Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”.
A great personal brand is the key to professional development. The 2016 presidential election campaign trail is one huge exercise in personal branding. The candidate who puts in the greatest effort to manage their brand will take home the ultimate prize as President of the United States of America.
As the net starts to close in on the front runners, we take a look at the lessons we can learn in personal branding from our candidates.
1. Demonstrate Passion
Identifying the parts of your professional and personal life you enjoy and have a talent for is one way to build your personal brand. One of the reasons the 2016 presidential campaign is so interesting to watch is because three of the GOP candidates who have zero political experience are topping the polls.
Why are they garnering so much support? Because their recommendations for positive change may seem much more credible.
Given his impressive CV as a neurosurgeon of 30 years experience, it’s quite compelling to hear GOP candidate Ben Carson express his disdain for the Affordable Care Act Just so, you can (almost) believe in Trump when he proclaims himself to “be the greatest jobs President God created ever”, largely because, as CNN money calculated, he has already created 34,000 jobs so far in his career.
Passion and talent cannot be taught, they can only be nurtured. Exercising your expertise and interests incites people to understand your personal brand better. Focus on your niche, and build upon it.
2. Be relatable
Your personal brand needs to be worth believing in to be supported. One of the biggest reasons candidates drop out of the campaign trail is due to a lack of connection with voters.
Simply put, if voters can’t relate to what you stand for and who you are as a person, they will not support you. Once you’ve decided what you stand for, you can build upon your brand in rallying for a cause in alliance with an existing audience.
One candidate who has been demonstrating this technique along the campaign trail is Bernie Sanders. He has loudly voiced his admiration and support for Pope Francis, the ‘People’s Pope’. Though Sanders acknowledged some fundamental ideological differences, he has nonetheless praised Francis for his economic progressivism, and climate change activism.
By dint of these brand identifiers, economic progressivism, and climate change activism, Sanders benefits from the support of Francis’ legion of followers. Pretty smart move.
One who doesn’t do relatable so well is Hillary Clinton. Sure she publicizes the fact that she had a modest upbringing, went to public school, was a girl scout and played softball, but when she makes statements about being ‘dead broke’ and in debt back in 2001 (is that possible while living in a $2.84 million home) , voters start to wonder whether she is really in touch with her voters.
The key is finding common ground and using it to your advantage – something Hilary needs to work on fast if she wants to secure her Democratic nomination.
3. Differentiate yourself
One observation that can be made about the 2016 presidential campaign is that it is totally different. We’re no longer enamored by well-crafted speeches and promises of a better future. Voters for the most part have grown cynical and want to see big changes in their candidates.
According to a CNN ORC poll 57% of Americans say their perfect Obama successor would change most of the policies enacted by Obama’s administration. Those who can identify the need to focus on change and those who can make themselves stand out have a greater chance of success.
Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump certainly knows how to stand out from the crowd. Even though his controversial comments range from the casually sexist to the blatantly racist, he still manages to climb the Republican opinion polls.
Similarly, Bernie Sanders new strain of ‘socialist democracy’ differentiates him from the other politically indistinguishable nominees. Being different is good. It encourages people to reconsider the status quo, and it commands a certain fearlessness – one of the most notable marks of effective leadership.
4. Transparency is key
Ben Carson and Donald Trump are perfect advocates for ‘telling it like it is’: their frequently non-PC assessments of delicate political problems come with ‘no filter’ (amongst other things!).
Hillary Clinton was once revered as the opponent to beat, with an army of loyal voters marching behind her. However, her vague justifications for controversial decisions she has made in the past have kindled distrust among the ranks.
Jeb Bush is also trying to shake off the whispers of dishonesty. When Bush retracted his confirmation that he too would have gone gone to war in Iraq, his polling figures plummeted.
Clichéd thought it might be, honesty really is the best policy; owning up to mistakes actually makes you appear more trustworthy. Straight talk (without causing offense!), be honest about your poor decisions and recognize them as necessary learning curves on the path to success.
And there you have it. The campaign trail has been marked by many controversial statements, entertaining retorts, and some very novel opinions on what it takes to become the next President of the United States of America. From this media maelstrom, there are some superb takeaways on the do’s and don’ts of unmasking your professional personality and maximizing your brand value.