A brand is a feeling, and it’s a subjective one. If we’re talking about McDonald’s, you are probably going to have a very specific outlook on that company based on your unique knowledge, experience, and socio-cultural position. If we consider Lebron James in the very same sense, you are going to have a similar cognitive experience, and that’s the result of effective personal branding tactics.
Most children dream of one day being famous. For decades, this was about as likely as winning the lottery, but the internet has created opportunity for more unconventional paths to fame and fortune. Personal branding tactics have allowed many individuals to flip the process on its head and leap over their peers. But how? By building a personal brand first, then using that brand to create and drive business outcomes.
However, the secret’s out. Today, everyone is a micro-influencer and it’s now becoming much harder to catapult oneself to stardom with a personal brand alone. Fortunately the opportunity is much broader than that, and personal brands can be powerful tools whether you’re trying to become the next Instagram celebrity or simply land that next big promotion.
Table of Contents
What is Personal Branding?
Personal branding is the usage of an individual identity to build a consumer reputation in a similar way to that of large product and service brands. This more recent movement has been fueled by the internet, allowing individuals to fabricate personal fame and leverage this fame to drive business and career outcomes.
Successful Personal Branding Examples
In the era of the internet, it’s becoming increasingly easy to become famous without any real claim to fame, cough, the Kardashians, cough. So, if you think of the most famous business people today, they can generally be categorized in one of two groups:
- They were a first-mover or a leader that became famous for their inventions, ingenuity, or the success of their business. Some examples of these business people would include like likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, etc. BUT, you don’t have to be the first person to put 1000 songs in someone's pocket to achieve business success.
- They have driven massive business success through the usage of a personal brand. These people worked in the opposite direction by creating a name for themselves, and then a business. Examples here would include Gary V, Tim Ferriss, Neil Patel, etc.
Let’s examine some of these personal branding examples a little closer.
Gary Vaynerchuk - (Sorry, but you knew it was coming)
I’m pretty sure that everyone who’s spent more than a day in the business world knows a thing or two about Gary V. So, just in case you haven’t heard the Gary V story enough, here’s a quick recap:
A self-proclaimed purebred entrepreneur, Gary V immigrated to the United States in the late 70s as a child. Through his childhood, he sold lemonade, toys and baseball cards with huge success until he eventually began working at his father's local liquor store (then named “Shoppers Discount Liquors”). Recognizing the opportunity in the internet, he renamed the business to “Wine Library,” and grew it into one of the first e-commerce platforms for alcohol in the country.
From here, Gary went on to start a long-term episodic show on YouTube called WineLibraryTV. With almost an episode a day for 5 years, this show got Gary noticed by public figures like Ellen and Conan. Gary’s no-BS personal brand and charisma gained him massive amounts of media attention, leading to some major keynote speeches, numerous bestselling novels, and eventually the founding of the international marketing giant: VaynerMedia. And the rest is history.
Key Success Factors:
- A highly unique personality
- Consistent content creation and curation
- A lifelong entrepreneurial inclination
- Opportunity—Gary V was given the chance to prove himself with his father’s already successful liquor store
With a career sparked out of a simple love for learning, Ferris has become known as one of the most unlikely success stories in business. Here’s a quick look at Tim’s story:
Tim Ferris was born in the late 70s to a middle-class family. He was an avid reader from a young age, eventually attending an elite boarding school through scholarships and help from his grandparents. At 15 years old, a year long exchange in Japan would build the foundation for his lifelong passion for travel. Post graduation he would attend Princeton where he battled a series of mental health issues. After graduating, Ferris moved to California and embraced the entrepreneurial world by founding a company called BrainQuicken.
When business growth stalled out and Ferris faced some personal challenges, he once again turned to travel. It was this trip that led to the career defining creation of his famed book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.” This was the foundation of Ferris’ ongoing success which would grow to include major media appearances, keynote speeches, numerous more bestselling titles, investment in major companies such as Facebook, and his chart topping podcast: The Tim Ferriss Show.
