I'm sitting here writing this in my Nike jogging pants and Nike T-Shirt, socks and tennis shoes. No kidding, I've got that Nike Swoosh all over me. It's crazy how we consciously and subconsciously surround ourselves with those trusted names, products, services and brands. Branding has gone from corporate PR, to Hollywood with the likes of Oprah, Martha (and yes, Paris), and now to Main Street. Personal Branding is changing the way we manage our careers and businesses.

You already have a brand? Your family, friends, staff, customers and leaders have a perception of you, attributes and words that come to mind when your name is mentioned. This can be a mixed bag. So what is a Personal Brand? It's being self-aware and communicating what makes us different, unique; what we stand for, those skills, attributes, values and passions that describe us and differentiate us from our peers, colleagues and competitors. What comes to mind when others think of you?

Branding is not being what others expect of us, and less about creating some marketing glitz. It's all about being authentic, knowing yourself and what truly differentiates you - your unique value proposition. Whether we're a senior executive, engineer, service professional or recent grad, employed or unemployed, in today's world we have to understand, develop and communicate our personal brand to create a competitive advantage, achieve our goals, personal success and make a difference....These are the new rules of the career game today.

Creating your personal brand begins with first and foremost knowing yourself. Here are five actions you can take to discover the real you:

1.) Be self-aware. Know the compelling value you provide. What are your core values, purpose, passion, abilities and goals? Know what you stand for. Edgar Schein's Career Anchors is an excellent values assessment, along with the Keirsey or Meyer's Briggs personality profile, and Campbell Interest and Skill Inventory. Your brand has to lead you to your personal and professional goals. Identify your one-year, three-year, five-year and ten-year goals in: Career, Family and Friends, Spiritual, Community, Health/Fitness, Financial, Personal Growth and Other. We need to be able to understand and communicate this exceptional combination of attributes, i.e. our unique value proposition; for it enables us to fulfill our purpose.

2.) Ask for feedback. How do your leaders, peers, staff and customers view you (i.e. they're your "target market")? How would they describe your strengths, attributes and value to the business? Is it in sync with what you know to be true?

Your target market already has an image, perception (or misperception) about you. It may be in line with your authentic brand, and then again, you may be hauling around some extra "bags". So before you start developing your personal brand, begin by interviewing clients, business leaders, peers, media types.....What values do they associate with you? When they hear your name what comes to mind? What do they see as your strengths? How would they describe your work?

Compare and track: a.) how you're perceived, b.) how you want to be perceived, c.) how you think you are perceived. The size of the gaps will tell you how hard you'll need to work your brand to reinforce or change perceptions.

3.) Identify Your Target Audience - Your Brand Champions. Who are those individuals in a position to help you achieve your personal and career goals? Family, friends, key internal and/or external customers, staff, peers, supervisors, managers, executives, suppliers and business partners. These people need to know who we are and what we stand for, and we need to communicate to them a consistent and compelling brand presence - our unique value promise.

4.) Know Your Competitors. Are they your colleagues? Based on your goals and career path, are they another group at your company? In another industry? What are those attributes that differentiate you from your competition? Let's ensure that our target audience, the decision makers, knows our compelling brand value.

5.) Work With a Coach. Your Coach is there to guide you through this career planning and personal branding process. Recchion and Associates, Inc. is available to provide that personal, professional guidance and coaching expertise to assist you in creating a compelling and effective Personal Brand so you stand out, add value to your business and career, and achieve the personal and professional success that you aspire to.

NEXT: Crafting Your Personal Brand Statement

Gary Recchion, with Recchion and Associates, Inc., is a writer, coach and speaker with 20 years in global career development and outplacement coaching and training, and personal branding, supporting both individual and corporate clients from Phoenix, Arizona. His book, "The 10 Success Strategies to Finding the Right Work", is integral to job search/career transition training and coaching programs, offered in the classroom, through one-on-one face-to-face, and virtual e-coaching, and soon webinar. His Career Development programs include Personal Career Leadership series, Five Principles of Career Success series, Understanding Emotional Intelligence and Hiring Great People. For more information on his book, individual and executive coaching, and corporate training programs see www.recchionandassociates.com or e-mail Gary at gary@recchionandassociates.com