Gary Vaynerchuk could tell you that his personal brand is worth millions, but he’s modest. My friend and PodCamp co-founder, Christopher S. Penn, often refers to branding by ZeFrank’s definition: “an emotional aftertaste.” ( See the The Show with ZeFrank episode here.) I have some thoughts on how one might develop a strong personal brand online, and what you might do with one, once you build it.
It turns out that I have so many thoughts, that I’m going to break this post up into 3. This will be the first part: Branding Basics.
Why Build a Personal Brand?
You might already know the answer to this question. There are lots of answers, actually, depending on you, your needs, the way the world has shaped you. Let’s look at just one answer.
The easiest answer is that you might want to be memorable, and you might want to transfer your real world reputation into the online world. A strong personal brand is a mix of reputation, trust, attention, and execution. You might want to build a brand around being helpful (what I hope my brand means to you), or being a creative thinker (Kathy Sierra, for instance) or being a dealmaker (Donald Trump), or being a showman (David Lee Roth), or whatever matters most to you, and also what you are capable of sustaining.
A personal brand gives you the ability to stand out in a sea of similar products. In essence, you’re marketing yourself as something different than the rest of the pack. Do you need this? I don’t know. Do you like to be mixed in with the pack?
Hints About Brand in General
What’s the difference between Coke and Pepsi? There’s a taste difference, for sure, but what does the brand signify? Tricky, eh? So what’s the difference between TechCrunch and Mashable to you? I would argue that Michael Arrington is more heavily tied into the Silicon Valley insiders scene than Pete Cashmore, and that the other authors on each site stack differently (I really love Mashable’s Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, for instance).
Remember that trying to develop a personal brand involves differentiating in a Coke vs. Pepsi, TechCrunch vs. Mashable world. Identifying yourself as the social media expert or the tech geek blogger is about as differentiated as brands of rice.
In some ways, the differentiator on brands is in what you deliver. What differentiates me from others might be in the volume of useful content I deliver. I’m not sure. You tell me what makes me different. My answer would definitely vary from yours.
The Human Side of Brand
First off, remember that branding isn’t playing a role. Be yourself. It will become apparent rather quickly if you’re being someone that you’re not. Gary Vaynerchuk is the same guy, camera on or off. He may or may not tone himself down a bit when meeting new business partners, but I promise you that he reverts to being himself the moment someone’s come to know what he’s about.
Second, you may choose to use some kind of alias, because you’re afraid of the Internet and stalkers. That’s great, except that your brand equity doesn’t stretch to potential jobs, unless you go around explaining that you have a secret identity. As a guy who grew up reading comics, I’m okay with people having identities, but remember: that means the equity doesn’t transfer as simply.
Finally, brands are complex and not especially one dimensional. Don’t try to be a one-note experience. Madonna has much more than one brand element. So does Guy Kawasaki. Don’t whittle yourself down to a simple footnote. Be complex and colorful and interesting. Only, be sure you can say what you’re about in one easy sentence, and that others have a sense of what you represent without your help. Madonna is a creative force of emotion. Guy Kawasaki is an innovator and experimenter.
Coming up in the second part of the series is the Technical side of Personal Branding. I look forward to your comments on this post, and if I’ve missed anything, let me know. There’s a lot to cover. What do you think so far?
Photo Credit, Brian Solis
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