While doing research on personal branding, I came across a few interesting discussions regarding the distinction between brand and image. According to some, a brand is a promise. It tells people what they can expect from you. It broadcasts information about your abilities, your character, your performance. Image on the other hand, is a collection of attributes people associate with you: your hairstyle, your clothing, your overall physical appearance, your sense of humour (or lack thereof), your favourite book, etc. In an ideal world, both are in alignment (what people expect is actually what they get). Whether the experts on branding make a distinction between the two or not, they all seem to agree that paying attention to these elements are important. Essentially, we should all be proactively trying to influence what other people expect of us and to live up to those expectations as often as possible.
Unfortunately, try as we may, we cannot always be the only influence on other people’s expectations of us. So what happens to your personal brand when you are in a situation where there are additional expectations, ones that you did not create, that are not based on you as an individual, but based on the role or position you are in? Can your personal brand exist in isolation from a role/position brand?
For example, let’s say your personal brand is about being a great leader, a good collaborator and a hard worker. Let’s also say that you are looking for a job in the not-for-profit sector. In the not-for-profit world, there is often the expectation that people who work there must be passionate and self-sacrificing (i.e. money doesn’t matter), at the same time there is growing expectations that these same people become more hard-nosed and business-like (i.e. money does matter, now show me how you cut overhead and produce returns on investment). So, if you are being interviewed for the position of CEO of a hospital or President of a university or Executive Director of a national charity, what type of personal brand/image do you lean towards? Do you expand your personal brand/image and adapt to the expectations?
As a professional, you often have to deal with multiple stakeholders. You do not have the luxury of dealing with just one target audience, one set of expectations. Unlike a product or service, you are not static or designed to appeal to one specific demographic or clientele. Moreover, regardless of the sector in which you work, the job market itself has certain expectations of you—which must be taken into consideration if you plan to change employers or careers at some point (see examples from the Hay Group and the Institute for the Future). It appears that some degree of versatility of “personal brand” is needed. So, could personal branding, narrowing in on one set of traits that differentiate you, actually be detrimental in the long-run? In other words, if you get known for X, is there a risk that others will assume you can’t do Y? It’s the mini-wheat dilemma: if you show the whole wheat side, no one sees the frosted side. And if you tell the world you’re a mini-wheat, they will most likely put you in a bowl of milk and keep you there. So what kind of personal brand is most beneficial in the long-run?