Personal Branding: Best Practice on How to Build a Personal Brand
The what, how and why of personal branding, complete with opinions and advice from marketing experts!
What is personal branding?
Personal branding has been recognised for more than 20 years. Over the last few years it has become a mainstream marketing technique, although it is still very much misunderstood.
A quick Google search will tell you “Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.” I disagree with this statement. I think it underplays the objectives, actions and outcomes of personal branding. What’s more, it confuses traditional foundations of a business ‘brand’ compared with an individual’s ‘identity’. Yes, brand and identity go hand in hand. However, at the most basic level, a brand is how a company is visually recognised. A business establishes their brand through the consistent use of a distinguishable logo, slogan, colours and imagery. As such, a brand derives from a set of rules or guidelines.
However, a personal brand isn’t created by following guidelines, it is built in a much more intimate and unstructured way. Individuals do not focus on creating a visually recognisable identity. They focus on delivering a consistent and meaningful message. A message that resonates with their audience.
How do you build a personal brand?
For those executing it well, the practice of building a personal brand isn’t something they actively and consciously implement, it is a byproduct of their social activities. Their focus is on delivering valuable, educational and informative content. Content about their passion, their area of expertise and their journey.
What's more, they take down their guard, allowing their audience to see them for who they are, to understand their humour, their personality and their drive. They invite strangers into their world through a digital lens and be nothing but human. They’re likeable, relatable and honest. Above all, they are knowledgeable thought leaders and experts in their field. Importantly, they genuinely want to help others and to raise awareness about the issue they solve.
Lastly, they don’t lead with the objective of making money, they lead with passion and integrity. This is what sets thought leaders apart from those who fake it. It is also the critical difference between the long game and the short road to nowhere.
What are the key factors in building a personal brand?
There is no given formula for success. However, we can most certainly learn from those who have done it well! So how did they do it?
✓ They drill down on a niche in their industry that isn’t already saturated. This way they can dominate the space and become the thought leader and go-to expert for that topic.
✓ Their message is clear and consistent across all mediums. They embody that message unsympathetically and stick by it regardless of naysayers.
✓ They churn out content like there is no tomorrow. Both quality and quantity are important.
✓ They engage with their audience and create opportunities for two-way and multi-way communication.
✓ They distribute content in the format and on the channels where their audience wants to consume it. This is typically video content or podcasts shared via social media and other mobile apps.
✓ Their content is full of personality as they show the unstaged and unedited versions of themselves in their natural surroundings.
Why build a personal brand?
The primary reason why someone builds a personal brand is because they want to provide a solution to their existing and prospective customers’ pain points. They aim to differentiate themselves from their competition and be recognised as the expert in their field. Personal branding is a long-term strategy whereby experts give their knowledge away for free. This demonstrates social proof and yields trust. The expectation is that when your advocates have a need for the product or service you offer, you’ll be top of their list.
Personal branding is very effective in earning a legion of loyal listeners because people buy into people. They want to see the face behind the brand. They want to interact with real humans, not company representatives whose self-presentation is restricted due to company policy and saving face.
Good quality content of your authentic self earns you trust from an engaged audience who turn to you for advice as though you were a friend. Yet, they have most likely never met you before. However, through your content they feel as though they know you and have built a strong affiliation to you and your message. That’s powerful. What’s more, it provides a gateway to generating business. Personal branding provides the network and the platform from which you can sell.
New business will be generated from inbound enquiries and, if you wish to, outbound marketing. The important thing to remember is why the individuals who make up your social network came to you in the first place. Don’t lose sight of that or you’ll lose!
Talking of losing, in the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “One of the biggest mistakes people make in building their personal brand is trying to sound bigger than they actually are. If you’re not an “expert” yet… or you’re just starting out… it can be equally inspiring to talk about your journey of trying to make it.”
Advice from marketing experts
I caught up with some of the biggest names in my social network to ask, “If you could give one piece of advice to someone creating a personal brand what would it be?”
Here is what they had to say…
“To build a successful personal brand you need to be true to yourself. We see a lot of people who have a personal brand that doesn't represent their personality, they're just hiding behind corporate professional jargon, logos and stock photos. You have a unique personality, show it off! It should shine through everything you do.”
If you’re not already following Andrew and Pete, I highly recommend you do! They’re funny, engaging and will teach you a lot. Here’s a video they put together earlier this year about How to Build a Personal Brand.
When I spoke to Aaron, I highlighted how he is creating a personal brand through his new series of videos on the topic ‘Web design is broken’. Here is what he had to say:
“The truth is that I don't really know what I'm doing. I do know why I'm doing it and why it's important, but in so far as personal brand, I haven't really got that far apart from having a few signatures and hooks, but I really got most of that stuff from watching a whole bunch of YouTube.
The reality is that I've got a bunch of important stuff that needs saying, and I seem to be one of the few people that are prepared to step outside and speak the truth about it. I'm lucky enough to be one of those people who loves the stage; it's not because of how it makes me feel, but because how I can make other people feel, and I guess that I'm learning that video is another way to achieve this.
But with the stuff that I'm doing now, I think it's more about me expressing my authentic self and my views and raising awareness than it is about promoting a personal brand of any sort. I'd even go as far as to say I'm keeping away from any sense of personal brand, as it sounds quite close to identity. Ultimately, I think that letting go of my sense of identity has been the thing that has freed me to create in what I dearly hope is an authentic way.”
What I love about Aaron’s response is that he has hit the nail on the head without even realizing it. His actions have everything to do with creating useful content for his audience and nothing to do with self-promotion. This is exactly what personal branding is all about. However, upon reading his response you can tell there is a stigma attached to the term ‘personal branding’ that we ought to suppress.
I also asked Pippa the same question; “If you could give one piece of advice to someone creating a personal brand what would it be?”
“Be yourself always. It sounds so simple but never lose sight of who you are and what you are about. Inject that into everything; from the words you write, the people you meet and the decisions you make. If it doesn’t feel right for you then don’t do it.”
Pippa’s response reinforces the importance of consistency. It also mirrors what Gary Vaynerchuk says about people feeling the need to exaggerate their success and appear further along in their journey than they are.
As a lasting note, personal branding is about documenting your journey, not the end result. People want to watch you get there and be a part of that journey. They want to observe what you’re doing and learn from it. There is a tendency for people to give themselves multiple fancy titles such as ‘The 7-figure expert’, ‘Side Hustle Strategist’ or ‘YouTube Influencer’. If your skills and experience do not warrant those titles, then don’t use them. Your audience will quickly realise you’re faking it and you’ll lose their interest. Be true to who you are and know that it is never too late or too early to start building your personal brand and your platform!