Establishing your identity: Setting the right pitch



Turn on the TV, browse the internet, or simply go outside. Branding is everywhere. What do you think of when you hear Nike? Lady Gaga? Are your thoughts about them positive or negative? Each is very different and has unique ways to in which they go about maintaining their personal brands. We will get back to them.

Although branding is traditionally associated with big names like these, it is rapidly expanding to include everyone. You may be wondering, as scientists, why should we care? I believe that, as scientists, we need to care the most (or at least just as much!) This article will explain what personal branding is, why you should care, and some tips to getting started.

Personal Branding: What is it?

“A brand is a story always being told” -Scott Bedbury (Nike and Starbucks executive)

Your brand is a way to establish your identity and define how others see you. In a way, this is a type of self-promotion, but an ethical and meticulous one which relies heavily on inner growth and self-reflection. It’s what sets you apart and helps convince future employers that you are the one that they should pick out of everyone else.

A good personal brand communicates consistency, commitment, and experience. This can include any platform from LinkedIn, ResearchGate, or your CV, to non-traditional avenues like Twitter, Facebook, and anything that is associated with you. Let’s look back at our previous examples. If you do not know much about Nike or Lady Gaga, do a quick google search and meet me back here. I’ll wait.

You may notice the first thing that pops up for Nike is their mission statement, associated right with their logo: “Inspiration and Innovation for Every Athlete in the World”. Short, simple, and instantly gets their meaning across. On the other hand, Lady Gaga appears very unconventional in her brand, tending to experiment with extreme visual displays. Analyze what people’s brands say to you. Take note of what you like or dislike about them and think about how this applies to you.

Glenn Llopis noted that 70% of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand but <15% truly have. The main problem appears to be a focus on self-promotion alone. Good personal branding requires more. It is the continued advancement of yourself by serving others. This is hard as it requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, action, and accountability.

In the next two sections I hope you realize that this is important and offer some tips and links to get you started!

Is creating a personal brand even important?

Simply put: Yes, and for reasons that extend even beyond yourself. The goal is to have employers seeking you out as you become increasingly well-known in a specific area. By showing active and on-going commitment to you area of interest, your brand helps build trust and dependability. A 2012 study by California Polytechnic State University found that employers use personal brands as a means to recognize the quality of applicants being put forth, helping to narrow down candidates.

Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success says that "people are looking for specialists not generalists when recruiting and promoting now. If you can become the best at what you do you will become sought after."

The work you put into developing and maintaining your brand will benefit your career, of course, but it will also give you a better understanding of yourself, your specialization, and add to your confidence (and with the large amount of imposter syndrome in the sciences, I think this is a great plus!)

Additionally, scientific research is funded by the government and takes into account the attitude of the general public. This is why scientists must focus on making their research accessible to, and understood by, the general public. This allows for more favorable voting for scientific projects to support funding for your research. This is seen with such discovery as the Higgs Boson, coined as “the god particle” which went viral from this catch phrase. Interestingly, this phrase was originally created by two scientists involved on the project as a joke! The end-goal is achieved none-the-less: distilling a complex topic into something understandable and interesting. Branding also gains the interest of investors that help create products from the discoveries we strive to obtain- making us even more recognizable.

So how do I get started?

Creating and maintaining a successful brand is a long-term on-going process, extending beyond social media. It certainly isn’t something we are taught in graduate school! Below are some highlights of what you should be thinking about when starting this journey, followed by some helpful links for getting started.

  1. Mindfulness: Many websites focus on other’s perception on yourself, but it is also important for inner growth. You must embody your personal brand in your personality, your writing, during your work, and with interactions during meetings and with colleagues. It is much harder to maintain a consistent identity and goal if you aren’t sure what you stand for or what kind of impact you want to make. Learn what is important to you, figure out how you view yourself, and this self-growth can help you achieve your goals and discover what you stand for.
  2. Audience: Be specific and tailor your message to meet your goals. This requires a clear explanation about your passion and what you want to provide to the world (not as sterile as a CV). Creating a mission statement is helpful as well as researching (we can do that!) about your area of interest: what is good about your niche and where does improvements need to be made? What are their main goals/active projects? 
  3. Advice: When seeking advice from others in your niche, seek those who have successful personal brands as they are likely to love their work and enjoy talking about it. Browse through the links below and the descriptions to determine how detailed you want to get right now and what areas you are most interested in.

Helpful links:

GENERAL GUIDES

  1. Good for anyone who wants a more detailed and in-depth explanation of how to build a brand: <https://freshsparks.com/succes...>
  2. A good tutorial with a platform to help you begin the process of creating an online presence: <https://www.opencolleges.edu.a...>
  3. What are employers looking for and how can you improve your image? Good for a short/quick guide: <https://www.opencolleges.edu.a...>
  4. A how-to guide to pitch yourself, has tips for keeping it short but impactful: <https://www.josephfinder.com/w...>

SCIENCE-SPECIFIC GUIDES

  1. How personal branding helps support “funding education and projects for stem cell research, cures for diseases, the exploration of space, and other projects that aim to improve life on Earth”: <http://www.businessinsider.com...>
  2. The differences between general self-promotion and building as good brand: <http://www.sciencemag.org/care...>
  3. Helpful/interesting links regarding why good branding is important in science (with examples): <http://marketingforscientists....>
  4. Why scientists need to focus on branding: <http://www.businessinsider.com...>
  5. Shorter article about “How to brand yourself if you are a scientist”: <https://www.gradjobs.co.uk/new...>
  6. Tips and tools for scientists when creating a personal brand: <https://www.asm.org/index.php/...>