Foliotek Blog

Imani Steele: Building My Personal Brand

alt When we see a student get this excited about building her brand, we knew we had to get an interview to learn more. Imani Steele is a sophomore marketing major with a minor in business analytics and is a Fellow at the Center for Business Leadership (CBL) in Miami University's Farmer School of Business. One of the CBL's top priorities is creating improvement initiatives that are organized and run entirely by the Fellows (students) in the program.

In last week's post, we spoke with the Fellows responsible for implementing the Foliotek Initiative. Below is our interview with Imani which provides a student's perspective.

Foliotek: You are working on a separate initiative with your team. What did you learn from that experience?

Imani Steele: When you're on a team with phenomenal leaders that create a very diverse environment, you learn a lot. I've learned how to be an effective, inclusive leader and make sure that everyone's input is utilized. You can't get away from teamwork, collaboration, and diversity (some of my core values) in society.

F: At some point, you were told that you would be using Foliotek to showcase your own initiative. What was your first impression?

IS: The advisors informed us during our individual leadership lab in September that we would be using Foliotek to record our experience and how it relates to CBL's main values. I thought it [Foliotek] was really cool, and obviously there are many ways to promote your personal brand, but Foliotek can really showcase your individual and team projects, which I love.

F: What was the impact of using Foliotek to showcase your projects?

IS: Foliotek lets you go more in-depth when it comes to explaining and showcasing your projects. I was able to take time to reflect on what I actually did. The way the project templates were structured helped me not only talk about what I did on the surface level, but I was able to dig in deeper and talk about how it shaped me in my leadership and teamwork skills.

F: What value did you get from reflecting on your work?

IS: There is always room for growth. Being able to reflect on what you've done and document your growth, see your growth, and show your growth is really effective in crafting your professional and personal brand. Every application I fill out for internships, I always put a link to my Foliotek ID page. Foliotek has helped me with this because I can tell anyone to 'go to this website to see what I've done,' and [my projects] are right there with a click of a button. I don't think I could have thought of a better way of showcasing everything I've done while building my own authentic brand.

alt F: Do you think you'll continue to build your brand in Foliotek?

IS: Absolutely! I've even had to pull stuff from freshman year! I'm currently working on a project in one of my business classes and I will put it in there; any other project I complete from here on out will be going into Foliotek. When it [my ID Page] was done, I had to send it to my dad. Every time I talk to him, he wants to know what I'm doing in school. He thought it was really cool and was impressed! I now have a way to keep my parents up to date and show them that everything they are putting into my education really is an investment!

F: So, what are your next steps in the CBL?

IS: One thing I love about being a part of the CBL is that it's student-run. I'm excited to continue to be part of the CBL and come up with ideas for how the center can really be effective and continue to do things for the Farmer School of Business and Miami University as a whole. I have a few plans [for future initiatives] that would be really cool for inclusion and diversity within the CBL, and hopefully that could trickle down to the Business School as a whole.

F: We've really enjoyed being a part of this improvement initiative at your school. Fellows are creating strong, professional brands that reflect highly on the values of the CBL and Miami University. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us today.

IS: Thank you for letting me have this opportunity!


What is Your Brand?

Whether we like it or not, every decision we make affects our brand. From the words we use, or the clothes we wear, to the content we publish in social media, all of it speaks to your personal identity. Your Brand.

So what is your brand? You can find out by asking this question:

"What is the word or phrase people think of when they think of you?"

That can be a pretty scary question to answer. But that, in essence, is your brand. Let’s look at a more comprehensive definition from Tim O’Brien.

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BREAKING IT DOWN

PART 01 -

“Stimulates a meaningful emotional response in your target audience.”

This means that your actions, on and off the web, are going to affect other people. In many cases, people will decide what your brand is within 15 seconds of meeting you. Obviously 15 seconds is not enough time for them to draw a logical conclusion about what makes you tick without having any tangible evidence, but sadly, this is the case. People are going to have an emotional response to … "You." This meaningful, emotional response could be positive or negative; regardless, it will mean something to them and in turn have an effect on you.

The second part of this statement, "Target Audience," adds a layer of intentionality. Who is your target audience? Interestingly, your brand is going to impact both your "target audience" and your non-target audience. The difference is that your brand cares about, or is more focused on, a defined group of people. While everyone is going to make their own decision about what your brand is, your focus should be on the group of people whose opinions you care most about. How do you want to be perceived?

For example, if I wear a suit every day (HA), no matter the temperature, and you always see me in my suit, it conveys a certain message. That would be a part of my brand. Some might see me and think, "That's guys got swag" others might see me and think, "what a pompous jerk." My attire is a part of my brand, and it can conveys both a positive and negative message. You just need to be certain the message you are conveying is the right message for the right audience.

PART 02 -

“About the values and qualities for which you stand”

Clearly your brand is focused on soliciting an emotional response from a group of people. Now you need to decide what values and qualities you want your brand to state. My colleague has a post about How to Create a Personal Brand. It's a great post. If you have a few minutes, give it a read. However, whether you read it or not, remember this:

You have already built your brand.

