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Personal Branding Trends for 2012 (Part 1)

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Six trends that will dominate personal branding in 2012
  • How QR codes, logos, and headshots can enhance your personal brand

In 2011, my company Reach Personal Branding turned 10. In the early years of the business, personal branding was seen as a luxury—reserved for CEOs and entrepreneurs. As personal branding became a little more visible and better understood, marketers jumped on the "brandwagon."

Today, professionals in all job functions view personal branding as a proven technique for enabling career success and personal fulfillment. The philosophy has remained the same, but the way we build our brands and the workplace trends related to personal branding are evolving. Each year, I compile those trends for you early-adopter marketers so you can stay ahead of your peers as you build and express your brand.

Here are the first six of my 12 personal branding trends for 2012.

1. Headshots Everywhere

There was a time when only actors, models, and senior executives had professional photos of themselves taken regularly. Well, thanks to personal branding, the need for virtual visibility, and the universal desire to connect a face with a name—the professional photography business is booming! We now expect to see a photo alongside a blog post, on a social network profile, and accompanying an online article.


People are less likely to click on a LinkedIn profile if it is missing a photo and are less inclined to believe Web-based content if the contributor's photo is missing. Yet many people are still reluctant to post their photo. Some fear age discrimination or harassment, and others just haven't invested in high-quality photos. (Have you seen really weird avatars or photos that clearly were taken at someone's party—after a few too many cocktails?)

Social media companies realize the importance of connecting a face with a name and are developing apps to make that easier. For example, Plaxo now allows you to take any contact's photo and view it in your Outlook and iPhone contacts. Many more apps will offer similar capabilities. And the next frontier—face recognition—will add a whole new twist to Google image searches!

What does this mean for you?

If you haven't done so already, get professional headshots and upload them to your Flickr account (remember to name the images with your name so they appear in a Google search). Take a series of photos with different clothes and poses because your photo will appear in many places, from your Google profile to your YouTube channel or your Flavors.me page. You don't want someone doing a Google image search to see 20 copies of the same photo of you. As the old adage goes, first impressions last. Make sure your headshots are of high quality and express your personal brand.

2. Personalization of Work

When I worked at Lotus, a software company that is now a division of IBM, we did a lot of research on consumer preferences related to IT and learned that people wanted to use the same hardware and software they use every day at work... at home.

Today, that concept is turned on its head. People, especially Gen-Yers, want to use their own technology—what they use regularly at home—at the office. I call that trend "the personalization of work." More and more, the imaginary line that separates work and life is disappearing. Over the past decades, work has invaded life (e.g., checking work email on the weekends, having conference calls with Asia at midnight, and so on). Now, we're seeing the reverse happen.

Many years ago, Tom Peters and Dan Pink wrote that we would all be free agents, moving from project to project, or role to role—much like consultants and solopreneurs do today. The personalization of work is a trend that supports that new paradigm, in which you are a one-person brand with all the tools and resources you need to do your job (even if you are working inside a company).

What does this mean for you?

Employees: Your tools—everything you use, touch, carry, and surround yourself with—are part of your brand. They send a little message to those around you about who you are. Choose tools that are consistent with your brand, and help reinforce what you want people to know about you.

Employers: If you want competitive advantage in hiring the best and the brightest, meet candidates where they are. Ensure that your IT and legal departments are ready to have employees show up on day one with their iPads or other preferred devices. Think of other ways your employees would want to bring their lives into work, and understand how to make that work for the company and the employees.

3. Personal Publishing

Blogs and other online portals have allowed more people to get their work published or to self-publish articles and content. Newspaper and magazine editors are no longer the exclusive gatekeepers to the information we read. Now, book publishing is going the same way. Sure, credibility comes along with being published by John Wiley & Sons or Random House, but readers rarely actually look at the imprint.

Book publishing has changed forever. When I interviewed bestselling author Seth Godin for the Reach Personal Branding Interview Series, he told me about The Domino Project. Although he has published dozens of books with major publishing houses, he has decided to forgo the "middle man" and work directly with Amazon.com—the distributor.

The Domino Project will get relevant books to market faster and more cost-effectively. My company is going to launch our own publishing arm in 2012, and it will produce and release books written in conjunction with our Reach-certified strategists. That is part of an irreversible trend.

