A decade ago, personal branding was something that only rock stars like Bono had to worry about.

Today, if you’re like most professionals, you probably accept that you’re a brand. This realisation leads to a number of questions – how do you build your brand? How do you manage it?

Personal branding experts will give you generic answers to these questions, such as “it’s important to be on social media”, “ensure that you have a strong résumé” and “make sure your LinkedIn profile is well-written”.

While those are all true, they leave the main question unanswered – how do all those elements tie together into a cohesive strategy?

If you’ve ever been told that personal branding is important, but you never knew where to start, read on – because all is about to be revealed.

A truly effective personal brand consists of 4 layers:

personal branding strategy

The layers are also interdependent: none of the outer ones will work without the core, and the outer layers depend on the inner ones.

That’s why, for example, investing in a professionally written résumé is pretty pointless until you can clearly understand and articulate your value. Similarly, being active on LinkedIn is unlikely to yield results unless your LinkedIn profile and headshot are up to scratch.

I’ll explain these nuances in more detail in a moment. For now, let’s start with the innermost layer and make our way outward.

1. Core: Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

This is really the foundation of any strong personal branding strategy.

If you don’t get this core component of your brand right, you will end up looking like everyone else.

So how, exactly, do you get it right?

If you relate your personal branding strategy to that of a product marketing strategy, this core layer is your product’s ability to repeatedly deliver clearly defined value to a well-defined niche.

Without a USP, a product is unlikely to perform well in the market, and the same goes for you.

To be highly employable and in-demand, you need to have a clear understanding of how you deliver value in a unique way, and be able to quickly and effectively articulate it.

This core circle is all about defining your value, what problems you solve, and for whom.

The work you put in at this level should shape all your subsequent personal branding efforts.

2. Foundations: Résumé, LinkedIn, Website, Headshot.

The next circle encompasses the modern staples: your résumé, LinkedIn profile, professional headshot and (if you want to really mean business) a website.

Now, a point about résumés – despite loud cries across the Internet that they’re dead, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Certainly, that fire-hose model of disseminating your résumé to anyone and everyone is (thankfully) dying, but résumés still play a role in an effective personal branding strategy:

  • Sharing facts, such as companies, dates of tenure, and qualifications;
  • Communicating scope, including size of budget, team, and impact within a business;
  • Defining your mandate in each role, and demonstrating your ability to achieve;
  • Concisely defining USP, key skills and technical competencies within summary sections.

Even if you’re not applying to jobs in the traditional sense, offering documentation of your skills and achievements is still the norm when discussing potential assignments and partnerships, and that’s unlikely to change in the near term.

What about LinkedIn?

In 2016, every recruiter and hiring manager worth their salt will be on LinkedIn, actively using it to screen job applicants and proactively source potential candidates.

(NOTE: Many recruiters who are NOT worth their salt are also on LinkedIn, spending their days spamming inboxes of candidates like you – but that’s a story for another day).

I predict that LinkedIn will become even more valuable as the trend of freelance, flex and consulting employment picks up pace.

Whereas your résumé should focus on facts, LinkedIn offers room to expand on your USP, and really communicate who you are and what you do.

Your LinkedIn profile should provide insight into who you are professionally, sharing story, experience and personality.

Importantly, your résumé and LinkedIn work best together, albeit in a nonlinear way. Someone might stumble across your LinkedIn profile and then request your résumé, or vice versa.

By creating each document to work together, and building upon the USP and key value you offer, you’ll maximise the impact of each.

3. Social: Content & Digital Networks.

By publishing content and strategically disseminating it through social media networks you’re building awareness of yourself which, leads to conversations. Those, in turn, lead to connections, which then lead to relationships and opportunities.

Content and social media work hand-in-hand to tell your brand story at scale.

One article, written by you, and shared by 100 people, then shared by just 10 of them among 100 of their followers means your brand ends up in front of over 1000 other professionals.

It’s public speaking without having to pick up a microphone.

Beyond reach, a strong content and social media strategy builds credibility.

By publishing content, you can show what you know about current challenges, opportunities, and analyses from your industry or function.

Social networks allow you can to engage with peers, influencers and decision-makers, building relationships and making others aware of your existence and expertise.

4. Amplification: Paid Campaigns.

The final (and outer) circle to my personal branding “onion” is paid social media promotion – an area we’re just starting to see take off in the mainstream.

Perhaps the most famous example of paid outreach for job search is that of advertising Copywriter Alec Brownstein, who ran a $0.15 pay-per-click Google Adwords campaign to land a job at Young & Rubicam, a preeminent global advertising agency.

Knowing that most Art Directors regularly Google their own names, Brownstein created a campaign targeting influential Art Directors. The ad said:

Hey Ian Reichenthal.
Googling yourself is a lot of fun.
Hiring me is fun, too.

From the ad he linked to his personal website.

While that worked in the advertising world, how can paid outreach work across industries?

Let’s say you’re a CFO who has successfully managed a number of M&As over your career and you’re ready for your next challenge.

Wouldn’t it be great to end up in a room with 100 or so C-level executive and other senior decision-makers from ASX-listed companies to discuss if you’re a good fit?

It’s easy. Here’s an example of what you could do:

  1. Block out 5 evenings.
  2. Use that time to write an excellent document, titled “How To Navigate M&A’s Successfully: Essential Guide For CEOs”. Draw on your experience, include case studies, share stories. Put your soul into it.
  3. Upload it to your LinkedIn profile as a post.
  4. Create a paid LinkedIn advertising campaign, targeting all senior business leaders in Australia (or you can be really specific if you know where you want to work – e.g., all C-level executives at PwC in Sydney).
  5. Run the campaign for 1 week. It should cost $300-$1000, depending on targeting (but what you get out of it will be invaluable).
  6. After the campaign ends, open your blog post and check its statistics section. It will show you who shared the post, who liked it, who commented on it. Chances are, if someone did that, you left an impression on them.
  7. Don’t be a spammer. Before making contact, do your homework – who are they? What company are they at? What challenges is the company dealing with at the moment?
  8. Follow up with them with an InMail via LinkedIn which addresses their needs directly.

You’re done. You just leveraged digital tools to put your brand in front of decision-makers and have given yourself a number of opportunities to “put your foot in the door” with them. The rest, of course, is entirely up to you.

Key Point To Remember.

The biggest mistake I see people make with their personal branding efforts is a lack of strategy.

Most people start out haphazardly: they create a LinkedIn profile, write a blog post or, perhaps, send out a few Tweets.

While doing this may seem like you’re making progress, in reality it’s a waste of time – without a structure and strategic focus these activities lack power.

In 2016, smart personal branding will heavily leverage digital technology and embrace the multitude of ways we, as professionals, communicate and source information.