CONCLUSION

That bit of truth is about as scary as answering the question that defines your brand. But there is good news, you can still shape your brand and refine it to be more intentional and focused on the values and qualities for which you stand. Just because you may have a brand that means “x” today doesn’t mean you can’t begin the process of refining that brand to be more intentional tomorrow.

So start to work out your plan and make the necessary changes for “stimulating the meaningful emotional responses” you have purposefully defined.

If you have some time, check out this Personal Brand video by Tim O'Brien. It will make you think more carefully about the emotional impact of your brand.

Related Posts:
How to Create a Personal Brand
Your Virtual Handshake
First Impressions


How to Create a Personal Brand

alt If Michael Jordan pops up on the screen your mind does not think of Apple Inc., Google, or anything tech related for that matter. Because of successful branding, you will most likely visualize NIKE, Air Jordan, basketball dunk, and think of the Chicago Bulls. If you are a Michael Jordan fan, your mind will immediately dig up emotions tied to some of his heroic last-second championship wins, and you will see Jordan as a leader with courage, discipline, determination, and talent. How does Branding encompass all of this? Let’s first define it.

PERSONAL BRAND IS WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE THE ROOM - Jeff Bezos, Founder, Amazon.com

BRANDING: DEFINED

The definition of Personal Branding is "the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands." To put it simply, “Personal Branding is the means by which people remember you” The term branding does encompass a logo, identity, and all the visual components you can think of when you try to visualize a company with successful marketing strategies (i.e. Nike swoosh, JUST DO IT). But branding also includes other areas that are not just strictly design and marketing. These areas can include emotions and any other perceptions that come to mind when a customer thinks about a company or potential employee. Today, let’s focus on these other areas like values, character traits, and leadership roles.

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BRANDING: DEVELOPED

The first step to building a personal brand that is complete with your character traits is to consider what you want your audience, or potential employers, to think of when they come across your online identity. Here are three questions you must ask yourself as you develop your personal brand:

What type of skills, character traits, values, and leadership roles do you want to have associated with you?
For this first question, go ahead and dream big! It’s ok to desire traits that you haven’t yet developed because it will help you get direction on where you want to go. See where your heart is and then work towards it. Perhaps you really want to be known as someone who is very hard working and humble. Or maybe it’s more important in your field to be efficient and artistic. Whatever the case is, write it all down.

Are these traits true to yourself and something you can deliver?
Ok, now that you’ve dreamed big, let’s get back to reality. Now you have to look at these ideal skills, values, character traits, and leadership roles and truly ask yourself whether you can provide these to your fan base or a potential employer. It’s really important to be able to deliver on the promises you make, otherwise your entire personal brand will become nonexistent. Steve Jobs wouldn’t have been able to pull off the ‘Air Jordan’ marketing strategy, but he had something just as powerful and intriguing. He was an innovator, always pursuing excellence and diversity in his work.

Is there consistency across traits that pertain to one market area?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when building a personal brand is trying to cover different market areas. The problem is that without a specific market audience, your personal brand can’t exist. Jayson DeMers from Forbes.com explains that “The best brands have a thorough understanding of the demographics of their target market, what their interests are, and how they communicate.” As you look at what skills, values, character traits, and leadership roles you can provide, funnel them down to a specific market area. If you are already in a career and plan to stick with it, then this step should be pretty easy.

Make Your Online Identity Stand Out
Want a Job? Use Your Experiences
First Impressions


You can do better than a resume. Help us help you.

Resumes suck, portfolios are hard

As builders of portfolio systems (and employers ourselves) – we think portfolios show an authentic picture of who you really are and what you can do that goes way beyond a resume (cough pack of lies).  We believe everyone should be building portfolios, and employers should be looking at them when evaluating candidates.

While electronic portfolios are extremely valuable, they are a ton of work to produce and take a long time to finish.  This fact can be very demotivating to even get started – it is difficult to take that first step when looking up at a mountain.  Even if people recognize the value in having a portfolio, they often won’t start the process of building one. Only the most motivated (or those forced to in school) take that first step.

The other difficulty is that portfolios take time to evaluate, so employers often won’t look at them to narrow down candidates.  As an employer, I wouldn’t look at hundreds of portfolios to narrow down to a list of a few candidates to interview.  However, if I have something like a stack of resumes – I would narrow candidates down to ten based on the resume (and related school/work experience and transcripts), then interview each of those candidates to get some evidence of what the resume says to narrow down candidates for a deeper second interview.  We think that portfolios can take the place of that first interview and actually save the employer time.  Unfortunately, resumes are still necessary to efficiently narrow down a large list of candidates, though – even with all of the problems that resumes have (exaggeration, verifiability, keyword stuffing, etc).

