I'll be honest. Every time I think, write or say the term personal brand I cringe a little inside.
The personal brand concept has been glorified online as something that provides us with a false sense of purpose. Anyone can have a personal brand. Having one doesn’t make you more or less important than someone else on your timeline.
We’re spending more and more time engaging and interacting with people online — sometimes exclusively. Because of this, I’ve seen people rush to create a logo for their ‘online selves’, just so they can feel accepted and perceived as credible.
However, a personal brand is not a logo. In fact, a logo is often the finishing touch — they cherry on top.
What defines a personal brand is so much more than a visual identity.
While preparing to write this article I asked on Twitter if anyone had a question relating creating a personal brand. Every question I received was in relation to social media platforms.
Should I be on multiple social media? Which social media is more important? How do I connect with people on social media?
While maintaining a personal brand on various social media accounts is important, it’s not the most important thing.
Let’s take a step back and first explore what having a personal brand actually means.
It’s not uncommon to assume that a personal brand is solely a visual identity (logo). We rush towards creating a logo before taking a moment to consider what our personal brand represents. While it may make sense for you to have a logo as part of your personal brand, it’s not what should come first (or what defines it).
A personal brand can survive and thrive without relying on a visual identity. There’s several successful entrepreneurs who have no or a very minimal visual identity, yet maintain a very strong personal brand. Their personal brand is carried through not in their visuals, but in their voice.
So if a personal brand isn’t visual — what is it? For me, my personal brand currently lies in my values, goals and beliefs. By defining these, my personal brand carries through in the way I write, how I present myself and interact with others, the type of content I produce and my process.
A personal brand is a combination of your beliefs and how you present or communicate yourself to the world.
Should you have a personal brand?
To answer the question burning in your mind — yes it does pay to have a personal brand if you’re building an audience or creating consistent content.
Though if your perception of a personal brand is purely visual, it’s time to change that thinking. Diving head-first into creating a visual identity for yourself is likely to be a distraction from uncovering or delivering your main message.
First, it’s important have a solid understanding and foundation of your unique voice, mission and beliefs. These are what make up your personal brand — not a logo or shiny set of icons — you!
Without defining who you are and what you stand for, you’ll be floating in the dark.
When developing your personal brand, it’s worth keeping an open mind. Your personal brand isn’t concrete or finite. It’s not something that going to be printed on your tombstone or painted somewhere permanently forever.
Your personal brand can (and will) develop naturally over time. As you grow, experiment and change, so will your personal brand — because it’s personal to you, not to the things you create.
“Strive to maintain a personal brand, instead of a subject-based brand; that way, even if you deviate, you’ve created an audience that follows you.”
– Nathan Barry in episode 13 of his podcast
Always be open to iteration. You may need to refine or polish your personal brand over time. Don’t be quick to silence those opportunities to make small changes and improvements.
How to start developing your personal brand
It’s not uncommon get excited about the prospect of creating a personal brand and jump straight into visual design.
It’s easy to think you need a logo in order to define your personal brand, but a logo shouldn’t define you and your brand. You, the voice behind the brand should.
Too often I see people start with a logo only to have to change it soon after because they pivot early or uncover new things about themselves and their brand. So instead of rushing in to developing a visual identity for yourself, here’s a better place to start:
Do the work
Before you can create a personal brand for yourself, it pays to have some knowledge, confidence and opinion about the field that you’re in. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert yet. But what’s your experience?
If you want to start making videos on YouTube, the first step isn’t to create a brand for it. Start by brainstorming some content ideas, do a test run, practice editing… do the work to see if you actually enjoy it and have something of value to share.
Define your Why
Like Simon Sinek says, start with Why. Why are you doing this? Is it to earn a secondary (or primary) income, do you want to help others, or is it both?
What’s the reason you’re doing this that will keep you showing up consistently over time? We all have different motives, so it’s important to understand yours. Know your mission and live & breathe it daily.
It’s in the name. A personal brand is personal and unique to you. It’s not based on the category of content you create or the platform you’re creating it on.
Having a strong and well-defined personal brand sets you apart from the competition and keeps people coming back for more. Embrace being you! What unique story do you have to tell? How can you build on your personal experiences?
What value do you have to give?
You first need to know and understand who you are and what you stand for. How much value can you provide for others? Focus on teaching , sharing and connecting. The visual branding can always come later. People stick around because they value what you have to share or give, not because you have a pretty brand.
What sets you apart from your competitors. It’s likely that you’re not going to be the only one in this space, so how can you leverage your unique experiences or views, in order to stand out?
Who is your audience?
Who is it that you want to help? You don’t have to define your niche (yet), but it’s good to think about who you’re targeting. What are they struggling with? Where do they spend their time? What do they enjoy doing?
If you don’t understand the people you’re speaking to, it’s going to be difficult to connect with them. By being authentic and producing consistently, people will take notice of you and associate you with your chosen expertise.
Focus on growing — both an audience and yourself. Build an audience that comes back over and over again because they value your expertise and opinion. Over time, you’ll be able to build deep connections with your audience. They’ll come back because they value you, not your brand.