Personal Branding 101: The Stuff of Champions

September 4, 2016

As the college football season starts in earnest this weeked, the B2B Beat turns to guest poster Katherine Lisciani, Fournder of Millennovation Media, who uses Tim Tebow as a starting point to explore the concept of personal brand.

I feel bad for what I’m about to say. I feel bad because Tim Tebow is a really nice guy. Despite that, my feelings for Tim will forever be overshadowed by the image of him weeping into his eye black, which immediately pops into my head at the mere mention of Florida, the Gators, or Tebow’s name (whether he’s mentioned as a football player or even now as an aspiring baseball player).

On December 6, 2009, the Florida Gators surrendered the SEC East Title, and their shot at ending the season with a National Championship, to The University of Alabama. Tebow cried. For me, even as an Alabama fan and maybe even especially as an Alabama fan, that moment is an indelible part of the Tim Tebow brand.

When we think about branding, it is most often in the context of a company or product; but, have you ever thought about brand in the context of your favorite sports heroes, athletic team, or even yourself? Whether you have or you have not, like Tim Tebow, your personal brand is already being shaped and formed as you interact with the digital and physical worlds around you.

No matter your arena, or the audience who crams into the bleachers just to watch you perform, we can all benefit from identifying the standout qualities and characteristics that make us the right person for that big championship title, leadership opportunity, new client, or job. Here’s my method for building your personal, or “hero,” brand.

1. Zeroes are Cultivated, Heroes are Defined

One of my favorite marketing podcasts is PNR: This Old Marketing hosted by two of my personal marketing heroes Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose. Each PNR episode ends with a segment entitled “rant or rave”, in which Pulizzi and Rose share something they saw or read in the past week, and they either rant about the boneheadedness of the article or rave over its brilliance. Recently, Rose ranted over a Psychology Today article, which insensibly dismissed the importance of building your personal brand. In fact, the author downright opposes the idea.

Strong brands are by definition limiting. Weak brands are less so. For example, if I ask you to pick me up some Head & Shoulders at the store, you know what I want. But if I ask you to pick up some Suave shampoo, you still don’t know which kind of Suave shampoo to buy. If you develop a strong personal brand, you’re limiting yourself. If you develop a weak personal brand, what’s the point, and why bother? — Dale Hartley, Stop Trying to Build Your "Personal Brand", published by Psychology Today

As you can see, the author contends that developing a strong personal brand will actually limit a young person’s opportunities. That’s a statement with which I must respectfully, but boldly disagree.

Mobile, digital and TV screens are our new portal to human connection and life. For many people, especially upcoming Millennials and Gen-Z-ers, the on-screen engagements are the only interactions informing their perceptions of you. And, if there is one thing Psych 101 and a career in marketing has taught me it’s that perception is reality. Your brand is not something you want decided by the world around you. Just as a game is not really a game, a Tweet, Facebook post, blog article, or photograph can become a powerful representation of “who” you are and “what” you represent. So it is important to define yourself before the world defines you, for you.

Define yourself. When you let other people do it, they just mess it up. — Copyblogger

2. Heroes Impact Us Personally and Shape our Lives

During my time at the University of Alabama, Tebow wasn’t the first man I saw shed some tears for the love of the game. On more than one occasion, I had no choice but to leave an unconsolable gameday date in an emptied stadium sobbing tears into an overflowing souvenir cup after a rare Alabama loss. What force is this that can overcome a usually rational man and turn him into a tormented fan, devastated by a game lost by a team full of players he’s never met?

Branding. Yes, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your fans are hooked on the brand. They’re standing in front of the TV praying that a game-winning field goal attempt splits the uprights, because all branding is personal. Brands are not defined by markets or by companies. They are emotional constructs defined by complex individuals. Thinking about branding in the context of solely companies or industry limits our understanding of the intricate nature of what makes a brand and why, or how, audiences relate to them.

This is especially evident in the context of our favorite athletes and sports teams. Companies like ESPN, Nike, and your favorite football team all know it, and they hinge their marketing strategies on it too. So, first and foremost, your personal brand must begin with the authentic, unique, and aspirational YOU.

The best personal brands are genuine and honest both in person and online. — The LinkedIn Millennial Playbook

3. Heroes Don’t Aim to Be Better, They Aim to Be Different

Building a recognizable personal brand is less about identifying what your achievements say about you, and more about identifying the audience you want to reach and why. Rose calls this your aspirational brand—also known as taking an active role in shaping and professing who it is that you want to be to the digital world.

Who is your target audience? Is it your boss? Your peers? Future generations? I can’t tell you what audience to target, but the best thing you can do to find them is work very intentionally at identifying the things that make you uniquely and authentically who it is that you are becoming and already are.

I’ll be the first to admit, I absolutely loathe writing about myself. But if you want to build your personal brand, creating content and telling your authentic story is something you absolutely have to learn how to do. Remember, branding is personal. People are drawn to the real authentic stories and experiences they can share and relate to. Often, when thinking about my personal brand I call upon the wisdom of another one of my marketing heroes, Jason Miller, whose wise words speak perfectly to the value of authenticity in your personal brand.

If you can inject your personality into what you do and the message you share you’ll be one step ahead in the content marketing game. You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t be trying to in the first place… I wear my heart on my sleeve and never pretend to be someone I’m not. That’s the best advice I can give to anyone, regardless of who they are or where they’re going. — Jason Miller, Welcome to the Funnel

A painless way to start is by asking yourself a few simple questions. Answer the following and leverage the answers to pull out the differentiators in your personal brand that set you apart from the guy/gal standing next to you:

  1. What are your values?
  2. What are your greatest passions? (both professionally and personally)
  3. How do you prioritize your values and passions in life and work?
  4. What do you think are your strongest personality traits? What do your friends and family say they are?
  5. What unique experiences have you had that have helped shape your unique perspective?

PRO TIP: Check out the Five Factor Model (aka big five) for greater insight on personality analysis and theory.

Now, before you go getting all carried away and clicking on some other article, here’s what you need to remember: Your journey through life tells a story about you, whether you author it or not. Define who you are and who you’re going to become before your digital footprint dictates who the rest of the world believes you are.

Many companies these days are building their brands on LinkedIn with Sponsored Content. Download this guide, Laser Focus: 10 Ways to Optimize Your LinkedIn Sponsored Content today.

Photo: Rudi Riet