By Scott Lahde

Remember all the talk in the late 90s of the “brand called you?” Well, much has changed in the past 10 years – including the way we conduct a job search and the way we network with each other. But the original concept of branding yourself, especially in today’s competitive marketplace for plum roles and positions, is more relevant than ever.

Sure, you have a LinkedIn page. Perhaps you’ve signed up for Naymz and one of your colleagues invited you to join NotchUp or even one of the newer business social networks like Ryze. More and more online business networking opportunities are sprouting up every day. You may have even designed a personal web page with your professional credentials.

That’s a good start, but is that enough to build your own personal brand? No.

Focus on Number One
As executives in marketing, advertising and sales can certainly attest, marketing a company’s product or service, generating sales leads and enhancing the brand is paramount to company success. So why wouldn’t you use that same approach for yourself? Sound too self-serving? Think again.

Really successful executives, the ones that are consistently written about, quoted as experts, and asked to partner with top executives and companies, do one thing and do it well. They promote themselves and their expert opinions.

Creating an online profile in a number of places and monitoring your online presence is definitely important, but if you ignore your real world presence, you’re cutting your own legs. Busy executives pour through hundreds of emails and view scores of web pages each day. Will your digital communication or web presence stand out among the deluge of daily digital information? Well, it’s a big challenge.
What will be remembered is poignant, real world interaction.

Make it Real
You can generate this sort of interaction and attention for the “brand called you” in a dozen different ways. However, the three ways that have had the biggest impact and are often a catalyst for more opportunities are:

  1. Participating in industry trade groups and associations
  2. Speaking at prominent industry events
  3. Writing well-crafted, by-lined articles in trade publications

In a sense, think back to basics. Some may scoff at the notion of participation at the trade level. Whether it’s engineering, finance or technology, the trades are not nearly as glamorous as being featured in Forbes or Fortune or speaking at Davos. But let’s be realistic, only a very small handful of people are invited to participate at those high levels.

So don’t scoff at them – embrace your trades! It will be your entrance to bigger and better things. Everything is cyclical – a trade article could lead to being selected for a speaking engagement, which leads to being quoted in a news article, which leads to a panel opportunity, which leads to being interviewed on television as an industry expert. You never know. Your participation with Beer Advocate magazine six months ago could have led to being asked to comment on the mammoth Anheuser-Busch/InBev merger.

Be Memorable
The same holds true for conferences, conventions and industry association events. You certainly don’t need to attend every single one in your industry, but select a few key events and really focus on your personal interactions. You may be a sales person for your organization, so of course one of your goals might be generating sales leads, but don’t make the mistake of ignoring your other goal – selling YOU.

Focus on real world interaction with people. Have the kind of conversations that will make people remember you, not run the other direction because you are hounding them. Be genuine. Be thoughtful. Find ways you can help people as much as they can help you. These tenets may seem natural to some, foreign to others, but in any case, they will go a long way in building your brand.

In Short
Create this simple litmus test: Is what I am doing improving my brand, both online and off-line?

Remember: Networking is not about collecting as many business cards as you can. It’s about quality over quantity.

I recently attended a conference and during the networking portion I was approached by a gentleman who quite frankly told me that his boss told him to attend the conference and hand out his business cards. He then offered me his business card and walked away.

Obviously, his business card was immediately circular filed the same way I file random online invites when I receive them. Do yourself a favor – don’t be that person.

Scott Lahde is a 15-year veteran of the communications industry and is Vice President, Associate Director of Corporate Communications at Deutsch Inc., a $2.5 billion top-ten, bi-coastal communications agency.