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  • Writer's pictureVikrant Vartak

The Brand Called You

Tom Peter’s 1997 article called ‘The Brand Called You’ was the first to popularize the concept of Personal Branding. He said that you are every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at these organizations ask themselves.

Despite this headstart, I haven't come across a lot of good books or material on this relatively less-explored topic. Through this blog – which also draws upon learning from Ambi Parameswaran’s book ‘The World’s A Stage’ – I have attempted to make this topic understandable and actionable.

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Our 15th The Senate Talk Show was with the very well-known industry figure Dr. Ganesh Natarajan. I had wanted to invite Ganesh to our Talk Show as an ‘Intrapreneur’ during his Zensar stint. However owing to Ganesh’s packed schedule we couldn’t achieve so and therefore invited him a few months after his stint with Zensar (as their CEO) ended. Now he was an entrepreneur leading and growing his own firms 5F World, Global Talent Track, and Skills Alpha. There was also another reason why we wanted to invite him and that reason forms the core purpose of this article.

As part of our talk show preparation, we, the interviewers, meet our guest once or more. My fellow interviewer was an experienced CEO (another intrapreneur) of a sizeable dairy company. All through, he was extremely keen to be considered ‘at par’ with Ganesh and left no stone unturned to compare himself with Ganesh. He was picky about things like – what do we refer him as (he wanted to be called a ‘celebrity interviewer’), size of his photograph (has to be equal to Ganesh’s; with my picture particularly being of a smaller size! How else can one differentiate J?), position of the photograph on the invite, stage backdrop etc (has to be at the same level as Ganesh), and so on. Since he was our guest too, we as the host team didn’t have any qualms about it and we generously obliged.

Our preparatory meeting with Ganesh was in JW Marriott Pune’s Pune Baking Company (PBC). My co-interviewer and I had reached half an hour before our scheduled time to discuss our questions and plan various other things. We quietly walked in, got seated, and started our discussions. After about 30 minutes, I received Ganesh’s call saying he was at the hotel entrance. My co-interviewer and I walked to the entrance to receive Ganesh. Interestingly, a lady attendant from the hotel lobby quickly noticed Ganesh walking in and briskly moved ahead to receive him. She welcomed him saying, “Good evening Mr. Ganesh. JW Marriott is happy to welcome you.”

This incident helped me understand what a ‘personal brand’ means. It's the difference between “Who are you?” and “Thank you for being here.” The learning lingered on and prompted me to get deeper into the subject.


Most entrepreneurs and CEOs work relentlessly and single-mindedly to grow their business to great heights. While they do so, their identities get fused with their business’ identity. Even more, their identities become ‘dependent’ on their roles in their organizations. When asked, they introduce themselves as ‘so & so’ of their organization.

What happens when they retire or get laid off (not an uncommon thing these days right?)? They suddenly realize that they are 'nobodies' without that ‘organization tag’.

Having a personal brand helps you have an identity independent of your organization’s identity. It also helps you outlive your organization because you do not derive your identity from your organization. Even as a celebrity-CEO of well-known organizations like Zensar and Aptech, Dr. Ganesh Natarajan was always a very strong personal brand. Already an author of nine books then, Ganesh had held positions in several prestigious industry bodies. He was a sought-after speaker at national & international forums, and was a well-known industry thought leader, a prolific writer & columnist, and a powerful orator.

What happened after his stint as an intrapreneur ended? His personal brand exponentially grew further rather than wither away; something that typically happens with CEOs and other senior executives. Did Ganesh’s personal brand grow by accident? I definitely do not think so.

Similar to your organization's brand, your personal brand needs to be consciously nurtured. It can be actively managed with discipline and consistency over time, or it can be allowed to drift away. However, there is a huge payoff to employing the active management option and large risks to the alternative. Your personal brand has to be built across all fronts and all the fronts need to narrate the same story. Let’s take a deeper dive into this otherwise less-touched upon topic.


There is an interesting book on personal branding called 'All The World’s A Stage' by Ambi Parameswaran. Author provides a three-step process, as explained below, to build your personal brand – the brand You.

STEP 01: Impression Management

This is the first step towards building brand You. This talks about (a) your appearance, i.e. how you present yourself, and (b) Your manners, i.e. your gestures, facial expressions, body language, and your language. Both these factors come together to convey your Executive Presence.

The following are some useful hacks (surely not an exhaustive list) to build a strong executive presence.

1) Always dress up like an important person. Wear a blazer or a Modi jacket on most important occasions.

2) World respects knowledgeable people who can engage with others – especially important people – in meaningful conversations. Prior to your meeting, invest time on studying the important person you are meeting. Also, invest time on general awareness, reading books, and so on. People respect people with a 'point of view' and this can only come by investing time on personal development.

3) Start addressing people, especially the important ones, by their first names, if you are not already doing so. Wherever there is discomfort to do so right away, I seek their permission to do so during one of our early interactions, and thereon start addressing them by their first name. There are, of course, exceptions to this liberty and it's important to be sensitive to those.

