Bold – Jane Italics -Chidozie
This is a collaborative article by Chidozie Akakuru and Jane Egerton-Idehen. Chidozie is an engineer in the energy industry. Jane is an engineer, telecommunications and sales executive and with over twenty years’ experience in the telecommunications and tech industries. We took a moment and gave time to share perspectives about personal branding. A topic that has become more prominent since the nineties. In the past, intentional personal branding was majorly attributed to celebrities and government officials. With the advent of social media this is becoming common practice with professionals. We look at why it is important and how one can commence building one.
Chidozie: Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend on personal branding and the powers of perception, others’ perception of us more specifically. It was quite insightful, as in the past, I had a more laissez-faire attitude towards the topic. What that conversation helped me do was a small change in perspective, a widening of my previously narrowed lenses. I felt that personal branding was like false advertising. It seemed to entail a distasteful amount of self-promotion, exaggerations, and untruths. I have a feeling that I was not the only one with this view. I’ve met other introverted (and some extroverted) people in the years since who shy away from any talk of putting themselves out there.
Jane, I have also learned a lot by watching your growth and how you have successfully built an identifiable brand, both offline and via social media, by consistently putting yourself out there. I’d like to know what your first introduction to personal branding was and how did you approach it?
Jane: My introduction into personal branding was as a result of three different realisations that built on each other. First found out after working for a company for over 8 years that most people just saw me as a staff of that company, only as an extension of their brand. In most cases they did not remember my surname but referred to me as “Jane Ericsson.” At some point I wanted more, because I was more than just a staff member of this company. I have passion, purpose and skills and talent that cannot be solely attributed to a company. Today that will be different due to social media. We all have some kind of digital media presence beyond the organization we work for.
Secondly my coach had been talking to me about having an industry wide presence, pushing my leadership well beyond the company I worked for, into my sector and continent. For a long time I had quite an issue understanding what she meant by that. One of my goals was becoming a leader in my Industry on the African Continent. How to execute that outside the company I worked for was unimaginable.
The third event helped me make sense of it all. At some point I wanted to change jobs and move to an adjacent sector. I approached a friend of mine who had access to the companies I hoped to work for. Her candid feedback after several months trying to help me was that I needed to be more visible with my work and brand way outside the organisation I worked for. There was no information out there about my leadership. There was very little out there about who I was or my work. Mostly because all I had done prior to that were all internally driven by the organisation I worked for. I realized no one was going to talk about me until I started talking about me. I decided to be intentional and be in control of my narrative out there. Chidozie, how has your experience been with branding as an individual working for a corporate organisation?
Chidozie: Of recent, Personal branding has become even more pertinent. I observe that as you seek to grow in your role, your organization and your career as a whole, taking control of your narrative starts to become even more important. So, despite my earlier misgivings about self-promotion, I was forced to acknowledge the relevance of personal branding. It is hard because personal branding involves a reasonable level of disclosure and being in the public eye.
I use “taking control” because what I’ve found out is that whether we acknowledge it or not, our personal brands are always being sold. For example, my work is a big part of my personal brand. How I speak, what I write, where I choose to spend my time and with whom. Also what I put out on social media and the causes I am interested in and so on. The question is not “should I understand how to actively craft my personal brand?” The answer to that is already a resounding “yes.” The right questions to ask are, amongst others, “what is my personal brand today?,” “does it successfully convey the message I want?” and “how can I better shape that brand to serve me better?” Jane, I would love your take as well. What would you say are the elements of a successful personal branding strategy?
Jane: Elements of branding that work for corporate branding can also apply to personal branding so we can apply those same strategies. One key difference is that your personal brand cannot be an object of a full transaction. Your brand is an inalienable personal and intangible asset. It cannot be hired, licensed, or subject to other activities.
Intentionality. The ability of having a clear strategy about your brand is an element of successful branding. It answers the question who you are, why you are doing this, how you plan to implement it and what methods will be incorporated. It is a good exercise for anyone commencing on a personal branding journey.
