When Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone in 2007, he didn’t just go onto the stage, show the iPhone, and list the specs. He began his presentation by talking about—not Apple’s history, but—“our history” of introducing revolutionary products, starting all the way back in 1984 with the Macintosh. He was confident, charismatic, and funny.
For all intents and purposes, Steve Jobs and Apple were one in the same: innovative, exciting, charismatic, and successful. And the audience was going wild throughout the entire presentation.
Steve Jobs’s personal brand was lending authority, optimism, and hype to Apple’s new product launch. Today, Elon Musk’s personal brand affects Tesla and SpaceX in much the same way, and it’s a tool you can use as well to establish credibility in your industry.
Whether you’re building your business entirely off your personal brand or using your personal brand to improve your business, we’ll cover the definitive steps you’ll want to take to create a strong personal brand that helps get you the results you need.
What Is a Personal Brand?
Personal branding is similar in a lot of ways to company branding. In both cases, a business will take its strengths and focus them into assets that appeal to its target audience in order to find a good business niche. Insurance companies are an excellent example of this kind of company branding.
Think about The General, Geico, Progressive, Allstate, Nationwide, etc.. They’ve each cultivated a brand that tells you what you’re going to get from them. Geico “could save you 15% or more,” while Nationwide is “on your side.” Do you value saving money or peace of mind? Depending on who you are, these companies’ brands will have varying degree of appeal.
Personal branding follows along these same lines, though it, you guessed it, deals with things on a personal level: if you’re a name someone can trust, they’re far more likely to do business with you or your company. Many entrepreneurs utilize personal branding to great success, lending their names and credibility to a multitude of projects. Les Paul, Fender, Simonelli (espresso machines): these companies started as the personal brands of their owners.
Or think about lines of products that are endorsed by celebrities. Beats by Dre, Air Jordans, Martha Stewart kitchen accessories. Infomercial stars are another example of those who have cultivated a personal brand and use that to promote a product or business.
Simply put, personal branding is the culmination of all your interactions with people in your industry. It’s your reputation, and when you cultivate your personal brand, you create a reputation that you can stake on various business ventures, regardless of whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, a small business owner, or a corporation looking to grow.
Your personal brand can be a powerful tool to connect with potential clients and lend a sense of trustworthiness and confidence that can’t really be gained from things like sales reports or statistics.
Ideally, your personal brand should establish credibility, reliability, confidence, and trust in your product or service—because humans are naturally social and emotional creatures. In other words, doing business with an unknown, faceless entity sucks.
What Is Your Personal Brand Right Now?
Whether they know it or not, everyone already has some form of personal brand, both offline and online. Simply put, your personal brand is the way people in your circles view you:
What would your friends say about you? How about your colleagues or bosses?
When you Google yourself, what turns up (especially in the image search)?
For better or for worse, all of this is your current personal brand.
Your personal brand in your social circles will often differ from your personal brand in your industry circles, but the base elements will usually remain the same: your potential clients don’t need to know that you’re a karaoke boyband rockstar, for example, but you could still give the impression that you’re someone they could see themselves belting out love song lyrics with in a dive bar (not your target audience nor ours, probably, but it sure is someone’s!).
Identifying what your current personal brand is will go a long way in determining what you can and should change about it, as there may be some aspects that are unattainable (I believe very few of us could pull off a “professional athlete” personal brand).
Your Target Audience
As in all things marketing, the personal brand you choose to cultivate will depend in many ways on who your target audience is. While there are many qualities you can exhibit in your personal brand that are more or less universal, your target audience will determine how you choose to emphasize these qualities and the flavor you give to your interactions with others.
Does your target audience respond best to a professional, encyclopedic knowledge of your industry? Or perhaps they prefer a sociable experience and personal attention that makes them feel well taken care of?
Your target audience will often choose the types of “flavor” you should apply to your strengths for you, so setting your sights properly to begin with will save a lot of effort in the long run. Especially if you’re gunning for a target audience exposed to little or no competition
Identifying Your Assets
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” —Carl Sagan
No matter your target audience, no matter your business, the personal brand you cultivate must be authentic.
It must be genuine.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t put forward the best version of yourself—or at least the version you hope to be—but claiming to be something that you’re not or acting in a way professionally that you’re not personally can come with some drastic risks.
