Visually Exploring the Personal Brand – Part 2: Taking Inventory

As a follow-up to my original post I’ve been working on other ideas around the notion of personal brand. I’ve got a few other visuals & ideas I’m working on and will publish them as I think they’re at a point that they’re ready to share. This next visual is, I think, a bit of a no-brainer, but I thought i’d throw it out there. I’ll admit there’s currently one catch: I’m still working out how best to fill this chart out, I’ve included a section about that at the bottom of this post but just a caveat that there’s no “magic bullet” solution here :) – that said I’ve outlined what I think is an effective process for using this chart to help you start authentically correcting and refining how you’re perceived by others.

Taking Inventory

Part of defining and refining your personal brand is stepping back and considering what your baseline is – how are you currently perceived out there “in the wild”? I wanted a quick and easy way to map out these impressions and perceptions and pretty quickly turned to a 2×2 format chart :

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The intention is to create a chart when you can map out your traits, adjectives that would describe you, experiences, and other qualities to help create your baseline.

The Axes

If you recall my previous graphic, Facts & Fictions formed the foundation of what helps make up peoples impressions and perceptions of you. I think the idea of authenticity is single-handedly the key element when it comes to presenting yourself to the outside world and wanted to make that a key part of the inventory map so the X-axis is based on a spectrum Fictional & Factual.

In a perfect world, Fact & Fiction would be as clear as night & day but it’s the real world and admittedly it can be a bit of a murky area and part of this process should be about taking a good hard look at what your true baseline is. At the furthest extremes you’re either flat out lying (I invented fire) or it’s something completely objective and unquestionably true (I’m 32) everything else is somewhere in between.

On the Y-Axis I’ve included the spectrum of Positive & Negative. Are these facts or fictions good things or bad things?  This starts to bring in the reputation factor – have you burned bridges in the past? Do people consider you trustworthy?  Rating your facts and fictions on this scale really starts to help you get a sense of just how solid your reputation is out there, and how authentic you’re being day-to-day.

Another angle for the Positive vs. Negative is to consider whether an item positively contributes to presenting the image, or ‘brand’ that you want people to see. Maybe you have a dominating experience or past career that people still think of being an integral part of who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. You may want to place that in the negative range even though the outside world perceives it as a positive as it may be hurting your overall goals.

The Quadrants

Obviously, what you really want to present and embrace are your positive, factual traits. As I’ve indicated in the image the other three quadrants all bear their own risks:

Positive Fictional – Congratulations, you’re been a great bullshitter so far. It’s not going to last, if someone corrects these before you can  they’ve only got one place to go, the bottom right corner and then you’re done.

Negative Fictional – Unlike above, no one deliberately creates these types of items (I hope) but they can emerge. Maybe someone is spreading rumours, or there’s been a misunderstanding -there’s many ways these can get created. The important thing is to identify them early and get on correcting them because even though you know they’re fiction, someone else considers them facts.

Negative Factual – Have you considered a career change? Sure, with enough time and effort you could probably remedy these but if anything ends up down here and it’s a key item or trait you need to succeed the deck is most certainly stacked against you.

Positive Factual – The holy grail. Get all your dots up here and you’ve got a good baseline to work from.

Fixing Your Map

Invariably, we’re all going to have a dots in all of the quadrants – none of us are perfect. So how do we start correcting it?

Moving Fictions to Facts

Don’t worry about the positives/negatives at first. What you really want to do is get yourself to a factual baseline as quickly as possible. Fictions are ticking time bombs, whether you’ve created them or now. Get them off your plate first, then you can worry about the true picture is positive or not.

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1. Cut the Bullshit – Take a good look at what you’re putting out there – Look at each of the fictions, determine where the truth lies and reevaluate how you speak about it – If it’s a flat out lie just cut it, now. If it’s something fuzzier (i.e. adding an extra few years experience as a professional web designer because you once built a one-page ‘website’ in high school) then you need to step back and ask yourself “What would happen if someone asked me to elaborate on this?” bring your presentation in line with how you’d truthfully answer that question. It’s okay to reach but make sure you can always truthfully back it up.

2. Clean up the Messes – This may be a bit trickier, but if you’ve got negative things out there about you that are just plain wrong (or at least, not entirely truthful) you need to find the source and solve the problem. Maybe it was a misunderstanding and a simple conversation will correct things. Be careful here though, you don’t want to take some tiny little misconception that few people have noticed and blow it up to a big problem by pointing it out to everyone (i.e. publicly renouncing it on your blog).  Choose your ‘battles’, when cleaning up these messes do it as discreetly as possible.

Moving to the Positive

Now you can turn your focus to cleaning up your image – hopefully this is not a big undertaking for most people

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1. Make Things Right – Alright you really screwed something up, we all do it at one point or another. You may never be able to correct it, but you can make an effort to show that you’ve learned from the experience. Apologize, talk it out, make it right as best you can – nothing will change until you make the first step. Again, the key here is to be authentic – you can’t just declare this to be in your past and have everyone shrug and say “okay”. The only way anything is getting off the bottom of this chart is if other people move it.

2. Spin It – Now, when I say spin I don’t mean take your major cock-up from above and try and put some rosy paint on it. This is more in reference to those items that are in your past, are considered positive by many people but are getting in your way of advancing your current goals. Step back and look for the positive angles that you can take from that experience and apply to your current goals – i.e. how does that experience give you a unique edge in your current space?  If you can’t find something (and I’d be surprised if you don’t), move to step 3. Hell, move to step 3 anyways.

3. Be Explicit – Sometimes we just need to say it out loud and make it very clear – we all carry baggage with us from the past, afraid to let it go lest we offend or disappoint someone . Write a blog post, send an email out to your network, get the message out that explicitly states “This is what I’m doing now. I loved doing xxxx, but it’s no longer what I do”. If there are individuals you’re worried about offending or disappointing then reach out to them 1-on-1 BEFORE you send out any mass communication efforts or else you risk just piling new stuff in the negative areas.

Now the Question: How to fill out this chart?

So here’s the catch, and the part I’m struggling with – How best to fill this chart out.

Certainly there’s a lot of work to be done just personally reflecting and putting in anything you can think of, but the point is to gauge what others think of you. I’ve got a couple of ideas but I’ve love in any of you metric minded people out there had other suggestions.

My two outside influence ideas:

1. Twitter lists – on twitter? Check out what lists you’ve been added to. How people name the lists can be quite telling (what they’re not named can be a big clue) – also go to accounts of the people who have put you on lists and look at what other lists they’ve made. Are you on the “funny people” list but not on the “industryexperts” list?

2. Ask People – Use a service like Rypple, or a Google Doc form and ask people what they think

My concern with both of these is they’ll skew to the positive – I’d be open to other people’s ideas and suggestions on how to collect this information so you can get the truest picture possible.

Feedback Welcome

Am I on to something? Off my rocker? I’d love your feedback and thought in the comments below.

– Ryan

  • John Matyskiel

    Ryan, I really enjoyed the contents of this blog.  Thanks for putting it out there.

    Regarding personal brand, I think you are trying to manage it in the marketplace before defining it. Here is the original Tom Peters essay that created the concept. It was written in 1997 (and sounds like it).  But the essence is “Your brand is your promise to the marketplace and to the world”.  The starting point is within.

    John Matyskiel

    http://www.fastcompany.com/28905/brand-called-you