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Personal branding is an unquestionably hot topic these days. If you explore the term “personal branding” on Google Trends, you will see a steep spike in the number of times it has been searched over the last 5 years. And yet, as much as we talk about personal branding, the concept remains enigmatic, with few of us able to actually explain what a personal brand is and how to build one. Advice abounds but is often more misleading than it is helpful.
Most personal branding advisors will tell you that the first step of personal brand building is creating content, usually on social media. You may have heard the advice of “Want to build a personal brand? Start posting on LinkedIn.” However, creating content should be the last step in the personal brand-building process.
If content creation isn’t step 1 of personal brand building, then what is it? Let’s start by looking at the definition of the term “personal brand,” proposed by academics in Europe and slightly adapted by our team at Brand of a Leader:
A personal brand is a set of your unique characteristics rendered into a differentiated narrative with the goal of establishing yourself as an expert, thought leader, or influencer in the minds of your target audience.
Whether you are creating content on LinkedIn, any other social media platform or entirely offline by writing books and giving talks, these are all self-marketing actions – things you do to occupy a space in the minds of your target audience. But before you aim to occupy that space, the first step is to figure out your:
- unique characteristics: core values, beliefs, personality, achievements and experiences
- differentiated narrative, a.k.a. your brand story (yes, you do have one, whether you believe it or not!) and your core content pillars
Step 2 is to create your unique positioning: a catchy statement or a unique concept you will own and will become associated with over time. Self-marketing is the last step in the process.
When you jump into content creation without figuring out what your personal brand is first, you inevitably hit a wall, either in form of writer’s block or in form of low engagement. This isn’t because you have nothing of value to say or because your audience isn’t interested — it simply is because you have adopted the “spray and pray” approach that is short-sighted and lacking in strategy.
Working with a personal branding agency helps facilitate the process and bring you value with step 2 of the process: developing your brand positioning. However, as helpful as this is for elevating your brand, you can skip this step entirely and DIY your brand by diving deep into the first step. If you do that, you will still be much further ahead in building your brand than all the people who pulled the content creation trigger without doing the pre-work.
Here is a shortlist you can use to guide your process of introspection. Remember to go deep, take the time to reflect on each, and look for patterns so that your brand positioning can emerge as a result:
- Lifeline — the highs and lows of your life with key lessons and takeaways
- Your WHY — both as an entrepreneur and specifically behind your desire to build a brand
- Core values — no, not the core values of your business; your core values!
- Brand descriptors — how would you like to be perceived and described
- Key personality traits
- Thought leaders you respect — to guide you in how you would like to be positioning yourself
- Target audience — not only prospective customers and employees, but also a group of people you would want to inspire
- Your core content pillars: topics you want to be associated with
As Jeroen de Flander famously said
You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.
What will be the direction of your personal brand?