This is part 2 of a two part series. To read the first part, click here.
Principles, Perks and Perils of Personal Brand Building
In our last edition of FreeFlowing we touched upon the premise of personal branding and explained why building a personal brand is important for everyone. In an increasingly individualistic and interconnected world where your opportunities are only limited by your imagination and where your voice can potentially reach anyone, not cultivating at least a basic personal brand is a missed opportunity.
You can read more at: You are a Brand! – Part I
However, building a personal brand needs to be a very thought-through exercise. It takes time and disciplined effort, and it cannot be rushed. In fact, there is a method and framework to it, with clear benefits and watchouts. In this edition we will discuss the pillars, perks and perils of building a personal brand.
Let’s dive right in.
Pillars of personal brand building - 5C model
A personal brand is best nurtured by applying the principles of brand building to play up human traits and skills. Having observed and followed the journey of several personal brands across multiple domains, we have distilled our learning into 5 core principles that we believe are the key to building powerful personal brands:
Clarity: The starting point of building a personal brand is an objective analysis of your strengths and weaknesses. Introspecting about some fundamental questions- like why you want to build a personal brand, who is your intended audience, how you can add value to their life, what qualities do you want to project, how do you want to be perceived as- can give you immense clarity and define the fundamental building blocks of your personal brand. These will help you carefully craft the personality and tonality that you want to project. This exercise will also help to set guardrails for your content and topics, sharpen your messaging and ensure that you constantly add value to your audience.
Craft: Once you have decided upon your brand fundamentals, it is time to get into the details. This includes deciding aspects like your topics, content format (images, video, audio, text…) and preferred channels of distribution. An important rider here is to ensure that you make your decisions based on your interests and skills rather than a perceived hype of what’s trending. In this context, one should remember that social media isn’t the only route to curate a personal brand. While there are many examples of personal brands exclusively built on popular social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube etc.), there are also examples of powerful personal brands that have been built by authoring books, blogs, newsletter, hosting podcasts, writing op-ed pieces in newspaper and magazines etc. Having said that, social media has become an essential tool in your personal brand kit to amplify the message and build a dedicated community around your personal brand.
Consistency: While consistency is a time-honoured principle in the world of brand building, its significance in building a personal brand cannot be overemphasised. We are living in a world with low attention span where if you are out of sight, you are out of mind. So regardless of how good your content is, if you are not consistent, you would be lost. More importantly, the digital algorithms are designed to reward consistency- hence a consistent content output is likely to garner more reach and eyeballs. Consistency should reflect in all aspects of your brand ranging from how you project yourself across different touchpoints to your content themes and cadence. This becomes very critical to ensure that you garner a good recall and start standing for something in the minds of your audience.
Conviction: You have embarked on the journey of creating a personal brand because you feel you are genuinely passionate about something. Let this passion show. Don’t be a fence sitter. Do not be shy of speaking your mind, having a point of view, taking a stance, and defending what you think is right. Remember, when you build a personal brand, people are looking up to you for knowledge and inspiration. A personal brand that doesn’t have conviction in its views and recommendations will not inspire confidence and would face a credibility barrier. It is completely understandable that the first steps in this journey can be stressful and hesitant, but with practice you will find your footing. Like many things in life, in personal branding too, consistency builds conviction
Candour: Honesty and authenticity are the cornerstones of a credible personal brand. It is important to remember that at the end of the day a personal brand is underpinned by a human and no human is perfect. All of us come with our own vulnerabilities and have committed our own share of mistakes. Personal brands that embrace their vulnerabilities and are not shy of showing their not-so-perfect human side come across as both endearing and credible. Acknowledging mistakes, demonstrating an openness to learn and having tolerance for counter-opinions sends out a signal that you are keen to grow and evolve.
The perks of a Personal Brand:
When done right, building a personal brand can be a very rewarding pursuit. When the 5-principles of personal branding are applied with discipline, they unlock many possibilities.
Identity – The obvious advantage of personal branding is the development of an identity divorced from that of the institution or company you are representing. Personal branding can potentially open additional and diversified sources of income.
