Have you ever thought of yourself as a brand?
I often get an initial recoil from audiences when I speak about building a personal brand.
To some it feels awkward and maybe even a bit egotistical to think of themselves as a brand. And sure – I get it – there are plenty of examples out there of personal brands gone wrong, often falling victim to over-promotitis.
But that initial recoil shouldn’t prevent you from taking yourself – and your brand – seriously, as the quality, visibility and differentiation of your brand will determine many of the opportunities you have in the future in building a personal brand.
It’s important to start by understanding what branding is.
The definition of branding is pretty simple – creating an image in the minds of your audience.
Delta Airlines. Apple. Kim Kardashian. The New York Yankees. The Olympics. Uber. Tony Robbins.
When you read those brand names an image likely comes to your mind. It could be the logo or uniform – but probably not – the image that comes to your mind is probably connected back to your last experience with those brands (good or bad).
When you read those names my guess is no image comes to your mind (unless you’re from Austin, TX). That’s because these are “brands” to those who know them (which means an image comes to our minds) but for everyone who has no experience with these brands, no image comes to mind when you read or hear those names – they don’t have a “brand” with you yet.
For those “new” brands – the one’s you don’t know yet – the first image that’s created in your mind is often online, via page one of Google, their website or social media channels.
Let’s go deeper and look at the two phases of the branding process.
Phase one – Pre-connection
The first “image” that’s created in the minds of your audience often doesn’t happen in person. This could be someone who is about to meet you for coffee and is in their car Googling your name before walking in to meet you or a potential customer or employer who is doing their homework on you to see if it’s a fit.
The first thing to think about – before we concern ourselves with making a good impression – is whether or not you are creating an impression at all.
Let’s do a quick exercise – open up a new tab and head over to Google. When you type in your name, what comes up?
If you’re not landing above the fold (in the top 5 results) in a search for your name, stats tell us it’s unlikely someone will search further for you, which means we have a basic branding problem to solve – making you more discoverable.
The first step is to head to GoDaddy and see if your name is available (RustyShelton.com for example). If it is, buy it today. Buy your kids names while you’re at it. Grandkids too. This digital real estate is incredibly valuable today and will only get more valuable.
Secondly, take a look at who else shares your name that is currently “owning” search for it.
Are they famous? Are they years ahead of you in building their visibility? Do they already own your name as a website address?
If so, as crazy as this may sounds as you read it, we need to change your (brand) name by adding a middle initial or middle name. I realize to some this sounds a little crazy. Maybe you haven’t thought of your middle name since grade school. Maybe it sounds weird when you say it. Either way, it’s about to come in very handy.
Check the competition for that search. It’s going to be much much lower unless you’re really unlucky. Then check the URL on GoDaddy (ex: RustyRShelton.com). If the URL is available and the competition is much lower, you have a new brand name.
That name now goes on everything – your business card, your book cover, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn account, etc – it’s ‘your’ brand and anywhere you are (whether being introduced for a keynote or shaking hands at a networking event), this is the brand you want out front because it’s the one you can own and build on.
Although I strongly recommend setting up a home base website on your new URL, for those just getting started, LinkedIn is often the key first step to owning that first impression (italics used because LinkedIn is actually rented media, but we won’t go too far into the weeds in this article).
Most people I talk to think LinkedIn is only important if you’re looking for a job or hiring someone. This is a dated view of LinkedIn, which used to be very transactional with profiles that looked more like University CVs that a social media profile. LinkedIn has done a great job of not only shifting the look and feel of your profile but also the utility of the site. It is now one of your most important home bases as a professional.
If you haven’t updated your profile in a while, take 30 minutes – one hour and bring it current to make an impression that is congruent with the quality of your brand.
Once your brand name is in place, it’s time to differentiate yourself to make the most positive first impression possible.
Until your name is a brand that means something to a large audience, you build your brand and differentiate yourself visually by associating yourself with brands that do mean something to your audience.
This is known as authority-by-association and is one of the most important branding tactics that exist. Although I may not have heard of you, if I go to your LinkedIn profile and see a picture of you giving a speech, read a bio that says you have been quoted by Forbes or featured on CNBC and see a picture of you accepting an award, I have a first impression that associates you with brands I know and gives you significant authority. Think about the most well known brands you have been involved with and re-market those across your online assets.
The impression you create in our minds determines whether or not we want to move to phase two.
Phase Two: Post-connection
The second phase of branding begins when someone connects with you.
This could be buying a product or service, reading your book, listening to you give a speech or meeting you in person.
This is customer experience and it drives the “image” created in each of our minds related to people we know and brands we do business with.
Think about brands like American Airlines, Four Seasons, Uber and others. There is an image that comes to your mind that probably isn’t the logo – it’s an image that is connected back to your experience (often your last experience) with those brands.
The same is true for you.
This second phase – if you are lucky enough to get someone to it (meaning they Googled you or your company, found you and engaged) – drives business and personal success. This is where referrals, positive word of mouth and great reviews come from. This is also where bad reviews, negative word of mouth and other reports of bad experiences can affect your brand in a very negative way.
Many businesses and individuals rely entirely on phase two for success – focusing on doing great work and letting referrals and positive word of mouth build their business. It goes without saying that you have to be a rockstar in phase two to have a great brand, but without an intentional approach to phase one, you’re not getting nearly as many people to phase two as you should.