Japan and India: Personal Branding Views from Two Cultures – Oct. #1

October Post #1:  Debunking Myths About Personal Branding

For our first topic in October Dr. Amit and I chose to compare some common myths about personal branding in Japan and India.  In both countries personal branding is still in a “start-up” phase, and as such there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about it.  Yet, these myths can easily be debunked as we have shared below.

View from Japan: Peter Sterlacci

If you ask Japanese if they have heard of “personal branding,” 99% of the time they will not know. Personal branding is simply not part of Japanese culture and so naturally people are not aware of it. When I explain what it is, I almost inevitably get a ‘2-part reaction’ as follows:

 

Part 1: “That sounds really interesting and Japanese people need to do this.”

Part 2: “But, because we are Japanese maybe we cannot do it because….”

What usually follows the ‘because’ is one of a handful of myths about personal branding. Here are 4 of the most common myths and how I debunk them.

Myth 1: “I have to give up my group identity.” 

This myth comes from Japanese being educated to be self-effacing and to put the group ahead of one’s own interest. The idea of understanding your unique attributes and using them to stand out to differentiate yourself from others is a challenging concept. People’s main concern is their in-group identity rather than their individuality.

How to debunk: Personal branding does not mean isolating yourself from others. Rather, it is used to help you understand yourself better so that you can add value to your business, company, or career. Especially in group cultures you need stay focused on how your brand creates value for the group.  Remember, the diversity that the individual brings to the group does not come at the expense of others but rather empowers the group to reach a common goal. When the group understands how your unique value supports a larger group goal that they are also committed to, you become more memorable and your in-group identity is maintained.

Myth 2: “Personal branding goes against Japanese modesty and humbleness.”

Japanese are not usually willing to talk about themselves or accept compliments for their performance. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a concept that is ingrained in the Japanese mind-set. When faced with a compliment, the standard protocol is to deflect it, deny it, and come up with some kind excuse that makes you look worse! As such, there is a sense that defining your authentic self and then broadcasting it to others will put the Japanese at risk of being selfish, stuck-up, and separate from, rather than part of the group.

How to debunk: Personal branding is not about making yourself appear superior or “better than” others. It is about getting people excited to engage and connect with you. William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson sum this up perfectly in Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand (Wiley):

“When you are just one of many others with similar skills and abilities, you don’t contribute to the diversity your organization needs to generate creative innovative ideas. Instead you become a commodity. And people don’t get excited about commodities.”

In a competitive job market, you need people to be excited about you. Simply relying on your resume does not make you any different from anyone else with a similar background. By demonstrating your unique promise of value (even in a more modest and softer way), people are motivated to hire you and pay you a premium. What makes you stand out is not your resume, but rather the attributes that demonstrate your values, passions, and strengths – your unique promise of value.

Myth 3: “Only top executives need a personal brand.”

Many Japanese I talk to seem to think that only managers and executives need to have a brand. Their view is that only after years of experience can you develop the skills needed to legitimately have a personal brand. I have actually had people say to me “I do not believe I have a personal brand because I do not have enough experience.”

How to debunk: Everyone has a personal brand.  However, we may not be sure exactly what our brand is because it is held in the hearts and minds of others. Our brand does not come out of our years of work experience. Rather, we bring our brand, whether we realize it our not, into our work and daily lives. Only by uncovering our brand can we then consciously use it to our advantage. To uncover your brand you need to combine self-analysis with feedback from others. Using the 360Reach Personal Brand Assessment you can discover your brand attributes, skills, strengths, and competencies. Teaming up with a trained and certified personal branding coach, you can then analyze your results and establish a firm belief in your brand. I recently had the 360Reach assessment translated into the Japanese language, which has helped Japanese to see that you do not need to be an “executive” to have a personal brand

Myth 4: “Japanese do not need a personal brand. Just work hard and you are rewarded.”

