The concept of building a personal brand and executing a marketing strategy to promote it to a specific audience is a foreign concept for many outside of the world of marketing. Branding and marketing oneself in the same way as global brands like Nike, IKEA, Apple, or Google is a significantly daunting paradigm shift for most professionals.

Successful global brands match their core competencies, or what they do best, with what their target customers value and expect, and they do this better than the competition. This simplified explanation of branding and marketing strategy hits at the heart of what professionals must also do. Your personal brand is the compelling value that you deliver - by way of your experience, background, demonstrated results, relevance, and expertise - that meets or exceeds the expectations of the employer or client you seek to influence.

One of the first questions that my personal branding clients typically ask is, "Why do I have to do all of this?" That first question is usually followed by, "I've been in the industry for years and I have a good reputation, so what happened to the click and apply process and tapping into my existing network for opportunities?"

Invariably, my answer is that the Information Age transformed the way we communicate and engage in social exchange. It has affected the way companies engage customers, as well as the way that companies look for talent.

Today, in many fields, candidate search and talent acquisition take place online. Hiring managers are reviewing online profiles and content published on professional and industry-related social media websites and blogs to seek out highly qualified candidates. This is not a passing trend. This process represents the new reality of job search.

Developing your personal brand ensures that you are not left behind and that you develop the competitive advantage that positions you for the career opportunities you deserve.

Building a compelling personal brand

The first step in developing your personal brand is identifying your niche or area of specialization by determining what you do best, how this differentiates you from your competitors, how this aligns with what your clients value, and how you will help them attain key goals and objectives.

Good areas to consider specializing in today include customer engagement, social and corporate responsibility, transformational leadership, change management, sustainability, and global competitive advantage - all areas in which you can demonstrate your personal brand expertise.

The next step is demonstrating subject-matter expertise by harnessing the power of your experience, background, formal networks, specialized knowledge, and specific accomplishments to tell your professional story. Subject-matter expertise demonstrates that you are a thought leader and are able to evaluate the competitive business environment, anticipate trends, and solve problems. The ability to do this requires that you stay connected and extend your learning across several areas and beyond the learning and development field. Staying connected and relevant requires following business trends and shifts related to your target industries.

Aside from getting any additional education or certifications to support your branded subject-matter expertise, you can sign-up for free industry and professional e-newsletters, webinars, and whitepapers, and follow the discussions of groups and thought leaders on social media sites related to your areas of expertise.

Being recognized as a subject-matter expert can create dynamic results, open up additional opportunities, and facilitate successful career reinventions. One of my clients worked for years as an educator in higher education. As a result of budget cuts and right sizing, she found herself out of work for the first time in decades. She had a fantastic background in business education and wanted to transition into the private sector to start a training consulting practice.

I worked with her to develop her personal brand, position her as an expert, and identify opportunities for extending her brand into multiple areas of expertise, and I created a marketing strategy to grow her personal brand and business. The power of her personal brand facilitated a career reinvention into a training and educational consultant. Her training consultancy is focused on providing solutions for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Her educational consulting is centered on providing guidance and coaching for supervisors and managers returning to school to complete business degrees.

Using online tools and social media to promote your brand

Using the right tools to communicate your brand is imperative. You can use a combination of traditional and online tools to do this effectively. Your resume and professional biography are examples of traditional tools that should precisely communicate your background, experience, education, accomplishments, and professional affiliations. More importantly, each should reflect your personal brand and speak the language of value for your respective audience.

Employers and clients also expect you to have an online presence. Having an online presence speaks volumes about your relevance, adaptability, creativity, and comfort in using digital and interactive mediums. Your online profile is not a resume, but rather a narrative of your personal brand. It is your professional story, written concisely to communicate who you are, what you do, and why you are an expert.

Online tools include a professional webpage, virtual resume, and a professional presence on LinkedIn.com, which boasts more than 100 million professional users, and Facebook.com, which boasts more than 700 million users. LinkedIn is the premier website for professionals. Employers and clients will more than likely look to find your profile there and determine your value based on what you do or do not publish on the site. Individuals that provide recommendations for you on this site, become your brand advocates who praise your work, and tout your services and expertise.

In addition to uploading your online profile, you should join groups that reinforce your personal brand and create content; participating in group discussions helps to extend your expert status. You should also have a presence on preeminent industry sites relevant to your specialization.

Brand building is continuous

Building and promoting your personal brand is the most significant decision you can make in managing your career as an employee or consultant. Your personal brand will distinctively tell your professional story to prospective employers and clients, allowing you to communicate your value, relevance, expertise, and competitive advantage. It differentiates you from the competition and is a sustainability strategy that positions you for career opportunities and success.

Personal brand building is a continuous process that requires fine tuning tied to the changing needs of industry, technology, and client needs and perspectives. The best way to do this is to stay current with industry, business, and technological trends, and leverage that knowledge to develop products or services that resonate with employers and clients. What will you do today to leverage the power of your personal brand?