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Since pre-industrial times, branding has been used to develop strong, enduring relationships with customers. Customers of Mr. Jones's pie shop knew that his pies came with more real fruit and were always given to you with a smile. It made it worth the long walk and extra two cents. Today, albeit on a larger, more global scale, branding continues to provide those same benefits. Volvo is differentiated from other car companies by its promise of safety and security. Disney stands for family entertainment. Virgin is irreverent and risk-taking.

But branding is not just for companies or products any more. In the new millennium, everything is a brand. London is the world's hippest city. Route 128 in Boston is "America's Technology Highway," and "Operation Enduring Freedom" is a branded military operation. And Madonna, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson. Brand. Brand. Brand. That's right, branding is for people, too.

Personal branding is essential to professional success today. Gone are the days where your value as an employee or vendor was linked to your loyalty and seniority. Today, companies are in a constant state of reorganization in response to the rapidly changing demands of the market. This modifies the way you behave as employees or vendors. You are working with different project teams, managers and employees all the time. In a sense, you are functioning like your own personal corporation. And that means that you have the same need to differentiate yourself and build demand for your services among your target markets.

Just as with corporate brands, your personal brand is your promise of value. It separates you from your peers, your colleagues, and your competitors. And it allows you to expand your success. Personal branding is not about building a special image for the outside world; it is about understanding your unique combination of rational and emotional attributes - your strengths, skills, values and passions - and using these attributes to differentiate yourself and guide your career decisions.

So, whether you are a senior executive, the president of your own business, or an employee of a company of any size, managing your brand is critical to achieving your professional goals. When you have built and nurtured a winning brand, you'll reap the many benefits, including:

  • Understanding yourself better
  • Increasing your confidence
  • Increasing your visibility and presence
  • Differentiating yourself from your peers
  • Increasing your compensation
  • Thriving during downturns in the economy
  • Expanding into new business areas
  • Having better, more interesting jobs and assignments

Here are three steps to successful personal branding:

Step 1: Unearth Your Brand

Give Your Brand Context. Before you can clearly describe your personal brand, you need to look at the big picture: your vision, and purpose. Your vision is external. It is the essence of what you see possible for the world. Your purpose is internal. It is the role you play in supporting that vision. As Gandhi said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."

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image of William Arruda

William Arruda is a personal branding pioneer, the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding, and the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

Twitter: @williamarruda

LinkedIn: William Arruda