The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What’s the best way to manage your personal brand?” is written by Carine Clark, president and CEO of MaritzCX.
How many times have you heard, “I totally Googled you”? Last summer, I was on an African vacation with my family and 20 strangers. Two weeks into the trip, one of the retired guests said, “I totally Googled you, and you are different than I thought—you’re a big deal.” Even though I had tried to be in the background, humbly enjoying my time away from my regular life as a CEO of a fast-growing tech company in Utah, I couldn’t escape my brand—even in the middle of Africa.
Because anyone can “totally Google (GOOG) you,” you need to make sure you’re deliberate about your brand. Does it represent who you are and who you want to be? Are there things you love? Are there things you need to change?
I believe that your personal brand should be personal. It should be authentic, and it should be a rich representation of not only what you’ve done, but of who you are and what you care about. I’m a tech CEO, but I care about mentoring young people. Because I understand how important my brand is when it comes to the outcome of my career, I’m very deliberate about the projects and organizations I choose to support. Your brand will always be defined by the traits you display and the work you do in your personal life.
Here are a few lessons I have learned about personal brand management:
Do forensics on your brand
Before you can effectively manage your personal brand, you must first have a 360-degree understanding of how others perceive you. Reach out to friends or colleagues who will be honest with you and ask for their feedback. Listen to what they have to say. Some of what you hear may be on par with what you want your brand to be, and some may vary.
Early in my career, some of my colleagues told me people thought I was mean—some were even scared of me. I knew that I had high expectations and that I could be tough, but mean? I had spent countless hours helping mentor young people and giving back to the tech community, so why didn’t that stand out? I was typically very direct—almost curt—when speaking to people, and realized I needed to be careful. You need to give people context before asking them to do something that you need.
Be the brand you want others to see
Simply put, if you want to be recognized as philanthropic, then be big-hearted and generous. If you want to be perceived as humble, then be humble. Your brand directly reflects what you’ve done, who you are, and what you care about. Early on, I realized what mattered to me and wanted my brand to reflect entrepreneurship, mentorship, and advocating for women in tech. When I understood how my brand was perceived, I was empowered to make it happen.
For instance, I would only take speaking engagements that supported my values. Even now, I only share social content that falls in line with my brand. Most importantly, I spend a lot of my professional and personal time putting my money where my mouth is.
Allow your brand to evolve with you
It’s no secret that the only constant in life is change. As you learn and grow, so will your brand. Let it. Just be cognizant of what the changes are. Most importantly, realize that rough patches and hard times—whether they be layoffs, health crises, or family emergencies—don’t have to define your brand, but they can refine it.
At one point in my life, I had to accept that cancer would, to some extent, be a part of my brand. While I didn’t want to be defined by it, I had to recognize that people knew about it and it was out there, so I embraced it and braided it into my brand. My brand message was, “Yes, I’ve dealt with hard stuff, but everybody has.”
If someone were to “Google” you today or ask your friend or boss about you, would they discover something different from what you want your brand to be? Be honest with yourself. When what you want your brand to be is inconsistent with the perceptions of others, the only person who has the power to change it is you. There is strength in knowing who you are and working every day to make it real.