February 11, 2015
If you're not interested in growing your client base, increasing your sales, or chasing career growth, then you might not need a personal brand. If you are, however, one of the many people interested in doing or being more, a personal brand is integral to achieving your professional goals.
Humor me if you will, and use your imagination for a moment.
Jason works for Acme Corporation. He sells widgets. He wants to land a huge deal with the latest and greatest startup in Silicon Valley, Startup Inc. He wants to convince them they need to enter an exclusive deal with Acme for all of their widget needs. Startup Inc. will win because -- Jason knows -- Acme makes the best widgets around. Acme will win because they'll increase their brand reach and relevance. Jason knows this is a great opportunity for both companies, he just has to get his foot in the door with Startup Inc.'s VP of Product Development, Nancy.
Scenario A: Jason writes an email to Nancy telling her all about Acme's widgets and Acme the company. He signs off with a great, company-branded paragraph using the company-branded slogan and everything. The company created this branded marketing material for a reason and he's excited to put it into action to land this deal.
Scenario B: Jason writes an email to Nancy and he starts by telling her about himself. He then explains to her how he got involved with Acme and why he's interested in making widget deals. Along with directing her to some customer testimonials, Jason sends links to his TED Talks about the importance of the widget industry. His email signature includes his own tag line about building relationships through widgets. He encourages Nancy to contact you, to reach out with any questions, and to check out your latest blog about widgets.
Which one do you think Nancy is more likely to respond to?
I think we can all acknowledge that the answer is probably Scenario B. Why? Because even though Nancy works for a great company, Nancy is a person, and she wants to do business with another person, not with a company.
No matter how great your company is, you need a personal brand. A personal brand will help you stand out in the crowd. A personal brand will make sure that Nancy, and people like Nancy, remember your name and your purpose. In today's society, people are used to marketing. They're over marketing. They don't want your sales pitch and they don't want your Google ads. They want personalized service and interaction. And you can do that through your unique personal brand.
The first step in developing your personal brand is determining what it is that makes you uniquely you. Jason isn't the only sales guy at Acme and he's not the first guy to understand the importance of widgets so neither of these things make for particularly compelling selling points. The interesting thing is that Jason got into the widget business after 10 years in the circus industry. He found out about widgets, started researching them, started a blog about them, and never looked back. His blog, The Three Ring Widgets, helped land him the job at Acme and make the career transition he wanted. This is how he can sell himself. Everyone will remember that circus widget guy.
Don't get lost in sales tactics and gimmicks. Don't get lost in the latest and greatest trends. Don't listen to only what some frozen-yogurt-obsessed blogger has to say about personal branding. Do your research, figure out what makes you special (ask your mom if you need help), and then try to convey it in a way that is genuine to you. Noah Brier wrote in Ad Age that your Facebook page should be similar to your own personal profile page; "A brand's Facebook page isn't any different from mine, and ultimately what that means is that brands have to act (and create content) just like people on these platforms." If you don't normally speak like a search engine then don't start doing it now. Build the voice around your brand into something other humans can relate to. Sell yourself. Sell a relationship. Don't sell a product.
Your personal brand is useless if it isn't sincere. Consumers have grown so weary of marketing tactics that by now most of the people you actually want to do business with can smell a smarmy salesperson with smarmy sales tactics from across the continent. Whatever it is you do and however it is that you decide to sell it, make sure that it matters to you. Because if it doesn't matter to you then why should it matter to anyone else? Pro tip: it won't.
These three steps aren't the Ultimate How to Brand Yourself Workbook, they're a guide to get you started on your way. It's up to you to do the research about your industry, your product, and your customer, and to use that to help you figure out how to stand out. There's a lot more work to personal branding than just these steps but the effort will be absolutely worth it once you see the return on the bottom line.
I probably don't know you. We probably haven't bonded over some burrito bowls at Chipotle yet and you don't know my middle name. But I promise that there's something unique and genuine about you. If you aren't sure how to find that part of you then ask people you trust. These people can help you see the parts of you that make for a great personal brand. And once you've figured that beginning piece out, you're already one step ahead of your competition. That guy's still using a Geocities page with dancing hamsters. He doesn't get it, he's not in the now, and he won't even see you coming.