How branding yourself sets you apart: Lessons from NJBIA’s Women Business Leaders Forum

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? One would hope the talk is all good. In addition to all positive words, is it all current, consistent and authentic?

Let’s face it, what others know about you can make a difference in your career. Good or bad. Your branding should be easy. It should fit naturally with who you are.

Alethea Marie Batts, first senior vice president, Lakeland Bank, moderated the “Branding Yourself” panel discussion at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association‘s 2022 New Jersey Women Business Leaders Forum this past Wednesday. It discussed how one’s brand can leverage authenticity and credibility to differentiate you from the many others who do the same type of work.

“Establish the who you want to be, and not the what,” Michelle Bodden, chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, stated. “Clarify the who for yourself. It helps you to gravitate toward the folks that have that commonality.”

Bodden said that, for her, like many women in the room, there was no social media when her career began some 25 years ago.

“It was a different world. We didn’t have LinkedIn and Facebook, and social media didn’t exist for us. Our network centered around our relationships. As professionals, we started out all together and created our brand off of one another. And that brand has carried me through.”

Bodden said she established the “who” she wanted to be early on. Her advice to the audience was to build their brand authentically and on a sense of value.

“That will naturally progress with you and stay with you. Then, when it comes time to call on your network, they will have your back.”

Stacey Kavanagh, first vice president, market manager & co-director of ProvidentWomen, Provident Bank, said social media is so important these days because people search you out at times based on what they see on your platforms.

“It takes a lot of editing,” Kavanagh said. “From taking out past information or comments, and getting a fresh head shot.”

Kavanagh also recommends everyone have an executive coach.

“Hard feedback is rough, but an executive coach helps with social media, work problems, gives goals for both self and professional development,” she said. “You want to make sure that the message you are putting out there is one you can feel good about, and a coach can help you see to it.”

By coincidence, panelist Loubna Erraji, founder & CEO of Advancis Consulting LLC, is an executive coach. Erraji, whose work has spanned the globe, added that one’s personal  brand should not be distinct from the business brand.

“Our brands, both professionally and privately, should be the same person. They should be in symbiosis. We are whole people. We behave the same way in social settings and professional settings that should share the same message,” Erraji said.

Batts piggybacked on that, saying: “You are you who are. My brand is to make a positive difference every single day. It does not change when I walk out one door and into another.”

And, just as any product that we know and love is something we rely on, the panelists all agreed it should go the same for one’s own brand.

For Bodden, her personal branding is all about integrity.

“Be your actual self. You can’t be your authentic self without being yourself. Walk the talk. Be consistent. Do the job and don’t let the job do you. If we take that into every particular situation, the persona should be consistently the same. Otherwise, how would anyone know what to expect when they see you. Folks should have a visual in mind of who you are,” she said.

“Your brand is about how people perceive you,” said Erraji. “It is how you position yourself.  It’s a combination multiple things.”

Erraji’s work spans the globe — she said the way she makes certain her brand conveys the right message at all its points is through regular periods of checking in.

“You get to audit your brand as often as necessary to make sure your message is aligned with what you are sharing with people. With the perception that people have about you,” Erraji said.

Ultimately, living one’s authentic, consistent personal brand will set you apart, attract others like you — and it could key to taking yourself to the next level.