Key Success Factors:
- Built the foundation of a personal brand through authorship
- Keen ability to recognize new opportunities
- Drive for constant growth and improvement
- Risk orientation
8 Steps for Building a World-Class Personal Branding Strategy
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you aren’t Gary V (and neither am I), but that doesn’t mean that we can’t leverage the tools at our avail to create influential and impactful personal brands for ourselves. Here are the eight steps to carving out your new reputation.
1. Identify Your Strengths & Your Passions
To be successful in building a personal brand, you need to first build a foundation on either an area of strength or a passion-pit; ideally both. Make a list of the things that really get you excited, and a list of things that you can do better than anyone else you know. Are there any duplicates?
The issue with picking a subject on strength alone is that you may struggle to pursue it (particularly in the long run) if you don’t truly love it. As a personal example, I was ranked among the top 5 best mechanical drafters in the country during my high school tenure—and easily could have carved a career in either the fields of drafting or engineering. BUT, the secret sauce was missing. I didn’t have a true passion for the craft, and instead found my passion in the arts. Alas, here I am writing a blog and not designing a cutting edge hydraulic cylinder.
Just remember what your Mom (probably) always told you: “Do something that you love!”
2. Identify Your Desired Outcome
Once you’ve determined a focal point, it’s important that you clearly evaluate what you hope to get out of this personal branding adventure.
Common objectives include:
- Hobbying. Building a brand for the hell of it. If you just want to build an Instagram account to post motivational workout pictures and videos, then all the power to you.
- Status. For many, personal branding is simply a game of status. Just like so many people who fight to be the most popular in their school, in the workplace, in their social groups, etc, social media can be yet another outlet that provides numerical reinforcement.
- Career advancement. If you’re competing for a new position, building out a personal brand can be a compelling way to give yourself a little extra push in the credibility department.
- Career creation. This is the most difficult of all the possible outcomes. What’s more likely is that someone who starts building a brand as a hobby may end up stumbling into a business without any initial intentions. Even Gary V didn’t realize where his WineLibraryTV would take him, he just knew that there was an opportunity in the internet.
If you intend to use this personal brand for achieving career objectives, then you may want to build out some KPIs that you can use to gauge your growth and evaluate.
Sample KPIs include:
- Social follower growth
- Social post engagements
- Video views
- Website visits
- Time on site
- External mentions
Note: Personal brands can be a major commitment in time, energy, and tertiary work. It’s important to be clear on your goals for your personal brand and dictate your effort level based on achieving the desired outcome.
3. Become a Subject Matter Expert
They call individuals with strong personal brands “influencers” for a reason; they influence the thoughts, actions, and purchase decisions of others. These influencers are able to achieve this level of impact because they are subject matter experts and they’re credible. And “credible” doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a fancy degree, but it does mean that they’re proven. If you’re giving cutting-edge social media marketing advice, then people want to see a track record.
Depending on your area of expertise, this could be a matter of post-secondary education, acquiring workplace knowledge, in-depth experience, or simply a Google education. For example, Ricky Forbes is a self-made adventurer, most well known for his hit Netflix series, Tornado Hunters. Today, Ricky runs a social media training agency and is a major brand rep for The Great Trail, Mark’s Canada, and Clif.
People listen to Ricky’s product recommendations because he’s authentic and he’s spent the last decade proving himself as a true subject matter expert in the adventure & lifestyle demographics.
4. Select Key Social Platforms
Each platform requires different strategy and will perform better for different brands. For example, if you want to build a reputation as a thought-leader in the high-tech space, LinkedIn is going to be your playground. However, if you want to become an internet-famous artist, then you’d best turn to Instagram.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the major social platforms.
Basically the original social network (what was MySpace, anyways...?). Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world with 2.38 billion monthly active users, and the foundation for which every proceeding platform has been built on.
With increased ad volumes and recent scandals, Facebook’s reputation has been better. However, despite these losses in faith, influencers should still look to have a personal brand via a public figure account, as tons of business is still conducted on this platform.
