When I first heard about building a personal brand years ago, I thought it meant acquiring a certain amount of website traffic, email subscribers and reaching a revenue goal.
I’ll make it when I get a million Twitter followers or build up an email list of a hundred thousand subscribers, right?!
I didn’t know how wrong I was until I worked with a social media agency. We were tasked with building the profiles of some B2B influencers. I tracked the follower count each week in a spreadsheet and thought we were progressing.
An account manager told me, “Bryan, it’s nice to have a sizeable Twitter following, but these stats are vanity metrics. Engagement is what matters.”
Examples of common digital marketing vanity metrics include:
- Total Twitter account followers
- Facebook page fans
- Website visitors last week, month or year
- Subscribers to an email list
- Likes or hearts for a recent Facebook or Instagram post
- Video videos
- Acquiring “influencer” status
Vanity metrics are surface deep. Building a personal brand is key to generating meaningful audience engagement and revenue for your business. As a content creator, serving your audience and getting paid is the ideal end goal.
You can do it by building a brand around your expertise or worldview. Or you can build a business brand within your industry.
Building a Personal Brand
New content creators are sometimes reluctant to put themselves forward as thought leaders about a particular topic, much less sharing their life stories. Pamela Wilson is the founder of Big Brand System and the VP of Education for Copyblogger. She said:
"You have to share a little bit more about you with the people you’re trying to reach."
A reluctant new content creator could curate and create content around a handful of topics that support their overarching message, rather than sharing everything they do online.
Wilson uses the example of a client from the healthcare industry who is a sleep expert. She suggests this content creator use finding the right bed as one of her themes.
"Every time she travels, she can talk about the bed at this hotel or sleeping on an airline," she said.
Wilson recommends creating content around four or five key themes relevant to your expertise and your audience's interests. These topics inform the content of your blog or podcast, what you send your email list and topics you address on other people's podcasts. She said:
“You may start with only three or four categories that you know for sure you want to talk about in your content. As your business grows and as you get to know your audience better, you may see another category developing."
A content creator who wants to build a personal brand doesn't need to invest thousands of dollars in a fancy look or premium website.
"If you’re trying to show up as yourself, you could actually be doing a disservice to yourself if you create a logo because the logo is more associated with a business brand," said Wilson.
"Find a font and type your name out in that font. That is all you have to do to start."
A good example of a successful personal brand is Darius Faroux. He's built a popular brand based on his name and area of expertise.
Faroux describes himself as an "entrepreneur, author, and investor" who helps his readers with productivity, wealth building and careers.
The Merits of a Personal Branding Strategy
Building a personal can help you land a book deal, engage in public speaking gigs or become known as an expert in your industry. People are more likely to trust a personal brand faster versus a business or corporate brand.
However, building a personal brand is hard work. It takes many months to gain momentum, and it can become confining. Perhaps you get bored of creating content about sleep? You can't become known as a crypto guy, the running girl, the health and fitness dude, the drinks enthusiasts, and the life hacking aficionado nut too. Too many brands are confusing for your audience and overwhelming for a target audience. Plus, who has the time to become an expert in so many different topics?
It's also more difficult to sell a website or online business built around a personal brand down the road. While your content strategy may evolve, building a personal brand is usually a long-term strategy.
Building a Business Brand
The second option is to build a business around a topic, concept or company name. Wilson explains,
“A business brand is more like a company that has a name, and you are promoting that name.”
If you follow this approach, you can set up a website, podcast or YouTube channel about sleep, weight training or cryptocurrency and name it after the topic or the audience's pain points. You can expand more easily with a team, produce a range of products and services and even build up a brand that you’ll later sell.
A content publisher, for example, can set up a website in the health and fitness, food and drinks and online marketing niches. Although not the face of these websites, they can allocate resources from behind the scenes, hire other bloggers, writers and even podcasters. The website publisher sets a branding strategy, while others execute on it.
For example, consider Lifehacker, one of the world's biggest productivity, technology and lifehacking websites. It's known more for the name rather than the work of a single content creator.
