Few phrases generate grimaces from professionals at the same rate as “personal branding.”
In fact, be honest—did your stomach turn a little bit when you just read it?
For many, when they read that phrase, their minds immediately go to people who have ego-driven, “Hey, look at me” kind of brands.
In my experience, having this kind of aversion to personal branding is typically a good sign because it means that you’re not interested in building visibility focused on your ego which is a foundational mindset for building a great brand. But just because many people don’t build their brand the right way doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t.
Your personal brand matters more today than ever before, and it not only needs to be visible and authentic, but also must build trust before you get in the room. Today, the first place most potential employers, partners, clients, and employees will come in contact with you likely won’t be in person—it will be online after a quick search of your name.
The frank reality is that your brand is what Google says it is. Branding means creating an image in the minds of your audience, and if the first image your audience sees is online, you need to be intentional about it.
The good news is that the more visible and authentic your personal brand is, the more of an impact you can make on others, and the more leverage it gives you personally. Here are five ways to build a personal brand that is focused on impact, not ego:
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR “WHY”
The best personal brands are built when an individual is focused on being the messenger, not the message. To do this well, you must have a clear impact that you want to make. Get clear on your message from the start because building a strong brand takes commitment.
2. CONDUCT AN ONLINE-BRAND AUDIT
Before you can focus on growing your brand, you must understand your foundation. Do you have a “brand name” you can own? If someone does find you, is what they find going to encourage them to take a next step with you, or cause them to question whether you are the right fit? This first impression is happening based on your online brand whether you like it or not, so you should be thoughtful about it.
3. BUILD AUTHORITY-BY-ASSOCIATION
Ideally, you want the visuals that make up your brand to say what you shouldn’t say about yourself. For instance, “She’s a credible thought leader with something to teach and not an operator with something to sell.” Make sure you are associating yourself with brands that your audience knows, trusts, and respects by going beyond stock photos or headshots. Be sure to highlight any media coverage you may have received, photos of you speaking, and other images that establish trust by putting you in a setting that builds credibility. Even if you don’t have a ton of media or speaking experience, you can showcase visuals that put you in a setting that connotes authority.
4. CREATE AN INTENTIONAL CONTENT STRATEGY
Most well-meaning people who try to build thought leadership end up focusing entirely on strictly professional content, which often results in slow growth. Instead, blend “you-driven” content (your perspective, pictures, and stories), news-driven content (timely content that connects to the headlines), and relationship-driven content (such as an interview series or podcast) with your professional content.
5. BE YOUR FULLEST SELF
In this age of ChatGPT, more content is getting created than ever before, so the only thing that will set you apart is you. Resist the urge to play some kind of role you think you need to play to be a thought leader, and instead be more of yourself by leaning into your personality, interests, and quirks. This will give real value to your audience. Who you are and what makes you different is ultimately the only reason why people will follow you instead of all the other choices out there.
Whether you like it or not, others are getting an image of you online, so be intentional about creating one that accelerates trust and is authentic to who you are. By doing so, you’ll create a bigger impact and avoid the ego-driven branding trap.
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