By Terri Stephan

Recently, a CMO in my network took Brand One’s brand perception survey. This woman is a branding expert—in fact, she’s a CMO. So, I was a bit surprised when she emailed me a few days later, saying, “I see some gaps in my brand; some areas I’ve never considered.”  

Her response not only surprised me—I didn’t expect someone of her caliber and her background to require brand strategy—but it made me wonder: Do leaders truly understand the perception they are giving off to others in their networks and even those in their personal lives? 

What image are you giving off?  

We spend our lives worrying about what we know, or don’t know. We tend to overthink what we share with the world; we’re so fixated about the “what” – what we are sharing, what our knowledge is, what the textbook responses should be – that we forget about perception.  

How are you truly being perceived by others? When you leave your brand perception to chance, you’re undermining your own efforts with your target audience. Your messaging may not land well with this audience. If you’re not aware of how you are perceived, all your hard work and efforts could potentially hinder you instead of benefiting you in terms of building relationships, garnering trust, and gaining influence.  

For example: Are you viewed as an expert? Are you viewed as innovative? How are you presenting yourself when you are providing insights that you are indeed absolutely qualified to give? Do others trust you, believe you, and find you sincere?  

This is exactly what we hope to uncover in Brand One’s Brand Perception Survey. We go through this process as we onboard new executives. It is a powerful exercise – and often, a surprising one. There’s the version of you in your head, how you think you’re being perceived, but then there’s the version that others truly see you. Our work together is all about closing that gap. 

Ask yourself: How do you want to be perceived?  

Beyond the brand you’re sharing with the world, there’s the other side to this: how do you want to be perceived?  

At Brand One, we focus on narrowing your ideal brand perception down to five words. If you could choose any five words to describe how others see you in the world, what would they be?  

You may think, why five words? Five words is a lot when you have to whittle it down and focus. It’s a lot when you have to make the choice. If you choose too many, your brand becomes an overwhelming tangle of words. Like any other goal in life, your brand benefits in a major way when it’s made to be succinct and narrow and achievable.  

Five words. How do YOU want to be perceived by others? How do you want to show up in the world? What is your first and last impression? How do you want to be spoken about when you’re not in the room?  

You cannot be all things to all people (learn to read the room!)   

Here’s the reality: It’s impossible to show up as all things, to all people. You may present yourself as compassionate to your team, but a strong, uncompromising negotiator to your CEO. You may come across as entrepreneurial in one setting; creative in another; exhausted and flustered in a third.  

So, what can you do? Lead with who you are in the present. Make it a habit to read the room. Executives, especially, must have a continual understanding of their audience, whether in the physical room, a Zoom meeting, or the room of people who is absorbing their digital presence.  

Ask yourself: 

Who is in the room with me right now? 

How do I want to show up? 

How am I showing up? 

It’s in this way that you need to think like a CMO, regardless of your role or title—always identify your audience.  

Remember, your brand stays with you. 

Here’s the other reality about brand perception: it sticks with you over time.  

You can try to be transactional by posting online, checking the box, showing up here with one persona, there with another. But your personal brand IS you – all of you. It’s critical that you approach it with sincerity and authenticity.  

One client who I worked with extensively last year said to me. “My brand is so much more than my website, so much more than my social media presence. My biggest takeaway is that it stays with me. My reputation and my perception trail me into every relationship and into every setting.”  

I’ve personally felt this when I created Ecuity Edge. Our sales relationships were wholly built on the power of brand. Brand carried us through ups and downs; it opened doors; it sustained relationships that may have otherwise become strained or transactional. Our relationships at Ecuity Edge with our clients and partners were built on trust. We knew that the moment a client felt like they were just a number in our books – well, the relationship would be broken.  

Your personal brand is not your social media post or your logo. It’s your reputation – it’s how people think of you, remember you, and feel about you. 

Understand your brand gaps using data. 

At Brand One, it’s our goal to help leaders and entrepreneurs understand and manage their brand. We work with clients one-on-one to intimately understand who they are—and how they desire to be perceived.  

It all starts with clarity. For clients, we gather detailed insights into their brand perception through a survey of their network. It helps us gain undeniable data-based insights into their gaps, and what opportunities there are for improvement. Learn more about our approach here. Or, consider taking a short assessment to see how your brand holds up today.