Today, having a “personal brand” is virtually analogous to having resume--it’s essential, particularly for entrepreneurs. You have to not only be able to write about your experience but you need to be able to sell and market yourself. The definition of a brand is an experience, identity, or feeling. Figuring out your personal brand can be tricky, because it requires an ability to look at yourself and your skills objectively. Here are some tips to guide you through the process:
Your personal brand is just that--you. If you try to manufacture something that's not genuine, it will be obvious to others and immediately make you less compelling. Instead, focus on your unique talent or passion. Use what I call your “Zone of Genius” as a navigation system. Your Zone of Genius is a unique combination of your innate talent (in other words, your approach to work) and your greatest passion (your purpose or mission).
Virgin founder Richard Branson is a great example of this. He has said that his brand revolved around “finding new ways to help people have a good time.” I can’t be certain about this, but I am willing to bet that finding ways to help people have fun is Branson's innate talent. He is gifted at putting a fun spin on an ordinary experience, like flying on a plane. His greatest passion seems to be doing things his own way. Branson didn’t go to college, his ideas are unconventional, and his business goals are over the top. He has consistently stayed true to his brand, ideas, personality, and unique genius. His focus on keeping his business brand aligned with his personal brand has helped him become a huge success.
Know your “why”
Why are you doing what you do? What is your purpose and mission? The answers to these questions should be central to your work.
Case in point: Apple. The company's “why” is about creating user-friendly, cutting-edge technology products that can improve everyday life. Once again, the business brand seems well aligned with the personal brand of its founder, Steve Jobs. Your "why" needs to be seamlessly incorporated into your story, your marketing, and your product. One way Apple has done so is through its approach to customer support. The Genius Bar is filled with “geniuses” to help you with your products. They are over-the-top helpful, usually free, and fun. This speaks the company’s why: They are there to help improve your life.
Know your ideal client
You will not appeal to every client or customer. There is a particular kind of person or audience that is going to respond to what you bring to the table. You need to figure out what kind of client will respond to you so you can hone your message accordingly. Knowing who you are marketing to is essential in order to connect authentically with them. (If you have already pinpointed your innate talent, you greatest passion, and your "why," then figuring out your ideal client should be easy.) JetBlue is a great example. The airline serves Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on its flights. This was a strategic choice for them. There are a number of different brands of coffee they could have partnered with. They chose Dunkin’ Donuts because of the similarity in the brands and similar target market. They want to make their customer feel more at home on their flights and that they are the right airline for them. Don’t get caught up in the trap of wanting to be everything to everyone -- or you will end up being nothing to nobody.
Get support, not advice
This last tip is one of the most important. When it comes to figuring out what your personal brand is and how to market it, getting support is key. The challenge is knowing the difference between advice and support. Most of us ask for advice. Advice comes from someone else’s worldview and is filtered through their psychology--it’s what they would do if they were in your situation. The problem with this is that they are not you. Support, on the other hand, is different. Support is when someone helps you understand what is right for you and helps you make decisions that are in line with your strengths, goals, and talents.
When I was in the beginning stages of building my own business, my brother encouraged me to get an MBA. I didn’t want to get an MBA, it didn’t feel like the right step for me. However, in the early stages of building a business, I was nervous and insecure. What if he was right? What if the only path to success was getting an MBA first? In this state of uncertainty, advice can seem like an answer. I followed my gut feeling that it was not the right path for me. Years later, I know that not following his advice was the best thing for me. I am thankful I had the confidence to listen to my gut and not do what would have been the right decision for him, not me. At the same time, I started co-working with two women who were also building their own business from scratch. They were able to give me the support that I needed to keep going. They were able to see that creating my own path to success was right for me and gave me daily encouragement to believe in myself. That support made a huge difference in my ability to build a business that was right for me--and with it, my own personal brand.