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Behind the Scenes with Personal Branding Guru Carole Irgang

On Creating a Personal Brand in Alignment with your North Star

“Your brand is your purpose. Why are you on this Earth? And, once you can figure that out, how can you put it into action?”

In 2018, perfecting your personal brand can make or break your career. Your personal brand is your calling card to those you engage, and no one likes a crappy calling card.

There’s a great quote by Tom Peters of Fast Company that goes like this…”All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

Carole Irgang knows this better than just about anyone.

Her decades of experience in branding have equipped her with a lifetime of knowledge on the power of the brand, both for individuals and for companies. She has served as the Senior Vice President of Brand for GoDaddy, the President of her own company, Red Shoes Marketing, and is now an Executive Partner for IBM. She has consulted large companies – Barilla, Godiva, Avon, and Kraft may ring some bells – on their branding. She works with teams around the world. She knows brand.

We sat down to talk about the power of the personal brand, and how someone can consciously define and express their own identity.

Haley Hoffman Smith: How have you built your own personal brand?

Carole Irgang: I built my brand over time – something hard to grasp in this age of instant virality. A personal brand is made up of everything a person does. What you say, do, and exhibit contributes to the personal brand, similar to a business brand. One aspect of my personal brand is mentorship and involvement with startups and I consciously chose to donate my time to young entrepreneurs who are just starting out. I learned long ago that giving back is more than just rewarding, its essential to being a good person. Jeff Bezos put it well when he said “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

A Brand Must Be Authentic

The caveat to personal brand, however, is authenticity. Anyone can play a part publicly – especially when their actions are broadcasted – that may not be authentically reflective of who they actually are. You basically can’t fake authenticity.

HHS: I’d love to know an example of a public persona who you think does a really great job with personal branding.

CI: Actually, Brian Williams. He was shunned from NBC after being misleading about some details on a war story and his involvement. It was the worst thing that could have happened to his personal brand. If there’s one quality a news anchor needs to have and project, it’s trustworthiness. He went out of sight for a while and came back on MSNBC on an evening show at 11 pm where he interviews guests about the current political events. He has this amazing way of making his guests feel like they’re the most important people in the world. He expresses his sincere gratitude for each guest’s appearance. That warmth, humanity and genuine respect define his new personal brand. I never watched him on the nightly news on NBC, but I watch his show every night at 11 pm.

HHS: And how about a public persona who doesn’t do a good job?

CI: Well, it all goes back to authenticity. There are lots of celebrities that have “multiple personalities” you can say. We’ve all heard the story about the actress who is sweet as can be when the camera is on and can be a total nightmare when the camera stops rolling. With celebrities, they have massive PR machines to weave the stories they want told to protect their image that will be valuable to marketers, ticket goers, merch buyers and the like. The unveiling that’s occurring as a result of the #MeToo movement is also revealing what’s behind some of these manufactured personal brands.

Alignment with One’s Brand

HHS: So, how does one go about building their own brand?

CI: The process actually doesn’t differ much from building a business brand. Any company must decide on their values and what they want to express through their actions – choosing their ‘North Star’ – what they want to stand for – their reason for being. People must choose their North Star, too. Your brand is your purpose. Why are you on this Earth? That emotional connection you want to have with people. And, once you can figure that out, how can you put it into action?

If you set your North Star and build actions and behaviors to bring it to life, you’re crafting your personal brand. But the most important distinction here is that you can’t set your North Star and not live it.

Carole’s North Star

HHS: What is your all-time favorite branding story?

CI: Wow, that’s a hard one. I’ve worked for so many brands – Barilla, Avon, Godiva, Kraft… all of the experiences have been different, but exhilarating. I think my favorite experience was with Godiva. I came as a consultant into a team that didn’t share the same vision or see the brand in the same way, and we worked through the disagreements to align the entire time under the same vision. I unified them. And the end result was a team that was so passionate about their product because they worked so hard on it and had so much ownership – it was like chocolate running through their veins… For Barilla, too – my work for them was all about breaking the rules and the conventions of the pasta category. We changed how Americans ate pasta and converted a whole generation and beyond to embrace pasta al dente! And who can’t enjoy that?

For Carole, her North Star is in the way she does business. She attributes her success to how she challenges norms and disrupts the status quo. Who she is – this rebellious and innovate force of nature – is exactly what she does for companies. She helps them break out of the mold. She throws the rules out the window. She shows up every day with these same values, eyes on her North Star, changing the script for brands and the people behind them.

As you consider crafting your own personal brand, set your eyes on your own North Star. What is the impact you want to have in the world? The promise you deliver with every interaction. Once you’re in alignment with your ‘why,’ the branding work is just an expression of your purpose. 

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