... and if you’re not, you should be!
mav·er·ick (măv'ər-ĭk, măv'rĭk)
- An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.
- One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter.
Being independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence: maverick politicians; a maverick decision.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. More from Dictionary
At first sight, it might seem odd to use the word "maverick" in relation to personal branding; after all, Sam Maverick, the cattleman who gave his name to the word, refused point blank to brand his cattle. But his name has become synonymous with people who are unique and stand out from the "yes men" around them, and the fact is that the people with the strongest personal brands are often regarded as "mavericks" by those around them.
I've said before that everyone has a personal brand, whether they know it or not, but that's not totally true: we ALL start life as mavericks. A new born baby has no personal brand. It is a blank slate, free thinking, with no preconceptions, no attitudes, no expectations. Over the years, various institutions stamp their mark on us – first family, then culture and a succession of schools, then the companies we work for. Their influence extends into how we think, how we talk, how we dress, the people we mix with, and every other aspect of our life. And all of these make up our personal brand.
It's what we do with those influences that mark out the kind of personal brand that we build for ourselves and the more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems to me that there are 3 levels of personal brand:
1. The ‘Herd’ brand
Most people – who have never thought about their personal brand – end up reliant on the labels provided by society, schools and employers to provide them with the credibility they need. And because these other brands are so important to their professional progress, the need to conform becomes paramount, so you see whole professions where everyone talks and dresses the same way, thinks the same way, has similar values, and so on.
When they want promotion, these people work harder than their peers, get in earlier and leave later. They keep their head down, don’t rock the boat, and hope that senior management will notice their contribution.
When they want to change jobs they scour the listings for ads that say things like “must have 5 or more year’s experience in a major consultancy or blue chip financial services organisation and an MBA from a top school”, because those are their key selling points: who they’ve worked for, where they studied and the qualifications they have.
2. The ‘Personalised’ brand
At some point, some of these people decide to have a little more control over their branding, and how they are seen by the outside world. They realise that, while you can go quite far in a profession by adopting the herd brand, there comes a point at which you need to stand out to get ahead, and so they start to personalise their brand. These are the people who adopt something a little unusual to help them stand out – clothing, mannerisms, speech patterns can all be ‘tweaked’ for that little point of differentiation. Imagine wiping most of that old branding off yourself, and choosing what you allow to stay on, for example a useful past employer or school that you attended.
These are people aiming for promotion to the next level in their career: the FD who wants to get to CFO, the junior partner in a law firm who wants to make senior partner. They are trying to stand out from the herd, but they’re doing it to stay at the front of the herd; it is still important to them to ‘belong’, so they will still conform, and still actively promote the external brands (employers, professional affiliations, etc.) that they feel their target employer or customer will want to see. And they’re still hoping that the quality of their work will get them noticed, but that they will be seen as enough of an individual to make them memorable and get them noticed.
The problem is that these personalised brands are often a reaction to the herd brand, and so what the person is projecting is not their own personality but rather the opposite of the herd personality. A personalised brand therefore needs to be managed extremely carefully because it can easily look like someone ‘trying too hard’, and at worst it can come across as inauthentic, affected, or just plain eccentric.
3. The ‘Maverick’
The final level of personal brand, the maverick, has let go of all the baggage of their past career. They are their own brand and they don’t feel the need to name drop to gain credibility. They want to get hired/promoted on their own terms, and they know that people come looking for them if they have a strong enough brand. They know precisely what makes them unique, but they don’t need to think about it because it is part of who they are – and everyone who needs to know, knows it. Their thinking is their own, and they are not afraid to voice an unpopular opinion or piece of advice when they know it is right. They refuse to do something just because it’s “what is expected.”
When they do name a brand, it is with a very specific aim in mind; for example
- It emphasises the importance of a result they achieved: “I helped this client to do X, and that’s all the more amazing when you realise that it was a global organisation in a highly competitive market.”
- It creates a bond with their audience: “I have worked in the same kinds of organisation/role as you, so I understand you.”
- It highlights a benefit of working with them: “I have helped these clients, who you want to emulate, and I know what you need to do to be like them.”
- It provides a real point of differentiation: “most of the people in my industry have X background, mine is Y so I bring a fresh point of view, which is valuable because...”
Otherwise, they stand on their own merits, with no pretence. The maverick builds their brand around their own personality, so if you want to be a maverick you need to understand who you are, and why that makes you special. You also need know exactly where you want to get to: what represents the pinnacle of success in your chosen career.
Many of these people end up running the show, of course, either because they find the corporate environment too restrictive of their individuality or because they realise they can create far more value to clients on their own, without the corporate overhead. In business they may set up their own company or firm (Richard Branson and Donald Trump come to mind); in entertainment they may end up as the world-renowned star or chat show host (Oprah and Madonna).
Some of them, however, may stay in the mainstream of their profession, and use it as a springboard to the top (Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca).
Now I headed up this post with a bold claim: that you are a maverick. Why did I say that? Because you have an interest in personal branding; you’re already thinking beyond the corporate brands that helped you get to where you are, and you want to get further.
So, are you a Maverick?
Take a long, hard look at how you’ve been presenting yourself professionally.
- Are all the aspects of your brand about the real, authentic, you, or are there aspects of your current personal brand that represent what you think people expect you to be like?
- Do all the aspects of your personal brand represent the value you can add to a client/customer/employer, or are there aspects that are there just because you think other people expect them to be there?
- Have you let go of the safety net provided by past employers and education, or are there brand names that you’re clinging onto? What do you need to think/feel/do before you can let go?
- Is your brand taking you in precisely the direction you want to go in, not down some well-worn career path that everyone in your profession follows? How would you know?
The herd mentality is “here we are, this is what we do, now who wants to buy, what are they paying and when will it be my turn?”
The personalised brand thinks “here I am, look at how special I am. Now who wants to buy, and how much more can I get them to pay for being special?”
The maverick mindset is “what does my market really want, how much is it worth to them to have it and what is it about me that makes me the ONLY person who can deliver it to them?”
Are you ready to step out of the herd?
Coming soon: the Maverick Personal Brand™ workshop