Use The 3-Word Exercise From Dorie Clark To Find Your Unique Brand


How can you define your brand to get the future you want?

You are presented with countless opportunities daily to shape the way people view you, and even the way you view yourself. The question is, are you taking advantage of them?

Dorie Clark is a former presidential campaign spokeswoman turned marketing strategy consultant and professional speaker. Her clients include Google, the World Bank, Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She's a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the number one leadership book of 2015 by Inc. Magazine.

I recently interviewed Dorie to get her viewpoint on what personal branding really is, and why it can add value to our daily life. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: Who needs a personal brand?

Dorie Clark: The starting place for that is that actually everyone already has a personal brand… and so I think that cluing into that gives us an enormous power, because then we can begin to see the world as it is.

The truth is, a personal brand is really just a synonym for your reputation. Everyone has a reputation. People think something about you. The only question is what do they think about you? Is it what you would wish them to think about you?

When we talk about personal brand, it might sound like this fancy thing that only consultants or authors or whoever need to worry about, but ultimately I think most people recognize that your reputation in a lot of ways is the most important asset you have. Do people think that you are a person of integrity? Do they think that your work is work of high quality? Those are the things that we want people to think of us and so it's getting strategic about making sure we are sending the right message and sending the right signals so that they will in fact understand what our true talents are.

Kruse: What if I have no idea how to start branding myself, how do I begin to know what makes me unique?

Clark: One exercise that can be helpful for a lot of people is what I call the “three-word exercise.” This is a kind of stripped down, super quick, super easy life hack version of a 360. If you hire an executive coach, he or she might come in and interview all of the people around you and come back with a thoughtful and anonymized analysis of what your strengths and weaknesses are.

With a three-word exercise, you can do this very quickly on your own. Over the course of a week, for example, you reach out to about half a dozen friends and colleagues. These should be people that know you reasonably well, and you ask them literally just one simple question, and that is, “If you had to describe me in only three words, what would they be?” Where this is helpful is that by the time you get to the 4th, the 5th, the 6th person, you are going to start to see patterns in what they say about you.

Probably whatever they say to you is going to be reasonably familiar if you have a decent amount of self-knowledge. The part that is critical, and the part that for most professionals they have a hard time with is understanding which of their traits are most unique and most memorable in the eyes of other people. When you start to hear that, when you start to hear everybody say, “Oh, you're creative. You're creative. Oh, you have such great ideas. Oh, you're creative.” Then you begin to say, “Oh wait a minute. That, that sounds like a strength that I can lead with. That sounds like something that could actually be the cornerstone of a brand.”

Kruse: How do we start to craft our brand narrative around these strengths?

Clark: One thing that we often forget about is just making use of the opportunities that present themselves to brand ourselves.

The perennial missed opportunity for most professionals is at almost any networking event or conference, if you see someone that you know, they're probably going to come up to you and say, “Oh, hey. How's it, how's it going? What's new with you? What are you working on?”

The vast majority of people don't prepare for that, and they just say something really stupid like, “Oh, nothing much. Oh, same old stuff.” It's a complete waste, because in that moment, it's not like you are bragging about yourself. It's not like you are thumping your chest and saying, “Oh, listen to me. I'm so great. Let me tell you about me.” They have literally asked you a question where they are waiting for a response. They want to hear. This is the moment where if you want to drive home that you are creative, this is the place where you can have the answer ready in your head where you can say, “Oh, well I'm actually really excited because I'm working on this cool new project doing XYZ, and we're coming up with, you know, innovative new solutions to the water crisis.”

Those are the moments where you're able to implant your brand in small ways into people's minds.

Kruse: What advice do you have for those looking to make a career pivot?

Clark: If you are looking to make a career change, you should start blogging or otherwise creating content. This could be podcasts, videos or whatever, about your new field. The reason this is so useful is multi-fold. Number one, it enables you to basically have your own curriculum of personal development, because as you're writing about issues you are learning about issues. It gives you a forum to learn things and work through them so that you are more educated and sound more credible when you're talking to other people.

Number two, it is a great networking tool, because often times what you'll be doing is interviewing people and then writing about their thoughts. Especially if you're in the nascent stages. Maybe you say, “Oh gosh. I don't really know a lot about the field. You know, I don't really have any expertise to share.” Fine. Interview people that you think are smart and then write about their ideas. It's a way to get to know them and essentially to bank a favor with them, because you're shining a positive light on them. That's powerful. Then, in a literal sense you are creating content so that when people are searching for your name on the internet, they're going to start seeing these blog posts, whether they're on LinkedIn, or Medium or wherever. That is going to increasingly be what is associated with you. You're going to begin to transition from the old brand online to the new brand by dint of this content creation.

Finally, it creates this social proof because people look at your LinkedIn feed, your Twitter feed, whatever. You inevitably, if you're spending all your time writing and talking to people and interviewing, you're going to start talking more about the new field and they're going say, “Oh, you know, she’s creating such thoughtful, knowledgeable content.”

The three key components that we all should be thinking about are content creation, social proof, and your network. You need to make the choice in terms of building a solid and powerful network, to surround yourself with the people that you like and respect. It's in that choosing that you're able to separate yourself.

Click here to listen to the full podcast interview with Dorie Clark.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at