Badges are better than a transcript or work history

I think one way that we can improve the status quo is with badging.  The folks over at Mozilla are working on OBI – an open badging initiative that will allow any authority (school, employer, certifier, conference, etc.) to hand out virtual badges (small pictographic awards for discrete skills – think virtualized boy scout sashes) that are backed by evidence of the skill awarded.  The learner can take these badges that come from any source, and store/organize them all at one place, which then can be displayed elsewhere (their Facebook profile, for example).  I see this as potentially serving as a much finer grain and verifiable picture of what you typically get out of a education and work history/skills section of a resume/transcripts.  Depending on how many badges the learner chooses to display – it can be as quickly scannable/reviewable as those documents.

What about dispositions?

There is still a problem that badging systems don’t aim to solve, though.  Employers don’t just do first interviews in order to verify what is on the resume.  They also want to find out about the candidate’s personality, motivations, passions, work ethic, and so on.  Educators often refer to these attributes as “dispositions“.  A good portfolio will have information about your dispositions – but once again, those are difficult to build, and most people aren’t building them.  Many employers are now resorting to searching for candidates on Google, and then seeing what they can find.  This often produces a scattershot (and undesirable or inaccurate) picture of a candidate.

Web business cards

Putting all of this together, we see the potential for a system that doesn’t currently exist.  This system has several key properties:

  1. Lets you build something that is sharable in 10 minutes or less
  2. Can become the “identity page” that shows the self-curated, desirable picture of your professional/educational/social life
  3. Stores data in Microformats to make it easy for employers to identify candidates based on specific criteria, and more likely for this profile to become the first Google result for a person
  4. Is scannable by employers in the first couple of minutes to determine a candidate’s fit and whether they want to look deeper
  5. Displays OBI badges and/or links to portfolio evidence to verify skills
  6. Allows easy embedding and linking to dispositional data from other sites: social media, portfolios, etc.

This system would be a fairly simplified version of our current portfolio tools.  It would be superficially similar to about.me and flavors.me – but it would be backed by the hard evidence of badges and portfolios and the searchability of microformats.  It would be your web business card, resume, and/or cover letter – and it lets anyone dive as deep as they want (and you allow) into who you are.

Here is a sample we came up with:

Business plan

We know we can develop a system like this.  We believe our portfolio tools prove we have the chops.  Go try our current portfolio system for yourself and see if you agree.

We think people want a system like this even if they don’t know it yet.  We aren’t sure if people would pay for it.  We think people should have an online identity like this, and we’re ok with giving it away to get it going.

However – we are a self-funded small company, and so we need to be able to make money somehow to keep the lights on.  The classic “get eyeballs now and sell ads later” model doesn’t work for us.  We are confident we can get some of the users to pay for portfolios in order to bring more attention to their id page – but that will only fund the project if we get a lot of people to build an id page in the first place.

Since we are a small company, we are also worried that we’ll go and build this awesome thing and then nobody will notice.  We want people to notice.  We see this project as a way to invest in our product sales efforts by building something great instead of throwing a bunch of money at ads or sales people.  We also are a bit concerned about how much it’s going to cost to host a free system where we are targeting lots of usage.

This is where you come in:  I need your help convincing my boss to think differently.  We traditionally have used a business-to-business, hosted, software-as-a-service type model.  We control our data, support, and operations end to end.  That’s quite costly, but it feels safe to be in control.  It’s scary to think about doing something different for this project, but I think we need to.

I think that at the very least, we should make this system in open technologies – and make it easily and freely installable.  I think individuals, businesses, and schools should have the opportunity to control the system operations and data if they desire to.  This is a bit scary for us – while it does have the advantages of removing the support and hosting burden – if we give it away for free, aren’t we giving away opportunities to upsell and make a profit?  I think I mostly have him convinced that the benefits to our reputation are worth the giving up those “maybe revenues” – but I could use some extra ammo here.

I really want to go even further out of our comfort zone, though.  I want to build this thing and open source all of it.  I think our opportunity to get early traction goes up exponentially if we do so.  Many of our potential early adopters are into open source – either they work on it, or they like to look at it, or they just feel better if it is available.  If the source is out there – we can prove we aren’t doing any funny business with your data (we wouldn’t anyways – but this is better than a promise).  It also gives us the opportunity to prove that we not only build pretty and extremely usable systems, we also know how to build them the right way.  I also believe that even though we would be giving away all of our code for free – when we get real traction, most people will still come to us to host and support the system to save themselves the hassle.  They’ll even pick us over any competitor that might try to host our stuff, because we know it best.

That said, the whole idea of open source grates at my boss’s business sense – so this is a hard topic to push.  I truly believe it is our best business case (in addition to being the right thing to do), but I need help convincing him.

What you can do

Please help me.  Comment on this post.  Share it on twitter/facebook/google plus – or message us (Foliotek/@Foliotek) there.  Vote it up or comment on reddit.  Email us at idpage@foliotek.com.  Ask us through any of those mediums to get on our beta list.  The more data I have to give him now that shows that people want something like this, they want to install it, and that they want it to be open source – the more likely it is that we’ll start building it right away and everyone will benefit.