The names Kardashian, Musk, Rogan and Winfrey are now just as well known as the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Coca Cola and Nike.
Whether you love them or hate them, their fame, notoriety and adoration are unquestionable. The Kardashians boast hundreds of millions of social media followers, Joe Rogan is the world’s most listened to podcaster and Oprah Winfrey is the very definition of the word mogul.
Individuals now hold just as much value, as leading brands… and this is all achieved through the power of personal branding.
On this, there is much debate as to who conceived the idea of personal branding. Many claim it to be Tom Peters in a 1997 article The Brand Called You. However, history shows us that the ideals around personal branding existed long before the two words were coined together.
It was once written about Henry VIII that what he sought was not gold or gems but virtue, glory, immortality and Alexander the Great conquered nations and brought along with him his own scribe to publicise his ‘great deeds.’
It is often thought that ideals around personal branding are a modern phenomenon, turbo-charged by the ideals of social media. This is not true. You need only look to the history books to see how the ideals of personal branding have been interwoven with historical leaders.
Personal branding is the practice of building an identity for oneself, based on a number of elements such as knowledge, background, experience and values. Once established, this identity is then strategically projected to the outside world.
This is very much like brand-building for a business, it’s something that takes time, dedication, know-how and lots of time and patience.
Personal branding in action can range from overt to covert. We see it in day-to-day life more than we think. Magazine covers, newspaper articles and social media streams are filled with personal branding activities, and these are some of the most overt examples of it in action.
But the more subtle elements of personal branding can fly under the radar, being noticed only in a more subliminal manner.
Simply put, strong brands help you attract more customers, it helps with longevity and helps to tell your story, and build authenticity and trust. This is a strategic process with many benefits for both the individual and any brand or business they may be affiliated with.
Consider the personal brand of Steve Jobs. At the peak of his powers and the resurgence of Apple as a brand powerhouse. Brand Jobs and brand Apple were intertwined and interchangeable. Apple’s success could not have happened without Jobs.
Building a personal brand is a strategic process with an array of benefits for you and your business. A strong personal brand increases your authority and trust, shapes the way you’re perceived, boosts your competitive advantage and can provide great credibility and trust.
Creating a personal brand takes time, effort, and dedication. Having a distinct and well-thought-out personal branding strategy is key.
1. FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE
Every strong personal brand is routed in a unifying identity. This is built around the core drivers, motivators, interests, and beliefs of the individual. This is the keystone of building an authentic brand
Example: David Attenborough is perhaps the shining example of a personal brand in action. A man who has used his passion and his knowledge to tremendous educational effect, endearing himself to a global audience in the process.
Once you have the who, think about that what… namely ‘what’ do you want to be known for.
Example: Margaret Thatcher wanted to be seen as a leader, so the image of the Iron Lady was created. A change in physical appearance and numerous photo opportunities reinforced this. The famous Tank driving image was one of the most powerful in setting the tone for The Iron Lady.
Trying to appeal to the masses straight from the get-go does nothing more than dilute your brand.
Instead, try focussing on defining a specific niche that’s well-aligned with your ethos and what you want to achieve. You can build your audience over time, but don’t make the mistake of trying to go too large too soon.
Example: Joe Rogan didn’t become the world’s biggest podcaster overnight. He started in the world of mixed martial arts and stand-up comedy, building a fanbase over years before branching out to podcasting.
People want to connect with people, and sharing your personal story and your professional success is one of the best ways of endearing yourself with a consumer base. If you don’t want to mix your personal and professional life, then talk about your business journey instead.
Example: Gary Vaynerchuck famously ‘holds up five’ in his photographs. This is a link to his personal story. As a child, he longed for a New York Jets jersey, but his parents couldn’t afford one. So his mother knitted him a jersey, with his name and the number five on the back.
Corporate responsibility and empathy are important traits in personal branding.
Now, as consumers shift focus away from praising multi-millionaires and billionaires for their achievements. Gen Z and millennial consumers are particularly concerned with brands and individuals who are mission-focused and have ESG on their agenda. This is why it’s important to cultivate an ethical and trustworthy image that sets you and your business apart.
Example: Bill Gates is perhaps one of the most high-profile examples of celebrities giving back. To date, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given more than $50 billion dollars to causes throughout the world.
An important aspect of building a strong brand is owning your domain and building a strong personal website. Creating a site under your own domain name gives people an opportunity to get to know you, associate more with your brand and in time and if applicable take up services you may offer.
Example: simonsinek.com is a great example of using an online presence to boost personal and company brand. Sinek’s site is not only an extension of his own brand, but an effective vessel for his numerous coaching, classes, and written materials.
Creating and promoting content online is a great way to build and maintain your brand, as well as engage in various touchpoints which link to your brand and audience.
You may choose to write articles or guest posts, contribute to online publications or start your own blog. But it must be noted that content needs to be maintained, as stale old content will reflect negatively on your brand.
Example: Martha Stewart’s personal brand has had its ups and downs, but the fact that it remains strong and trusted is a testament to her own brand. Marthastewart.com is a great example of using content that’s reflective of an individual brand. The site is diverse and varied but all content featured is what we’ve come to expect from the perennial homemaker.
Speaking engagements are fantastic opportunities to amplify your personal brand, and in some cases, your personal brand can be hinged around public speaking opportunities.
It’s important to tailor the talk to your brand, speaking at an irrelevant event that brings nothing to your brand value is of no worth. Research the opportunities that are right for you and right for you and your brand.
Example: Tim Robbins is perhaps the ultimate example of public speaking in action. His brand has been leveraged entirely around public speaking centrepieces. Robbins himself is an example of changing brand identity with the times, discarding the flash and brash of the 90s in favour of a more subdued and contemporary brand style.
If you want to build a personal brand to complement your business, PR is a powerful tool. PR and personal branding go hand in hand, PR experts and agencies can utilise an array of tools and skills to promote a public image. And they can also prove vital in crisis management scenarios. PR can also be a strategic tool in advising and developing the strategic elements of brand strategy.
Example: Like them or loath them, there’s no denying that the Kardashians have played a masterstroke in aligning public relations and personal brand. At every step, they have utilised and capitalised on media moments to advance their brand value… and their bottom line
A lot of business owners disregard personal branding as nothing more than a vanity project, designed to game the metrics favoured by social media channels. But this is an underestimation of the power of a personal brand.
Strong brands can help businesses grow, build and retain audiences and in-time increase the bottom line.
Martha Stewart’s personal brand allowed her to navigate difficult waters and even a prison sentence and come out the other end in a strong and healthy position. Gary Vee’s rags to riches story has been utilised to build his brand and increase his own wealth and Bill Gates has taken every advantage of his charitable givings to generate positive brand publicity.
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