You Are Not In The Room: Personal Branding for Professionals


“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room” Jeff Bezos, founder of

Getting a handle on branding and your brand is becoming more important every day. While there are academics arguing over the value of concepts like personal brands and branding, the truth remains:

  1. We need a framework for concepts of style and identity in the marketplace
  2. Branding provides a language for a conversation about constructed identities (business and personal)
  3. Call us tribes, call us communities, call us something else (but please don’t call us segments or target markets), as consumers and creators we have constructed identities that interact with the constructed identities of businesses. The language of branding is the quickest way to describe that.

As a business owner, a self-employed person, an executive, an employee, an employment seeker, even as a customer… we require a “designed self” to be successful in the world. To the patchouli and Birkenstock claim we should just “be ourselves” I ask: “which selves?”

In life and in business, I believe that consequences (positive and otherwise) are positively related to intentions. Who we seek to be has a causal relationship to who we become. For me branding is as good a language as any for that intentionality.

7 Reflections on Personal Branding

1. YOU ARE NOT IN THE ROOM. This is in reference to the Bezos quote. While we must seek to shape our brands, much of that is not in our hands. Our brand is shaped by our customers, colleagues, friends, tribe, and community. Their perceptions of us are the true brand.

  • Your brand is who you are as perceived by others. >>Tweet<<
  • You can shape your brand and influence it, but you do not own it. >>Tweet<<
  • Your brand is the present consequence of your past actions. >>Tweet<<

2. WHO ARE YOU? You must know why you are here, why you do what you do, and why anyone should care.  you must also know who you are not. If you don’t have people who disagree with you and even dislike you, you don’t have a brand.  Or at least not a brand anyone who matters (to you) would ever care about.  >>Tweet<<

What are your values, passions, talents, skills, desires, idiosyncrasies, and habits? What do you hate? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

One of the most unique and powerful voices in coming at your brand from a place that is both fresh and effective, is David Rendall.  >>Tweet<< Check him out here: David Rendall’s Freak Factor.

3. WHO WILL YOU BE? Not “who do you want to be?”. Who will you be? Your success, your brand, almost anything that matters is a consequence of your past actions. Your brand is an inevitable trailing indicator. You can decide today what your brand will be in a few months or years, but you can’t chose to have, or not have, a brand. You will be someone. You just have to decide who today.

Turn the Bezos quote into a question: “3 months or 3 years from today, what do you want people to be saying about you when you are not in the room?” Now behave accordingly.

I agree with Rendall and others here: you will be most successful when the person you seek to be most truly is who you already are, only more deeply so, more unapologetically so, more honestly and fearlessly so. A thought-provoking article by Penelope Trunk covers this ground well too.

1. Success is a consequence, not a goal.  >>Tweet<<
2. What do you want people to say about you after you leave a room? >>Tweet<<
3. Stop trying to be someone else. Walk back to yourself. >>Tweet<<

4. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are three kinds of people we require to be successful: gurus, fans, and coaches.

I call them gurus just as an attention-getting device. You can call them role models if you like. These are people whose journeys you would like to emulate. You will never be exactly like them, but they have walked similar paths and achieved similar dreams. These people are “visions as humans”; proof that what you want to achieve can be achieved. They have been over this territory before. Originality is sometimes overrated; it is just another word for reinventing the wheel.

Fans are people who think you are the best thing ever. Even in the morning. Even when you screw up. Even when you don’t like yourself. They still do. Having gurus can make things easier; having fans is necessary. The evidence is overwhelming that a sense of being loved, of being needed is fundamental to being healthy as a human. The absence of affection, the absence of being cared for and about makes us sick. It is impossible to be truly successful if you don’t have someone who loves you.

Coaches are not just the people who get paid to coach. A coach is anyone who will give you honest feedback, and hold you accountable for your commitments.

5. WHO NEEDS YOU? Every brand requires a context, an audience, a community, a tribe. If the heart of human business is solving someone’s problem for consideration then you must know who’s problem you are solving. You must know in detail. In the social economy where the very concept of mass audiences has all but evaporated, the details matter more than ever.

That is why the word tribe resonates more accurately than ‘community’ or ‘segment.’ It sounds more defined, more hermetic, less tolerant of differences. Intolerance is another misused term. I am intolerant of bad food, sloppy design, people who don’t care, and monetized wishful thinking (e.g. The Secret).

As a business or a professional, you are measured by the problems you solve, and the experience you create. Making a difference is the only differentiation that matters.

In all forms of branding we focus too much on ourselves and on our businesses. We forget that the ‘business end’ of our brand is defined by others and by our value to others. Knowing who would most value what we do is critical in a healthy brand.

1. Every brand requires an audience. Have you met yours? >>Tweet<<
2. Who is your tribe? More importantly, who is not your tribe? >>Tweet<<
3. What difference will you make in our lives? One of the most important questions in business.  >>Tweet<<

6. GET AN ATTITUDE. Part of a successful brand in the social economy is attitude. A noticeable attitude  In a world where Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is available to everyone every day, vanilla doesn’t cut it. >>Tweet<<

Like everything that matters, an attitude that turns heads starts from within. Be who you are, as confidently and uncompromisingly as possible. Faking it is the surest way to guarantee the failure of a brand.

7. TELL YOUR STORY. Move your attitude out into the world on two vectors: images and stories. In the social marketplace, everyone has access to dozens of tools to build their brand through pictures and stories. The age of compressing a brand for mass consumption into little pellets called jingles or slogans or elevator pitches is over. Slow down, take a picture, tell your story. Even the largest corporations of the 1950’s and 60’s didn’t have access to the story-telling tools anyone with a mobile phone has today.

When this all works you generate positive feedback loops. When your stories, your images, and your brand resonate with your audience, that audience becomes your best amplifier. They pass on your message, amplifying it with their own experiences, subtly tuning it to resonate even more intensely with their networks.

When the message that resonates is the same message that you wanted people to say when you were not in the room then you have achieved the primary goal of a brand in the social economy. You have created an alignment between yourself, your brand, and your audience.

As a professional, as someone seeking a strong and effective personal brand, this is the gold standard. This is the land of no wasted motion, of near-perfect alignment that results in a fulfilling career, a story that drives inevitably towards a positive exit, and clients, colleagues and customers who literally cannot say enough good things about you.

At Clemens Rettich Business Consulting Ltd. we work with business to redesign their futures. We help them become what their owners first dreamed them to be… Want more out of your business? Contact Clemens.

Read Clemens’ book “Great Performances – the Small Business Script for the 21st Century.” >>Tweet<<

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