Amazon.com sold more e-books in 2011 than books made from trees, making it even easier for you to publish. With e-books, you don't have to worry about the messy multi-step printing process to get your book in the hands of (or in front of the eyes of) those you seek to influence with your message.

What does this mean for you?

If you have been thinking about writing a book, there's no better time than now to put pen to paper or finger to key. The fear of publisher or agent rejection does not have to be a factor. Numerous services are available to support all steps of the book-development and distribution process. A book is one of the best tools for demonstrating thought leadership and extending your personal brand.

4. Crowdsourcing for Professionals

You're only as good as the collective opinions of others. Independent contractors have always understood the value of client feedback and testimonials. Now, with the ease of requesting and providing recommendations, careerists must also be mindful of the importance of external reviews.

Virtually every new social network or app allows users to request and showcase reviews. LinkedIn (the first to have that feature) calls them recommendations. BranchOut and BeKnown call them endorsements. Honestly.com calls them reviews. Regardless of what you call them, such reviews are becoming increasingly important to those who are making decisions about you. A Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey found that 90% of consumers trust peer reviews. Although no research (to my knowledge) has been done about that topic as it relates to people, I predict we will quickly become accustomed to using crowdsourcing to make decisions about professionals.

What does this mean for you?

Get out there, and get testimonials, recommendations, and endorsements. Make those endorsements visible via various social media sites and via your own website. People will be doubtful of those without any external recommendations. And remember, people who evaluate your performance will have more and more opportunities to share their experience, so always deliver your best, on-brand work.

5. Personal QR Codes

Quick response (QR) codes are taking off in all kinds of ways that weren't originally anticipated. For example, according to brandchanel.com, it's now possible to place extremely large QR codes on the tops of buildings that will be photographed by the satellites that feed Google Maps and Google Earth. Those QR codes will be digested by Google's mapping systems and will cause companies' logos to appear when someone looks at their building's images. Though you may not put a giant QR code on the top of your house, as a career-minded professional or entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to use QR codes to point others to your websites, blogs, and other relevant career marketing content. I have seen QR codes on resumes, on business cards, and on networking name badges.

What does this mean for you?

You have a great opportunity to direct people to the content you want them to see. Especially if one of your brand attributes is "innovative," think about how you can use QR codes to direct people to what you want them to know about you.

6. Personal Logos

Tiger Woods has his TW logo. Oprah Winfrey has her 'O.' And someday, you will have yours, too—a stylized version of your name. Thanks to websites like 99Designs.com and crowdSPRING.com, it's easy and inexpensive to create your personal logo. In previous trend lists, I discussed having your own personal brand identity system (PBIS)—font, images, color, etc. 

Your logo is an important part of the visual vocabulary of your brand. As we move closer and closer to the free agent nation, you'll need a way to represent your personal brand via a logo. Your logo can be used on your website or Web portal (about.me, flavors.me), your resume, your stationary, or your thank-you notes—anywhere you're looking to express your brand.

What does this mean for you?

Determine if having a stylized way of using your name is right for you, and then think about what emotions you want your logo to evoke and what message you want it to send. Once you have your logo, use it consistently to create recognition and memorability.


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William Arruda, dubbed "the personal branding guru" by Entrepreneur, is a motivational speaker, talent-development consultant, and the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding. He is the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives and curator at Personal Branding TV. He is credited with turning the concept of personal branding into a global industry.

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  • by Cathy Burrell Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    Some really interesting points, and ideas I had never thought of. Great article for the beginning of the year...just as we are all getting organized. I am intrigued by the idea of printing the QR code on a business card to point people to your website/blog. More research for my to do list!
    Thanks!

  • by Bill Baker (@StorytellerBill) Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    Great tips around personal branding William, some of which I've heard before, but most of them, new ideas to consider and practice (my own QR code...who knew?).

    One thought to add to the mix is around thinking strategically about the stories you want people telling about you. If you're out there and getting known, people will talk about and tell stories about you. Rather than leaving those to chance, I encourage people to sit down and actually write out the stories they would like circulated about them. What are people saying about you? How are they describing you? What kind of influence are you having on people, on clients, on the marketplace?

    Envisioning these stories and writing them down has a way of cementing them into your subconscious. Going back and reading these stories every once in a while reminds you of the impressions and impacts you want to make, and you will find yourself tailoring your behaviour and communications to foster those impressions and impacts. What might have started out as a strategic piece of fiction about your future slowly becomes reality as you start to live the stories you've imagined for yourself.

