Many times the terms personal brand and professional brand are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. As leaders, it’s important to recognize the difference and be intentional about supporting the pursuit of either or both for your team. Understanding the entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial aspects of what inspires an individual to develop a brand in the first place will position you to better support, engage, and grow your team.
I was introduced to the concept of a professional brand early in my career in the book “Career Warfare” by David D’Alessandro. The book discusses the “Do’s and Don’ts” of establishing a professional brand while climbing the corporate ladder. It wasn’t until years later that I was exposed to the idea of a personal brand in the book “Platform” by Cynthia Johnson. Although similar principles apply in the building stage of both types of brands, the desired outcomes are entirely different. Both however can be leveraged to the benefit of all involved if done properly.
Personal vs Professional Brand
The major differences between the two include how they are leveraged and for what. A personal brand is a brand identity that exists based on the merits and accomplishments of the individual tied into who they are; not what company they worked for or what titles they’ve held. In a personal brand, the value is placed on the individual’s identity and what value they can add to different environments, organizations, or people. It’s the difference between “A VP” at a well known corporation and “person’s name” who’s worked with a well known corporation. With the age of the social “influencer” some people want to carve a piece of the spotlight for themselves by being recognized with viral activity, a large following, and endorsement opportunities for their work, thought leadership, or ability/skillset. Often times a desire to establish a personal brand can be fueled by an entrepreneurial desire although that certainly isn’t always the case. A personal brand follows the individual regardless of who they work for and is a huge asset in taking their skillsets to market wherever they go.
A professional brand is a brand identity that exists based on the merits and accomplishments of the individual tied into what they do, and who they do it for. This includes such desirable traits as being a team player, a leader of people, hardworking, committed, someone who overcomes adversity, and many others. Within the corporate world, a professional brand often enters rooms and conversations well before the individual does and is tied into what work they have done and impressions they’ve made while working within an industry or organization. It can be a key differentiator in hiring, promotion, and incentive decisions or the assignment of additional tasks, projects, and responsibilities. Opposite a personal brand, many times the need to establish a professional brand is fueled by an intrapreneurial desire to grow and influence within an organizational structure without taking on the risks and spotlighting that comes with entrepreneurship.
Understanding that personal and professional brands exist whether curated by the individual or not is key to the management of both as the way an individual shows up, figuratively and literally will shape others’ perception of them both personally and professionally.
Leaders might worry that investing in the personal or professional brands of their employees will give them the tools to leave the position they are in and in turn create a high turnover. The truth is that NOT investing in your employees will encourage them to look for support elsewhere or to invest in themselves until they feel confident to strike out on their own. Investing in the brands of your employees will keep them engaged and solidify you as an early supporter and mentor to their journey. As a mentor, it’s important to hear what their goals are for growth instead of projecting how you feel onto them. Positioning employees to grow their brands by showcasing them is also a positive reflection on your leadership ability. Whether that is heading meetings, speaking at conferences, or introducing them to influential higher ups, they will be grateful for the opportunity to grow and will sing your praises as they do so.
As a leader or aspiring leader, you might be familiar with the concept of branding without actually calling it branding. Networking, certain etiquettes, tenure, title, and education are all aspects of your experience that can be used to further establish your professional or personal brand. Highlighting those things can be useful for the organization you work for with the humanization of corporate brands via their employees and their accomplishments. Maybe you don’t want the coveted “blue check” on the social platforms or thousands of followers, but you do want to influence and position yourself as an expert or thought leader for your organization increasing their bottom line. Investing in your personal brand can bring new audiences to the forefront of your organization via your personal networks as you act as a champion or ambassador for your company — Think Elon Musk and Tesla.
My personal brand was strengthened by my professional brand. Through various connections and investments in my professional development, I was able to find my footing personally in spaces that include public speaking, writing, leading, and managing teams. It doesn’t have to be the selection of one over the other either. For a time I was a proud “hybrid entrepreneur” straddling both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship by investing in both my personal and professional brand. Although not for everyone, both versions of branding can build on each other creating a win-win for the individual and the company they work for at the same time.
Written by Rahkim Sabree.
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