Japanese are traditionally used to “lifetime employment” and will stay with the same company until retirement. The lifetime guarantee is implicit, with no written contracts, but real nevertheless. Rather than hiring mid-career managers from the outside, firms promote exclusively from within. As such, Japanese maintain strong loyalty to the company, and this loyalty is rewarded with natural promotions at standard milestones in an employee’s career. Changing job, especially mid-career, is considered irresponsible and foolish. In the August 2011 edition of The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, William H. Saito compares this to a “predictable escalator” – get into a good university and ride up to graduation. Then get into a safe company, stand obediently to one side, and ride patiently up the escalator to retirement.

How to debunk: The world of work has changed, and even in Japan job security and lifetime employment are no longer guaranteed. Previously known for its economic egalitarianism, Japan is now experiencing a widening income gap. Many workers are finding themselves without a steady job as Japanese companies are relying more and more on short-term labor contracts. Market reforms in 2004 made it easier for companies to hire short-term workers in an attempt to make the Japanese economy more competitive. With these new policies, Japan may have unintentionally increased the very inequality that it’s prided itself on avoiding. As a result, “Out of order” signs are gradually appearing on these predictable escalators and lines are getting longer as people patiently wait for them to be repaired. However, success in the new working world in Japan will be characterized by jumping on an express elevator with an elevator pitch in hand that communicates a personal brand. Those who have worked to uncover, communicate, and manage their personal brand with be able to take this express elevator to the top. Those who have not will continue to wait in line.

View from India: Dr Amit Nagpal

Myth 1- Personal Branding is done by people greedy for fame

Many Indians believe that personal branding is done to achieve fame forgetting that personal branding is also a proactive tool to create an image of you before others do. Others may create wrong perception and may do enough damage to your brand before you start the process. Personal Branding is the process of becoming what you aspire and communicating what you stand for. Personal branding also takes care of countering wrong perceptions which may be becoming popular about you (in the online and offline worlds). The famous proverb goes, “If you want your work well done, do it yourself.” Should we leave it to others to create an image about us? Will our competitors not misuse our inactive approach?

Myth 2- Personal Branding is extremely expensive (and unaffordable for middle class)

Offline personal branding tools are either too expensive (hiring PR agency for example) or too slow (writing a book for example). But internet particularly social media has changed the rules of the game. Even a middle class person (into a full time job or business) who has an internet connection can build his brand over 2-3 years. Even consultants who charge a very reasonable fee are easily available. In fact personal branding has become very low cost and affordable today.

Myth 3- Personal Branding is for the extremely ambitious

Even if you are a low profile person who wants to avoid fame, you still cannot avoid social media altogether and hide from the world? After all, all human beings are social animals and if we have to connect to the world, why connect to people who have built distorted opinions about us because we wanted a low profile. Also human beings have some illogical tendencies, jumping to conclusions for example. If we have not communicated what we stand for, we are giving chance to people to jump to the wrong conclusions about us.

Myth 4- Personal Branding is very slow

If you are extremely hardworking and can spare 6-8 hours per day, you can build a strong brand in less than 1 year. If your target market is upper middle class and upper class it is even easier (as majority of the people in these classes are online). But even if you are an extremely busy person, you can still build a strong brand in 2-3 years with consistent efforts and learning the social media strategies. Though many personal branding activities are DIY (Do it Yourself), if you take the advice of a professional, you can do it much faster. The one who sows the seeds of personal branding efforts reaps higher salaries in job, higher profits from customers and higher respect and recognition in society.

Myth 5- Personal Branding is not required (only organizations and products should become brands)

Many Indians also think that personal branding is not required at all as people only serve organizations. Hence, only organizations and products should do brand building and people need not do. If we go by this logic, parents should not give names to their children because even naming our children is also branding. If have already been branded by our parents through the names given to us, why let our names be like weak and local brands, why not make them strong, respected and over a period of time global?

So if you respect your individuality and want others also to respect it, then like Peter Sterlacci says, Believe, Become, Be your brand.

About the author

Peter Sterlacci Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer.” In a country where fitting-in is the norm, Peter’s mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. An avid cyclist, he combines cycling imagery with personal branding strategy to empower his clients to shift gears and sprint to career success. Follow Peter on Google+