How to Develop a Powerful Personal Brand 

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Just how do you build a unique personal brand when you’re working and networking remotely? It’s a challenge, especially when looking for a new job or striving for your next promotion. Marketers from around the globe tuned in to hear some fresh perspectives shared by branding experts during a virtual webinar hosted recently by AMA Toronto.  

Ric Sweeny, an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Cincinnati and a recognized personal branding expert, shared a simple three-step process: Discover, Develop, and Deliver. While plenty of information can be found online, most of the advice tends to focus on the last step, “Deliver.” What makes this approach different is the time and effort invested in the first two steps.

“When you start to think about who you are and how you want to live your life, you start to learn more about what you want to be and what you want to do.”

Ric Sweeny, University of Cincinnati


1. Begin with Discover

When was the last time you Googled yourself?  Did you come up in the search, and was it positive?  In this first phase, we’re encouraged to really think about what makes us unique and then combine that with our passions.  Moderator Alan Middleton, Professor of Marketing at Schulich School of Business and alumni of Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends, suggested that we dig deep and write down a love and hate list of 25 things for insights into our strengths and what to stay away from. 

“Ask your friends. Get an honest conversation going about things you’ve handled well and not so well.”

Alan Middleton, Schulich School of Business

Next, ask people who know you well – your friends, coworkers and family – for their impressions about you. What have you failed at? The answers will provide critical insights into knowing yourself better. During the past six months, we’ve seen each other’s pets and kids running across our screens. The pandemic has broken down the silos of our home and work lives. What we need to do is to find the interlinkages. What have you experienced? What have you learned about working together?  


2. Proceed to Develop

Once you have completed the first step, it’s time to set goals, identify resources for achieving them and a realistic timeframe. Most importantly, write them down and then commit. For Ric, he desired to become fluent in French in two years.  To do this, he needed motivation, determination and resources, such as books and digital files, to learn and study. He even went to Paris to study for a month. Despite taking these actions, he found French hard to learn. It wasn’t a realistic goal. Instead, he celebrated his small wins. He’s still learning and chooses to celebrate success along the way.

“You never know what might be discovered about you that might lead you on a new path.”

Ric Sweeny, University of Cincinnati


3. Deliver Your Online Persona

Content is everywhere. Podcasts. Websites. YouTube.  They’re all excellent platforms if you have something to say. As Ric indicated, “anyone with a camera can be on YouTube… While some of them might be influential, a lot of them are just popular. They became celebrities because of something they are doing.”  A good piece of advice was to “let someone else do the bragging for you,” such as LinkedIn recommendations or when someone does some posting on your behalf. 

Despite your best effort, Ric acknowledged that “there’s always going to be some sort of roadblock out there.” The secret is to anticipate change and to persevere. Think about your roadblocks in a positive way. Go ahead and fail. Learn from it and go on from there. What’s fresh about his approach is that it’s a cycle. You’re never done.

While you’re planning, there’s often an element of luck. Think about those things that just sort of happen. Right time. Right place. “Never fear serendipity,” Ric advised. Say “yes” to the things that fit and “no” to the things you don’t have the bandwidth for. It’s okay to acknowledge if you’re not the right person.

“People do business with people they like, they trust, and they want to do business with. Make sure that you’re crisp on what you want to be known for.”

Victoria Pelletier, IBM


Final Thoughts

As you build your roadmap, be sure to let your passion show.  Special Guest Victoria Pelletier, a Senior Executive at IBM, strongly recommended bringing our whole self to every interaction. Be sure to engage with your network and be visible intentionally. Go wide, Go broad. What’s the story you want to tell?

Special guest Peter Rodriguez, CMO of Brand Igniter, cautions to “deliver on your promise every day, with each touchpoint.” Whether it’s a blog post, email or phone call, take control of your brand. Like a Brand Manager, your personal brand has a promise of consistent delivery, a consistent experience of you as an individual. In a time of limited attention spans, your brand is a shortcut to understanding your value. Think about what you can say in the first five seconds before you lose their attention.

“Trust is everything. It takes time to build and one second to lose.”

Peter Rodriguez, Brand Igniter

As we’re experiencing issues with our political leaders worldwide, we can all take a lesson. Trust is critical. Try to anticipate your hurdles and build them into your plan. Know your limitations and blind spots. Lean into your intellect and your skill sets. Consider your stamina, both your health and physical ability. According to Ric, the most significant blockage that people encounter is fear.  When we say that we can’t do something, our apprehension is what gets in the way.


Most importantly, be authentic. Be yourself. And remember that you’re never done.


Wendy Greenwood is a Toronto-based marketing consultant, part-time Professor and AMA Toronto Board Member.

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