Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Building a Successful Personal Brand.

Building a Successful Personal Brand: The 5 Strategies You Need to Know

A personal brand can be your most valuable asset, whether you’re a freelancer looking for higher–paying gigs, or a corporate employee or C-level manager looking to get promoted or place more emphasis on the work that you do.
Personal branding makes who you are, what you do, and why you do it more clear to those around you, and that brings new opportunities your way and helps you achieve the goals you’ve already set for yourself.
It is the art of presenting your philosophy and message as clearly as possible using a variety of media.
For the past 5 years, I’ve been building brands for large corporations and tiny startups while at the same time consulting with individuals on what they can do to take ownership of their personal brand.
The impact that a successful brand can have on a business’ bottom line is incredible, and the rewards that stem from a strong personal brand are just as valuable.

Building your personal brand

If you’re ready to build your personal brand, you may have already noticed that it can be hard to get started. Should you go through and delete your embarrassing Facebook photos? Will that provide more brand value than updating your LinkedIn profile? Or how about Tweeting more often?
It could be argued that all aspects of a brand, even a personal one, are equally important, but I’m going to call false on that judgment and say that there are five core things you should focus on first, and if you do, the remaining details will fall into place.
It’s important to handle the smaller, Facebook-photo-related details, too, but without a strong personal brand foundation, any efforts you make might not turn out as well as they should, or worse, could take your brand in the wrong direction.
Keep in mind while going through these steps that successful personal branding is about focusing on who you are and communicating that message, not making something up and pretending to be someone you’re not.
No need to pretend: this is all about using the things that are uniquely you to your advantage.

1. Know Why

The absolute first thing you need to know before you start building and communicating your brand is ‘why?’
That is, why do you do what you do? Why do you do it the way you do it? Why do you get up in the morning? Why are you the way you are?
This is best done as a mental deep-dive, and will likely take a bit of time. We all have reflexive reasons that we give, partially because they are easy and don’t take much thought, and partially because we’ve been told over time that there are some good reasons to do things and bad reasons to do things (and who wants to do things the unacceptable way?).
The only way to break free from your cookie–cutter prison is to set aside at least a few hours to sit and think.
Jot down notes about your motivations behind past actions. Play the ‘why game’ and ask yourself why you get up in the morning. (Why? Because I have to go to work. Why? Because I need to earn money. Why? Because I want to be secure. Why? So I have the time to compete in roller derby. Why? Because it makes me happy. Bingo.)
Amber Rae is a great example of someone who has found her ‘why’ and run with it. She’s worked with Apple, Seth Godin, and Photojojo, in addition to starting up NYC Nightowls,, and co-founding iConnect. She wants to inspire people and then push them toward what makes them happy, because doing so makes her happy.
Adam Baker is another great example of a ‘why’ made practical. Sitting at the helm of Man vs. Debt and his related ventures, he’s determined to help others squash their money issues, and in doing so create a better life for his family. It’s a simple concept, but he’s been smart about how he talks about it, and in doing so has created a debt-destroying movement.
‘Why?’ is a simple question that few people are able to answer. If you want to stand out from the pack, simply knowing why you do what you do will get you most of the way there, but the rest comes from what you do with this information.
For a great, in-depth explanation of the ‘why,’ check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk below.

2. Own the Differences

Once you know why you do something, it’s time to take a look around and see what other people in your field are doing, and why (and how) they are doing it.
Figuring out what makes you unique will help you establish yourself as an individual entity in an ocean of faces.
Standing out — and for the right reasons — can mean the difference between succeeding with the value you provide and racing to the bottom, competing only with lower and lower prices attached to your time and effort, and that’s no way to compete (or pay the rent).
So take the knowledge you now have about your motivations and look around to see how you’re doing things differently than your competition.
Note the things that they’re doing differently than you, but avoid thinking of their methods as ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ because those are totally subjective adjectives. Instead, make a mental note of what they do that’s more successful financially, or what they do that allows them to be more comfortable socially.
These are traits you can try on, but don’t force a fit if it isn’t there.
At the end of the day, positive change is good, but what you’re really going to benefit from are the things that you do differently, even if they don’t immediately seem to be huge advantages. By being yourself, you can remain true to your character. You can flesh out what you already have in a positive way, and won’t have to work so hard to seem like you’re legit, because you already will be.
Tom’s is a company that has taken this aspect of branding and run with it. They make shoes that look different, are built differently, and are made from different materials. They also give away a pair in the developing world for each pair you buy, which is a very different business model than most shoe companies have.
Rather than looking at Nike and saying ‘okay, they’re making more money than us, let’s outsource to China and make fancy sneakers,’ Tom’s decided to own their difference and make it a key part of their selling proposition.
The band Pomplamoose is another good example of differentiating yourself from the competition.
Nataly and Jack, the duo who make up the band, decided to largely remove the things they didn’t like about the music industry from their lives and focus on the things they enjoyed and thought they did well. As a result, they’ve carved out a huge niche and gained a massive fanbase online, on their terms.
Your individual quirks will be a huge part of what makes your brand successful, because it will be real, imperfections and all. Own those quirks and make them assets.

