Real estate agents are famous for featuring personal photos in all their marketing materials. Why? Partly because they understand putting a face to a name helps people remember them. But also because those photos allow them to quickly project an image (usually that of a friendly, professional, successful consultant).

Personal branding takes that idea one step further. A personal brand not only projects a positive image, it also allows you to emphasize what it is that makes you unique and better suited than your competitors.

In short, a personal photo gives people a glimpse of your personality, but a personal brand showcases the whole you.

How to Build a Personal Brand

A unified, cohesive image

How to Build a Personal Brand

How to Build a Personal Brand

Personal branding is all about projecting a unified image of you – a cohesive collection of attributes that are memorable and attractive to prospective clients.

Consider real estate agent Judy Michaelis. Her personal brand promises “genuine commitment” and “deep personal connections.” But that’s not just an empty tag line. Her unpretentious marketing photo, all-encompassing logo, vivid corporate colors and candid marketing text all work hand in hand to support and promote that image.

Or how about agent Rick Teed. He’s branded himself as a professional investment advisor – a real estate agent / building contractor / developer who can help buyers discover the hidden potential in properties, and help sellers add additional value to their listings.

Then there’s Cindy Gates – an agent whose personal brand is all about luxury. Her company name is Gates Estates, her marketing colors are gold and black, her marketing photo is glamorous, and her brand statement reads: “Handing you the keys to your dreams.” Everything about her brand exudes class and sophistication.

What kind of an image do you want to project? Are you genuine like Judy, luxurious like Cindy, a value-added service provider like Rick, or are you someone altogether different?

Establishing the essence of you

The key to establishing a personal brand is to be clear and direct about who you are and what you stand for. While it’s okay to stretch the truth a bit to sell yourself, make sure the essence of your personal brand accurately reflects who you are and what you stand for.

Forget about the basics – attributes like “friendly,” “experienced,” “ethical” or “knowledgeable.” Those are things all your competitors can easily claim as well (and usually do). They don’t set you apart from the pack, and they’re so basic that prospective clients expect them. It’s like marketing a home for sale with the line, “has windows.” The only surprise would be if the home didn’t have windows (or if you weren’t friendly, experienced, ethical or knowledgeable).

Ditto for “low prices” (but for a different reason). Constantly trying to undercut your competitors is a great way to run yourself right out of business, or compromise your product or service so much that it becomes a laughing stock. Price is important in any industry – especially these days – but most people will always be willing to pay a little more for real benefits.

Instead, focus on the attributes that come naturally, have real appeal to your target audience, and are good for the bottom-line. Consider asking family, friends and long-time clients for feedback and input.

Rolling it all into one

Once you’ve settled on the attributes that best represent you (try to keep them to two or three), it’s time to create what kids these days call a “mash-up” – a custom combination.

The best personal brands combine some warm and memorable personal attributes (your red hair or oversized glasses, your company mascot, your big family, etc.), with some serious business advantages (your years of experience in a particular niche, your record of accomplishment, your one-stop collection of value-added services, etc.).

The warm and fuzzy memory devices are often most effective when incorporated into your logo and marketing photography. The business advantages should be the focus of your tag line (e.g. “Two Realtors for the price of one”) and the text that runs throughout your marketing materials.

Choose a palette of colors that compliments your chosen attributes, as well (rich, dark colors for a high-end image; blue and white for a corporate look and feel; light and bright to convey energy and enthusiasm).

Roll all these things together, and you’ve got yourself a personal brand.

Consistency is the key

Establishing a personal brand is relatively easy. Committing to it for the long haul is much tougher. The whole idea behind a personal brand is that it’s constantly reinforcing the same great attributes and benefits. That’s key, because consumers can only remember a very few things about each of their business relationships.

If your target audience knows you as the urban-living specialist with the cute Chihuahua dog, continue emphasizing that image in everything you do (from business cards to blogs, marketing postcards to event sponsorships).

The trouble starts when you get tired of repeating those things and start mixing in new attributes, preventing the powerful buildup of your brand.

To stay on track, try this: Every year, line up all your marketing pieces side-by-side and ask yourself “do all of these reinforce my unique image, use the same style and messaging, and clearly convey how I differ from my competitors? If the honest answer is no, it’s time to reprogram your brand again.