Aliza Licht is the founder of Leave Your Mark and the author of On Brand: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception. She sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about her new book and the importance of shaping your own narrative.
Jessica Abo: Aliza, walk us through the journey that you have been on to identify the brand that you have today.
The idea of having a personal brand today is non-negotiable. I think it’s required, and when you think about it, everyone has some version of one. It starts with what makes you, you. As a corporate publicist for many years, 17 years working for Donna Karan, and becoming a social media personality, one of the first examples of a fashion influencer as DKNY PR GIRL, I had my whole identity wrapped up in my job. For people who have had the same career for a long time, sometimes we get confused, and we forget, oh, actually, our name is not on the door. We don’t own that company; even if we do, we know the founders can be replaced.
When I left Donna Karan after 17 years, and I no longer had millions of followers as DKNY PR GIRL, I faced a little bit of an identity crisis and thought, “who am I now?” The idea that one, I didn’t want to do PR anymore, was a big revelation, and two, when you lose your executive title, you’re not with the credibility of a big retail brand that LVMH owns, for example, you start to wonder who you are again. Part of why I wrote On Brand is to help people understand that it’s their responsibility to answer the question of what they want to be known for and how to shape that narrative so other people see them that way.
Why do you think people need to have a brand?
Personal branding is not necessarily online. It’s not about becoming an influencer unless that’s something someone strives to be. Personal branding is marrying self-reflection and how you see yourself and ensuring it is married to public perception. Many people don’t think through how they’re showing up, and they don’t really know how they’re being perceived. By the way, perception can be over email. It can be how you present in a meeting. It can be how you pitch investors. It can be a million different ways of how you’re presenting. In the world we live in today, which is very much virtual, it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand how they’re showing up, no matter what the medium is.
What do you think are some of the non-negotiables when it comes to building your brand?
Even if you do not want to be on social media and say, “That’s not for me,” I think every single person needs to be on LinkedIn. Every person needs to have a very clear understanding of what their bio says, and they can’t just write it and forget about it. In On Brand, I say, “Set a quarterly reminder to read through your LinkedIn bio or your social media bios.” The other thing that is non-negotiable is understanding how you present. When you show up in a meeting, go on stage, or do television, how are you owning the room in a way where you’re showing the value that you add?
It’s about building authentic relationships. It’s about earning social capital. It’s even understanding how your personal brand shows up at work because there is an opportunity for many people to think about rebranding themselves in their existing jobs. It can also be about visual identity. Having a signature look that makes people remember you because repetition is reputation. Really shaping your narrative and understanding what you want to be known for and how you are conveying that no matter what you do, is really non-negotiable.
For those who’ve had the same bio on their website or LinkedIn profile for years and are going through a professional pivot, how can they navigate their rebrand?
It’s paint-brushing your personal brand everywhere you are. First, your personal website is the only place where you have a hundred percent share of voice as to how you want to be messaging and showing up. It’s not controlled by an algorithm. You’re not renting that audience. Anyone coming to your website will get a full authentic view of whatever it is that you’re putting out there. For LinkedIn, it’s different. That is still a social platform, but LinkedIn is like Exhibit B right after your website. When we think about our bios on LinkedIn, or how we’re showing up across mediums, it’s really about making sure that when you’re doing an audit of all the ways that you show up:
One is, is this serving your goal? Is how you’re presenting in all of these mediums actually going to support your goal? For example, sometimes you’ll see someone on social media that’s like, “Netflix junkie,” “Taylor Swift fan,” or something like that. But really, what they’re trying to do is become a journalist. The real estate of a bio is there to support how you want people to know about you. Utilizing those areas is really strategic and important, and that also goes for your email signature. It’s free real estate to be able to serve up who you are, what you’re proud of, and what kind of lead gen you want to send people to your site or wherever you want to send people. That’s a great opportunity right there in your email signature. How many people do you know have “Sent from my iPhone”? By the way, these people are not doing marketing for Apple.
Whether you work for Apple or somewhere else if you are in an office, what are the dos and don’ts of establishing your own brand?
Understanding, first and foremost, what you are allowed to do. Many people think, “Oh, I’ll speak at a conference. I won’t say where I work.” You’re always representing your company, whether it’s at a conference or on social media because you are connected somewhere. Whether it’s on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter, it doesn’t matter. People can connect the dots back to a company. Often, individuals don’t realize they might be asked for a quote, or they might be asked to speak because of the credibility of where they work because that conference wants to be able to say, “So and so from Apple is speaking today.” So, your words matter, and understanding the rules of engagement within your company, both from a press perspective and a social media perspective, is essential.
