It happens every single time someone sees you, your name, or hears your voice. Inescapable, it plays a significant role in how people respond to you.

It’s about 3 p.m. and your smartphone buzzes, so you look at your phone to see who is calling you. In an instant you recognize co-worker Megan Smith is calling and wham! — you brand her before you decide what you are going to do with the call. Whether you answer or let it go to voicemail depends largely on your perception of the Megan Smith brand.

The Truth About Your Own Professional Brand

Here’s an easy way to think about your brand: you are who others think you are. Who someone thinks you are is behind every visceral reaction he or she has whenever you come to mind.

That is a profound statement, but undeniably true. You do it. I do it. The person three doors down from where you work does it. Every single person with whom you’ve come in contact begins to mental build a list of descriptors to define what they believe is true about your brand.

Because you live in your own skin, you’ve built a perception of your own brand that is what you want it to be. More often than not, it differs from what others believe it to be, as the diagram shows.

How Brand Impacts Your Life

Have you ever considered the impact your brand has had in your life so far?

  • It plays a huge role in your current and future employment.
  • It is at the center of every personal relationship you now and will have.
  • It forms the basis of why people respond to you the way they do.
  • It is why some people trust you and others don’t.
  • It is what people think when they first meet you (which is why first impressions are so powerful).
  • Indirectly, it has been the source of many of the joys and frustrations you have when it comes to how you have interacted with others.

Nearly every person in every profession is impacted by the perception others have of his or her brand. From the big box store greeter to the medical specialist to the IT support services professional, brand is an inescapable factor that affects how people relate to one another.

6 Steps to Improve (or Remake) Your Own Professional Brand

The good news is that each of us has the ability to improve — and even remake — our brand:

1. Identify your current brand. This is the place to start, gathering descriptors (words that describe you) that define who others think you are. It’s a two-part process (build two lists):

  • First, ask your co-workers, family, friends, business associates to give you ten words that best describe you professionally. These could be strengths, weaknesses, behaviors, achievements, failures…the ten words they would use if they were describing you to a friend (who doesn’t know you).
  • Second, identify the top ten descriptors that express your unique qualities, things that differentiate you from other people in your profession. What are your areas of expertise? Where do others see you as highly talented? For what things would they seek your opinion before asking anyone else?
  • The descriptors which appear most often are the ones which most characterize who others think you are.
  • Include your own self-assessment for these two lists.

2. Identify your brand audience. Who are the “customers” who will most likely make decisions to “buy” your brand? Employers? Co-workers? Supervisors? Clients? Members of your chosen profession? The public at large? It is likely that you’ll have more than one audience to consider.

3. Identify your ideal brand. This will be a thoughtful but personal exercise. What are the top 10 descriptors you would most like people to use when they describe you professionally? These are the combination of qualities, attitudes, characteristics, behaviors, and specialties which would give you a highly attractive brand to your audience.

4. Identify the reach of your current brand. Specifically, where is your current brand known?

  • A good place to start is the people with whom you interact professionally. Include co-workers and associates from your current and recent employers; professional organizations and associations to which you belong; and people both inside and outside your organization. If you’re in a people-contact profession, add current and recent customers/clients/patients/ guests.
  • Next, audit yourself on social media. Google your name and follow the links. Include every site on which you have created a profile or identity, or posted pictures and comments.
  • Finally, what things exist in print about you? Your résumé and bio? An article you were quoted in? A presentation you posted?

5. Create a plan to become your ideal brand. In this step, you’ll need to describe what specifically needs to happen to move from your current brand to your ideal brand.

Create a simple four-quadrant MLSS (more-less-stop-start) Action Plan. In Phase 1, the four quadrants of your MLSS Action Plan are: 1) Do more of these actions; 2) Do less of these actions; 3) Start doing these actions; and 4) Stop doing these actions.

Begin adding those actions in the appropriate quadrant which will move you from your current to your ideal brand. It is a living plan, which means you’ll add to it over time until your makeover is complete.

Include your elevator pitch: One or two sentences that communicate what you do, using the descriptors of your ideal brand. It needs to be succinct and something you can say easily and naturally with a bit of practice. “I’m Mattie Jones, patient care supervisor at Patient One Care in Atlanta. I work with a team of professionals dedicated to helping our patients rapidly restore their health whenever they are ill, so they can feel their very best.”

Remake your social profiles. Choose your social networks wisely. Remember, you are who people think you are! In some cases you’ll want to tweak your current profile. Consider closing unprofessional sites and deleting unprofessional content. You may want to establish a profile on networks which can further your ideal brand.

Phase II of your MLSS Action Plan is your plan to monitor and manage your brand once you’ve fully completed your initial plan. Some people use the MLSS format; others build a checklist of monitoring actions. Do what works for you.

6. Focus on executing your MLSS Action Plan. Every day, take decisive action on Phase I of your plan until you’ve executed all of it. Then move to Phase II and set up a monthly maintenance schedule.

Bottom Line

You are who people think you are. And what they think about you is has profound implications for the rest of your career. Remaking your professional brand — and living it — is under your direct or indirect control. So, what are you going to do today to positively impact your professional brand?