How to Build a Personal Brand

Building a personal brand is more important now than ever before, as the world switches to gig economy and so much of our work is turning freelance. We need to be able to define ourselves and sell ourselves, and that all begins with a personal brand. 

What is a Brand?

There’s a lot of misconceptions as to what “brand” means. It’s not a logo, it’s not a jingle. It’s not a slogan or a catchphrase. A brand is defined as the sum total of all the impressions that your customer has of you. In other words, every single interaction that you have with your customers, from phone calls to business cards to websites to services performed, all make up your brand. When you are building a personal brand, you are actually creating the message that you want your customers to get from all of those interactions. 

So, for example, if your business cards are polished and sophisticated, but your website is outdated with broken links, and your customer service is poor, you’re sending mixed messages about who you are. On the other hand, if you determine a personal brand of “quick, responsive and punctual,” then you should make sure that all of your interactions are quick, responsive and punctual: respond immediately to phone calls, social media posts, job deadlines, customer service requests. If your personal brand is “top-of-the-line concierge service,” then you want all of your interactions to be of the highest quality, never missing a chance to go the extra mile, always delivering the best of the best.

So how do you determine your brand, and how do you make it happen? Here are ten tips:

#1. Have a Focus

The first thing you need to do when developing a personal brand is have a focus. Too many people try to be everything for everyone, and their brand becomes muddy. While yes, there are successful people who are jack-of-all-trades–the traditional Renaissance Person–they all established themselves in one thing, did it well, and then branched out from there. Oprah didn’t start her career with a magazine and a TV show and branded houseware items in the stores. She began it as a TV host, worked successfully at what she did, established her personal brand, and then eventually grew and grew outside the bounds of what was her bread and butter. Whatever you’re doing, you need to start with a focus: are you going to be the best high-end realtor in Myrtle Beach? Are you going to be a website developer with low prices and a quick turnaround time? Define what you want to be, and work at that, and make it your priority. 

#2. Define Your Audience

When you’re creating a personal brand you need to put some thought into who you’re trying to influence. Are you starting your own business and hanging out your shingle? Well then who are your customers? Who is your target audience? Don’t say “everyone” because that’s as good as saying “no one.” You need to be able to know who you’re targeting so you know what to say. Maybe you’re a job seeker who is looking to land your first great job; then your audience is going to be recruiters and you’re going to lean hard into the LinkedIn crowd with your messaging. Maybe you’re a freelance writer; you’re going to want to write a lot and put it in places where hiring execs will see it–even if you’re just publishing on a blog or on Medium. Knowing who you’re selling your brand to is crucial.

#3. Be Genuine

If you’re the average person who worked their way through college with odd jobs, you’re probably not going to be able to jump straight into the yacht and caviar world. If you’re on social media trying to establish a brand and you ever come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about–that you’re trying to be someone other than who you are–people will read through you in an instant. Just like you shouldn’t choose a profession in an industry you hate, you shouldn’t try to sell yourself in a world you don’t love. If you’re a fashion lover, let that bleed into everything you write and talk about online. You’ll have more interesting things to say, insights that can lead to possible meet-ups and maybe even job offers. 

#4. Be Consistent

Just like you need to have a focus, you need to keep that focus. We realize that you might change your mind about what profession you wish to pursue, and that’s okay if you do it once or twice. But if you’re all about web design one month, then looking into essential oils the next month, then vying for a corporate gig the next, then no one is going to know what to make of you. Online you won’t build much of a following because you’ll never have time to establish fans who love what you do. And recruiters and job posters who look at your history will see you as flighty and scatterbrained, never sure of what you really want to do–and that doesn’t look good to anyone who’s looking to hire.

#5. Do Your Research

Before you should dive into a focus, do your research. Make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Make sure that you fit into the culture of that group. In marketing we like to talk about points of parity and points of difference. A point of parity is something that everyone has to have–it’s the thing you offer that everyone in your profession offers. For cell phones, caller ID is a point of parity–it’s something that you’re expected to have, no matter what. Points of difference are what set you apart from the crowd; they’re your selling points. For cell phones that point of difference might be a more advanced camera, or a better interface. But the key is that you have to have both the points of parity–because those are prerequisites–and points of difference–because that’s what makes people choose you over someone else. By doing your research into your field you’ll be able to know both what is expected (parity) and what is new tha you can bring to the table (difference).