The second thing is 15 minutes of fame in any capacity is never worth it if it will jeopardize your job. Really understanding who your audience is, who are the stakeholders responsible for your growth and success at your company, and whether they are supportive of you having a bigger profile? Today, I would say a lot of people are because we’re not one note anymore. I spent 17 years at a company. People don’t do that anymore. We are more than our jobs. I think in On Brand, what I’m trying to get people to do is establish equity in their own names, not just where they work, because at the end of the day, the skills are yours, and you can take those skills anywhere.
If people are uncomfortable talking about their skills or amplifying their wins, how can they do that?
It needs to be like the sprinkles on the ice cream sundae, not the whole sundae. Nobody wants to hear someone all day long talking about how amazing they are and what they’ve accomplished. But you do need to make people understand where you are in your career and maybe some strategic wins. I like to tell people, “If you’re going to share something great about yourself or something wonderful that just happened, make it your business to amplify and pay forward other people’s successes.” Five people. So, for everyone you do, amplify and pay forward other people’s success stories or support them in whatever they’re trying to achieve. That’s a good ratio, so you’re not talking about yourself all day.
The other thing is personal branding, and sharing wins does not always need to come from you, especially in a corporation. You can partner behind the scenes with a colleague and say, “Hey, listen, I’m super uncomfortable sharing this, but I would like my manager to know that I did this thing. Would you be the person who could say it on my behalf, and is there something you want me to amplify?” Or maybe, it’s not verbal at all. You may be more comfortable putting your results in a deck that you share with your manager so that they will consume it. But if people are waiting for people to notice how good they are at something, that’s a mistake.
Let’s say someone messes up. How can they manage their reputation?
In the book, when I talk about content strategy, the first thing before we get to how we fix it is understanding your personal brand guardrails. What are topics that you should be speaking about? What are topics that you should stay away from? Not every topic needs to be spoken about. Not every leader speaks on every topic. Not every company speaks on every topic. So really understanding, what are you knowledgeable enough to speak on? Then, if you speak out and something goes wrong, or if you’re not knowledgeable enough and you speak out anyway, the first thing that you need to do is understand where this message was placed, let’s say it’s on Twitter, people on Twitter, it’s its own ecosystem.
A lot of times, people make a mistake, and they’re like, “Oh my God, I need to apologize immediately, and I’m going to plaster this apology all over my social media.” Well, guess what? Your followers on Instagram didn’t know you did that thing. LinkedIn probably wasn’t aware that happened. So, really think about it contained for the moment. Now, listen, if you’re a celebrity or a major public figure, it’s probably going to spread fiercely across channels. But first, taking a deep breath, understanding what you did that was off-color or wrong, and then really bringing in some key stakeholders to help you craft an apology because we all know Jessica, analyzing if an apology is sincere is like an American pastime, especially at the executive level.
People are waiting to pounce on those. Bringing in your legal team, bringing in your head of PR, bringing in your head of people, really bringing in people to make sure that you’re not making excuses, that you’re taking responsibility, but you’re crafting in a way that’s not going to dig you deeper into a hole. And then, really think through the actions that need to be taken because sometimes, especially if you’re super public, it’s not enough to just apologize. Sometimes, you need to also show that you are educating yourself, you’re giving back, and you’re making amends in a way that does not just talk but actually action.
From bios to websites, you cover so much in this book. How do you break down all of the information?
This book is a very down-to-earth story of how I did it. I am the initial case study, but then I bring in expert contributors, whether it’s how to present, gain executive presence, build authentic relationships, or create a visual identity. All these people coming together helps the reader understand that this sounds hard to do, but it’s not. Throughout the book, I have mental gymnastics exercises. As you go through the book, I’m holding your hand and helping you work through the thinking. How do you write a bio if you’ve never written a bio? Or how do you build a website if you’ve never built a website? So, all of these tactics are in there, and then if people are done reading On Brand, and they’re like, “This was great,” hopefully, “but I still can’t do it,” then on my website, alizalicht.com, people can work with me directly to help work through their personal brands.
Aliza, who do you think this book is for?
I don’t care if you’re someone just out of college. I don’t care if you’re a middle manager. I don’t care if you’re a CEO of a company. I don’t care if you are an entrepreneur. Everyone needs to understand how they’re being perceived and to answer the question, what’s on brand for you? Because when you think about the idea of being on brand, it means you clearly understand what you align with. That can be visually, aesthetically, in theory. It’s really in the spoken and unspoken and the energy we all give off. An example of a solid personal brand is where your name gets dropped in rooms you’re not in, and you’re being thought of for opportunities other people haven’t even heard of yet.