When to use Facebook:
- Close ties between brand and business
- If you plan to push a product
- If you intend on actively engaging with others via messaging
Originally a massive employment-oriented service for people to showcase their digital resumes, LinkedIn has grown into one of the most influential social platforms for businesses and business people alike. With such a business-heavy emphasis, it is no wonder that the most followed accounts on this platform belong to the likes of Richard Branson, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Arianna Huffington.
When to use LinkedIn:
- If your brand is very professional in nature
- If blogging and writing articles are core to your personal branding objectives
- Works well in conjunction with a strong Quora presence
Twitter is the ultimate platform for users to share opinions, memes, spoilers, sports happenings, political views, or otherwise—in 280 characters or less. Various influencers have seen massive success on this platform, from celebrities like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, to political figures like Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
When to use Twitter:
- Can be used effectively in conjunction with YouTube
- Best used in application for an entertainment based personal brand
- Predominantly becoming a hub for memes, political commentary, and comedy accounts
Now owned by Facebook, Instagram has 1 billion monthly users and is the fastest growing social network in the world. Younger demographics have been flocking to this platform for years and rely on it to stay closely connected to friends, as well as their favorite influencers, like Dwayne Johnson and Kylie Jenner.
When to use Instagram:
- If you plan to leveraging high quality photographic content
- If your target audience is predominantly millennials and Generation Z
- If your primary proposition is value (ex. artists, photographers, entertainers, bodybuilders, self-help enthusiasts)
YouTube is the largest web video platform in the world. From music videos, to helpful how-to’s, to millions of cat videos that nobody really needs to see; you can find almost anything on YouTube. This platform has also been central to the success of numerous personal brands, such as our pal Gary V. More recent successes come from the likes of Felix Kjellberg, master of the most subscribed-to YouTube channel: PewDiePie.
When to use YouTube:
- If video content is going to be central to your brand
- If your aiming to reach a more millennial audience
- If your value proposition is along the lines of entertainment and comedy
- Can make for a great video hub allowing for seamless sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
Quora is one of the biggest hidden gems in the personal branding space. Quora is a Q&A-based web platform that helps users find answers to difficult questions and allows other users to share their knowledge and expertise with broader internet audiences.
Folks like Nicolas Cole have built variable empires almost entirely through providing high-value insights and answering tough questions on Quora.
When to use Quora:
- If you’re a strong writer
- If your brand is built around marketing, technology, exercise or self-help
- If you are willing to invest more time in building out your personal brand
- Works well for cross-promotion with strong LinkedIn/Instagram strategies
5. Frequently Share Content and Deliver Value
Firstly, frequency is critical. If you want to stay top of mind with those that follow your brand, then you need to be constantly creating and sharing new content. Consider Gary V, who posted an episode of his WineLibraryTV to YouTube almost daily for five years. Naturally this is a pretty extreme example, but it certainly requires diligence and dedication if you truly want to build an ongoing relationship with your audience.
Secondly, what value do you bring to the table? Are you sharing new information? Is entertainment your value proposition? Are you a thought leader in the sales and marketing space? If you truly want to grow your personal brand, then you need to walk the walk and share information in your area of expertise.
People are drawn towards personal brands because of authenticity, relatability, and value. If you aren’t passionate about what you share, it will be difficult for it to be conceived as authentic content. If you aren’t leveraging the right social channels, you won’t relate to the right audiences. If you can’t deliver real value, then your brand simply won’t gain exposure.
The best avenues for sharing valuable content include:
- Podcasting. People are busier than ever, and podcasts can easily fill those smaller time gaps in listeners days in an entertaining and easily digestible manner. Podcasts also create a more personal connection between listeners and influencers.
- Blogging/articling. The good old-fashioned written word isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Whether writing on a personal blog, or leveraging platforms such as Quora and Medium, writing longer form content is a strong avenue for value delivery.
- Social media. These powerful channels allow users to combine written content with photo and video content to drive engagement in bite size chunks.
6. Build a Community
Without dedicated followers and involved partners, personal brands would not have the same caliber of opportunity to grow and prosper.
