You are a brand – whether you’re a corporate employee, a sales rep for an existing brand, a 1099 contractor, or a business owner with your own entity. Your personal brand differs from your company brand. It is either a null, a hit, or a mix of wins and misconceptions.
Two things taught us the danger of letting your personal brand be absorbed by a company brand, or just ignoring the significance of personal branding:
- The 2007 Financial Crisis – which popped not only the investment and mortgage bubbles but the balloon of reliance on corporate entities to be there to catch us in the long run.
- The Arab Spring (2010) – which was really just a wakeup call to those who still hadn’t realized the rise of a socially empowered market.
In the resulting environment, more than ever, people want to do business with real human beings who demonstrate consistent personal qualities resulting in an earned reputation. That’s what we mean by a personal brand. It can neither be contrived nor faked, but it can be corrected, preserved, and presented clearly. Here are four thought processes to get that started:
Vulnerability and Authenticity are Core Brand Assets
When websites had stock images of happy corporate types in perfectly pressed shirts, and represented the world as generic and pristine, no one was exposed to criticism. This immunization against audience feedback had whitewashed brands of feeling and indeed substantive thought. In the name of being “professional”, we became bland and impersonal, and ultimately brands took on a certain corporate flavor. We all looked alike, because we aspired to be devoid of idiosyncrasy. Those things only hurt us, now.
The market wants us to be interesting and desirable for our personal qualities – personality being ultimately distinct and idiosyncratic. More than anything, the market wants us to be honest, and the only way it can tell we’re honest is when we reveal our true selves. Foremost, it’s necessary for a brand to have a true self; secondarily, to communicate it. Thats the core ingredient in personal branding, which we refer to as thought leadership.
Any Professional Can be a Thought Leader
It’s not enough anymore to merely provide a good product or service at a good price. If you believe that, just browse the supermarket aisles. All those products that focus on organic sourcing, and not just the immediate sourcing, but the entire supply chain (fair trade, direct trade, etc) are responses to this shift in the market. Patagonia doesn’t have a fanatical market just because their products are good – they’ve come to stand for things that aren’t sewn into lining or stated plainly on the label. The core criteria for being a thought leader are vision, imagination, and a diehard connection to a market group.
The act of thought leadership involves raising the stakes for competitors by raising the experience level of clientele. You can describe where we need to go, or you can take us there, and the most powerful thought leaders do both. When a thought leader pops up in a competitive market, the reasons for change and the act of change inspire us in ways that commodity selling on lower price cannot. This is the era of the thought leader in every layer of industry; the thought followers are on an unsustainable race to the bottom.
Ignite an Audience with Unique Vision and Personal Passion
When a company says it’s passionate about beer, it has missed the point of personal branding. Maybe, like Caleb’s Kola, you can be passionate about the cola nut – because most cola brands aren’t. In the realm of cola experience, they’ve built a better mousetrap. If you’re a car company claiming you’re passionate about cars, you’ve misunderstood what passion is. Passion, like vision, are ultimately *personal* qualities. A car company can’t be passionate about cars; a car company exec can be. But take Lee Iacocca; whatever his reputation historically, as a personal brand, we knew his name then as now because he was quintessentially passionate – and yet, not about cars. Iacocca was passionate about leadership and business exports. Those might sound geeky, unromantic, or boring to us right now but, in the 1980s, it was a big deal.
Perhaps no other name since Henry Ford himself has been so associated with the mega-brand of Ford Motor Company, than Iacocca. Iacocca’s unique vision and personal passion was a brand, and it helped carry the Ford brand when it needed that most. To show the power of personal branding, when the Iacocca brand moved from Ford to Chrysler, the world stood up and took notice. When Letterman moved from NBC to CBS, you’d better believe a personal brand had changed partnerships. Do you doubt that personal branding has the potential to be even *more* important than corporate branding these days? What’s carrying our brand – or more importantly, who is carrying it – who in our industry, business, and audience is a personal brand of substance?
Be Aware of Bias and Confirmation of Attitudes – Collaborate Accordingly
Perhaps the most important outcome of the social landscape and shift of financial confidence is that you no longer have total control of your brand. In a previous era, you simply bought into or owned official channels of communication, and so you controlled the conversation around your brand. Even the first websites were like this, because they constituted the total discussion for some small businesses. Now, if you’re not on Yelp, and someone wants to create a Yelp listing for you, the conversation is happening no matter what. Attempts to control all aspects of your brand are futile and outdated. We can no longer afford to operate on the basis of fear of what someone might say, or how we’ll be represented. Companies that do cringe at a free and open conversation with full transparency are more disempowered than ever. Your brand is an *agreement* between yourself and an audience, whether that’s a business brand or personal one. Once we say a brand is an agreement, we’re describing a conversation that is both delightfully fluid – delightful because we get to actually participate – and too easily fixed (because first impressions last the longest).
Whether your pitch is as a tailor, copywriter, promotional products ‘specialist’, or business telecom consultant, you can try as you might to say what you do – people think they already know. Describe any difference, and people’s perception is still largely shaped by what they already ‘knew’ coming in the door. That’s because our confirmation bias tells us to look for and listen for things that confirm what we already thing, rather than challenge it. Despite the importance of personal branding, in other words, its also an uphill challenge. So how do you overcome the stereotypes, misconceptions, and incorrect positioning of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for? You have to listen; you can’t just substitute monologue for dialogue. Specifically, what you have to listen for is where people’s conservatism, their conventionality, tend to intrude into what you’re saying. Only after hearing the ongoing conversation they’re always already listening to, can you inject something new, and adjust it accordingly. You might have to shock and awe your audience. One thing you’ll definitely have to do is connect with your audience over what you’re passionate about, and what your vision is, with the aim of inspiring those same feelings. If your audience shifts in the area of feeling, it will shift in attitude, and then the content of what you say will be able to get through. Another way of saying that is target the gut, and the hearts and minds will follow.
Break out of the conventional conversation. Craft your personal brand, and communicate it effectively to an eager audience, by engaging MadPipe for digital strategy.