I recently gave a talk at HOW Design Live on the subject of personal branding. What I noticed whenever I mentioned to someone what my topic was about, no one seemed too interested. In fact, one person I met in an elevator even had the gall to reply with, “oh… I don’t need personal branding. I have a job.” Thankfully, I left my filter at home and was able to respond with, “sounds like you need personal branding more than anyone.”
Why should you even care about your personal brand? If you’re a freelancer, you already know why. But what if you’re working in-house or as a part of an agency, think you don’t have to worry about this stuff? Sure, you can ignore it and continue to plug away at your day job but what happens if it’s gone tomorrow? A strong sense of who you are, what makes you buy-able, or even hire-able, can hedge against uncertainty, and even the most secure jobs should be treated as uncertain.
So how would you define personal branding, Kim? Good question!
People’s perception of you.
The same thing applies to companies. A company can tell you what to think of them over and over and over, but their own experiences and perceptions they form around the brand are what makes the brand. If I asked you to think of the brand, Dove, we’d probably all have a different experience with the brand, but this combined experience makes the company what it is. Just because it may not be exactly aligned with what the company is hoping you’ll think of doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, what we’re all thinking of is what they’re trying to forever understand and appeal to.
So how does this apply to ourselves, you ask? It’s important to understand that everything you do, say, share, think helps people to form this perception. Think back to high school, what were you known as? That was early personal branding. People took what they saw, heard, experienced and formed an opinion and you probably reaffirmed it, whether for good or bad. In our professional lives, and in today’s social world, your personal brand is sometimes your entire career. Which is why it’s important to understand how you can use the tools available to shape and mold it to meet your goals. While you’re not in control of this perception, you can influence it.
Understanding personal branding will result in a shift in your thinking and help you to become more aware of how you present yourself and what you can do to get the most out of what you’re probably already doing.
If you’re advising a company on their marketing or their design when it comes to their brand, you’re probably talking to them about things like their audience, their position in the market place, their content strategy, etc. They have products and services, they have strengths and weaknesses. Guess what? You have all these things, too. As much as we resist, if we want to do big things with ourselves, we have to start thinking of ourselves in the same vein.
We have a target audience. We have a position in the market place. We have content. We have products or services.
It’s hard to wrap your head around, but the beauty of personal branding, is you’re probably already doing a lot of things you should be, it’s just a matter of being more deliberate so you can achieve whatever it is you’re hoping to. Another perk? You’re human (I hope). You have the advantage of being a physical, easy to understand entity. Companies are fuzzy. They have buildings, departments, lots of people, websites, retail locations, experiences. They’re hard to wrap your head around. When they speak, who’s really speaking? How do I process their message? It’s tough. With you, you speak, and it’s just you speaking. You have something to share, and it’s coming from you. There’s no confusion here. Easy peasy.
That being said, everything you do, say, think, or share is advertising. It says something about you that helps people to form a perception to create your personal brand.
One of the most eye-opening tasks I was given in college was to write a paper on my outfit. I gawked at the thought. I was so punk rock. I thought I didn’t care what anyone thought when I got dressed in the morning. But then it dawned on me that that’s what I was hoping to advertise. That I was different. Unique. I had on clothes no one else was wearing because I took a ton of effort to find the clothes most people weren’t wearing. Thus, that’s the impression I wanted to give off because that’s how I wanted to be treated.
When it comes to figuring out this whole personal branding stuff, you may not even be listening anymore because the thought of “being famous” isn’t what you’re after. Good! You shouldn’t be. It’s not about being famous in a “celebrity” sense of the word. If that’s all this was about, I’d tell you all to go make sex tapes since it would be easier. This is about being famous in the sense of being known for something. So when someone is having a conversation and a service or passion you’ve vocalized loud, often, and in attractive ways comes up, you’re mentioned. That kind of famous. And it can happen.