#6. Embrace Networking

Networking often sounds like a dirty word. Some people are naturally good chatting with other people and to some it seems like a punishment. But to build your personal brand, there’s no getting around the fact that you have to get noticed by people. In this day and age, it’s more likely that your networking will occur online, rather than at cocktail parties, but the fundamentals are the same. Make conversation. Contribute insights. Share your information. Arrange meet ups. Whether this happens on LinkedIn or Twitter or anywhere else will depend on what your brand is: if you’re trying to be a lifestyle influencer, your going to want to be focusing more on Instagram than on LinkedIn, and if you’re a freelance journalist then Twitter might be the one for you. Whatever and wherever it is, make sure that it’s the right place and put in the work.

#7. Grow Your Online Presence

Almost all purchasing and hiring decisions take place online, and even if they don’t, then research into the product or person happens online. When you apply for a job, 9 times out of 10, the hiring manager or recruiter is going to Google you. You want your online presence to represent your brand in every way. If you’re applying for a job with a prestigious company but your Twitter is full of profanity-laced rants, it’s not good for your brand. On the other hand, if you’re applying for a job with that company and your Twitter is filled with intelligent insights into that industry, then your resume is going to jump to the top of the pile.

#8. Have a Story

People are hardwired to connect with stories, which is why so many brands have almost mythical origin stories. There’s the story of Jeff Bezos starting work in his garage on a desk made out of an old door–so Amazon’s offices have all the desks made to look like doors. There’s the origin story of YouTube about a group of friends at a dinner party who wished they could share a video of their event online. Even old established brands like Walmart have stories–the first Walmart store in Bentonville, Arkansas, has been turned into a museum that tourists flock to. When you have a story to tell, people latch onto that story and they spread it for you: if your story is interesting, people will have a desire to share with their friends. It might even make the news. And you don’t need to make up a fake story! A story of success is always interesting if you find the right way to tell it. Think about what makes you different, and what experiences you’ve had that made you this way–tell those stories! People will grab hold of them and they’ll become essential elements of your personal brand.

#9. Prepare Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch–so named because it’s a pitch you’re supposed to be able to make in a conversation as short as an elevator ride–is essential if for no other reason than it makes you refine your brand in your own mind down to its core principles. If you can’t explain what you’re about in twenty seconds, then you’ll be much harder to remember. People like to categorize things and compartmentalize them, and they want to say “Oh I remember her–she’s the person who…” or “That was a fascinating idea. I need to remember that.”

Boiling down your brand to its most basic core elements is hard, but important, and the more concise you can be, the better. Think about Disney, about everything they are and encompass. It might be overwhelming to describe them in an elevator pitch, but Disney has defined themselves in a simple three-word phrase: “Magical Family Fun.” Everything about Disney is supposed to support that statement. By coming up with the essence of what you’re truly about, you’ll be much closer to creating a brand that resonates.

#10. Offer Something Irresistible

A brand is nothing without a value proposition. There must be something about your brand that makes people seek you out, regardless of whether you’re creating a personal brand for the purpose of selling a product, becoming an influencer, or just getting a job. You need to present something to the world that can only come from you–something that other people really want. That may be your words–articles you write that grab the reader and entertain or inform. That may be your product–something new that no one else has done before. Or that might be your resume–something about you that is unique in the stack of resumes that the hiring manager gets on their desk. 

BONUS: Remember That Branding is About More Than Online Presence

As important as online presence is–and it’s very important–remember that there’s more to branding than just social media and websites. If you have poor customer service, less-than-professional email messaging, or defective products, all of that will absolutely make an impact on your brand. Delivering the goods is the most important thing you can do to boost your brand–far more important than what you say on Facebook.

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