Brands are essential to corporate identity. Successful company branding can make a lasting impression on consumers, solidify market presence, and increase organizational value. At their best, brands establish instant recognition and lifetime loyalty, sometimes representing the organization's greatest asset.
By the same token, personal branding is important for all professionals, and perhaps especially critical for internal auditors. Establishing a brand can enhance an auditor's stature in the organization, as well as increase the perception that he or she can serve as a trusted advisor and provide value. Conversely, practitioners who neglect branding may face significant career adversity, such as finding themselves "on the outs" after delivering bad news to the C-suite or struggling after a post-merger consolidation of the audit function.
Like an organization's culture, a personal brand exists whether the individual knows it or not. Internal auditors need to intentionally craft their brand — and once established, that brand must be actively managed and maintained.
What Is a Personal Brand?
More than 20 years ago, management consultant Tom Peters coined the term
personal brand in a
Fast Company article titled, "The Brand Called You." Peters said of personal brand, "Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."
A more recent notion of personal brand comes from Daron Pressley, a sales and marketing consultant who leads branding workshops. According to Pressley in his Branding and Brand Management Workshop Reference Guide, "Success is about the mirror you look into each morning and how you use the reflection you see to shape the life you live. This is personal branding."
Joining and actively participating in a professional trade association can help boost one's career, as well as enhance personal branding. Volunteering can include several activities, such as:
- Participating in a local association chapter.
- Writing professional certification exam test questions.
- Writing an article for an industry publication.
- Speaking at a conference.
- Creating a video for a trade group website.
Although definitions may vary,
personal brand almost always refers to someone's authentic personal image — the amalgamation of qualities that make an individual unique. It represents someone's professional presence, encompassing both business skills and personal qualities. Those seeking to define their brand would do well to heed playwright Oscar Wilde's advice: "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
Today, personal brand is often linked to one's social media presence, though every interaction is a branding opportunity — whether in person, through email, or by phone. Failure to treat people with respect, or communicate professionally, can impact personal brand.
Why Is a Personal Brand Important?
Developing a strong personal brand can benefit an internal auditor's career in many ways. First, it can help a practitioner assess him or herself as a professional and gauge career status. The process requires some homework and self-reflection, which can help reveal development opportunities the auditor may want to pursue.
Second, an effective personal brand can help an auditor achieve recognition as a well-rounded professional with accomplishments outside of the organization. For example, a brand that encompasses volunteering at a local IIA chapter, participating on a board committee, or making other professional contributions can help auditors stand out as knowledgeable practitioners who advocate for the profession. By doing so, practitioners can increase the likelihood of being perceived as thought leaders, especially when their contributions often consist of offering fresh perspectives.
Third, once their personal brand has been established, internal auditors can more readily determine their career direction and better assess whether they are in the right role, at the right level, and working with the right people. Auditors should then be positioned to make the changes necessary to ensure they are in a truly fulfilling job, resulting in a higher level of performance, engagement, and success through career advancement.
Lastly, the internal auditor, through consistent use of his or her brand, will be seen as a trusted advisor. Others will trust the auditor's reputation, much as they would a product's brand name.
Create Your Brand
Creating a personal brand involves building from the inside out. Internal auditors should determine what about their values, personality, knowledge, and experience makes them stand out. Auditors should consider strengths, the benefits they bring to a role, what differentiates them from others, and what they can deliver to the organization.
To better understand how they're perceived, auditors also may want to ask others — colleagues, mentors, friends, or partners — to identify their strengths, values, skills, and abilities. If feedback does not align with the auditor's desired image, he or she should take appropriate action to revise personal branding. Practitioners also need to determine their unique professional style, and present that style consistently in all they do. For example, is the auditor's professional style casual and relaxed, sophisticated and polished, focused and analytical, jovial and energetic, or some combination of these qualities?
In a 2013 blog post titled "10 Steps to Building and Managing Your Personal Brand," marketing expert Matthew Royse suggests individuals may want to start with an elevator pitch — a short, concise message that explains who that person is and what makes him or her unique. For internal auditors, the pitch may include whether his or her specialty, or passion, is perhaps information security risks and controls, governance, or quality programs. It can be used for client introductions, job interviews, or social interactions. The elevator pitch also could be adapted for the LinkedIn Summary section of the individual's profile, or on his or her Facebook page, if using the site professionally. Messaging should be continually refined as the auditor's career evolves.
Promote Your Brand
Social media is perhaps the most important means of managing a personal brand online. Professionals can use it to connect with peers, build relationships, and share information that aligns with their brand. After deciding on a personal brand, internal auditors need to determine which social media platforms they'll use to promote themselves.
Some aspects of social media, and specific tools, will better align with brand objectives than others. Auditors should research social media sites to determine which ones are most compatible with their brand. LinkedIn, for example, provides one of the best platforms for establishing one's reputation as a serious and talented professional, though some may argue that Facebook now also occupies some of that space — even though it began as a purely social tool. Twitter also provides a mix of social and professional content, though its unique format and character limit may not be a good fit for individual branding needs.