Lifehacker employs many different writers as readers have an affinity with the brand and not just a single content creator. Writers creators come and go, but the brand remains.
That said, Wilson caveats that you can still put yourself forward at the front of a business brand. "In my case, I chose Big Brand System; I have a site that is not named for me; it’s named for the thing that I want to offer people.”
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is another example of the face of a business brand, with a visible team behind him.
The Merits of a Business Branding Strategy
A business brand is a good choice if you're comfortable building out a content strategy others execute on, or your brand can compete against other business brands.
For example, a website owner can map out a content strategy for their health and fitness site and commission freelance writers and other experts to create the content. They can find success even if they're not an expert in health and fitness themselves.
It's also easier to sell or pivot the direction of a business brand as the audience doesn't have a direct relationship with the owner or associate them with the topics on the website, channel or platform.
Without name recognition, you'll need more money and time to build a business brand. People tend to associate more with names and faces rather than a brand. You'll need the help of a team too.
Years ago, I wanted to create the Irish version of Lifehacker. That was a big mistake. Lifehacker is one of the website's most prominent technology, life-hacking and productivity blogs. I launched an old website called WorkReadPlay. I wrote and published articles about Excel hacks, tips and tricks. Nerdy right?
After a few months, some of my articles ranked and attract website traffic. I received comments from readers asking for more. But I faced a big problem.
I was bored with the topic. Excel, much as I enjoy a good spreadsheet, doesn't fire me up at 09.00. I tried expanding into other technology and software tips.
It was all but impossible for a broke, lone Irish content creator to compete with the resources behind a big business brand. I closed down my site and thought about what to do next.
Finally, I pivoted to building a personal brand about the one thing I knew a bit about: writing. I created this content much easier and faster because I'm passionate about writing. My bookshelf is packed full of books on the topic.
What's more, this niche is less competitive. And it involves publishing content that doesn't date, unlike, say, reviews of the latest Apple tech.
More recently, I created several websites branded around a topic rather than my name. But that's only because my personal brand website generates a monthly income, and I can enlist the help of other experts within these niches.
Now, let’s cover how to develop your branding strategy.
Identify Your Target Audience
After deciding on a personal or business brand, craft a positioning statement. This document identifies your target audience and focuses your personal branding strategy on their needs.
It explains who you are, where your skills lie, and how you help others. It also informs what you say on your website, social media platforms, and even in videos and articles. On a single page, ask and answer these four questions:
- Who am I/what does my business stand for? Elaborate on your backstory or your business's values.
- Who do I serve? There’s a big difference between an aspiring entrepreneur in their early twenties and somebody in the middle of their career.
- What do I not serve? This question can help you differentiate your business or brand from competitors.
- What does my audience hope, fear, dream, and aspire to become? Interview, survey and speak to your followers and prospects.
- What can I/my business offer my audience? Focus on your strengths and what you excel at.
These are difficult questions to answer, and your document will evolve. Ultimately, the goal is to get to a single statement: “I/We help X achieve Y.”
You don’t need to beat other content creators to a particular niche, either. Instead, pivot a positioning statement around your worldview or experience. Find a new mechanism or way of communicating your value to the market.
For example, when thriller author James Patterson was about to release Along Came a Spider, he faced serious competition from Silence of the Lambs. So, he came up with this tagline:
“You can stop waiting for the next Silence of the Lambs.”
Build Your Brand Through Content Marketing
Content marketing is an inexpensive and effective way to grow a following and attract more clients or customers.
After identifying your ideal audience, create and publish content regularly that elaborates on their problems. In this content, present possible solutions framed around your expertise and worldview. This involves:
- Writing and blogging regularly on your website(s)
- Repurposing articles for other relevant channels like LinkedIn and Medium
- Posting native content regularly on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or wherever your ideal audience spends time
- Launching and publish podcast interviews with other experts
- Developing relationships with loyal followers through email marketing
A good marketer identifies four or five themes related to their audience’s needs. Typically, they can harness a competitive advantage when creating content related to these themes because of their expertise, work experience, education or worldview. Wilson uses the examples of an expert in sleep.
