Project Management Institute

Brand you! Positioning yourself or your PMO for success


A key factor for your success (or your Project Management Office's (PMO) success) is how you are positioned in your organization, your industry, and your profession. How do you position yourself for success? How do you position your thought leadership, capabilities, knowledge, and wisdom (we all have some of that) —your brand— so others see you as valuable and act accordingly? This paper will outline the steps you need to build a great brand to position yourself (or your PMO) for success. This paper will consider:

  • What it means to brand yourself,
  • Building your brand through thought leadership,
  • Four steps to position your brand for success, and
  • Brand You: where you stand.

Brand You! identifies the key factors that lead to personal and PMO success. This paper discusses how important it is to develop a value proposition to use in building a great brand, how to identify the stakeholders you need to sell to, and how to develop a position to effectively sell your brand. A key to branding is developing great thought leadership. This paper will address what it means to be a “thought leader” and present the steps you need to take to build your thought leadership brand. Finally, a model will be presented for you to quickly assess where Brand You! currently stands, and what you need to do to improve your brand.

What It Means to Brand Yourself

Brand management is the application of marketing techniques to a specific product, product line, or brand. It seeks to increase the product's perceived value to the customer and thereby increase brand franchise and brand equity. Marketers see a brand as an implied promise that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same product. This may increase sales by making a comparison with competing products more favorable. It may also enable the manufacturer to charge more for the product. The value of the brand is determined by the amount of profit it generates for the manufacturer. (Wikipedia, 2009)

Branding is a concept that is well understood in the consumer products business, but has recently been promoted as a means of marketing yourself so others see you in a certain light. (Throughout this article, I'll be speaking about branding yourself, but all of what is described can be used to brand your PMO in the same way). In particular, you brand yourself in business so your stakeholders see you as someone who delivers value, is consistently helpful, and can provide solutions to problems they care about. It's a way to distinguish yourself from others, creating a unique role for yourself.

When people think about what makes you valuable in business, what do you want them to say? The key to branding is value, and your stakeholders need to know that you add value to their business. They need to know about your track record of successful outcomes and that you have clearly demonstrated your expertise. They also need to know that you have the vision to identify emerging problems and provide creative solutions. That, in particular, is what will set you apart from others. To demonstrate this expertise, you must be a thought leader. You must spend time synthesizing big ideas—industry trends, market needs, and innovative concepts—and more importantly you must be actively discussing the implications of these ideas. You must own the debate surrounding your stakeholders’ business challenges and, by so doing, develop a personal brand.

When done effectively, the payoff for building your personal brand is enormous. The challenge, of course, is deciding where to start and then making it happen. You need to create a plan to promote this brand called “You.” Your brand resides within the hearts and minds of your stakeholders—customers, bosses, peers, and team members. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot. Tom Peters, the first to talk about the concept Brand You, offers advice to those trying to build their brands (see Exhibit 1, Peters, 2008).

A Guide for Thought Leaders

Exhibit 1: A Guide for Thought Leaders

Building Your Brand Through Thought Leadership

Your stakeholders want insights into issues they really care about. Branding yourself as a thought leader actively positions you as an authority, a resource, and a trusted advisor on these issues., in a research report on how to become a thought leader, lists the following seven characteristics that thought leaders share (Schultz et al., 2006):

  • They love what they do, which gives them a deep source of energy and motivation.
  • They feel driven to teach others what they know, with no strings attached.
  • They realize that in order to make an impact, build their reputation, and grow their business, they need to reach out and communicate with people outside their immediate circle of prospects and clients.
  • They take risks with their messages. They're contrary, controversial, on the edge of what most people in their market believe and implement.
  • They balance confidence in their skills and opinions with a genuine interest in learning from others (their clients, colleagues, mentors, and market).
  • They are comfortable risking today's time (giving speeches, writing articles, doing interviews, and/or volunteering for industry organizations, often for little or no pay) for tomorrow's potential benefit, when karma…and a devoted market network…will bring them new business, public affirmation, high-profile invitations, and generally solid esteem built on the reputation they've grown over the years, little by little.
  • They keep working, connecting, and communicating long after they've achieved relative fame and success. They don't take their success for granted, and they approach their work with the realization that there is no “end point” to being a thought leader. Every day requires doing the work.