Community – Over time, a well-curated personal brand nurtures a receptive and engaged community of followers. This opens possibilities of either mobilizing this community for a shared cause or monetizing it by offering them value-adds like paid content, courses or other products and services.
Influence – There also cases where personal brands have become so powerful that they turn into a de-facto voice of authority, impacting discourse on a range of topics. No wonder then you take any category- from cosmetics to crypto currencies- and you are likely to find personal brands who are considered perceived experts in that domain. Therefore, brands are collaborating with personal brands for the audience, fame, awareness, and credibility that these perceived experts bring.
Preference – Finally, a strong personal brand is your asset to leverage and can open many new vistas. We also see a trend where start-ups are wooing strong personal brands to the cap-table. The community and credibility of personal brands can quickly ramp up reach and recall of the new brand. And in case you plan to start a business, a strong personal brand can give you a definite head start. It can create awareness for your product and help you get a window with potential investors faster. It’s not a surprise therefore that a lot of start-up founders today are deliberately cultivating a strong personal brand for themselves.
An important factor to note here is that embarking on the journey of building a personal brand with a goal of monetization is flawed. It is akin to starting a company whose only mission is raising multiple rounds of funding! The picture of success in the case of personal brands lie in the strength and engagement of your network- that comes from the value you bring on the table. Monetization should be an outcome of natural evolution of your personal brand- it cannot be the goal of building one.
What are some watchouts?
The journey of building a personal brand is not an easy one. And the pitfalls of a personal brand are all the more trickier because their impact is personal and could even become a potential drag on your productivity and well-being.
Unless you are a celebrity, the task of building a personal brand sits squarely on your shoulders. And that is how it should be. After all, who can do a better job of building your brand other than you! While of course there are tools and even services available that can help, the buck stops with you.
This effort demands a significant part of your physical and mental bandwidth, and the ups and downs of this journey can put considerable pressure on your personal life too.
The initial part of this journey can be disappointing- the results can be slow; feedback could be brutal, and the risk of trolling / name-calling is very real at every stage. An apparently oxymoronic but genuine advice in this case would be to not take it personally.
Also, today’s information hungry consumer is rarely satisfied with what they see on the surface and have a natural tendency to cross verify your every claim in detail. Any skeletons in the closet will eventually be discovered. Hence, authenticity and integrity are two uncompromising demands from a personal brand. And if either of those seem shaky, the edifice of a personal brand comes crumbling down.
Interestingly, this risk is directly correlated with the growth of personal brand. Bigger the personal brand, greater will be the number of cynics it will attract, and these cynics will deliberately look for chinks in the brand’s armour. Even a hint of ‘commercial approach’ as opposed to ‘community-first’ approach or a difference in espoused ideals vs. actions can be quite detrimental to the fortunes of even big personal brands.
In the end, even as we name consistency as an important pillar of building personal brands, we must also mention that it shouldn’t result in monotony. One of the biggest mistakes in personal branding is to take your community and its goodwill for granted. Like in other categories, when it comes to personal brands too, consumers have an array of choices. Hence it is imperative that personalities keep refreshing their brands at regular intervals. Introspecting on whether your starting premise is still valid, keeping tabs on emerging trends in your field and proactively tapping them, expanding the repertoire of your expertise to adjacent categories that your patrons would find relevant, are all ways in which personal brands can continue to command a strong equity and deeper engagement.
A common mistake in the journey to build a personal brand is that of confusing official designation or position with a personal brand. While designation would of course give tailwinds to your personal branding efforts, it might also lead to false starts. A lot of your network and endorsement might accrue from your position as opposed to the opinions and value you add. The truth is, building a personal brand would always require firing on all the 5-Cs of brand building. It is important to ensure that designation is used as an asset rather than a crutch in building your personal brand.
As digital savvy consumers adept in expressing and sharing, we are all consciously or unconsciously building a personal brand. By being mindful of this, we can take charge of our own narrative.
Having said that, these are early days and over next few years we are likely to see a lot more action in the space of personal branding. We are excited to see the new rules and paradigms that would emerge in this space.
What do you think about personal branding? Have you seen any interesting trends in this space? Do keep the discussion flowing at firstname.lastname@example.org. We read all your emails.