I’m consistently amazed at how often I encounter people who are skeptical of personal branding. Apple, Nike, and Starbucks need to focus on branding. But Jennifer in sales? No way. And yet, your personal brand helps you accomplish one of the most challenging tasks in the crowded, distracted world of work we find ourselves in. Your personal brand helps you stand out.
When you stand out, you get the job. And the one after that. And the one after that. When you stand out, you nail the proposal and get the promotion. When you stand out, who knows how far you can go? So, to succeed a person needs to stand out. How do you do that? By developing a personal brand. Ahhh. Now I get it. But how do you do that?
Again, standing out is especially challenging today as people are overwhelmed by stimuli—emails, text messages, calendar notifications (two just popped up on me while writing this—argh!), meetings, social media, ads, emails, meetings, webinars—did I mention emails and meetings? To cut through all of this clutter, you—as a personal brand—have to stand out.
Some take this literally and assume that your personal brand needs a logo and branded swag. That’s not the case. But your brand does need to clearly communicate who you are and what you stand for. To do that, you need to master the seven dynamics of personal branding.
The Dynamics of Personal Branding
If standing out is so hard today, what can we possibly do about it? In my book Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World, I spent a lot of time addressing that very question. To stand out today, a brand has to move from person to person, from community to community. How does one create all of this movement?
Dynamics are the branch of mechanics concerned with the study of forces and their effects on motion. Issac Newton stuff. If we understand the dynamics of something, we better understand motion. Movement. This is where the physics lesson ends (thank goodness!) and I shoe-horn this into a branding lesson. Simply put, when we understand the dynamics of brand building today, we can create brands—including personal brands—that move and stand out amidst the chaos.
These brand dynamics include:
- Meaning—who you are and what you stand for
- Structure—the key touchpoints that make up your brand
- Story—how you bring your brand to life in the hearts and minds of your people
- Content—how you share your story online and off
- Community—the people who help you share your story
- Clarity—transparency, authenticity, and simplicity
- Experience—where everything comes together
It’s easy to see how this applies to a brand like Starbucks — meaning (coffee + community), structure (the iconic siren, the cups), story (Founder Howard Schultz bringing Italian-style coffee back to the states after a trip abroad), content (music, videos), community (who you meet at Starbucks, your neighborhood barista), clarity (Starbucks has shut down shops nationwide to focus on quality coffee and training), and experience (how all of these touchpoints connect to a seamless brand experience).
But if you look at the personal brands you know, love, and trust, you’ll see many of these same dynamics in motion. Take meaning, for example. That’s why we so readily associate Tom Hanks with “nice” or Brené Brown with “vulnerability” or Beyoncé with being “fierce.” What’s one word you want people to associate with you and your personal brand? Start with a big list of adjectives and keep narrowing it down until you arrive at your one word.
Great personal brands have a core story that defines who the are. Warren Buffet may be known as “the Oracle of Omaha” but he’s a pretty modest oracle. We all know that despite his immense means, he’s lived in the same house for decades, drives a simple car, and enjoys fast food. Modern personal brands also employ social media content to help share their stories. Sarah Cooper is a writer and comedian who’s recently stood out online through her humorous TikTok videos where she impersonates President Trump.
Some connect these dots further by using online tools to cultivate their community of fans. Author John Green uses his YouTube channel to connect with readers and share ideas. When you connect all of these dots you have a cohesive brand experience like Lady Gaga, where everything helps her stand out and reinforces who she is and what she stands for.
I get it. This works for celebrity brands. But what about Jennifer in sales?
Two Things to Do Today
These are big, obvious examples. That’s because big, obvious examples are easy to see. But even if you aren’t trying to be the next music icon or Academy Award-winning actor, harnessing the power of these dynamics will help you stand out in your day-to-day life. Start by using the list above to build your personal brand. If fleshing out these seven dynamics seems too abstract, try starting smaller with the help of some of these big, obvious personal brands.
When I was a guest on Mitch Matthews “Dream. Think. Do” podcast, he introduced me as “the Indiana Jones of marketing and communication.” It was a great moment for me and not just because I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan. I loved it because it used a simple but well-known analogy to boil down who I am and what I do (playing off Dr. Jones’s foot-in-the field-and-foot-in-the-college-classroom dichotomy). You can do the same thing by creating an analogy for your personal brand.
Is there a personality from outside your industry who embodies what you want to project as a personal brand? It’s a simple formula: Position yourself as the “(ASPIRATIONAL BRAND) of (YOUR INDUSTRY).” Maybe you want to be “the Beyoncé of local bakers” or “the Jimmy Fallon of real estate” or “the Awkwafina of business development.”
These are simple starters but, above all, start building your personal brand now. As entrepreneur and social media maven Gary Vaynerchuk says, “It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have.” Jobs come and go but your personal brand will follow you and grow with you.
Recently, I was speaking virtually to a group of interns on the subject of personal branding. After my talk, I was asked what the biggest roadblock is to personal branding. You, I responded. After a dramatic pause (I couldn’t resist), I said that no, the individual asking me the question wasn’t the specific problem. Rather, the biggest roadblock most face is internal.
Many get stuck feeling that personal branding is self-centered and showy. There’s nothing self-centered about clearly communicating who you are, what you do, and how you do it to those you work with. It makes their lives easier. And when it comes to showy—get over it. Don’t get egotistical and braggadocios but don’t hide who you are.
Remember, great things come to those who stand out. To do that, you have to build your personal brand now.