Positioning yourself as a thought leader is accomplished using a variety of media. It allows you to earn trust and build credibility and recognition differentiating yourself as one who clearly understands the business and needs of your stakeholders. And most importantly, it mobilizes your audience to think and act—engaging with you over the long term, presenting the opportunity to continually demonstrate your value. Some possible objectives of your thought leadership branding strategy include:

  • Deliver your message clearly,
  • Confirm your credibility,
  • Connect to your target stakeholders emotionally,
  • Motivate your stakeholders to act in your best interest, and
  • Build stakeholder loyalty.

Four Steps to Position Your Brand for Success

Once you've decided to engage in a thought leadership branding program, you are about to begin a journey that can be enlightening, surprising, and even fun. You will probably be doing something very different from your day-today work that is intellectually challenging and highly rewarding. There are four major steps you need to take in this program, each one requiring much self reflection, analysis, and clear thinking (see Exhibit 2). The four steps are exploring, creating, delivering, and assessing. Although the actual implementation of your branding program may be inexpensive, it will require concerted, consistent effort on your part. The benefits, however, are well worth it.

Steps for creating a thought leadership brand

Exhibit 2: Steps for creating a thought leadership brand


Thought leadership development begins with the question, Why? Think carefully about what it is you are trying to accomplish. Why are you engaging in a branding program? Exploring may only require you to sit and think about these questions and then document your answers. You may also find it helpful to work with a small group of friends, confidants, peers, and/or team members—folks you can share ideas with who will give you honest and constructive feedback, real feedback, not just, “Yeah, that sounds great.” Either way, you shouldn't take this step too lightly. In fact, clearly understanding your goals and objectives is probably the most important activity you'll engage in (and one that many people do poorly, even though they believe they've done it well). You need to:

  • Clearly understand why you are considering developing a thought leadership brand—what you are trying to accomplish, what your goals and objectives are.
  • Determine who your stakeholders are, what issues are important to them, what they need.
  • Decide whether the thought leader will be you or your PMO (or someone or something else).
  • Have the knowledge and expertise needed on issues that matter to be a thought leader. If you don't, you have to figure out what to do about it (get it, buy it, partner for it, etc.)
  • Be willing to take risks with your thought leadership position (be controversial, live with public attention and judgment).
  • Know who, in the organization, you need to involve in your thought leadership branding program and get them involved.
  • Stay focused on delivering value—be willing to make the long-term investment needed to succeed.
  • Be able to demonstrate that your thought leadership position is valid and can be trusted.
  • Make sure your organizational culture will support thought leadership branding, either yours or your PMOs.


Now that you have your thought leadership branding concept developed, how do you plan to implement it? The items below are aimed at getting you to strategize about and plan for the development of content, which is how you express your thinking and how stakeholders will experience you. You need to:

  • Decide who's responsible for the overall thought leadership branding program, making sure that everything is planned for and seeing that everything gets done according to plan.
  • Determine whose role it is to develop the ideas before they are put into articles, books, speeches, etc.
  • Determine who is going to create the thought leadership content (you, a subject matter expert, an executive, and/or a subcontractor).
  • Identify what issues you are going to address and, especially, what your point of view is going to be.
  • Understand what research might be needed to support your thought leadership position and who will engage in this research.
  • Decide whether you need to rely on sources outside your organization and then determine how you will select them and who will manage them.
  • Know who in your organization needs to review and/or approve any content you develop and how you will manage this review process.
  • Decide how you will demonstrate your thought leadership—books, blogs, white papers, speaking, e-mail, etc.—and which are your best choices.
  • And remember, all this work is constrained by a budget, a schedule, a scope of work, and a certain level of expected quality—you need to make sure that you meet these constraints.


For the beginner, actually creating and delivering content is usually the most intimidating aspect of thought leadership branding (see Exhibit 3). If you dislike speaking in front of groups or you don't know how to write a good article, let alone a book, how are you going to do this? The answer is really simple (the answer is simple; carrying it out, of course, is another matter). Just do it. Start simply, learn, and build upon what you've learned.

