The first secret trick about personal branding is that first, you have to be known for something. One thing. First. If Gary Vaynerchuk tried starting Wine Library TV and Obsessed TV at the same time, I know for a fact he’d have failed and we wouldn’t know about him. Or worse than failed, he’d have done a mediocre job.
The challenge, as it were, is to build from a base, and then quickly show the breadth of your capabilities, all tied into an easy-to-consume story.
First Step: Be Damned Good at Something
You already are damned good at something. You just might not yet be choosing to acknowledge that. My dad is really good at poker. Justin Kownacki is damned good at web video. It can be whatever, but you have to start somewhere. Madonna started at music. She became an actor, a record producer, a fashion person, etc. But she started at music.
If you start at being known for being damned good for something, everything else gets a little easier. The related problem to this, however, is becoming pigeonholed. If everyone only thought of Christopher S. Penn as a financial aid marketer, that would hamper his forward growth. Thankfully, Chris counters this quite effectively by being part of the Marketing Over Coffee team, and by presenting outside the financial sphere.
But that relates again to platform thinking as well.
Diversify With a Unified Story
Gary Vaynerchuk started with Wine Library TV, where he speaks passionately about food. He launches ObsessedTV, with Samantha Ettus as a host, where it’s a passionate show about people. Gary could be boiled down to being a passionate marketer using the new channels of the web to drive response. He could launch a food enthusiast site, a car enthusiast site, a clothing site, and we’d all see the line.
Richard Branson does it similarly in the big leagues. Virgin has launched several brands, some of them successful, and others dismal. But his passion and the unifying theme is: I can do it better. We want to get behind that. I know many VirginUSA air travel customers who swear by the service. We know what to expect at Virgin Music. It’s a package of a story that diversifies.
The Arc of Your Personal Brand
Your personal brand has phases and arcs, such that you start by being known for something, you branch into some new territories with clear bridges from where you were to where you’re going next, and such that people can start to glean where you’ll go after that second hop. The trick of that is maintaining focus, and by keeping each hop somewhat closely joined.
You can’t do it all. It doesn’t matter that you have 14 interests. What matters is building from the position of what you do damned well, and tying it to where you want to go for a next hop. Don’t plan too far past the next hop. Work on maybe two or three brand extensions tops at any time. What do I mean by that?
In the personal branding perspective, let’s say that you’re an IT professional who gets known for his enthusiasm for writing about emerging technology. He’s pretty good, gets picked up by a lot of blogs to write for them, and becomes known in his space for finding interesting things and talking about them. Writing a book about his passion for blues music might not really get that “brand transfer” benefit, because it’s far afield of what he is known for doing.
The arc of my own personal brand looks like this:
- Known for personal media making and PodCamp.
- Known for working with bigger companies on social media strategy and execution.
- Known for building new marketing methodologies for others to follow.
- Known for writing about emerging business communications and community-meets-tech.
Something like that. I’m somewhere between 2 and 3 on that list. The challenge, as always, is knowing to say no to the extraneous things that don’t build on this arc. I love comic books, and would love to write for a comic book company. I’m a reasonable guitarist. I’m a decent artist. I like lots of things that don’t fit neatly into those arcs listed above. So they go to the side. I use them as hobbies and passions instead of career. And I don’t give them as much attention as the main storyline.
Platform Thinking and You
Can you plot the arc of your brand? Did you notice that I didn’t talk about a particular job or role? Don’t ever plan your brand around your job role, least of all in this current economy. Work from the perspective of what you can do well, what you want to do next, and how you can build out from a strong core into your new spaces.
What would the arc of your brand look like? How do you think that’s reflected in your blog, your website, your LinkedIn profile, your web presence overall? Will everything I find about you on the web reinforce this arc concept?
If not, will it soon, now that we’ve talked about it?