Better to nurture the assets you already have or want to have than to twist yourself into something you’re not. So ask yourself these questions:
Who am I?
Can you define yourself in one sentence? Try it! “My name is ____ and I am _____ .” If you find yourself using negative descriptors, that’s okay: you’ve just identified the areas that you need to work on (personal branding does tend to come with a side of self-improvement as well).
What makes me unique?
Not in any business or marketing sense. At your core, what sets you apart from the people around you? Maybe you’ve got a killer stir fry recipe or you can play chopsticks on the piano. What is something you do that nobody else you know does?
What is my vision for my personal brand?
Taking your target audience into consideration, what kind of personal brand do you see yourself presenting to the world on social media, in blog posts and interviews, or face-to-face with clients? In other words, where are you drawing your credibility from? Expertise in your industry is certainly one way, but rare skills also work as well. In non-IT industries, for example, you’d be surprised how much a little computer knowhow can set you apart from your competition.
What are my professional goals?
This is highly personal and will differ wildly. The solo entrepreneur may have the goal of starting a business, growing it, and selling it for a tidy sum. The small business owner may hope to establish a foothold in the industry that will last multiple generations. The company executive may want to do whatever they can to raise their company’s stock prices.
Your professional goals will be the light at the end of the tunnel as you go through the tough job of cultivating your personal brand.
What do I have to offer to my target audience that they don’t already have?
It’s one thing to brand yourself as dependable or honest, but it’s an entirely different game when you’re trying to be more dependable or more honest than your competition.
It’s a game you don’t want to play.
So, think about it. What is something new you have to offer to your target audience? With any luck, you’ve found a niche that has a need for services or products you could provide. So what kind of a personal brand would appeal to them?
How do I prove myself?
As the prince must prove himself to his father, the king, so too must you prove yourself to your target audience. It’s not enough to simply be honest or be funny: you must act honestly or crack jokes. If you want your personal brand to be fun, then you’ll want the content you put out into the world to be fun too.
Now you’re asking the right question.
Your Basic Persona
“An Attractive Character is not someone who is extraordinarily good looking, although they might be. What I’m talking about is a persona that attracts clients or customers and helps you build your following to eventually make sales.” —Russell Brunson, Co-Founder of Clickfunnels and author of Dotcom Secrets.
Who we are on the inside rarely matches up 100% with how we present ourselves to the outside world. A persona is the mask we all wear or the filter we all use when we interact with other people, and when cultivating your personal brand, this persona is key to success.
Let’s go back to Steve Jobs and his announcement of the iPhone. On stage, Steve Jobs was charismatic, friendly, funny, and an expert and forward-thinking in his industry. He presented himself as a casual guy anyone could enjoy a drink with. This personal brand lended a huge amount of credibility and loyalty to Apple’s company brand.
But behind the scenes, we have reports of Steve Jobs being, to put it kindly, a Grade A jerk who treated his colleagues poorly and overworked his employees. The man himself differed from the persona he presented to the outside world.
Now, you don’t need to be a jerk to get ahead in the world. Especially when it comes to personal branding in the modern era, the more true to yourself your personal brand is, the better. After all, the internet has the uncanny ability to dig up dirt on just about anyone.
Which brings us to how to develop your own persona so that you can cultivate your personal brand.
Step 1: Be Attractive
Step 2: Don’t Be Unattractive
Just kidding! Mostly, anyways.
You don’t need to be physically attractive (though there’s no arguing that being easy on the eyes is a benefit, especially in industries like nutrition or physical fitness)—but whatever qualities you choose to express through your persona must be alluring and attracting in some way to your target audience.
If you’re an solo entrepreneur or small business, choosing who to represent your personal brand is pretty straightforward: it’s you. For larger corporations, one or several executive board members will often develop their respective personal brands in order to improve the credibility of the company. A bank, for example, may have each of the executive branch leaders write articles and newsletters about their niche in the industry. Anything from employment reports, stock market trends, or content with an emphasis on fiduciary duty.
The solo entrepreneur or small business may not have the wide range of expertise found in an executive board room, but there will be some kind of expertise available to work with. After all, you’ve identified a target audience in a specific niche that you can tailor yourself to helping.
