Donald Trump has a strong personal brand. The candyfloss comb-over and permatan are instantly recognisable. But beyond his striking looks, there is the message: reliably bombastic, it stands out from his peers.

William Arruda expands on why Mr Trump’s brand works, for some at least, arguing that the Republican presidential frontrunner is consistent in his deliberate offensiveness to certain groups. While many will squirm at the thought, the businessman and television personality has lessons to impart on how to forge a clear image and message, says Mr Arruda, a personal brand adviser.

“Strong brands often repel as much as attract. If you try to please people all the time, you inspire none.” He has found a group of people who follow him and spread the message on his behalf.

Personal branding consultants such as Mr Arruda want to help bring out a little of the Trump in all of us. In the shifting world of work, where freelancers and contractors must pitch their qualities and competitive edge to employers, personal marketing is of increasing importance. This was first articulated by management guru Tom Peters in an article he wrote in 1997. “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

The article resonated with Mr Arruda, then working in corporate branding for IBM. So much so, that in 2001 he set himself up as a personal branding expert. However, the new role was met with scepticism. “People thought it was the craziest idea ever. No one knew what it was and no one thought it was needed.” Financially, things were pretty miserable. “It took a long time for the business to take off.” That changed when social media gained momentum. “In the past five years it’s got huge.”

Jennifer Holloway, a personal brand consultant who is based in Yorkshire, north England, says that the job has evolved in response to changes in the workplace.

“When I started working, I worked with the same people. It was easier to stay on people’s radar.” Today, she says, people switch companies more often. While social media has made it easier to raise profiles, “there’s also more noise; you have to shout louder”.

Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0, says technology will evolve but the core strategy of selecting a niche and communicating your brand through media, social networks and public speaking will remain the same.

A personal brand is your signature dish, according to Ms Holloway. “You can’t put too many ingredients in it. It won’t be palatable, just confusing.”

Today, Mr Arruda is hired by senior executives to evaluate what sets them apart from their peers, craft a personal brand and get that in front of the right audience, be it employers, peers or consumers. For this he charges about $25,000 for a six-month assignment.

It is no longer enough for a company to have a brand, insists Mr Arruda. Consumers expect corporate leaders to have one too. “Social media has made business more human and transparent and we are coming to expect C-suite executives to be visible, accessible and engaged through social media.”

Typically, personal branding advisers start off by talking to the client to find out what image they want to portray and what supposedly makes them different to their peers. Afterwards, they interview or email friends, employers, employees and colleagues. In an age when many are accused of thinking of themselves as “special snowflakes”, this checking of credentials does not always produce happy results.

There is always a negativity bias, says Mr Arruda. “People will get one negative comment and it sends them over the edge.” He recalls a client who received a glowing report except for one comment that described her as “melodramatic”. That turned out to be quite telling: she had a complete meltdown.

Karen Leland is a former management consultant turned personal branding adviser and author of The Brand Mapping Strategy. Based in Silicon Valley, she charges up to $60,000 to help define clients’ brands: revising their LinkedIn profile, helping to write a book, placing them in front of journalists and broadcasters, and creating podcasts. The priority, she says, is defining your brand before hitting social media.

I ask the consultants to check out my online brand. Ms Leland laughs when she looks at my LinkedIn profile, judging it “woefully insufficient”. Even if you are not looking for a new job, she says, you need to craft it so that anyone who Googles you gets a good impression. The photograph (a crop from a holiday) is not projecting a professional image. Though I get a pat on the back for having more than 500 connections — fewer apparently is too feeble.

Mr Arruda suggests that my summary reflects my credentials rather than my expertise. To borrow from Writing 101, I make the mistake of telling rather than showing. Too few of my search results display a headshot. “The web is an impersonal place. Photos make you real,” he adds.

In essence, I need more multimedia, images, infographics and video. “Video is more likely to show up [high] in a Google search and allows you to build an emotional connection with viewers.”

This sounds very try-hard to me and I suggest that it could put people off. Moreover, it seems perilously close to fame-seeking. Mr Arruda insists personal branding is about being selectively famous. “You might have only 500 followers on Twitter but you need to make sure they are the right ones.”

Seattle-based Mel Carson, author of Introduction to Personal Branding, says the biggest mistake that people make in this area is to think it is all about broadcasting and being self-promotional. “It’s not. Building an audience for your personal brand means having empathy with people. It means learning to listen, engage and create an experience where you are seen as an authentic, trustworthy, go-to person.”

Lisa Raehsler, founder of Big Click Co, a search engine marketing company, says Mr Carson helped her garner more attention. As a result of their sessions she spoke at six conferences and was included on 10 industry expert lists.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and author of Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-esteem, Insecurity, and Self-doubt, is sceptical about the value of personal branding advice, however. He despairs at the way selling yourself has become more important than developing expertise and longs for a world in which we are able to identify talent in an efficient and rational manner. “The world needs fewer self-branders and more serious thinkers and experts,” he says.

emma.jacobs@ft.com Twitter: @emmavj

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