Personal branding and professional image management have long been all the rage in the West. However, in Hong Kong, general awareness is still relatively low.
The reason is quite simple, according to Rosemarie Yau, a personal branding and communications strategist. "[This is] because of Chinese culture which doesn't advocate the flaunting of personal attributes. This behaviour is perceived as bragging and goes against the traditional Chinese virtue of modesty," she explains.
However, in today's business world, personal branding is becoming a vital component for success. In a nutshell, it is about differentiation - one's ability to stand out from the crowd. It means using who one is and one's attributes to get what one wants.
Yau says the term "personal branding" was coined in the early 1980s. The concept is a scientific method that helps people understand their position in terms of personal attributes. They can then use these qualities to promote their personal brand. Often, as few companies have a training budget for this, staff are largely left on their own whether to explore the concept.
According to personal branding guru William Arruda, personal branding is a revolutionary way for people to propel their careers. In doing so, they can identify and communicate what makes them unique, relevant and compelling. They can then use these qualities to be successful.
On September 26, Yau will conduct a one-day workshop - co-organised by Classified Post and the Kornerstone institute of corporate and professional development - on personal branding and professional image.
The event will cover personal branding methods, personal brand attributes, perception management tools, a total likeability formula, effective professional image management, key elements of a business wardrobe, dress code, and using colour for good visual impact.
For a better idea of what it is all about, Yau suggests thinking of Richard Branson, Madonna, Donald Trump or Oprah Winfrey - just some of the incredibly successful people who have used personal branding to achieve amazing things.
Yau says there are three steps to building a personal brand: extract, express and exude - all of which are fairly self-explanatory.
First, people should extract qualities and attributes, but when doing so, they must be clear about what these are, the market and their target audience. People must ensure that they really possess these unique qualities.
Second, when people express their attributes, they must also be clear about those of their competitors in order to craft their messages and communicate effectively. It is at this stage that people can build their relationship with their target audience and inspire loyalty.
Finally, people must exude their attributes - that is, manage their brand. This means projecting their image consistently and over a sustained period. This is, in effect, a continuous process.
Who needs personal branding?
According to Yau, every working person requires a degree of personal branding. And if one's career is in transition, he needs to increase his marketability and, therefore, the degree of his need ascends.
Personal branding is about self-reflection and then excelling in what one does to increase one's personal and professional value to boost his competitive edge. The same applies to the branding of a company to increase its value and strengthen its reputation to yield better financial results.
A professional image forms part of one's brand, but is not the entirety. An image is a projected visual entity, so first impressions are of utmost importance. According to the likeability formula, more than 50 per cent of the theory underlying personal branding relies on first impressions. Around 38 per cent is to do with a person's voice - both tone and pitch - and other details. Surprisingly, the content of their conversation makes up a mere 7 per cent.
Yau explains that this is because a first impression is almost always to do with visuals and is very instinctive and emotional, while the content of a person's conversation forms only a small part of his likeability. This is because awareness of the substance of a thing takes time to dawn on people.
"Image management and visual packaging are vital because you are judged by stakeholders at first sight," Yau says.
This is affirmed in international studies by Ipsos, a leading market research company. In polls conducted in more than 20 countries, 55 per cent of workers believed that a person dressed more professionally for the office is more productive than someone more casually attired. Nearly four out of 10 respondents said the latter group of workers would never make it to senior management.
How does one raise the value of one's brand?
Yau says the qualities one projects must be distinctive to raise him above his competitors and make him one of a kind. "Look at Richard Branson, for example. When you see him, you immediately identify him as an adventurous person - successful, audacious, extraordinary and media savvy. These are the distinctive qualities that make up the Richard Branson brand."
Yau also stresses honesty - that the attributes and qualities projected in personal or company branding must be authentic.
"The consequences would be unimaginable if you were caught telling a lie. It could wreck your professional reputation or the reputation of your company," she warns. "When your reputation is built on a brand, it takes a long time to rebuild if anything goes wrong with the brand."
Workshop on Personal Branding and Professional Image