Developing Your Persona
The three main traits you will want to develop with your persona are qualities, expertise, and narrative. Each of these three traits have a different effect on your target audience, and in conjunction, they allow you to create an attractive personal brand. When determining your persona, keep in mind that you should do your best to find an untapped niche: try to avoid having to compete with similar personas.
With your persona developed, you’ll have a better idea of what to do to cultivate your personal brand and how to do it, too.
Are you honest? Casual? Professional? The qualities we have and the qualities we choose to emphasize in our persona have a drastic effect on how the people around us interact and how your target audience will view your personal brand. At time, certain qualities will lend an air of authority to our personal brands, while other qualities may endear us to a certain target audience.
The qualities you choose to emphasize in your person should, for sake of ease, be qualities you yourself possess or are working on possessing. You don’t need to put yourself on a pedestal, though.
In fact, it can be quite beneficial to select qualities that you know are your weak points. Maybe you procrastinate a lot but you want your persona to be someone who is fast and efficient with a job and has a quick turnaround time. By working at attaining this quality, you’ll improve yourself and be able to share your story to your audience (more on that later!).
Create a list of the qualities you think would work best in your niche and for your target audience and determine which ones you posses and which ones you think you’d be willing to work at.
Expertise is pretty straightforward: it encompasses not just everything you know about your industry, but everything you know that may apply to your industry.
In the movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy’s character uses his experience growing up and living in lower-class New York as valuable insight into stock price forecasts. While certainly an extreme and exaggerated fictional example, it highlights that your expertise goes beyond just what you know in your own industry. In fact, innovation often comes from those who come from the outside.
Through your expertise, you should be able to establish valuable insights, be comfortable teaching, and, most importantly, have strong opinions. Your expertise is another way to show what makes you unique.
Narrative is a bit more abstract, as it encompasses the stories we tell, everything from your backstory and rise to industry expert to personal anecdotes and recent experiences. The narrative element of your persona prevents stagnation and provides a way for your target audience to connect with you on a personal level.
It also keeps you from being too boring.
Our experience shape who we are, both personally and professionally, so the narrative trait of your persona is all about connecting your personal experiences to your professional life. By talking about how you got started or a recent experience you had, the mask of your persona becomes much more animated.
In other words, whether you’re a Marvel or DC fan, the best heroes tend to have the best backstories. What are your origins? Your defining moments? Which recent experiences have affected you? Even something as simple as which milk alternative you prefer in your latte could be a valuable narrative to establishing your personal brand. Noted webcomic The Oatmeal draws a lot of its inspiration from opinions on normal, everyday things like recharging your social battery at home or how partying late into the night affects us as we get older.
Applying Your Persona
Your persona functions as a guiding template for any actions you take to cultivate your personal brand. Here, we’ll cover the various platforms you’ll use to increase the visibility of your personal brand and how you’ll apply your persona to these platforms.
The one thing to keep in mind here is that you must be consistent throughout all platforms.
The first thing you should do is create a Google Adwords account in order to learn the keywords and phrases used in your industry. Armed with this knowledge, you can pepper them throughout your website to improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which will make you show up higher in online searches more reliably.
A strong landing page is a must, as this will be a potential client’s first direct impression of you: your landing page will often confirm or deny what a potential client may already have heard about you, so it’s important that you put your best foot forward.
That means that if you don’t have the skills to put together a nice looking website, you absolutely should spend money in order to have a nice looking website that has functionality that makes sense for the industry you’re in (restaurants, please put your hours of operation on your landing page!).
You’ll also want to spend money on some professional photos of yourself. A personal brand is all about you, so you’ll want to look your best. Splurge on a high quality hair stylist or barber, wear your best clothes, and work with a photographer to capture the kind of photos you won’t be embarrassed by.
It’s incredibly important to capture some of your persona within these photos. Pictures speak a thousand words after all. If you have a bit off an off-the-wall and comical persona, you’ll want to take some fun and funny photos. If your persona is focused on the diligent and stoic professional, then your photos should reflect that as well. When we say professional photos, we’re talking about quality: the content will be determined by your persona.
You’ll want your website to also be full of high value content. An About page that narrates your gripping backstory and how you came to position yourself as an expert in your industry, an FAQ page that lets you flex some of your expertise muscles and contains strong SEO keywords and phrases, a portfolio of your work, a blog—all of these things will give you a larger digital footprint and drive more traffic to your site and potentially bring in new clients.
