Turns out I'm a Mini Cooper. By nearly unanimous vote, my friends, family and colleagues say that if I were a car, I'd be a Mini, a BMW Z5 or some other convertible roadster. Not to, er, toot my own horn, but that means people see me as small but bold, stylish and full of energy.
It also means that people connect with me on an emotional level--at least, so says William Arruda, creator of the 360Reach personal-branding questionnaire that was used to ask people how they view me, my strengths and weaknesses. Arruda is not some New Age self-help shaman. After two decades of promoting corporate brands like KPMG, IBM and Lotus software, Arruda founded Reach Personal Branding six years ago to help ordinary people figure out how to market themselves. With about 1,000 clients a month, he's a leader in the growing field of personal-brand consultants, who help people pitch themselves in the job market and the dating arena. Part life coaching, part management consulting, personal branding applies the language, philosophies and strategies of Madison Avenue to the brand that is you.
Treating our personalities as products reflects an increasingly competitive society in which the best way to stand out is to develop an engaging--and easily defined--image. Companies and celebrities have been doing it for years. Now it's the average guy's turn. "For a long time, parents discouraged their children from worrying about what others think. They didn't realize how shortsighted and stupid that was," says Mark Leary, a social psychology professor at Duke University who studies impression management. "We need other people to think well of us."
Personal branders use your online identity--the links that pop up when you Google someone and details on sites like MySpace--as well as tools like the 360Reach exercise to determine which core attributes will sell your brand most effectively. Among mine, apparently, are "creativity" and "interest in all things." Those may sound like daily-horoscope insights, but Arruda says they can be packaged in a way that could help me get a new job. "We could show the diversity of your work," he says. "We would perhaps give you a tagline: 'Curious about Everything. Passionate about Writing'" for my résumé and for a personal website I would develop.