    I do this every year when I set goals for myself. It works. I wrote about it in a blog post if you care to read more. http://billbakerandco.com/blog/

    Thanks again!

  • by John Antonios Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    I totally support the Personal Branding trends you highlighted in your post William.
    I would like to stress on the importance on QR codes in communicating your personal brand, however, I'm not for having a QR code replace a simple URL address or contact information. In my humble opinion, a QR code should be used to direct people to something more interactive - a video bio would be an example, or downloadable app of some sort (since QR codes are obviously mobile communication tools). These are only a couple of examples of best practices ...

    PS. I'm hoping my reply would also answer Cathy's comment above!

  • by Jennifer Kelly Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    Excellent list of branding trends. I'm looking forward to reading your next 6. Thanks for pulling out the "what does this mean for you" after each tip. This helps me "get" what the opportunity is if I didn't catch on when reading the tip.

    One questions about the headshots - I have it set up so that the same picture I have on LinkedIn shows up on my Twitter account, on blog posts I respond to etc. etc. I did this for consistency. Can you explain further why I should consider moving away from this consistent "look"?

  • by Lina Arseneault Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    Iím quite interested in the use of QR codes and their ability to bridge the physical world to the online world, and how brand (and personal brand) blend in both. Would you consider elaborating on this topic?

    I look forward to the other articles in the series. Lina

  • by Bonnie Taube Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    Great article with excellent "how tos" on personal branding. We are moving closer to a free agent nation with 25 million Americans self-employed, and that number is growing. Effectively branding yourself will eventually become a necessity for every one of us.

  • by Georgina Liew Wed Jan 4, 2012 via web

    A really information post on personal branding! I'm sharing this one with my team and colleagues...being in marketing we often forget to market ourselves!

  • by Lina Arseneault Thu Jan 5, 2012 via web

    Bonnie makes a good point about the link between self-employment and personal branding. I would argue that itís equally important for individuals employed at corporations. A strong personal brand facilitates movement within a company and within industry. The key is not to assume or confuse a companyís brand with your own personal value proposition. In other words, you are not your companyís brand. Youíll quickly find out if you made that assumption when you start looking for opportunities outside your current employer. If you find yourself talking about your current or past employers more than your personal brand and its value to the prospective employer, youíve got the 2 confused.

  • by Gary Jones Mon Jan 9, 2012 via web

    A lot of good information. Truly like the QR portion. They seem to be everywhere. we have just started placing them on our magazine page ads.

  • by Bonnie Taube Mon Jan 9, 2012 via web

    @Lina, Excellent points. I like your "litmus test" (how you answer questions during the interview process) to determine how strong your personal brand is. I can also see how a company filled with individuals with strong personal brands facilitates movement for themselves within the company. It is also likely that a group of individuals with authentic, strong personal brands will collectively keep a company forward moving as well!

  • by Jim Kelly Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    William's branding exercises, though valuable and interesting, apply primarily to individuals whose existence is inextricably tied to their professional lives. How might these same principles be utilized by someone not entirely defined by their job? Say, someone who works in marketing but whose primary personal aspirations include erotic poetry, possibly unpopular political causes, square dance or some other non-marketing field? I am more defined by my extra-professional interests (not necessarily those above) than by my job function.

  • by Harsh Vardhan Tue Jan 17, 2012 via web

    Personal logo! It's a great idea. Imagine my name now written in a logo form. I think it;s a pretty creative thought. Must try.

  • by Lina Arseneault Tue Jan 17, 2012 via web

    I just published a third blog post on QR codes at cafelina.me. The post is called "Marketing Artfully: QRart and "Not So Pretty" Implementations of QR Codes". Shortly after I posted my previous comment, I received an unexpected gift in the form of a QRart customized to my cafelina brand. I define QRart as artful, colored and creative quick response (QR) code design. QRart takes QR codes to a whole new level by blending QR code and design to allow for the artful activation of print. In the case of my cafelina QRart, I will use it to promote my brand.

  • by Jeff Brown Tue Jan 17, 2012 via web

    Many have commented on QR codes. While brands need to be careful not to simply use them as a replacement for their URL, an all-encompassing url for your personal brand may make sense.

    I created a personal QR code (at the site uQR.me) and pointed it to my about.me page (http://about.me/jeffbrown). It's one of those 'homes' on the web that can serve as a hub for everything 'you.'

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