This Brand’s For You

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
5 min readApr 5, 2023

What is Personal Branding — And How You Can Get Started Now

Steve Forbes, the eponymous publisher, once said, “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” As a Chief Marketing Officer and career marketer, I have to agree. In recent years, however, spurred by the ubiquity of digital and social media, it isn’t just businesses that benefit from branding. Personal branding has emerged as a valuable strategy for everyone, from celebrities to entrepreneurs, TikTok personalities to executives. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Eighty percent of marketing executives say they are actively developing their own brands, with more than half of that group planning to invest more time and resources.”

The conundrum for marketing professionals, and one that I’m exploring myself, is how to balance their needs as an individual with the needs of the organization they steward.

As a Marketing Academy alum, I recently had the great pleasure of hearing from someone who seems to have mastered that balance: Jonathan Mildenhall.

Just to be clear, he is a personal hero, a great human, and a renowned marketer (Forbes top CMOs anyone?). Jonathan has had an amazing career spanning agencies like McCann Erickson, BBH, and TBWA Worldwide, as well as some of the most well-known brands such as Coca-Cola and AirBnB. Today, he is Founder of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand (21CB), a boutique branding “growth consultancy” operating out of London and San Francisco. The company has built such influential brands as Google, HBO Max, Instacart Walmart, Mars, and more. Oh, and he serves on the Boards of some pretty well-known brand names too, like Peloton and GoFundMe.

But what struck me most is that he *is* a brand. Throughout his career, Jonathan has managed to create some of the most iconic brands in the world, while building his own successful personal brand. In his words, “Modern marketers have to invest in their own brands to do their work effectively….The CMO’s work is always in the public domain, and the CMO should have the closest proximity to the community that the business serves.”

He is so right and hearing him speak was timely; personal branding is a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit, mostly because I keep getting asked about its importance. Inspired by Mildenhall (both professionally and personally), here are some of my thoughts on the value of a personal branding along with steps you can take to strengthen yours.

When people talk about this idea of a “personal brand,” much of the time, they want to know how to raise their public profile and gain more visibility (e.g., more followers on Linkedin or other social media platforms, or more speaking engagements). And yes, that is an entirely valid request; no matter how long you’ve been in business, you have expertise and experience … and it’s important to your career, and likely to your business, that you are both visible and prolific when it comes to that knowledge.

But, that’s not the totality of a personal brand. In fact, it’s not even a fraction of it. Your personal brand, much like that of a corporate brand, is determined by how others perceive you. What you stand for.

So, a personal brand begins with managing how the world sees you — whether you’re looking to accelerate your career, seeking industry recognition, or even trying to attract new customers. As marketers, most of us are hyper-focused on our organization’s brand. So, you are likely questioning the value of your own personal brand. I would offer this: people want to work with and do business with people. And when you have a strong personal brand, you can:

  • Differentiate yourself
  • Build trust and authority
  • Grow your career
  • Increase your opportunities

Now, comes the more challenging part…getting started. As you are well aware, I love a little alliteration, so I present to you what I consider the Six As of personal brand building:

  • Audit
  • Audience
  • Authority
  • Attitude
  • Accolades
  • Adjust

I’ll walk you through each one.

Audit yourself.

Have you ever Googled yourself? If you don’t think you have a personal brand, just Google yourself. Whatever comes up … that’s your current brand by default. Yes, everyone has a brand. Now, you just need to determine how you want to shape and grow that brand. Continue the process by evaluating what you have to offer. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What job or role-based skills do you possess?
  • What are your power skills, things like communication, leadership, and negotiation?
  • What are your greatest accomplishments? And, what are your credentials, experience, education, and certifications?
  • Finally, what do you value? And how has your background, history, and experience supported your values?

Determine your Audience.

Who are the people — external or internal to your organization — whom you seek to influence? The general public, customers, or industry experts? The competition? Consider their demographics, psychographics, pain points, and challenges. What do they need? And, most importantly, what can you — specifically, you — offer them? This is your personal value proposition.

Demonstrate Authority.

Your personal brand both establishes and is enriched by your subject matter expertise. Ideally this is something that you — and you alone — can “own.” The key, again, is focusing on knowledge or skills that are uniquely yours, regardless of where you are in your career. You want to be perceived as an authority in a particular area, and there are ways to accomplish this over time. Create and distribute free content. Join networking organizations that are aligned to your area of expertise. And yes, create that engaging online/social media presence.

Have an Attitude.

Your expertise and authority are the foundation of your personal brand. But, your brand’s attitude — or “personality” — is important too. Are you creative? Analytical? Hard-working? Dependable? Somber and serious? Or great fun to work with? In other words, what feeling(s) do you want to establish and consistently reinforce in your personal brand? Once you hone in on your unique brand personality, use the same attitude across all your communication channels. Consistency builds trust,credibility, and — most importantly — authenticity.

Seek out Accolades.

Your personal brand is certainly a composite of what you choose to present about yourself, but it’s also what others have to say about it. Ask for that reference or referral. And, if you’re asked to speak, give it a shot, even if it’s only to five or 10 people. Build up your experience over time and encourage feedback when you do speak at events. Include and attribute any kudos you or your work receive in your online profile.

And, finally … Adjust.

Your personal brand shouldn’t radically depart from where you start, but it should get richer over time. Remember, your brand comprises your skills, knowledge, and experience. So, as you accumulate more of any of those, your brand will naturally evolve. As you grow, so will your brand.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be hosting a webinar on — you guessed it — personal branding. If you’re interested in attending, send me a message and I’ll make sure you get added to the invite list!