Your followers are a key metric for personal branding growth. But, more importantly, your followers, subscribers, and connections across all of your social channels comprise your core body of listeners. These are the people that are most interested in what you have to say and would be most willing to take a chance on a product or service recommendation. This audience is your leverage. In order to maintain your followers, you must have a clear and consistent brand, and you must continue to deliver value to your audience.
For example, Emma Watson is well known for being politically active on her Instagram and promoting brands that align with her political and socio-cultural beliefs.
Emma has built a very distinct personal brand, and if she were to switch her focus to something like fitness, she would dilute her brand and stand to lose a sizable chunk of her loyal following.
Collaboration is this beautiful thing where (generally) nobody loses, especially in the scope of social media marketing and personal branding. By reaching out to other thought leaders within your niche, or thought-leaders in tertiary niches that might share the same audience, you have an opportunity to collaborate and grow both of your audiences.
Possible collaboration ideas:
- Account takeovers. Trade each other Instagram accounts for a day to create posts and stories promoting your own brand in a fun way.
- Co-create content. If your brand revolves around fitness, meet up with other fitness influencers and have a squatting competition that you can film and curate across numerous channels
- Shoutouts. Negotiate possible content that you could share to give each other a personal mention.
- Trade backlinks. If you’re big into blogging/articling, you might want to give each other a shoutout in your next piece of content. Organic backlinks will help you grow the domain authority of your personal or business site.
To take it to the next level, you can use new tools like Slack to create literal communities where your most eager followers and collaborators can reach out to you directly, share new information, or possibly get access to restricted content. The more value you can deliver to others, the stronger your brand will become.
7. Connect Your Personal Brand to Business Outcomes
This is where it gets juicy, but only if you’re patient. You’ve put all of this time and effort into crafting a polished personal brand, you have a dedicated and loyal audience, and now you’re well positioned to reap the benefits. The key here is that the business proposition that you aim to deliver must be aligned with the type of brand you built.
There are a couple ways you can leverage personal brands for business:
- If you are more interested in hobbying with your new reputation, you could look to secure micro-influencing contracts on social and promote different (existing) products and services to your audience. As we saw with Ricky Forbes, he is now a major promoter for both Mark’s and Clif, which align very closely with his adventurist brand.
- If you’re more of a Gary V type, then you can use your personal brand as the foundation for creating a business. Through working on his father's business and building a personal brand, Gary discovered that he had a knack for internet marketing—leading him to launch his massive marketing firm, VaynerMedia. Nicolas Cole discovered a knack for writing and has used that to drive his career growth. You might unearth a knack for video creation and you now have a proven and powerful brand to promote your new business venture.
- Lastly, personal branding doesn’t necessarily have to be about driving entrepreneurial goals. Quite often, it can simply be used to establish oneself as an authority, which can better individual odds of getting that big promotion or landing that high-profile job at the company of your dreams.
Why Personal Brands Succeed
Don’t get me wrong, lots of people invest tons of time and effort into these things and don’t realize the payout. However, the ones that do it right tend to realize massive successes. Here’s why.
Building a Brand Demands Discipline
It’s no small task to amass thousands of dedicated followers across any number of social and web platforms. This requires time, energy, effort, and creativity. Individuals that are able to successfully attract an audience and build a community around their value network are going to have the discipline it will require to succeed in business as well.
People Trust People
It’s a simple fact. When you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and you see a wall of sponsored content with company names affixed, you’re probably not going to click any of it, but if you see an article that one of your friends shared, authored by a real human being, the click-through rate is going to spike. We are social creatures and we want to hear from each other—and personal brands allow us to bridge that gap.
The internet has provided us with the ultimate gateway, allowing individuals to leverage social platforms to form personal relationships with people on opposite ends of the globe. These brands have driven fame and fortune to the unlikely and allowed many to transcend the traditional capitalistic system.
Here’s the process:
- Identify Your Strengths & Your Passions
- Identify Your Desired Outcome
- Become a Subject Matter Expert
- Select Key Social Platforms
- Frequently Share Content and Deliver Value
- Build a Community
- Connect Your Personal Brand to Business Outcomes
Now, grab some paper, pick up a pen, and figure out what value you can offer the world that no one else can.