Building Your Personal Brand: Begin Here

Start by articulating your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

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Building your personal brand begins with you articulating your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Without a USP, it's impossible for you to communicate your commercial value to potential employers.

Irene McConnell
5 min read defines a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as: “The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.”

Generally speaking, in consumer marketing a company’s USP evolves into a tagline or a key message such as:

  • Avis – We’re #2, so we try harder.
  • Fed Ex – When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
  • Virgin Atlantic – We make flying fun again.
  • Toms Shoes – we give a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you purchase.
  • Dominos – You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less (or it’s free).

David Jones sells luxury, while Walmart sells bargains.

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Why You Need A USP.

A well-articulated USP serves as the foundation for your personal branding strategy. Defining and articulating a crisp USP will help you:

  • Attract the right career opportunities
  • Stand apart from the competition as a candidate of choice
  • Position yourself as a thought leader
  • Establish the context for all your future personal branding activity

It will help you decide what you should focus on and – most powerfully – what you should ignore.


USP = Brand Promise.

When done right, your USP speaks directly to the most critical needs of business decision makers. Your USP says, hey – I am someone who uniquely gets your commercial realities.

Your USP says – I have what it takes to solve your deepest problems, and this is why. In essence, it’s your promise to the market.

When my team of Arielle consultants partner with you to create your USP, they immerse themselves in your background.

It’s our job to learn every relevant piece of information about the depth of your experience, the breadth of your successes, your finely honed capabilities, as well as the operating conditions and challenges that run deep within your field and how you’ve manoeuvred around them.


Then We Examine The Proclivities Of The Marketplace.

We seek out hidden connections and reposition points of your background that others may have seen as disparate in order to align your expertise to the roles you’d like to pursue. Here, we form a meaningful narrative.

Our team ties your values, personality, strengths and commercial value together with those hidden market gems to form your USP or your point of difference.

The intersection of all this work forms the cornerstone of the next layer of your personal brand.

(Related Article: Building Your Personal Branding Strategy).

This involves interspersing your story—and your value proposition—across tangible tools such as your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, elevator pitch and personal website.

The end result is that your career narrative is brought to life and your reader readily understands your point of difference.

So as you can see, if you don’t get your USP right, there will be little separating you from others and you will find it difficult to stand out in a competitive market.

And while we don’t expect you to go it alone, we highly recommend doing some pre-work—starting with a mental shift.


Your New Mindset.

You are the entrepreneur of your career. The CMO of a company called You, Inc. You have a concrete, meaningful value proposition for a sharply defined audience.

As your own personal CMO, you’re going to walk through a mini-marketing exercise. To do this, think carefully about these 5 things:


1. Your Objective.

Answers to this could be something such as find my finance dream job, get that promotion I’ve been after, or move my skills to a new industry. Pick one, and only one, that resonates with you most right now.


2. Your Niche.

You can’t be all things to all people. Individuals with strong personal brands avoid having their hands in everything. It’s a technique marketer Neil Patel calls “niching down.”

Over time, it enables you to foster a close association between your name and a certain topic. The apt example Patel offers is lifestyle expert Marie Kondo. Marie has a very precise niche, and she doesn’t deviate from it.

Start similarly.

Of course, your niche should be something you’re truly passionate about so that you don’t lose steam when you begin pursuing your next opportunity, crafting content to establish thought leadership, or both.


3. Your Target.

Your niche will help you to pinpoint your target audience.

Who is most interested in your niche? If your goal is to establish thought leadership, start by looking at the people in your network and build from there. If your goal is to find your next big thing, search for companies who need your USP.

Overall, consider who could benefit most from your unique offering to the world.

Chances are, you will have more than one target audience and each will have a distinct reason for wanting to tap your knowledge.


4. Your “Why”.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Where can you really make a difference? Ethnographer and leadership consultant Simon Sinek said that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Be confident about what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Need a jumpstart? Check out this short excerpt from his famous TED Talk:


5. Your Voice.

Armed with your newfound clarity about your value and your purpose, how would you describe yourself?

Again, don’t try to be everything to everyone. Be clear about it. Sometimes it helps to pretend you’re describing someone else. If you look at Marie Kondo again, you’ll see that her language is spare and (not surprisingly) uncluttered.

Sit by yourself, go through the exercise above, and spend some quality time here.

The statement(s) you wind up with will be far from final, but the important outcome is that you’ve begun to put yourself in the “CMO of me” headspace—a tough mental shift to achieve.

You’ve likely found the pre-work to be challenging, but the good news is you’re not alone.


Authenticity vs Self-Promotion.

Glenn Llopis — a Cuban American entrepreneur and frequent Forbes contributor — draws a clear distinction between blatant self-promotion (think mindless social media) and personal branding as a strategic tool for career growth.

According to Llopis, 70% of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand, but they are really indulging in self-promotion.

What’s even more startling is that, just four short years ago, 50% of those leaders who were simply self-promoting felt they were living their brand.

How is it that so many smart people find this distinction so confounding?


Here’s My Take.

When you’re unsure of your unique value, the uncertainty could manifest as false bravado and fluff.

Tom Peters—who first defined personal branding in 1997 in a Fast Company article “The Brand Called You”—recently wrote that:

“Many get the ‘Brand You’ idea ass-backwards; they see it as selfish/solo/ego-driven. But…it is by and large selfless. An effective ‘Brand You’ is not a ‘marketing promise,’ it is a track record of demonstrated/sustained excellence.”

This means that, above all, your USP needs to be grounded in reality.

Philippa Sealey, Arielle’s Senior Consultant, confirms this point:

“Show, don’t just tell. Explain how and why what you do serves your niche. Not through the jargon and the overuse of keywords, but through demonstration.”

For example, if you were aiming to articulate your USP through your elevator pitch, you could say:

I’m a talented leader with 20 years experience in increasing shareholder value.

However, you could make a much stronger impression if you explained the unique method through which you achieve results:

I’m a seasoned leader who excels at increasing shareholder value by connecting each person in my team to the company’s vision of the future. I am known for shaping strategies that create not only high performing cultures, but also ones where employees feel engaged and fulfilled. An example of this is when I was at XXX….

The truth is that articulating your unique value is not about saying how good you are.

It’s about showing people how good you are – through a carefully crafted narrative that demonstrates your proven track record to the market that needs it most.


Where Do We Go From Here?

It can’t be emphasised enough that defining your USP is complex work—especially for someone at your level.

The higher you rise in your career, the fewer people you have to measure yourself against. The old expression “it’s lonely at the top” probably resonates here.

However, if you want to move towards a new role or industry, you’ll benefit from having a clearly articulated USP.

Your career moves, your personality and key achievements can all emerge as though it were a story meant to be told—at just the right time, to just the right people.


– Irene


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