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How to transform yourself into a brand

How to transform yourself into a brand KENT SPEAKMAN

In the 1930s, Napoleon Hill suggested in his book "Think and Grow Rich" to take out an advertisement in the newspapers in order to exhibit yourself to prominent people you would like to consider you for employment, or other endeavors. How things have changed -- and yet at the same time remained the same.

Machiavelli, Dante, The Medicis, The Borgias, Alexander, Hannibal, Julius, Lord Byron, Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Cleopatra, Casanova, Napoleon, JFK, Richard Branson, Donald Trump, Lady Gaga, 50 Cent -- even today, these names provoke thoughts of what these "personal brands" represent. Personal brands can seduce, incite fear or trust, or elevate the individual to a position of leadership, authority, or power. Personal brands open up doors and create opportunities -- and they also can do the reverse.

Personal brands
There are many components involved in marketing yourself into a brand. They contain a variety of elements that will determine the success of how the market will adopt "you" You don't need to change yourself into a different person, but you can position or reposition yourself to influence the way you are perceived.

I was speaking with Adrian Grenier, the star of "Entourage" and producer of "Teenage Paparazzo," about personal branding, and he had some interesting thoughts: "What the internet is doing and what social media is doing is actually leveling the playing field, so that celebrities and the industry that exploits celebrities... are no longer controlled by a very few number of people. There's not a monopoly anymore on who or what you see."

Times have evolved to the point where we can create our own brand because of all the social media outlets available. The average person has greater power than ever before. Are we creating personal brands or are we trying to become a celebrity?

Grenier and I agree on the responsibility that comes with creating a personal brand or a celebrity: "If you have that power, now it is up to you to really decide what kind of stories you want to disseminate. What kind of celebrity (or brand) do you want to be? What do you want to be known for? And then there's certain terms of personal responsibility that we all have to choose to tell the stories that are inspiring and uplifting and have value to each other, not just to your own personal gain."

To get started on your personal brand, lets begin with a look at the first component, which is your brand definition (i.e. how to understand and identify your personal brand).

Your personal brand attributes
Marketers know that the art of positioning a brand involves designing an image and or an offer to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of a specific target market. Great positioning doesn't appeal to everyone -- rather, it appeals more intensely to fewer people, but the right people -- the main people you are targeting. To begin with, it is paramount to perform a self assessment of principles, values, strengths, weaknesses, ethics, and eccentricities that will establish who you are in the eyes of others.

Once you have a clear understanding of yourself, you are then ready to start looking at how to take "you" to market. The same way an agency would look at developing a market strategy for a client, you must do for yourself as a brand. Performing an investigation on your peers, competitors, and industry icons will help you further define your strategy and build a story that will resonate and distinguish you as different and unique. Next, ask yourself the big questions:

  • Where do I want to be in the next five years?

  • Why should people do business with/hire/like me?

  • Who are my customers?

Finally, you should be asking yourself what competitive difference you bring to the market. Whether it is called a unique value proposition, or a promise of relevant differentiated benefits, it is very important that you are able to articulate your value in a clear and concise manor. You may find yourself coming up with a positioning statement that looks something like this:

To (my clients who are overburdened), I am a (thought leader) who is always delivering value through (innovation and creativity).

Once you have created this statement, it is imperative that the promise or proposition be delivered consistently at each point of customer contact, time after time.

You are your own publicist
In today's hectic world filled with blogs, tweets, "likes," shares, etc. -- it is extremely hard to stand out. Take a lesson or two from Hollywood's top publicists to help elevate your brand recognition. Begin with treating yourself as a public figure: "You" are your brand, thus one that you have the power to control the outward image of at every touch point.

You as your own publicist have the ability to control your "image" across all media platforms. However, as a regular person you have some distinct advantages over celebrity "brands" that always have the eye on them. Although you may not be setting up photo shoots on a regular basis with the press, you can choose a great photo of yourself to use across all social networks, in any news articles that are printed about yourself, and on any printed material such as resumes, brochures, or the local papers. Using a professional and consistent photo of yourself works wonders for building a recognizable brand of "you." Wendy Starland, international musician and former Lady Gaga collaborator, reminded me that artists such as musicians should integrate their instrument into the professional photo as to quickly distinguish that they are not just taking a modeling shot. 

When you are initially developing relationships with the press, you may have to do some good old-fashioned cold calling and networking while offering to provide information on the subject matter that you are an expert in, or assistance with research for an upcoming story. Building a database of press contacts, plus sharing exciting news that you are a part of, can pay off in big ways. Once you know yourself, and can establish yourself as an authority on the matters that you are passionate about, the importance of influence and visibility and the need to have both style and substance are key to taking your message to market.

Protect your "assets"
As you begin building your brand, go out and get every digital property you can with your name associated as soon as the platforms are available. When LinkedIn became a new player on the scene, the first Bob Smith (who I don't know but just happens to be a marketing professional) got www.linkedin.com/in/bobsmith and is the only guy to be able to use his name cleanly on the platform. Bobsmith.com is another guy coincidentally in the industry who has his domain forwarded to his business but owns it for whatever he wants. If his speaking career took off, how wonderful would that domain be?

