Personal branding is something I’ve thought a lot about for years. Branding is about a business, product, or service. Personal branding is about helping the person behind the product to stand out. It’s a way to drive a strong perception of the type of person you are and by extension, to earn a little credibility in the process. The goal is for people to see themselves and see you in the product or service you’re selling.
Brand Yourself But With Your Buyer In Mind
The weird yo yo trick of personal branding is that the best people in the world at personal branding are the ones who make YOU feel like the star. This work isn’t about saying how great you are. It’s talking about how wonderful the people you serve are, but in such a way that people think about you.
In brand positioning terms, you’re a service brand or a community brand or a lifestyle brand (or all 3). Katie Robbert and Kerry O’Shea Gorgone created Punch Out as that place you go to learn about the rest of the lives of your favorite marketers. Their personal brand thusly becomes about being generous, lifting up others, enriching the brand promise of other people. They act as a community brand.
Tone of Voice is Critical
I built my own strong brand identity around a few bedrock details. These translate into the “tone of voice” of my brand. See if this sounds like me:
- My personal visual brand is casual, cartoonish, and almost a bit sloppy
- My core values are service, honesty, and inclusiveness
- The branding concept of me is “anyone could do this – YOU could do this”
- An emotional connection is core to all the material I share with people
- The only “consistent brand experience” you’ll find with me is that I’m always experimenting
To shape your brand is to demonstrate what you stand for and for it to be a recurring part of your expressions. If you’re frugal, don’t show off your matching Teslas. If you’re trying to say you’re down to earth and spontaneous, don’t be buttoned up all the time.
Think through this:
- What does your word choice say about your brand? Are you using big words when your brand is supposed to be down to earth?
- Even if you’re shy, you need to show yourself. Can you dress in a way that matches what you believe and how you want to be perceived?
- Beyond selling (but also during selling) what do you talk about? What do you share? Does it match what you want people to think about you?
“Influencers” are the Devil
Before we had people trying to be “influencers,” we had people trying to be “authentic.” (After I typed that, I took my hands off the keys to accentuate air quotes – two pumps of my fingers each – because that word is Satan.)
The ways that people try to walk around and represent your brand are almost always about positioning and telling a story that isn’t true. If you normally eat hot dogs, you’re not a foodie. If you’re ever trying to be something you’re not, and it’s part of a business pursuit, I’ll save you time: it rarely ends well.
Communicate Your Brand
Ze Frank once said “a brand is an emotional aftertaste” that comes from experiences. You know “show, don’t tell.” That’s the point. The more you talk about what you are, the less likely you are that thing. So show it.
Establish brand experiences by talking about the kinds of people you serve in terms that echo your intended brand voice. “We’re moms who love to help teachers get time back in their day. We know you’re busy! Let us help you get better results with your students. Your students are our kids. Let’s be on the same team!”
“You have smarts that someone else needs. Sell your brains.”
The best personal branding revolves around “you” stories (the kind that enrich your buyer) but that reflect your part of that equation.
How to Build Your Personal Brand
For your brand to thrive, you need the following:
- Clear and unique voice and perspective as it relates to the people you serve
- Consistent publication of media that reflects that voice
- A recurring delivery of value from the media you create and share
Think about that before your next Instagram post. “Am I saying something in my own way or am I someone else’s echo?” If someone else reads this, is there a chance they’ll take something from it?
“But can I build a brand and stay anonymous?”
I mean, you can build *a* brand, but it’s not a personal brand. The word personal and the word anonymous really don’t mean the same thing whatsoever.
What people want from you as it applies to personal branding is the following:
- Are you like me?
- Do you share my values?
- Can I trust you?
- Will you help me win?
- What happens when something goes wrong?
Think about your own experiences. When your car needs engine work, do you wonder about those five questions? The last three are definite. The first two might depend on what you’re buying for some people. I want someone to be honest like me, obviously. I want them to be understanding.
The last and maybe most important step about personal branding is perhaps the hardest.
Can You Be “Sticky?”
The most powerful part of branding is whether what you create is memorable. Advertising is a powerful tool when it comes to this. Think of all the ads you remember to this day:
- Who is the “quicker picker upper?”
- Plop plop. Fizz Fizz. _______
- The best part of waking up is _____
Advertising works through a combination of something being memorable to begin with and then being repeated enough that you can’t forget it. That’s an element of personal branding that gets lost often.
The key to being sticky, then, is a formula. An equation maybe. Luckily, Julien Smith and I wrote The Impact Equation for just this purpose. I’ll give you the quick rundown here:
Impact = Contrast x Reach + Exposure + Articulation + Trust + Echo.
- Contrast – Does what you say or do stand out
- Reach – How far does your message carry
- Exposure – How often do people see it
- Articulation – Can you say it succinctly
- Trust – Are you believable
- Echo – Can people see themselves in you
That’s the impact equation and it really means a lot for the personal branding effort. More than most anything else I’ve written thus far. If you master that little gauge: CREATE, you will see the value of putting your marketing and outreach efforts through that lens before publishing.
Beyond saying something useful, you have to say it in a memorable way. That’s the gold.
Brand Management for Personal Brands
I don’t know if this is “management” per se, but what I mean is that it’s upon you to create information frequently and share it often, information that serves their pursuits. “They” being the people you serve, naturally. The management aspect of personal branding is that it’s so easy to fall out of being top of mind. What stops that from happening?
Reach + Exposure from the Impact Equation help. Take your Articulate and sticky phrases and share them often and far and wide, especially if they help others. Do this often. Do this in new ways with new words. Don’t let anything get too old, but say things repeatably enough that others can sing along. Write the hits. Play the hits.
And now you’re well on your way to mastering personal branding. It takes work, practice, and all the luck of saying something that catches the attention and imagination of others. I hope this was useful. If it was, share it?