Personal Branding 101: Six Strategies for Building Your Personal Brand

Personal Branding 101I wrote a month or so ago about the importance of building your personal brand, inspired by my friend, Dorie Clark’s presentation at a CMO Meetup I attended. Dorie is a brand strategist and the author of Reinventing You, a Step-by-Step Guide to Defining Your Brand and Imagining Your Future. In a world that is essentially defined as The Internet of Things, your resume is, in large measure, your network. As such, paying attention to building your network is as important as the body of work that you do — and the experience you have.

There were many successful, experienced CMOs in our group who’ve not paid much, if any, attention to building their online networks, and they were in large measure as interested in learning how to build a personal brand as any young person I’ve ever encountered. I was glad to see that, as many senior level executives really aren’t there yet. What’s your experience within your own company? Are the senior level executives paying attention to the power of the Web and the benefits of building an online network similar to building an in-person network? My clients, especially those at the enterprise level, are often not quite there and some are not quite convinced there’s any value in building online networks. That’s why seeing senior level marketing and brand folks interested in building a personal brand was encouraging to me.

How to Use the Web to Build a Strong Personal Brand

Here’s some of the advice Dorie shared on how to build a strong personal brand using the Internet:

1. Make yourself a hub. As you are developing your personal brand, one of the most important things you need to think about is your network. This is what allows you to spread the word about who you are and what you can do. Dorie cited the University of Chicago’s Ronald Burt’s research on networks, which indicates they have silos. As a result, things get lost. Things people should know get lost – we forget what people do, what their expertise is, and overlook how they might be able to add value to something we’re doing.

This tendency for information to get “lost” is an opportunity for you. If you make yourself the person who bridges the gap between the people who are not connected to and/or talking with one another (not to mention those who are just flat out not paying attention), it’s not only a form of career insurance, it’s a way to make yourself indispensible within an organization. By understanding the power of the Web and building a strong connection base, thus making yourself a hub, you can create a reputation for yourself as a connector and can become a go-to person within the organization that people can trust.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Want to get started today? Dorie provided an awesome suggestion on how to dive right in. Once a week, make it your mission to ask a different person from a different department to lunch. If you do this every week, at the end of a year, think about the network you could build. If you’re a junior level person within an organization, just imagine how this might help propel your career forward. And if you’re a more senior person within an organization, there’s as much benefit for you in this kind of exercise as well. As someone who has spent a lifetime being a connector (both off line and online), I can attest to this — it’s not only great advice — it’s tremendously satisfying to be able to connect people, make new friends and forge new business opportunities.

2. Move where the wave is going.  Dorie offered some advice on how to position yourself for success: move where the wave is going. By way of example, she shared that she once interviewed Robert Scoble and asked how he got to be such a big deal in the tech space. Scoble replied that he went to college in a tech hotbed at a time when very interesting things were happening (San Jose State University). He could see that things were happening and he wanted to be a part of it, so he started writing about tech for his school paper. He got out of school, and kept writing about technology. After awhile, he built a reputation as a tech expert because he was everywhere, writing about technology. He put himself where the wave was going. Ubiquity happens because you’ve been doing something for a long time. When you stay alert to the possibilities that the environment you’re working in or are interested in affords you, great things can happen. Wherever you are, physically or in your profession or company, there are things happening that are interesting and we have to open our eyes to them.  Podcasts, blogs, websites, you name it — information is everywhere. Ask yourself what is growing, what is building, what are the trends, etc. This allows you to move where the wave is going.

Beyond that, do you aspire to become a thought leader? Start with something that has momentum behind it (not something that’s already enormous). Find something, a niche where there is traction, and learn everything you can about it, write about it and get the momentum you need there to build your name and reputation as a reputation on that topic. Once you do that, people will start asking you about adjacent fields and it’ll keep steamrolling from there.

3. Be willing to abandon your strengths. One key to success is to not be afraid to give up what has worked well in the past. To illustrate this point for her book, Dorie profiled Al Franken as a person who built an established brand and then moved away from it. Franken is a funny, smart, bitingly partisan satirist who moved his career in a wholly different path — to a United States Senator.  Franken is funny guy and he loved what he’s spent his career doing. Yet he realized he was passionate about making a difference in a different way. He realized that the strengths he was leading with wouldn’t get him to the place he wanted to be, so he decided to start emphasizing other strengths. Think about this as you think about your goals. What will help you get to where you want to be? Are there strengths you need to walk away from and other areas you need to focus on and/or learn more about? If so, start formulating a plan to make that happen.

