Personal branding: what it is and how it works

Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” -Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO)

What does brand mean? It means trademark.
It is not just a logo or the company’s trademark, it’s a set of perceptions in the mind of a consumer.
It stems from experience and reflects a reputation.
Let’s take for example Ikea, Starbucks, Microsoft, Coca Cola.
None of these companies treat their brand lightly; they actually consider it a fundamental and distinguishing trait.
Yet they are consumer products, not people.
Yet what about Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Bono or Queen Elizabeth?
None of them treats their brand lightly.
Up until a few years ago only actors, politicians, football players and public figures cared about their image.
Today, we live in a world where you need to create a brand of yourself. And if we don’t take care of our brand, others will surely do so instead of us.
And being good isn’t enough.

The term personal branding is commonly traced back to a 1997 article by Tom Peters, the CEO at FastCompany, entitled “The Brand Called You”, even though self-branding and individual brand is discussed in the 1980 book “Positioning: the Battle for your Mind, written by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
Peters suggested that, whatever my social extraction or age, I am actually President, CEO and Marketing Manager of the company called “Me Ltd.”. My reputation and my credibility are defined by the quality of my current and past work and determine the quality of my future work.


Personal Branding is a set of ideas, sensations, individuality and values that an individual can transmit through his/her activities and behavior. A personal image is the sum of one’s physical traits, body and clothing, while personal branding is the sum of one’s inner and intangible elements. Although this isn’t a new concept, personal branding seems to have found new life and vigor with the 2.0 Web and social media, via services that allow widespread communication at very low costs.

So what should we do?
Let’s start with a concept by Paul Watzlawick: It’s impossible not to communicate. Even being silent means communicating, just like not responding to a message, to an email, to a WhatsApp text. Whatever I do, I communicate and I create relationships with others.
Even on social media, everything we do, say, post, photograph, film shows who we are.
And even not being on social media talks about you; because I’m sure you are on it via posts by relatives, friends and acquaintances.

And how do we communicate?
We communicate through what we say and through what we wear.
“What do I say” and “What do I wear”? We always ask ourselves these questions before we leave the house, before a date, a party, a dinner, before leaving for the holidays.
Today too, I asked myself: what do I say? I thought about it these days, I spent time on my new article, perhaps not as much as I wanted, I jotted down ideas and reviewed what I had written.
And then, what do I wear? In this case we’re on the web; what I wear translates into the form in which I chose to publish this article, in the language with which I wrote it, in its layout, in the colors I used and in the images you see.


Robert Dilts, an American tells us that the environment affects our behavior and our identity. We, depending on where we are, behave in various manners and show various aspects of ourselves. At home I’m Flavia and a wife, in the office I deal with communication and marketing, when I go to the classroom I’m a trainer, here, with you, I provide my experience. Basically what I’m saying is that if I’m at home I do and say different things than I do and I say at work or in the classroom.

We need to start thinking about the social media as new places. Virtual places and, for this very reason, they are extremely powerful. Places where what we say and post can be seen by everyone.
It is a huge square, where there are people walking, chatting with us, criticizing us; people that are simply looking out the window and after a while we forget that they’re there.
Prior to social media, if we did something foolish only a few people would know about it; for a while the news would be considered legendary and then it would fade away. Nowadays if we put anything on the web, it can be seen by anyone: relatives, friends, prospective employers or customers.


What I’m saying is
Choosing the right words to use is much more important than choosing a dress, a hair style, a perfume, a pair of shoes. The words we choose say who we are!
Yet, we often don’t give enough importance to what we write; we put things down which we end up regretting later, we write without rereading, perhaps even with some grammar errors, we post phrases worthy of note without looking for the source only to find that it was the one thing that doesn’t represent us at all.
Every action, every Like, every post leaves a small part that tells a little bit about us. Let’s think twice before posting something or sending an email, because once posted or sent it no longer belongs to you; it ends up in a sea of information and goes its own way… and it will be used and reused, perhaps with a different meaning than we had intended.

What should I wear
Images are very powerful on the web, there are news items that we remember primarily through the images: if I mention September 11 or the Charlie Hebdo Paris massacre I’m pretty sure that the first thing that comes to mind is an image.
Images portray something about us, sometimes much more than words.
What should I wear, what picture should I use to introduce myself, which pictures should I post, which one should I choose for my profile: everything represents who I am and the things I believe in.
The positive news is that today the web promotes us, if we know how to present ourselves well. The negative news is that today the web promotes us, even if we don’t know how to present ourselves well.
Did we post a picture that we may regret one day? Think about it well, because photos can be taken, copied, used and brought back. Above all, if our profile has very bland privacy settings.
Who are the people that can view what we post?
Beware, nothing seems faster and instanteous than the web, but in reality nothing is more eternal than the web.
As a result, our identity is important and must be handled in a professional way.


Today, we need to learn to become good at telling our story, what we are; telling it through the words and images that represent us and that build our story day after day, giving value to difficulties and enhancing the things we do well by creating value and interest towards us.
Along with the quality of the contents and exchanges we need to be consistent. Perhaps it’s the most critical element to maintain one’s personal brand. That said, we are ready to make ourselves a brand. How?


Set up a personal branding strategy.

Just like companies do, we start with an analysis of the market, so as to understand our competitors and find reference models.
Once this is done, we need to show that we know how to go about doing it.

  • What is our objective: the question we need to answer is why we are doing it, what is our personal mission?
  • What are the main values that we want to communicate: who we are.
  • What is our Unique Selling Proposition – USP: what do we want to convey, what sets us apart from the rest of the world?

Having done this, it becomes fundamental to establish our target audience, to find our niche: those we wish to get in touch with.


Create a clear and recognizable identity.

Let’s look at tone of voice andvisual identity: during this phase our goal is to create guidelines that represent us (writing style, type of language, colors, logos, graphic elements, images , etc.). We must then put all this into various channels/communication tools that we want to use, so that our personal brand is easily recognizable by our users.


Create valuable contents.

What is the story of our past that we could tell our readers? What is the experience we’ve already overcome and which our audience could be going through right now?
That story is the key element of our credibility. People want nothing more than to know that we’ve been through their own experiences, their own problems. And to tell theses stories means to make a great gesture. It means helping others by offering our skills, our failures, our successes, our ideas. It means facing new challenges and showing ourselves to the world.
You don’t have to post an article a day on your blog or post 3 photos a day on Instagram, however it’s better if we manage to do so with a certain frequency.
What’s important is that they are valuable. Be careful when posting, give practical guidance and valuable advice and never write hastily: a high standard in content quality is the first and most important step in retaining our readers.


Whether we like it or not, we’ve all become public figures. And our story, even the one on the web, is written by us.
And Google doesn’t forget, not even the smallest page we’ve written.

If someone typed your name on Google right now, what would be the result?
What do you think of Personal Branding?
I look forward to reading your comments, if you feel like sharing them with me 😉

Flavia Piantino Gazzano

Digital enthusiast and growth hacker, with a strong passion for new technologies, social media and PR. She uses strategic communication as a strong asset in her life and has a creative approach to problem solving.

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