Building Your Personal Brand

Personal Branding: How To Create A Powerful, Memorable YOU

Personal branding has seen a lot of attention lately. For good reason. It’s a great way to set yourself apart and communicate your value. It’s self-marketing.

While it’s extremely important, the articles I see zinging through social media and showing up in newsletters are super tactical. It’s the how without focusing on the what or the why

… like learning different cures for headaches (e.g., Tylenol, Advil) before thinking about what might be causing it (e.g., caffeine withdrawal, hangover, tumor).

The tactic might help, but it’s haphazard. Unfocused.

Why depend on luck for communicating your value?

(Not that you need to stay paralyzed with analysis before anything. The fundamentals are frequently simple. That’s why they’re so easy to overlook.)

Personal Branding Fundamentals: Focus On The Important

While preparing for my second (unexpected) speaking gig about personal branding this year, I’ve really had to narrow down it down to the most important parts.

My first talk in July was an hour. I spoke fast to leave time for questions. And that was tough. I wanted to give a comprehensive view of the fundamental strategies.

My upcoming second talk is just thirty minutes.

More condensing — eek!

After a lot of thought, here are the four core elements I think are most crucial:

  1. vision
  2. market
  3. differentiators
  4. communication

We’ll cover these items linearly, but you’ll see that you’ll actually end up moving back and forth.

For example, after you better define your differentiators and ways to communicate your brand, you’ll modify ways to reach your vision.

Your Brand Vision

You have to begin with the end in mind.

Brand Vision: Where do you want to be?What’s the point? What do you want to do? Are you inspired by anything?
This affects everything down the line.


  • To be the first Philosophy major in a senior finance position within a technology company
  • To be the most sought after marketing campaign manager in the travel industry

Branding is like any goal. It needs to be measurable, and you need to know if you’re doing a good job or not.

So you need to:

  • Set a time frame
  • Have a measurable goal
  • Put metrics behind it

How will you reach the brand vision?

After you get the WHAT you need the HOW.

Go from the noun to the verbs. Bridge the two ideals.

Create some strategies to help you get there. Think through some ways you can achieve your goal.

  • Examples I’ve seen:
    • Refresh bio and “about me” sections on web sites and social media domains
    • Establish brand online with content marketing using key messages and tone that reflects brand personality (blogging, speaking up in forums like Reddit, Quora, etc.)
    • Schedule lunch with an executive every month

Then, put metrics behind it so you know if you’ve crossed the bridge and what to do next.

How will you know you’ve reached the brand vision?

Create metrics where you can judge yourself.

  • Examples:
    • Increased hits on social media domains
    • More questions from colleagues about your area of expertise. “How do you do ___.” “Can you give me advice about ____.”
    • Climb in SERPs for targeted keywords

At least create “soft” metrics, like “greater confidence meeting with executives.”

Maybe now you rate yourself as a 2 on a 1 to 10 scale and you’d like to be a 7 by next year.

Your Market

To stand out, you have to know what you’re standing out from.

A finance guy can’t say he’s different because he likes numbers and wears blue, button-up shirts.

Research the following:

  • Overall market — know the industry (e.g., pet products)
  • Niche market — the particular corner of the industry you’re focused on (e.g., pet jewelry, like the Twinkle Tush.)
  • Target “clients” — people you’ll work with, potential hiring managers, etc.

Twin Peaks branding memo leakThe recent-ish Twin Peaks biker gang fight in Waco got a lot of attention. Around the same time there was an internal memo branding leak that got covered up in the noise.

The memo got a lot of negative press, but I thought they did a great job. Twin Peaks defined their market as, “adventurous, sports-minded, work hard/play hard, guys-guys who deserve better food, colder beer and love to have their ego stroked by beautiful girls.”

(By the way, Twin Peaks defined their brand vision like this: “ Daring to create an adventure guys can’t live without.”)

Differentiating Yourself

Only now are we beginning to approach anything that looks like the personal branding you read about on blogs.

Before you look at what makes you different, you need to define who you are and how that helps the people you want to get in front of.
Brand Differentiation - Standing Out
Here’s how you do that.

#1) The first step is to look at what makes you, you. List features about yourself.

Ex: analytical, have a lot of experience marketing breastaurants

#2) Step two is connecting that feature to how it actually helps your target client.

Ask “so what?”

Why would a hiring manager — or anyone — care that I’m analytical?

“I’m analytical, so that means I can give you confidence that you’re making the right decision with data to back it up .”


I have a lot of experience marketing breastaurants
… so I can give you a clear picture of where your strategic decisions are taking you (because I’ve seen it before ), and can show you where risk can be reduced, profits maximized and losses minimized.

See how much more powerful that is than just saying you’re goal-oriented?

This is an important step . It connects who you are to how it helps your target audience.

Using this trick in interviews is extremely powerful. (Don’t be that guy that describes himself as “goal-oriented.”)

Also use it for your LinkedIn profile. Or anything you want to promote. This is good marketing. It’s a major step in writing things that sell or persuade.

So connect the dots.

Don’t just flop it out there and expect someone to massage into something usable. Warm it up and make it impressive.

(Are we still talking about personal branding?)

#3) Step three is to make a note of what you do or have that makes you different.

You know where you want to go. You know the competition. You know what your target clients are looking for (and used to seeing).

How are you different? Lead with what’s different.

