Whether we like it or not, everyone has a personal brand. That’s right, from Obama to Diddy to your mailman to your grandmother, we all have one.
Brand is defined many ways but to me it is simply “what you say when you can’t say anything.” In other words, it’s your reputation.
If you have a desire to say or sell something, not only is your personal brand incredibly important but so is your platform. Think of your brand and platform like a message and bullhorn, respectively.
In the last six years I have been very methodical about building my personal brand and growing my platform. While I still have work to do, I’m proud of the progress made (top 1% in the world for influence in my industry, several million dollars in earned revenue, significant media penetration, and a social network of over 700,000 people).
The following are 13 lessons I’ve learned along the way in the discovery, growth, and management of my personal brand and platform.
1) Figure Out Who People Believe You Are
The interesting thing about your personal brand is it’s never what you say it is, it’s actually what everyone else says it is. Therefore, the first place to begin in the building and growth of your brand is to know what people think of you. Good ways to determine include: googling yourself, holding a focus group (of close friends), or asking a life coach or business coach to conduct a 360 analysis on your behalf (we do this for all of our clients and it’s very effective).
2) Figure Out Who You Actually Are
Knowing who we are, at our core, is everything. It was invaluable for me to understand my values and become comfortable with my skills (and also the areas I’m simply not good at). Check out my thoughts here on how to determine your values. Another method I suggest to better understand your skills is to reflect on 2-3 times you faced significant adversity in life. Then, identify the characteristics you possessed to get through such difficult time. Was it your drive? Perhaps your calmness? Maybe your resourcefulness? Whatever the traits, write them down for each incident and then look for the similarities among these characteristics from each story. Once you know who people think you are and who you actually are, you can begin to close the gap.
3) Own Your Truth
Knowing who you are is meaningless unless you own it. As Oprah often says “the hardest thing to do in life is live our truth.” I’ll add, while it’s the hardest thing to do, it’s also the most empowering thing we can do. Actually living (and advocating) for your values, your beliefs, and your areas of passion, will allow you to enjoy the journey of building your brand (opposed to being at odds and most likely limiting your growth).
4) Understand Where Influence/Power Comes From
Your ability to be of influence within your community is directly related to your ability to make connections outside of your community. The technical term for this is called “Bridging structural holes” and is eloquently written about in research from professor Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago School of Business. Bottom line, be a person who can gather information from communities of people outside of your’s (perhaps different aged groups, different social class, different ethnicity, different education levels, different careers, etc) and then share that information within your community – this is where your ability to influence and have power comes from.
5) Understand Where Opportunity Comes From
We all want opportunity but for many it’s elusive. Why? Because we mostly look for it in the wrong places. The source of most opportunity is documented most extensively in research called “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter, a sociologist and professor at Stanford University. While it feels natural to think that opportunities such as job offers, business deals, or even dates most often come from people who know us the best, it actually comes for a lesser known group of associates. It is the person who “remotely knows us,” who is on the peripheral of our friends circle, who delivers the most opportunity to us. Know this concept and cultivate your weak ties.
6) Move to a “Fail Fast To Succeed Faster” Mindset
I say this often and I’ll keep shouting it because it’s the truth. I didn’t find out who I was until I found out who I wasn’t. The process of self-discovery comes only after trial and error. This mindset is also important because if we’re honest, not everything is a success. Cutting losses quickly is the key difference between many successful brand and platform builders and those with limited growth.
7) Choose Your Stage(s) Wisely
Your platform is your stage. Knowing your weaknesses and strengths (refer back to #2) will help dictate the best stage(s) for you. What are examples of stages? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Path, Tagged, Medium, blog, video blog, podcast, blogtalk, terrestrial radio, satellite radio, network TV, cable TV, Live big audience, Live small audience (Meet-up), and the list of stages goes on and on. As a brand, your most valuable asset is your ability to create content. However, unless you use the right channels to distribute that content, your message will not reach anyone.
Another important note is the importance of growing the number of stages you appear on. Pete Cashmore, CEO and Founder of Mashable, astutely said:
“Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible will capture the most value. They’ll be the richest, the most successful, the most connected, capable and influential among us. We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.”
8) Add Value, All The Time
My boy James Lopez waxed poetic on this concept when I interviewed him for the 7th Session of #MentorMonday. The number one thing you can do to ensure sustained growth of your brand is to add value (to your community). So in everything you do, whether it’s creating a new product or simply sending a tweet, ask yourself if you’re adding value. What are examples of adding value? Creating something incredibly useful, solving a problem that has yet to be solved, being accessible/approachable/and helpful, teaching a new skill.
9) Become a Storyteller
So, your stage is selected, your adding value but you’re still not building an audience? It could be that you’re not storytelling. The best business brands in the world create influence and stand out by conveying their brand in narrative form. Personal brands can benefit in the same way. Stories allow people in our community to create connection with us and, ultimately, shape their own identities. Everything we do in life, every bit of news, every bit of memory and photograph, is a story that we shape to our own needs (either to support who we are, through both negative and positive connotation, or what we want to do). It goes back to that connection. Whether we watch or act, our brains actively work to create a connection between what’s happening in the story and our own identities. Good storytellers win when it comes to brand and platform growth.
10) Over Communicate by a Factor of 10
It’s not just about speaking loudly, it’s about speaking often. I learned this from my favorite professor at the illustrious McDonough School of Business (shout out Hoya Saxas). He floated this concept in class one day and it stuck with me. Don’t make people guess or assume, make sure your community understands your message precisely. Given the abundance of content produced (note: more content is published in 48-hours now than was published from the beginning of time until 2003 – amazing right). It’s a noisy landscape and repetition, repetition, repetition is necessary.
11) Brand Align
Strong association drives credibility, validity, and increased visibility. Of course, I’ve been recently blessed with the equivalent of King Midas but just 1 1/2 years ago, I didn’t have Auntie O. affiliation. That didn’t stop me from seeking out brand partners to develop projects with. My earlier alignments were with respected bloggers such as Rich Jones (the first person to ever repost one of my videos) and online publications like Clutch Magazine. Identify brands that serve the communities you’re interested in and partner with them.
12) Work Your Ass Off
Nothing elaborate needs to be said for this point. If you want a detailed explanation of what working hard means (and doesn’t mean), read this.
13) Be Consistent
Last but definitely not least (and this is an area I struggle in), please know the value of your brand comes from the community of people who believe the promise(s) you make to them. Brands that don’t keep their promises through every interaction are doomed to failure. The reason for this is a little something called trust.
People’s perceptions of your brand are emotional. When someone becomes emotionally connected to your brand, your brand becomes very powerful. However, when you fail to meet someone’s perceptions, you’re in big trouble. Look at this email I literally received while writing this blog post:
“Paul, this is the third time I have emailed you (with no response). Are you too BIG now that you don’t respond to us LITTLE people? It is very disappointing to know you claim to want to answer and help everyone but you haven’t replied to me yet…”
My point is simple, when you fail to meet your community’s perceptions, you’re in a hot mess. Therefore, consistency in everything you do connected with your community is absolutely essential to building brand equity and ensuring your brand’s success.
If you believe I can help you take your brand and platform to the next level, work with me.