Internal auditors need to be mindful that their social media content, and overall internet presence, is persistent and readily searched. Therefore, anyone creating a personal brand should remain professional and appropriate at all times. An individual's social media presence reflects his or her values and will often serve as the basis on which that person is judged. Frank Bucaro, a speaker and ethics advocate, describes on his website how tending to these areas can build one's brand over time. "As trust is proven over and over again, your brand continues to strengthen," he says. "It is actually trust that is branded — trust based on honesty, integrity, ethics, transparency, openness, based on the authoritative use of power!"
Manage Your Brand
Once established, a brand needs to be monitored to ensure the intended messaging, and the individual's reputation, remain intact. Auditors can gauge how their presence on social media is being perceived, for example, by reading feedback from blog posts, or responses to comments made on LinkedIn. They can assess whether feedback is positive and whether they need to approach their professional interactions any differently.
Several tools, adapted from Royse's blog post, can align an individuals' online presence with his or her intended branding.
Name Search Internal auditors should search for their name in major search engines, making sure to use variations of their name during the process. The search will help reveal what's been said about the individual online, including any information that may be false or inaccurate. Auditors also may want to find out whether additional information can be found on them in "people databases," such as Intelius and Spokeo. Users can search for themselves on these sites and, for a fee, receive full results. Alternatively, a site like
Pipl.com can be used to aggregate these searches.
Upon locating web content that is inconsistent with their brand — or simply inaccurate or false — users can contact the site administrator and ask that their article, comment, photo, or name be removed. Users also can appeal directly to search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, to remove the edited pages. By filling out a simple form, the user can request that the URL be re-indexed. Such requests are not always granted, though instances of confidential, libelous, or copyrighted material will likely have a better chance of success.
When seeking to remove online information, auditors can use tools such as JustDeleteMe or AccountKiller to facilitate the process. JustDeleteMe's and AccountKiller's free tools show users how, and how difficult or easy it is, to delete unwanted information as well as remove social media accounts that are no longer useful or relevant.
Username Management Ideally, auditors should choose a username consistent with their brand identity and use it as uniformly as possible across platforms. Free tools, including
Namecheckr.com, can be used to help determine username availability. Users simply type in their desired or current username to find out where the name is registered across social media sites and domains. Auditors can register their desired username on sites they don't currently use, for future application.
Auditors can also use
Namecheck.com to create or simplify a personal LinkedIn URL. For example, a profile that appears as
linkedin.com/pub/nancyhaig/40/2633/205 could be changed to one that is easier to remember, such as
linkedin.com/in/nancyhaig. Users can search via
Namecheck.com to determine whether the desired name is available — if the user's first choice is unavailable, he or she can choose a variation that supports the user's personal brand. The custom LinkedIn URL must contain between five and 30 letters or numbers; it may not include spaces, symbols, or special characters. To change the URL:
- Login to LinkedIn.
- Click the "Me" icon at the top of the page.
- Click "View Profile."
- On the profile page, click "Edit public profile & URL."
- Under "Edit public profile URL," click the pencil icon next to the assigned URL.
- Type last part of new custom URL in the text box.
- Click "Save."
Custom Alerts To monitor what others have said about them online, auditors can set up automatic alerts using tools such as Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts. To create a Google alert, the user would simply go to
google.com/alerts and enter his or her name. To create a Talkwalker alert, the user would visit
Talkwalker.com/alerts and, similarly, add his or her name. Both sites provide options such as how often, and in what language(s), the user prefers to be notified. Any instances of those names online trigger an email alert to the user, providing continuous brand monitoring.
Social Management When maintaining a social media presence across multiple platforms, auditors can use a tool to help manage them. Hootsuite, for example, connects a user's social media accounts and coordinates them through a dashboard interface. The service is free for personal use, for up to three social media profiles, and its features include the ability to monitor conversations, keywords, and phrases across social media. Hootsuite also can be used to schedule and automate the timing of messages, as well as track follower growth to see which content resonates with users.
Website Creation Some internal auditors may want to consider building their own website, particularly if they decide to start a business or perform consulting work. One helpful site creation resource is Squarespace — an intuitive, out-of-the box tool available on both desktop and mobile platforms. Squarespace charges users for domain registration and website hosting.
An Ongoing Process
Just as company brands change over time, personal brands also may need to adapt to remain current. Internal auditors should remember to go back to their trusted colleagues to help refine and refocus their brand, all the while remaining consistent with their trusted core values. Technology changes also should be monitored to ensure users are using the latest social media tools appropriately to enhance and promote their personal brand. Without deliberate, continual attention to brand building, your brand can turn from highly personalized and effective to one that is defined by others on your behalf.