Marketing your personal brand: Social platforms

The key to a good Facebook strategy, if you decide to open this channel up to the public domain (i.e., outside of your close personal friends; allowing co-workers, industry peers etc.), is to optimize your privacy settings. Decide what is relevant and for whom. Then share only information, photos, articles, etc., relevant to your specific audience. Every picture you post and every situation that you share is positioning you and your personal brand. Having tight controls on your albums will allow you to share your weekend drinking and family events with family only, while your professional contacts will interact only with content and positioning that aligns with your brand on that basis.

LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to assist in strengthening your personal brand. The goal is to be an active voice in the conversation around topics that you have knowledge on, and position yourself as a thought leader in whatever space that may be. Aside from the basics of creating a complete profile for yourself, groups are a great way to build an extension of your personal brand and create a following around topics that are important and relevant to you. If your personal brand involves the inclusion of your hobbies and leisure activities, this will another outlet for you to join in the conversation. Having an active voice in the "Porsche owners" group or "Philanthropists of America" group may say more about you than you might first imagine.

If you look at your personal branding activities from a conversion funnel perspective, consider Twitter the top of that funnel. Unless you wish to run a paid display campaign to drive traffic to you -- which I would expressly discourage -- Twitter is the best social tool for you to reach out and connect with like-minded individuals, organizations, and brands that fit with your personal brand. There are a variety of tools that you can use to help "find" these connections based on what people are talking about. Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and TweetAdder are great for searching for topics and their contributors, and either manually or automatically connecting with them via "following" and then following up with direct messages (DMs) that welcome them to your other social platforms. Remember, Twitter may be short messages of 140 characters, but each and every one is a small part of the brand of "you."

Your blog is the best avenue for communicating what you represent in long format writing. Sharing your thoughts and opinions on your topics of choice will allow you to develop deeper relationships between your personal brand and your audience. 

Check ins
Tools like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places can be used to support your personal brand position. If you want to be perceived as a sophisticated wine buff, for example, you might check in at the local wine bars on a regular basis. If you want to be perceived as a person who stays on top of your industry thought leadership, check in at conferences and events that support this position. Remember, omission is sometimes just as important to building your brand as when you do check-in: For instance, the guy who checks in on a daily basis at the local pub, followed by nightclub after nightclub, may be good for a sales role, but perhaps not for your compliance officer position.

Content syndication
Syndication of content can be another great tool for positioning yourself with your peers. Sharing high quality content can take a tremendous amount of time when done manually. Utilizing tools like RSS readers and software programs can assist you with finding great content to populate your groups and pages.

Building your personal brand consists of a great deal of online activities, but your brand will be built offline as well. The way you conduct yourself, and handle your relationships in the real world, will be paramount to your success. Connecting with people in your industry and building a great peer group is very important. For more information on relationships, follow Keith Ferrazzi, who has become a personal friend of mine over the past few years. There is an old saying that you will become the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. So choose your brand associations carefully!

Conferences provide another great platform for you to further increase your personal brand awareness in your field. Utilizing all of the tools above around the conference, from blogging, tweeting, sharing Facebook messages, to sharing photos of you with speakers and checking in at the event will all reverberate with the other conference attendees, as well as industry peers who are following the conference from around the globe online.

Understand where you want to position yourself and your personal brand: If you decide that you are Nike, Rolex, or Abercrombie & Fitch, this will speak volumes with your audience and your peers to your benefit or demise. For example: If your personal brand is comparable to Rolex, you may be invited to more black-tie events, but also expected to pay the $10,000 table fee. Great if you can afford it -- not so much if your watch came from Canal Street. If you appear to be a professional golfer but shoot a 130 at every corporate function, it will become obvious that you are a poser and your personal brand will be too far out of line with reality, leading everything you've built to collapse around you.

You are building relationships -- not just sharing brand attributes. You are a person, be it a celebrity, a blogger, CMO, or college grad. At the end of the day, your personal brand is only as good as the person behind it, and your relationships. The world's strongest brands have both the strongest admirers and strongest opposition. Not everyone will like you. People will envy you. But that's OK because people will also respect you and love you for creating a contagious energy.

Sometimes it's not about what you say, nor what you do, but moreover what you do not say and what you do not do that is really who you are. Your personal brand is as much who you are as who you are not.

Kent Speakman is president and managing partner of Engageia.

On Twitter? Follow Kent at @kentspeakman. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Kent would like to thank friends Adrian Grenier, Evan Ferrante, Eleni Tsaprailis, Rob Danard, Muni Boga, and Wendy Starland for sharing their thoughts and opinions on this topic from a variety of backgrounds and industries.

Homepage photo created from iMaffo original.

Speakman is an innovative producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist whose experience on both sides of the camera ranges from the big screen, to the small screen and, now -- the second screen. Examiner.com has called him "one of the most influential...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, August 05

"You are your own publicist."

Great point! When building your personal brand, you have to think like an entire marketing team. It's a one man show, staring you! Everything, good and bad, comes back to rest on your shoulders. You have to make the right decisions to build and protect your brand. Sometimes that means thinking like someone else.