4) Entertain your important clients or contacts in a restaurant where you are known.

5) Appoint an executive assistant.

STEP 02: Identity Management

Ask yourself, what ‘capital’ do you want to project; Competency Capital or Relationship Capital?

While competency capital is about knowledge and skills, relationship capital is your ability to build social connections. Ideally, one would want to excel in both, though that's not the case with most people. Also, to be professionally successful, you cannot just be a relationships person, or just be a subject matter expert with no social skills. You need to strike a good balance of both. You cannot build a personal brand if you are either incompetent or have very poor emotional quotient.

Ask yourself the following two questions.

1) What personal brand identity do you want to project?

· What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive from your competitors (or your colleagues)?

· What have you done so far - and more particularly in recent times - that makes you stand out and makes you proud of?

· What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength?

· What is your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?

2) Above all, what do you want to be famous for? That's right. Famous for!

Once you have answers to the above questions, think of a personal brand vision or mantra (I personally like the word ‘mantra’) that is authentically you. The narrower and more focused your brand is, the easier it is for people to remember who you are. Keep your message and content consistent to one niche area to become memorable within a targeted community.

As an example, I have defined my personal brand mantra as: To be a thought leader, thinker, writer, and management expert.

What is yours?

STEP 03: Reflexivity

This is about how good you are in reflecting on your personal brand & personal branding strategy. Are you aware of how your personal brand is being projected on those around you? Whenever you say or do something, you need to understand how it is being received. You need to be able to gauge the receiver’s reaction to what you are saying or doing. This is called ‘reflection in action’.

What you say or do is seen differently by your audience because of your personal aura. This is called ‘reflection on action’.


For most branding campaigns, the first step is visibility. If you are brand You, you have got the same need for visibility, but possibly no budget to buy it. Visibility has a funny way of multiplying; the hardest part is getting started.

STEP 01: Assess Your Target Audience

Describe the group with whom you would like to have the right impression about you. Ask the following questions.

· Who do you want should spend time with you?

· Who should admire you?

· Who do you want to respect you?

STEP 02: Develop a Communication Plan

How can you communicate your brand vision, particularly for those elements that you now deliver but do not get credit for? This might be difficult, and it will take some time to shift perceptions.

The following suggestions would help.

· Consider role models: Who inside and outside your professional or social circle has been successful at achieving the brand vision you aspire to? How did that person get there?

· Consciously change your activities, your appearance, your companions, and your interaction patterns. Be consistent and persistent.

· Develop visible programs to represent the new You. Let people know.

· Be genuine and authentic. People can see right through a disingenuous act.

The following are some useful hacks (again not an exhaustive list) to strengthen your visibility.

1) A couple of good panel discussions can earn you a chance to give a ‘little’ solo speech; and from there it's just a few jumps to a major address at your industry's annual convention. There is nothing more effective to build your personal brand than to deliver keynote addresses in conferences.

2) Write columns in newspapers and other publications.

3) Start your YouTube channel.

4) Take up important positions in good industry and other professional bodies.

5) Get aboard formal boards and advisory boards of good organizations.

6) Start your personal website. I have recently started mine;

7) Write a book. I have written two; Guideposts and 50 Dilemmas.

An important thing to remember about your personal visibility campaign is: It all matters. When you are promoting brand You, everything you do - and everything you choose not to do - communicates the value & character of your brand. Everything from the way you handle phone conversations, to the email messages you send, to the way you conduct business in a meeting, is part of the larger message you are sending about your brand. Partly it's a matter of substance; what you have to say and how well you get it said. But it's also a matter of style.

The key to any personal branding campaign is ‘word-of-mouth’. Your network of friends, colleagues, clients, and customers is the most important marketing vehicle you have got. What they say about you and your contributions is what the market will ultimately gauge as the value of your brand. So the big trick to building your brand is to find ways to nurture your network of colleagues; consciously.

Identify influencers (social media or otherwise) in your circle and seek their help to promote your work/brand.


Social media presence comes after you have understood what your personal brand stands for, not the other way around. The following is the correct order.

1) Decide broadly what you want your personal brand to be.

2) Try and live that in your professional life.

3) Then create and manage your social media presence.

Ensure that your personal brand promise stays consistent, both online and offline. Start by defining your digital profile or digital persona. At the most basic level, see if your display pictures and profiles on various social media convey the brand that you want to project.

Check on your digital presence by giving a ‘vanity search’. Vanity Search is when you search your own name on Google. See what shows up? Is your digital presence strong enough? This is one measure of your personal brand. Now validate if that is the personal brand you want to project.


No matter what you are doing today, there are four things you have got to measure yourself against.

1) You have got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague.

2) You have got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value.

3) You have got to be a broad-gauged visionary; a leader, a teacher, a farsighted ‘imagineer’.

4) You have got to be a person obsessed with pragmatic outcomes.

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