Now that you have thought leadership content, how do you reach your audience? You need to:

  • Determine which media you will use to reach stakeholders. It helps to know all the print, online, and event options available to you, inside and outside of your company.
  • Use multiple media and integrate the content to deliver a consistent message.
  • Target stakeholders (you need to know how) and possibly deliver different versions of your thought leadership content to different targets.
  • Determine who's responsible for the ongoing management of delivery; make sure that everything is getting done according to plan.
  • Have the expertise needed to deliver your message effectively or have some way of drawing on the expertise of others.
  • Manage relationships with all of your thought leadership brand stakeholders and evaluate each relationship to determine whether or not it should continue.
  • Partner with others aligned with your message to reach your stakeholders.
  • Determine how much delivery will cost.
  • Be able to evaluate distribution methods to determine which are best—in terms of image, delivering results and cost effectiveness.
Beginner's guide to thought leadership creativity

Exhibit 3: Beginner's guide to thought leadership creativity


It's all well and good that your audience has seen your thought leadership content, but you're still not done with your branding program. Now it's critically important to determine whether it's doing what you hoped it would do. Are the goals and objectives that you set at the beginning of this program being met? You need to:

  • Determine, as well as you can, whether you're getting the results you projected. If so, determine what else you have to do to continue getting these results. If not, determine what you need to do differently.
  • Find out if your stakeholders understand your message, what they think about it, and how it's changed the way they think about things.
  • Determine if you have the reach you want, such as how many stakeholders received your message, which stakeholders received the message, whether they are the most important stakeholders.
  • Acquire new stakeholders and get them engaged with you.
  • Gather information about your new stakeholders; understand what's important to them.
  • Make sure that you retain your existing stakeholders and that they continue to engage with you.
  • Gather the data you need, in the format you need, to provide information to others in your organization that explains the value of your thought leadership brand.
  • Build in ways for your audience to actively engage with you and be prepared to deal with the feedback you get.
  • Know how to improve your thought leadership brand.

Brand You: Where You Stand

Now that you have some idea of what it takes to build a thought leadership brand, where do you see yourself on the thought leadership branding pyramid? (see Exhibit 4) The goal, of course, is to get to the top of the pyramid. But by getting to the third level, you'll already be positioning yourself as a thought leader. Getting to levels four and five simply requires consistently applying yourself to improving your brand.

Thought leadership branding pyramid

Exhibit 4: Thought leadership branding pyramid

The five levels of the thought leadership branding pyramid are as follows:

Level 1: Unbranded. Your stakeholders don't know what you know or what you can do. You may perform your day-to-day work at a high level, but others in the organization do not regularly turn to you for your ideas or your thoughts on what's important to them. You don't write or speak about your ideas consistently, so few people know what they are.

Level 2: Recognized. You are beginning to build your brand. Others in your organization know that you have knowledge and expertise in certain areas. They may occasionally turn to you for advice. You occasionally speak up in meetings. You might belong to your professional association and occasionally participate in various functions. You occasionally write or speak at events, internal and/or external to your organization.

Level 3: Positioned. You are beginning to be seen as a thought leader. You are considered an authority in your profession. Others come to you when they are looking for advice or help in solving particular problems. You regularly participate in meetings, contributing ideas, and participating in discussions. You write articles for your internal newsletter.

Level 4: Valued. Your stakeholders have an emotional attachment to you. They value your ideas and your expertise and regularly turn to you for advice and help. You are consistently helpful. You write articles and deliver presentations within your organization and externally. Your professional peers view you as a thought leader and regularly engage with you in discussions about your industry and business in general.

Level 5: Trusted. Your stakeholders trust you implicitly. You have consistently demonstrated that you understand their issues and have success in solving the kinds of problems that are important to them. They are advocates of your brand, and spread the word among their stakeholders that you are a thought leader who should be engaged with regularly. Others act in your best interest.


Peters, T. (2008). Brand You! Retrieved 20 July 2009 from

Schultz, M. et al. (2006). How to Become a Thought Leader. Framingham, MA: and Wellesley Hills Group.

Wikipedia (2009). Brand Management. Retrieved 20 July 2009 from

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2009, James S. Pennypacker
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida



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