What is Personal Branding? And Why Do You Need It?

If you have a career (as opposed to just a job) or a business, or ever hope to have one in the future, you need to know about personal branding.

The term "personal branding," as best I can determine, originated in 1997 when Tom Peters wrote an article called, "A Brand Called You." This legendary article (which pre-dated such internet tools as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube) forecast how individuals could take control of their own destinies by building brands for themselves.

The problem is that we all have a choice: We can either establish a strong reputation for ourselves, or we will become (or remain) commodities. Think about how potential employers or potential clients view us. There is always a tendency to put us in a nice neat box and slap a familiar (if not always accurate) label on us. The reason for this is that the human mind tends to categorize new information by associating it with information already known.

As a new potential employee or business person, we start off as a new bit of information.

The danger of being a commodity is that tangible factors like the price of our offerings or the perceived quality of the schools we attended become the tiebreakers for our prospects or potential employers.
Personal branding is a matter of inserting new and more powerful tiebreakers into the equation.

But here's the secret: Despite their tendency to categorize you, the people who want to do business with someone like you, want a tiebreaker.

Imagine the human resource person sorting through a stack of resumes looking for the "best" candidate. Or picture a potential client doing a Google search (or worse yet, looking through the Yellow Pages) for the "best" lawyer, doctor, plumber, print shop, veterinarian, etc. Or the executive looking for the "best" person to promote within the company. These people are desperate for a significant tiebreaker to help them make this important decision.

It is only when they fail to find a real reason to break the tie that they resort to superfluous factors like whether you graduate from Yale or Kansas State, or whether you charge 15% more than a competitor. In other words, only when factors like value and return on investment are absent, will factors like a name brand school or a marginally higher cost default to becoming the key tiebreakers.

Much has changed since Tom Peters wrote his article in 1997. Now everyone can set up a blog or post a video to YouTube. Social media has made personal branding a reality for anyone who wants to create tiebreakers.

So what is a tiebreaker?

For most professions, and professionals, content is king. If you can create good content that solves problems for your target employers or clients, you can build a personal brand online.

In fact, often the sheer number of search results on Google when someone does a search for a person or a business, can be a significant tiebreaker. If a job candidate has a blog with numerous articles coming up on Google, or if a business has published numerous instructional videos on YouTube, that raw number will, in and of itself, often become a powerful tiebreaker.

This last point shatters the most common misconception of personal branding: That it is just hype and popularity. Personal branding (at least for professionals who market themselves based on their expertise) relies on creating a "paper trail" of sorts online, not just empty claims.

To quote Tom Peters' article:
Almost every professional services firm works with the same business model. They have almost no hard assets [but] They have lots of soft assets -- more conventionally known as people, preferably smart, motivated, talented people. And they have huge revenues -- and astounding profits.

If your company "ME, Inc." has no hard assets to speak of, how can you build your own soft assets? By demonstrating what you can do for a potential client / employer. And nothing can demonstrate better than a thoughtful blog or a series of problem-solving information pieces in the form of articles, videos, or any other content you can create.

Do a Google search on yourself. Do you find anything at all? And if you are listed, do you find content that you, yourself put on the internet or are you finding content creating about others about you?

Let's look at it this way: a news piece about you is great, but it is hard to control news content when you are just the subject of the piece.

Your public relations efforts may pay off now and then, but it is far better create your own content (which is, by the way, a good way to get the attention of someone in the news business, and which may lead to you becoming the subject of many news pieces).

Get started today. If you don't already have a blog devoted to your field, start one. Everyone needs their own piece of online real estate they can control and on which they can showcase their own original content.

Now that you have a blog, what articles, videos or podcasts should you put on it?
  • Think about what information your target market (either potential clients or employers or higher executives within your present organization) wants to learn.
  • What problems do they need to solve and what information will help them?
  • What questions do your clients ask most often? Or, what questions should they be asking, but lack the background to know to ask?
  • What information would make them better consumers of your services? In other words, what would help them make the best decision between Brand X vs Brand Y?
  • What problems could be sneaking up on someone that they are not fully aware of? (Think of all the articles you've seen about medical issues that most of us were not previously aware of)?
  • What kinds of problems do they need to solve BEFORE they have a need for what you sell? Can you build trust and relationships before your target audience needs to buy from you?
  • If you charge more for what you sell than your competitors, what information would justify that higher price? What benefits do they get from you that they cannot get elsewhere?

Once you have a game plan for creating content, put it on as many sites and in as many forms as you can on the internet.

Create articles, ebooks, and whitepapers. Then take much the same information and produce audio content in the form of podcasts. Create PowerPoint presentations and post them as slideshows. Create videos and post them on YouTube.

Build trails of breadcrumbs on your subject matter so that everywhere your target clients or employers search for information on that topic, all trails lead back to you.

What do you think? What kinds of content ideas can you share that will help to build a better personal brand?

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