3. Find Your People

One oft–overlooked aspect of a personal brand is the associations one has with other people.
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows about traditional branding, as companies like Apple and music label creations like Lady Gaga have made an art from the science of how consumers blend traits when a company is associated with a certain style or culture. (Think of associating high–end, minimal design with Apple, or art–school–style, couture fashion with Lady Gaga.)
People have the same associative transference with individuals, and it’s not just your clothing or the music that you listen to that’s important, it’s also the people you surround yourself with.
If you want to be viewed as a straight–up, clean–cut, respectable business person, it’s best that you don’t spend too much time in public with drug dealers or pro-athletes. On the other hand, if you want to stand out as a business person, perhaps you can proudly wear your athletic side like a jersey, making the healthy, active, can–do–attitude–person a part of how you do business.
If there’s an aspect of your personality that hasn’t been clearly communicated, one way to show it is the company you keep.
If you’re looking to get some geek cred on your personal brand’s CV, start hanging out with more programmers and Comic Con attendees. If you want to be construed as a social butterfly, expand your social circle to include more people from all groups.
Again, this isn’t about lying or creating a persona from nothing, it’s about expanding upon and more publicly displaying what’s already there.
Plus, if you surround yourself with more (and different) people, you’re certain to pick up some new knowledge and perspectives along the way. Bonus.

4. Explain Your Orbits

As I mentioned before, branding is all about communicating clearly to an audience what a product is all about, why it’s different, and what it’s associated with.
Personal branding works the same way, though in this case, you’re communicating about yourself, not a company or product, which can make things a little tricky.
The biggest barrier you’re likely to come up against when branding yourself is the burden of knowledge: you know way too much about yourself, and it can be tricky to refine that jumble of information into something succinct, clear, and understandable.
What I usually recommend to deal with this problem is to see your personal brand as a series of orbits.
The outermost orbit is the first one people will see, and that contains a broad story that tells the basics of who you are and what you’re about. No need to tell too many details here, just tell people who you are and what you’re about in the simplest way possible, ideally summing it all up in a sentence or two.
For example, my outer orbit usually goes something like this: I’m an author, brand consultant and serial entrepreneur who moves to a new country every four months while pursuing new experiences and undertaking lifestyle experiments. That’s what people tend to get, whether I’m telling them in person, they’re reading my blog, or simply checking out photos. All aspects of my brand point in that direction from the get-go.
The next orbit is where you get into a bit of explanation about why you do what you do, and how. This isn’t where you’ll reveal your deepest, darkest secrets, but you will get into some specifics, especially stories and experiences that you’ve had in regards to the info you’ve given in the first orbit.
For me, this orbit usually involves telling some travel stories about adventures I’ve had in different countries, explaining about how my blog readers vote on where I move, detailing how I make money and can afford to travel full-time, and talking about what I did before I started living this kind of lifestyle.
The final, center-most orbit is one that most people will never see. It exists so that you still have some semblance of privacy, but also so that people who are truly interested in you have more to sink their teeth into if they keep digging and want to know more. This is where you’ll tell the detailed why’s, the more personal stories, and share things that wouldn’t necessarily be important to the casual passerby, but that might be interesting to someone who has been hooked by the previous two orbits.
This is the level that my die–hard readers usually get to, and it includes personal photos, very personal stories from the road that deal with relationships and failures, explanations as to what one must sacrifice in order to live a non-traditional lifestyle, and info about the connections I have with other bloggers, writers, celebrities and the like.
Some people choose to put those relationships on one of the other orbits, but I try to keep those associations closer to the core, so that I don’t dilute my own brand with theirs. The folks who make it here tend to be readers/customers/clients/friends for a long time.
What the orbiting system allows you to do is segment all that info you have about yourself, which is handy, because if you tell everyone your life story as soon as you meet them, not only will they probably not put all the pieces together into a coherent brand, but they’ll also be bored out of their minds.
Make sure that each orbit leads to the next one, and that each tells a similar story, but in a different way and with increasing depth of detail. That’s how you organize your positive and negative traits so that they pull people in, rather than pushing people away.

5. Rearrange, Don’t Rebuild

Finally, in building your personal brand, it’s important to remember that you’re trying to improve the clarity of your message, you’re not trying to create a new one out of thin air, or live someone else’s ideal life.
If the brand you want to have doesn’t fit with your lifestyle, personality or experiences, don’t force it. Doing so leads to a brand that’s transparently bad and false, and the power of a strong personal brand is that it allows people to get to know you, and as a result, the right type of people will stick around so you can develop a closer relationship with them.
Don’t force a rebuild of your life to fit an image that you like, either. It’s important to always be improving as a person, but that means refining who you already are, not replacing it with someone you’re not.
Build a brand that fits you; doing anything else would be like buying a suit that doesn’t fit and then gaining weight so that you can fill it out. It’s much easier to just tailor the thing so that it accentuates your life as it is, and you can always get it taken in or out as your life, your goals, and your motivations change.

Using Your Brand in Business

Based on the structure you now have in place, you can go out and do all those things that most articles on personal branding will tell you to do. Update your photos, share relevant content, and provide value in ways that tie in with your area of expertise.
Treat your personal brand like the enormous asset that it is. Leverage your stories and your experiences and your strangeness and your purpose. Build a business around yourself, or adapt your existing business so that your strengths are utilized to their fullest. Get a job that celebrates what you celebrate and that makes use of your quirks, or take on responsibilities and causes that help you reshape your existing job around them.
Accumulate an audience of like–minded people by creating a platform (like a blog or a newsletter). Become the face of a particular movement, and if you can’t find a movement that fits, start your own. Live your philosophy by aligning your actions with your ‘why,’ and refuse to accept anything less.
Be the best version of yourself you can possibly be and you’ll never face real competition. No one can be a better you than you can.

Colin Wright is a serial–entrepreneur and blogger who moves to a new country every 4 months based on the votes of his readers. You can get in touch with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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