It can be challenging to figure out how to represent yourself within the framework of a personal brand, deciding how you want to get noticed, and how to communicate your personal platform, beliefs and values.
Transitions can pose even greater challenges to personal branding, because often your platform and what you stand for may not yet be clear. However, I’ve noticed that what people get stuck on are often not the real “heart and soul” aspects of personal branding. They don’t realize that effective personal branding is not simply about a social media presence and a good logo.
Below are some common mistakes people make when it comes to personal branding, along with some helpful suggestions for what to focus on.
1. Thinking That Social Media Makes Your Brand
I was recently talking with a professional athlete who is in the process of trying to define her personal brand. She expressed to me that she was really concerned about posting selfie shots because she was worried she would appear too narcissistic, or worse - that people would think she thought she was better than everyone else. Unfortunately, we live in an age of hyper self-promotion and assertion. It’s almost a necessity in some industries to constantly post because everyone is competing to get noticed.
Here’s the thing: what people don’t realize is that they can paint as great a picture as they want of themselves in the social media space. But the single biggest determining factor of their personal brand inevitably will be affected by how they show up in their relationships with people – not just online.
There is a well-known author and activist I personally know who is always incessantly posting selfies to the point where one would wonder if he actually was a narcissist. Yet in person, he is one of the kindest, and most generous souls I’ve ever met. With such a packed travel and speaking schedule, any time I reached out to him, he always made it a point to somehow fit me in and help me out with a question or advice. I will always remember him and his brand not so much by his Facebook posts, but rather, through my experiences with him.
With every interaction, every communication, you have a choice for how you represent the brand of YOU. It’s not solely about the frequency of your Facebook selfies or tweets; your personal brand is about the whole you and what you stand for. This is why great personal branders bring much of their authentic selves into the online space in a way that is consistent with their values and what they stand for. Not everyone will like you, and not everyone will agree with your values, but in the end, be conscious of how you show up for a person or interaction.
In much the same way, I’m going to remember the graphic designer who volunteered her time and delivered what she promised, more than I remember the beautiful design itself or how cool and beautiful her Facebook post designs are. Your social media does not determine your brand. How you make people FEEL and and what you stand for does. In the end, actions speak louder than words.
2. Underestimating the Power of Stories
One of the critical, essential pieces of a strong personal brand is the story behind the brand.
People remember stories over anything else.
As a professional fundraiser and leader of a non-profit organization for over a decade, one of the first things taught in Fundraising 101 was to always introduce myself and my background story FIRST and foremost before addressing my audience.
Stories connect people to who you are and, most importantly, to your value system. Instead of listing what you believe in, sharing a story to illustrate your point will serve as a memorable reminder to people of what you truly stand for. The impact is much more profound.
One year, I was searching for a vendor to help me complete a project I was working on at my non-profit. One website focused on the features and benefits of the vendor’s service, boasting high quality pictures and such. The competing website had a prominent picture of the business owner, along with a story of what motivated them to start their business and how they got it up and running. It was an immediate emotional hook. I remember feeling like I wanted to choose the second vendor over the other because she had values and a story that resonated with mine. I also remembered it. In short, she used her story in a compelling way to define her business and personal brand.
It’s no longer strong enough to say that you are the greatest speechwriter for emerging leaders. Tell a story of why you got into speech writing, or perhaps how you worked with someone to get them from point A to point B. Share what it was like - a memorable moment, what your client said, or what you realized. People will remember this above all else.
3. Trying to Pigeonhole Yourself
My clients are often multi-talented and passionate about a myriad of things. They then find themselves in a transition wondering what direction to take and how to position themselves. The problem soon arises where they end up pigeonholing themselves and feel as if they have left the other 75% of who they are out of the equation.
You can be many things, but people with successful personal brands are able to find the thread that connects the many things they do.
My good friend Mira, a talented hip hop artist, aspiring ninja (yes, ninja), surfer, environmental justice youth program developer, writer and editor was in a conundrum not too long ago. “I have so many passions. How do I focus on positioning myself in a way that is authentic and attracts projects I’d like to work on without losing sight of all of my many talents,” she’d ask.
The key for Mira was finding the common thread amongst everything she did. She determined that this common thread was empowering urban youth to connect to the outdoors. So, my recommendation to her was to figure out how to represent herself as someone who specializes in urban environmental education – from creating hip hop music, to consulting and writing for projects that seek to engage urban youth in the natural environment.
It doesn’t mean she gives up her other talents or focus, but it becomes a lens for her to position herself and stand out as the go-to person for creative guidance and solutions in the realm of urban environmental education. She still surfs and she still raps, making her even more unique in her space. (And she has really cool sneakers, which also makes her a memorable character!) There may be times when it is more appropriate for Mira to push her writing and consulting skills, and other instances where it is more appropriate for her to push her music skills, but the important thing is that she’s clear about what’s in her arsenal, and she has a memorable, unifying theme (empowering urban youth to connect to the outdoors) that makes it easier for her to convey her talents and services to others.
Think of your personal brand as an umbrella under which you include all the attributes, values and skills that are uniquely you. So, the idea is to do less pigeonholing and more umbrella-ing of yourself when crafting your personal brand. Find the common threads among things to form your theme where appropriate.
In summary, an effective personal brand is as holistic as the whole person you are.
Let’s face it - no human being is one-dimensional and can be summed up in just a logo or a brand promise. We are whole beings, and therefore it’s important to employ a “whole being approach” when it comes to your personal branding, vs. trying to simply follow the rules of companies. At the end of the day, people follow people who are consistent, memorable, and interesting!
Do you have another perspective or lesson to share on personal branding? What have you learned along the way? We'd love to hear from you!