They could identify travel and hotel beds as two topics to create content about. When travelling, they could create and publish content on their site and social media platforms about these topics. Wilson said:
“It’s a matter of figuring out what are my themes going to be and how can I talk about those, both in my content marketing and also in my social media presence? If I’m a guest on a podcast, for example, how can I weave that theme in and talk about it?”
Four to five themes serve as a happy middle ground between range and focus for a new content marketer while avoiding confusion for your audience. Then, you can build a content calendar for the coming quarter, deciding what to publish, where and when. Popular content types include:
- How to
- Reasons why
- Timely events
“If you have an e-mail list and you’re emailing your list, you’re talking about those themes there. If you’re a guest, you’re talking about those themes there. When it comes to content on your site, you can talk about those themes too,” said Wilson.
Expand Your Online Presence
Whatever your channel or medium of choice, create a website that represents your home base. For a personal brand, use your name and a .com, if possible. For a business brand, search for a relevant domain name specific to your niche or industry.
Set up an email list and create an opt-in page for your list. Give something away for free, so your ideal audience has a reason to hand over their contact details. It could be a free report, a mini-course, or a video.
You can attract traffic to a landing page or website by writing guest posts for other sites, blogging on Medium, taking part in podcast interviews or through social media–all proven content marketing strategies. After attracting clients or fans, acquire testimonials and publish them on your site to grow credibility.
Remember, an effective content marketer concentrates focuses on one or two distribution channels (podcasting, blogging etc.). This approach helps avoid overwhelm. Creating SEO optimized articles requires a different skillset to recording a podcast or growing a following on Instagram.
Although social media followers are nice, you don’t own a social media page, profile or even that relationship. Ask any business that watched Facebook page reach plummet from 2014 onward. Most savvy thought leaders build a brand on social media platforms, but they ask readers, followers and fans to visit their website or join an email list.
Review Your Performance
While it’s fine to demonstrate credibility, a hundred Instagram hearts don’t always translate into revenue. And website visitors can land on a site and leave immediately. When I asked that account manager what engagement meant, he explained:
“Do they comment on a video or article after watching it? How many of those will join an email list? And will they take out their credit card to buy a product or service?”
So, when reviewing your branding efforts, consider:
- How many Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook followers replied or commented on your posts
- What percentage of new website visitors opted in to your email list
- How many email subscribers opened an email over the past 90 days and clicked a link
- What percentage of fans, followers and subscribers converted by buying a product or service
Once your content marketing strategy gains traction, try other distribution channels, like launching a YouTube channel. You can also expand into other themes and reach out to different audiences, all under the umbrella of your personal brand.
Need more advice? Check out my social media marketing for beginners article.
Personal Branding Takeaway
Many so-called influencers and thought leaders laud their subscriber count, website traffic, or earnings. They boast about their achievements on their social media profiles or website.
But all the likes and hearts in the world won’t pay the rent. The biggest and most successful thought leaders put their audience’s needs first as part of their personal branding strategy.
Personal Branding Tips
- Avoid spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy logo by sourcing one on Fiverr or using a service like Logomaker. It'll cost you less than $50. Your time and resources are better spent on creating content rather than on fancy branding techniques from the corporate world.
- If building a strong personal brand, separate personal and business contact details. Use a post box or virtual address for software and for contact details on your websites or digital properties. It'll protect your privacy and help if you sell some of your business later.
What is the difference between personal branding strategy and professional branding strategy?
A personal branding strategy is built around an individual, their worldview and expertise. A professional branding strategy is built by a business within an industry about a topic or concept.
How do I brand myself personally?
Build a website in your name. Pick topics you know a lot about. Create content frequently and publish it on relevant social media platforms or channels where your ideal audience or prospects spend time. Ask some of them to visit your site and join an email list. Don’t worry about expensive logos.