4. Take on Leadership Roles. Making time to take on leadership roles is important, to your brand and to your career. It’s just human nature — if someone is elected as a leader by their peers, we tend to view them differently. Dorie gave some terrific advice here by making just one salient point: nobody ever wants to interview the number two person – they all want to speak to the President. So, as you’re thinking what leadership goals you have and what roles might help you accomplish that, let that be a driver when it comes to your professional business activity: don’t join ten groups, join two. And make sure you can be a leader in one of them. Pretty smart, isn’t it?

5. Convey Your Authority. All too often we fail to get recognition or compliance because our credibility is either undefined or people are uncertain. Dorie cited an example on this point from an interview with Arizona State University’s Robert Shalbini. Shalbini and his team were hired by ASU to help solve a problem. The medical staff noticed that while physical therapists were assigning exercises as “homework,” in most cases, they found their patients weren’t doing them. Shalbini was consulting with the therapists to figure out why there was so much noncompliance. He quickly realized it was a matter of authority. The patients respected their physicians, but they weren’t convinced their physical therapists had similar credibility and authority. They didn’t really trust that the physical therapists knew what they were talking about – after all, they weren’t doctors. As a result, they weren’t doing the exercises that they needed to make them healthy. Shalbini’s solution: redecorating the therapists’ offices. Those physical therapists were exceptionally qualified and very well educated. He had them pull out all their degrees and certificates, then had them framed and hung all over the walls of the office. And you know what they were? Signals of authority, right there, in plain sight, front and center, for patients to see. And you know what happened as a result? Compliance went up 30%. Think about this as it relates to you and your situation. Think through ways to convey your authority so that people understand the expertise you are bringing to the table.

6. Triple Down. Dorie touched upon the fact that it takes real effort to make all this happen and a considerable investment of time and energy. She spoke about Gary Vaynerchuck, social media guru, author and online celebrity. As Gary began to get “famous” he hired someone whose job it was to shadow him and create social media content. Obviously, most of us have neither the time nor the budget to do this. But the broader point is that you need – we need — to focus on content marketing for individuals as much as we do for companies. This means that it’s important to make sure you have a well-developed LinkedIn profile, as well as that you’re creating some kind of intellectual property that shows how you think (blog, podcast, etc.). These kinds of things are our calling cards. They are our real world among the people who know us as well, as our digital reputation among people who are discovering us.

If we want people to know what we do, how we think and the solutions we deliver, we need to leave them the right things to find. We need to show them how we think because that gives them a way to be able to connect with us, and it also provides the incentive for them to want to be able to connect with us. If we can do those things, that can be incredibly powerful

When I talk about this in presentations, I call it paying yourself first. We all get up every day and serve our clients, our bosses, the companies for whom we work. But the reality is that if we don’t care about ourselves and our own reputations and our own personal brands, it’s a given that nobody else is. So you have to resolve to pay yourself first and give yourself the time and attention you need to create and develop your own personal brand. Doing that will pay you back a hundredfold over time. Just ask Robert Scoble, or Gary Vaynerchuck, or Scott Monty. Or ask Tom Peters. Tom started writing about the importance of a personal brand back in the 90s and his thoughts and work on this topic are no less important today than they were back then. One major difference today is that in large measure we are who the Internet says we are. What does a Google search for your name show? If what  you find isn’t representative of your thinking, your body of work and your reputation, there’s no time like the present to get started.

When you create a beacon by way of the personal brand you develop, other like-minded people can find you. That’s the role that the Internet serves for us and if we can do that, if we can learn to make time for ourselves and also learn to leverage the Web and build powerful networks and a strong personal brand, it’ll be something that will always serve you well.

If this is something that resonates with you, check out Dorie’s book. It’s terrific and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know her and seeing how she thinks. I think you will, too. And if you want to read some of Tom Peters’ thoughts on this topic, a popular post of his is linked below.

Other resources on this topic: 

How a Personal Brand Can Help Reimagine Your Future
How to Reinvent Yourself After 50
The Personal Brand Called You

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