Personal branding sounds like a very 21st century concept, but it was actually born in 1997, when management guru Tom Peters wrote about "the brand called you." Now, though, the Internet makes it possible for everyone to establish a brand, and people like my friend Dan Schawbel have established entire careers teaching people about its importance!
Personal branding can be defined as how you market yourself to other people. Your brand should be strong and memorable enough to set you apart and to make a positive impression on people you don't know.
Most importantly, personal branding is like a career insurance policy, because even if your current job goes away, your brand doesn’t. Plus, a consistent brand allows you a platform to showcase your existing reputation and skill set to prove to employers in new organizations or industries that you are capable of doing many different kinds of work.
To create an effective personal brand, you have to have a solid understanding of where you are in your career and where you're going. The clearer you are about this, the easier it will be to differentiate yourself and communicate why others should care about you. In addition to showcasing your own blend of expertise and experience, your personal brand should demonstrate the qualities and values you want to be known for -- for example, being cutting-edge, helpful, provocative, approachable or honest.
If you need some help, do an informal focus group with personal and professional contacts to get their feedback on how you are perceived. Ask if they see you as the type to thrive under high-pressure situations, or if you're more comfortable knowing exactly what to expect and having time to prepare for it.
Become familiar with the tools, including online communities, of your industry, and make sure your presence on them is updated to consistently and accurately reflect brand you. A strategy Dan recommended is to become schooled in graphic design and/or web development so that you are better able to translate your brand visually. And one of my favorite methods is to serve as a media spokesperson for your target of interest so that others will witness you as a credible expert first hand!