What can only you do? It can be based on any number of things. Here are some examples:

  • Geographical focus
  • Service offerings
  • Needs addressed/value delivered
  • Targeted clients or segments
  • Experience of working with you (personality)
  • How you do things (mechanism, anything proprietary)

I do a lot of consulting for real estate agents.

What happens if you ask a real estate person what makes them different?

“I’m a people person!”


But… “I grew up in family of where Mom and Dad both worked in real estate, then spent years flipping houses for investors.” Yes. Now we’re getting somewhere.

For this step, it helps to get an outside opinion.

Frequently you’ll overlook some of the things that make you unique because it’s you, so you don’t notice it as much.

Ask people…

  • What do you think I’m good at?
  • What do you count on me for?
  • What kind of things make me seem happiest?

Ask, email, create a survey. Tell them you’re doing a research project.

Granted, it feels a little weird to ask friends these questions. But you can learn a lot.

Communicating Your Personal Brand

Now that you’ve done such great work defining yourself and how you’re a special snowflake, how do you communicate it?

First, define your personality.

There’s no right or wrong. It just sets the tone for everything you do. It gives you a filter.

This will affect how you dress, tweet, email, talk, etc.

Think about the “personality” of some major brands:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Red Bull

Now think about your personality.

We’re all different animals on Monday morning and Friday night. What’s the best, truest version of you that you’d like to present to the world?


  • Passionate
  • Professional
  • Flexible

Second, come up with some key messages

This isn’t as corporate as it sounds.

Repetition helps people remember and believe

People rate statements that have been repeated just once as more valid or true than things they’ve heard for the first time. They even rate statements as truer when the person saying them has been repeatedly lying ( Begg et al., 1992).

And when we think something is more true, we also tend to be more persuaded by it. Several studies have shown that people are more swayed when they hear statements of opinion and persuasive messages more than once. (

Come up with four to six sentences you’ll use over and over.

This could be in your bio. Or the signature of your email or forums you participate in. If you’re the kind of person who uses catchphrases, there’s another idea. (I’m not judging.)

I have some real estate agents I’ve worked with who have some great key messages:

  • You deserve to know what’s going on and be comfortable asking questions.
  • The only decision you’ll have to make is if it feels like home.

The first one is in marketing materials to target people who are first-time homebuyers and are intimidated by the process. Or anyone who is confused and doesn’t want to feel stupid asking lots of questions. (Notice how much more powerful this is than just claiming to be a people person.)

The second key message is targeted to people who don’t want to look at a hundred options. They want to share their vision and let the real estate professional do the heavy lifting.

Both are extremely effective.

Just make sure that your key messages reflect your brand personality and show how you’re benefiting your target market.
(Remember those benefits we created? Connect the dots for people.)

Bonus tip: A lot of what people think about you comes from how OTHER PEOPLE talk about you.

So use these key messages in references and testimonials — or take them from how you hear people talk about you.

You can “encourage” people to talk about the things that set you apart (differentiators, particular features) that you defined earlier.

For example:

  • Communication (feature/differentiator)
    • “He explained everything at every step of the home-buying process.”
  • Going the extra mile (feature/differentiator)
    • “I can’t believe how much time he spent helping me find a home that perfectly fits my needs.”
    • “She climbed onto a chair in heels to help me remove glow-in-the-dark stars from my son’s bedroom ceiling so we’d be ready for the open house.”

Third, think about your image

People WILL judge you based on how you dress and present yourself.

That’s just how the world works. Use it to your advantage.

How you talk to people. Your mannerisms. Your profile pictures.
… it’s all part of your image. Control it.

Finally, all these things tie into your brand promise

Your brand promise is a phrase that embodies all of these concepts.

It’s a tidy way of tying everything together and keeping it in mind…

… kind of like a professional summary on a resume or LinkedIn.

It’s difficult to distill this into a single phrase because it requires you to have absolute clarity about who you are, who you’re talking to and how you want to present yourself.

Until you know this, you can’t articulate it.

Let’s look at Twin Peaks again as an example.

To [target market], Twin Peaks is the ultimate sports lodge that feeds their ego with the attention they crave.

Here’s a real estate example:
Working with Joe is an enjoyable experience that gives you confidence that you’re getting a great house from a trustworthy partner.

Here’s one from yours truly:
I’m a positive, friendly person who improves companies and people’s lives by teaching how to articulate what you want and communicate it as effectively as possible

Make sure you filter your brand promise through your personality and benefits.

It’s really more for your use than saying directly. Make it meaningful to you as a concise reference about who you are, what you stand for, who you help, and how you help them.

Your Personal Brand Is a Journey

journey01When I gave an extended version of this talk in July, I realized I hadn’t updated my own LinkedIn profile with the current job I have.

My headshot is frankly horrible. Four years ago, a videographer from my last company was testing the light and settings on his camera. He pointed the camera at me. I always smile in pictures, so I let loose a big grin. Wham! That’s my headshot.

But the point is this: normally people point at those things and talk about how important they are.

They’re tactics for personal branding. They’re the cherry on the top of the sundae.

They’re easy to focus on. The real substance takes thought. Thinking is work. So people ignore it and talk about LinkedIn tricks.

Don’t listen to those people.

It’s like stressing over what pair of socks you’ll wear on your third date with a supermodel when you’re sitting at home in your underwear on a Friday night swiping left on Tender.

It feels productive, but isn’t. #MentalMasturbation

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