In a connected world, we’re giving off impressions constantly. . Not only do you have the concept of “7 times before a message sinks in” but that’s outdated, but you have an un-captive audience.
Which leads us to developing your personal brand. The first step of which is to find your strength in the market, like in a company brand, and do something with it. For you, your position or core competency, the thing that makes you worth buying from/hiring/loving/whatever your goals are. To find yours, you need to dig deep and figure out what it is about you that makes you so awesome. If you just want to be known as a “designer”, good luck. I know lots of you folks, but I only recommend some of you folks. Why? Because someof you stand out more than others. I’m sure your designs are all great, but I can’t remember you from one another. Usually, this distinguishing factor isn’t in your designs, though it can be, but it’s something quirky or unique about you wrapped into your design. So ask yourself: What could you see yourself doing every day for the next 5 years?
It’s a scary thought. You don’t want to limit yourself because we crave change and excitement and new challenges, but appealing to everyone means you’re appealing to no one. These constraints do the opposite of pigeonholing us. Constraints actually encourage creativity and understanding because it allows people to easily know how to categorize you in their minds. If you just said you’re a designer, you’re going in the designer bucket along with everyone else. So get specific. Dig deep. Challenge yourself. What is it that you do better than anyone else? Or what can you offer that no one else can?Thankfully, 5 years isn’t forever. It’s just long enough to show you’re committed but not so long that there’s no hope if you want to shift directions.
Should you worry if you’ll make money at it? Sure, it’s only natural. But I’m a firm believer that if you’re good enough at something and passionate enough about it, you’ll find a way to make money at it. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this thinking, plenty of people have written books on the subject.
Now it’s time to understand what your current perception is. The best way to go about doing this is to simply listen. How are you introduced on the phone? What do people refer to you as when talking about you? You can go about understanding your perception in any number of ways. Get creative. Have a blog? What types of articles get the most traffic? Which tweets get the most replies? There’s a ton of useful insight to be gleaned from what you’re already putting out there. Combine the various outlets and see if there are any patterns. If there are, you’ve found your current personal brand. If it seems random, haphazard and all over the place, you’ve found your lack of personal brand. Now, cross-check. How does this align with your previously identified positioning strategy? Is there tweaking to be done? Should tweaking be done? Sometimes uncovering some aspects of your personal brand can be enlightening, and even inspiring, so modify as needed but don’t be opposed to new ideas.
Think of this next step as your packaging. What makes you likeable? What is it about you that people are drawn to? You all have friends, I hope. What do they enjoy about you that they want to be around? This can be anything. You don’t have to have a flamboyant, over-the-top personality to have a good character. You just have to know what your character is because once you know this, you can frame all of your content moving forward with this aspect of your personality. It’s the flavor!
So you have a rockin’ personal brand that’s perfectly aligned with your current perception and you fully understand your quirky character. Now what? It’s content time! The only way people will ever know you exist is if you produce and regularly disseminate content! Now, that doesn’t mean you need to become a book author overnight. Luckily, content now takes the form of 140-character status updates, short video clips, Facebook updates, etc.
So put together an idea of what types of content make sense for your brand. If you’re interested in being known for your amazing copywriting skills, video may not be the best avenue to showcase your talents, but articles, whitepapers, and workbooks might be. Luckily, there’s a simple little exercise you can work through in your head as you’re identifying your relevant content types, or even as you’re thinking of what to post on your social media profiles:
Simple. And luckily, you’re already running through this in your head, whether you think you are or not. It’s that little voice that’s telling, ”you no one will think this is funny.” I hear it all the time. You’re assessing your audience and determining the content isn’t appealing to them and thus, won’t result in the intended action: laughter.
As much as it may seem like it, stellar personal brands don’t happen over night. The beauty of our own brands is that we can continuously tweak, test, learn, and start again. We don’t have to worry about ROI or impressing the boss. We have it easy. Understanding, developing, and seeing the results of our personal brands can be a constantly evolving thing and if we treat it as such, we can do great things with it.