a brand. You need to protect it. You need to know what's being said about you in social media and other forms of communication.
Just ask Jennifer Flood, who manages the Kansas City office of IntegriShield. I spoke with her a few weeks ago about her company's monitoring and compliance work to help clients protect their brand identities. The company works for big corporations, entrepreneurs, nonprofits — you name it. It scours the media for illegal and incorrect use of names, websites and other brand information.
Flood's big order of business is to make sure the wrong parties aren't making money off her clients' names — by misdirecting consumers to confusing websites, for example.
Individuals need to do similar scaled-down brand protection missions. Do you have an identity in the online world? Is it the one you want to convey?
And that means you know what it is you want to convey. If you don't know what you stand for — your brand — others will fill in the blanks.