Being Labeled vs. Creating a Personal Brand

What is the difference between a label and a brand? An attendee in a teleseminar asked that question just last week. It was a great question that gave us the opportunity to make an important distinction.

First of all, the subject of labels is a fairly complex issue. In an article in Psychology Today Adam Alter notes: “Categorical labeling is a tool that humans use to resolve the impossible complexity of the environments we grapple to perceive. Like so many human faculties, it’s adaptive and miraculous, but it also contributes to some of the deepest problems that face our species.”

Labels are shorthand descriptors, given to us by others, that are used to define some aspect or aspects of who we are. They may originate in a social context from a physical or behavioral trait (i.e. “she’s so cute” or “he’s so flaky”) or derive from a diagnosis or assessment (i.e. “he’s got ADHD” or “she’s an ENTJ”). In some cases labels can be demeaning and in other cases freeing, but they are always limiting.

If a label described the limits of our talent, it would mean that nobody with ADHD could be a highly successful entrepreneur or a Fortune 100 Corporate President. (There are a number of both.) It would mean that all CEOs would be the same Meyers-Briggs type and have the same DISC profile. (Which they don’t.)

Our talent is unique; it defies limits. We want to express it and use it to realize our deepest hopes. We want it to be appreciated and useful in the world. And to do this, we need to have a way to communicate its value to others.

That’s where branding comes in. A brand is something that you create that is designed to create a strong impression of what you are able to deliver. It is a promise you make and live into. It’s something you want to be known for, not something that was put on you.

A favorite label/brand story has to do with Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. He was labeled as a dyslexic, and in his early years in the furniture business he struggled with the order numbers and codes used to “label” his inventory. His solution was to name everything after Swedish places and things that he could easily remember. In fact the acronym for the well-known brand IKEA is made up of the initials of his name, the family farm where he was born (Elmtaryd), and the nearby village of Agunnaryd.

We’ve all been labeled by well-intentioned people. And we can choose to accept the limitations of those labels or to brand ourselves in ways that allow us to express our talent freely.

Here’s how you can break free of limiting labels with a powerful personal brand. First, such a brand needs to be a promise you want to keep that creates a preference for you. In order to be credible, you need proof points—concrete examples of how you have delivered on that promise.

Consider the case of Tony, a police chief who wanted a general management role in local government. He couldn’t shake the label of police chief. So, he launched an effort to create a fresh brand for himself. He positioned himself as a “leader guiding innovation in tough budget times.” He demonstrated his promise with examples of collaboration among police departments in his region to share services, improve response, and reduce costs. What’s more, he wrote up the case study to share with city managers and elected officials. Tony took charge of his brand to have it work for him.

What opportunities do you want? What promise will send a strong signal about what you have to offer? What proof will convince others that you can deliver? You can take charge of how others view you and open doors that old labels had sealed shut.

Photo credit: Allspire

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles, Personal Stories

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