The interesting fact is that whether or not you are aware, there is already a brand that you have, a way you are perceived by others. The question is do you want to take charge and control the narrative. Do you want to be in charge of your own story and career journey? Chidozie, I know our personalities and gender are different. I am female, very extroverted, you are male and come across as an introvert. How have you approached personal branding and visibility?
Chidozie: For people who struggle with being in front of the camera, so to speak, what I’ve found to be true is something you consistently drive in your book and your regular posts. It’s the power of being authentic. The correct public persona should ideally be consistent with your internalized values. If I seek to portray one thing out there and am another entirely different person in private, I will experience a lack of consonance. This can result in unhappiness. So, my lesson has been that the right personal brand strategy does not seek to invent an entirely different version of myself. Rather, it should seek to better promote who I am. More importantly, it can help amplify my voice by creating a platform. Another thing of note is that putting yourself out there does not mean prioritizing image over substance. It’s simply recognizing that they should go hand in hand. Performance is fundamental and that is the basis on which a strong brand should be built. Making people aware of your strong points and giving those exposure to better bring more opportunities for yourself is what personal branding is about.
I remember our first interaction which was on a Facebook group. You had put out a message seeking to collaborate with other writer-type folks and I responded. I think you were at the onset of either crafting or implementing your social media, at the time. Five years later, it’s safe to say that strategy continues to pay off. Jane, from your experience over the last few years and over the last two decades, what has worked best and what would you change, if you had a chance at a do-over?
Jane: What has worked for me is just understanding who I am, and ensuring whatever I do revolves around that and rooted in my core values.
As an African woman with kids working in the technology sector, My goal was to consciously show the intersectionality of being a Female leader in that space and use my journey to inspire younger women and others on the African continent to evolve and develop in their careers. I was going to do that by sharing and giving insights into my leadership journey and educating others based on my experience. Once this was clear, I identified platforms that suit my style for sharing e.g LinkedIn, Speaking engagements, Writing.
It became clearer to me that I did not require an official title or organisation to do that. I was now the CEO of my company, in charge of my brand or others’ perception of me. This strategy aligns with Aruda’s (2009) perspective on personal branding that really hits home; it is understanding of what is truly unique about you (…) and using that to differentiate yourself and guide your career decisions. Through unearthing the true you and consistently and constantly living your personal brand, you attract what you need to achieve your goals without having to ‘wrestle with the universe’ to acquire it.
Another step I will especially recommend when you are clear about your goals for your personal brand is to measure your brand effectiveness. I never did that but I think it made it feel too scientific for me, however good insights into the data can help guide your decision on what methods work best or give an indication on how you are tracking against your goal. If I had a chance at a do over, this is a step I would have started much earlier. I think as a person, this is one thing I just struggled to do which I will recommend.
In conclusion, personal branding especially for career professionals is also not an option with the heavy influence of social media age. Everyone has one; which is created by your digital footprint (the traces you leave behind when you are being active on the internet) as well as your offline behaviour (the impression people have of you by participating in interactions etc.) I choose to be intentional about mine, what about you?
Chidozie Akakuru is an engineer in the energy industry with an interest in advancing conversations on Energy Transition, Innovation and Development. He is passionate about the role ideas, technology and organizations play in improving people’s lives. He shares his thoughts on a variety of subjects on Medium.
Jane Egerton-Idehen is a bestselling author and a telecommunications and tech executive with over 20 years’ experience in the Nigerian, Liberian and Ghanaian telecommunications markets and the technology sectors in Middle East and Africa. Jane has a strong passion for promoting girls in STEM and ensuring women in STEM industries remain and grow their careers in that industry. She curates her thoughts around her career journey, experiences, and passion in life. Join our conversation on our Facebook page @WomenNCareer and check out video blog Women and Career on YouTube.