Your blog deserves its own section in this guide, because it’s going to be your highest value personal branding content that you’ll create. Your blog will be the truest expression of your persona and by virtue of that the strongest influence on your personal brand.
Don’t worry if you haven’t written blog posts before. While we can’t cover everything about blog posting here, rest assured that the more you write, the easier things will get and the more you’ll be able to figure out what works and replicate it.
Your blog posts should, above all else, entertain and be fun to read. Save the dry sales reports for the shareholders: your blog is where you post interesting and engaging content about topics that are important to you. Some days, you may be writing about a current event and how it effects you and your industry. Other days, you may post an article about how your morning ritual of tea and punk rock helps steel your mind for the tasks of the day.
It’s absolutely okay to post “fluff” on your blog! While your blog functions as dynamic content that keeps your website from becoming static (an SEO death sentence), it also works to develop a personal relationship with your target audience. Blog posts give your audience an inside look at how you function as a person, a human being, and these posts can endear your audience to you in a way that testimonials or user reviews can’t.
Be consistent in your posting on your personal blog, and try to set a goal for yourself of a certain number of professional or industry-minded posts every month. These industry posts will function as material that you can crosspost to LinkedIn, Medium, and any industry-specific sites that accept articles or allow users to post their own.
Also consider guest posting to third parties to increase the reach of your blog. Work smarter and harder!
Newsletters: Read All About It!
A good newsletter is almost as important as a good blog. Newsletters are special in that your audience for them consists of people who have opted-in to receive your newsletter: they’re already a captive audience. It’s safe to assume that the people who are signed up for your newsletter are interested in your personal brand, so there’s an opportunity here to experiment with your content.
You’ll of course want to link any news articles about your business and your latest blog post, but how you go about interacting with the subscribers to your newsletter is completely up to you.
Not sure if a personal anecdote is too personal for your blog? Try it out in your newsletter, where your audience consists of people who are a bit more familiar with you.
Have a special offer? Give your newsletter readers the inside scoop!
Treat your newsletter like a family reunion and you’ll have a better time at turning your captive audience into diehard fans.
The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media
Social media can make or break a personal brand. It’s a tightrope walk, with boring, bland, uninspiring content on one side and viral inflammatory content on the other. You need to post content that’s actually interesting and engaging, but you also want to avoid stating opinions that are too controversial or unprofessional.
In the world of social media, there’s absolutely such a thing as bad publicity.
So where to begin? The best advice is to stay positive in tone, no matter what. It’s okay to express frustration or have a strong opinion, but it should all be in service of lifting someone up rather than putting someone down.
Had a poor experience at an industry convention? Don’t rip into the event organizers and rally your followers into a pitchfork mob. You can express your frustration or disappointment in the event, but be careful not to point fingers and, instead, focus on making constructive statements.
With that cautionary statement out of the way, we’ll now say this: be controversial and have strong opinions within your industry. When you express opinions and insights within your industry, you have the elements of your persona to back it up, the expertise in your industry in particular. It’s vital here that you back up any of your statements with your own experiences or research.
To put it simply, you want your posts to start conversations and possibly debates, but not arguments.
Social Media Housekeeping
A quick note on social media housekeeping. With personal branding comes the need to do a little cleanup of your personal social media accounts. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever new platforms may spring up in the future, take the time to go through your account history and remove content that reflects poorly on you today (and also take the time to reflect on that content and make a change for the better if you haven’t already).
Some content that will be strong candidates for housekeeping:
Unprofessional behavior or communication styles.
Drinking or drug use (don’t forget to go through any photos you’ve posted or have been tagged in).
Criminal behavior (this one should go without saying).
Polarizing views, particularly in regards to politics, religion, race, and gender—unless it’s a key aspect to your personal brand.
Any instance of violence or cyberbullying (think about heated arguments you may have had in the comments).
A Strong Personal Foundation
We’ve focused a lot on conceptualizing your persona and platforms to express it on, because at the end of the day, your personal brand is an extension of your personal self. A strong personal foundation will make cultivating your personal brand much easier and lead to better chances to convert your target audience into diehard fans.
What do you think makes a strong personal brand in your industry?
What personal brands do you follow or keep track of?
Let us know in the comments!