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Personal Branding – 4 Common misconceptions

„The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity, and accountability.“
Simon Mainwaring


The most common misconceptions about Personal Branding.

We‘ve all been there. Jumping on the fast train of false ideas about personal branding. About what it is, how it is done and what it can do for you. Or maybe not. So let’s play a game of myth-buster and de-mystify four of the greatest errors in what you might think of personal branding.

Isn’t personal branding this thing only show-offs do?

Recently I came across an article talking about what kids these days want to become. As a grown-up with a full paying job. Instead of fireman or doctor kids these days actually think of becoming the next big influencer. Influencer as in: A person that gets paid to promote brands and products online, mostly via their Social Media channels. Like Bibis Beauty Palace (is that the right name? I am not big on make-up-tutorials.) or one of the many Kardashians.

And on the other hand, I hear people say something like: Look at his or her Instagram feed. It’s all fake. Too much makeup, the followers are bought and look where she has been. So much envy and judgments. And it also takes personal branding down with the whole influencer hype. Because a lot of people put a well-curated Instagram feed on the same level as creating a personal brand. Sure thing: A well curated and cohesive Instagram feed has a lot to do with a clear personal brand.

But did you have an idea what this person had to do before they could present such a cohesive image to the world? Creating a personal brand is not for show-offs. It requires hard work, determination, planning and the willingness to show yourself to the world. There are probably some people out there that think about personal branding as the ultimate social media branding. As a means to a way to be seen. People who buy followers and hope to get an audience. Which might come across as „showing off“. When it is instead the innermost desire to be seen and heard.

So don’t let yourself be fooled by flashy pictures. Personal branding can help someone to make the showing off more consistent. But personal branding is for everyone who wants to get their message out. The big advantage of personal branding – no matter on which platform you are using it – it gives your brand image clear and sharp edges. It distinguishes you and your brand from all the other fishes in the pool. Even if you are selling the same product.

So don’t shy away from using personal branding as a marketing tool to refine and sharpen your brand messaging and perception. Here are four common misconceptions about personal branding that you might hang on to and that keep you from using it as an efficient tool.

I have a stunning product/services/idea so I don’t need to get personal.

This one is a classic. And it actually goes back to the idea of personal branding as a tool to get in touch and connect with your potential clients and customers.

Before I de-mystify the idea of „not getting personal“ I would like to recommend to you the very insightful book „Show your work“ by Austin Kleon. In his book, he writes about how creatives can use their creative process as a way to get in touch with their follower base.

It’s the idea of „being authentic“ instead of just showing a highlight reel. When you show your struggles and the time or process it takes to create something beautiful/useful/helpful for the world you let people inIt’s like with a really good love story: You keep people hooked on your creation story. Are you going to finish your work? How are you dealing with problems? What is the solution? Or as with all good love stories: Are these two (you and your creation) going to make it?

This is one part of why you should show more than your highlight reel. You want people to connect with you and your product. Unless you are into car salesman sales tactics. Then forget about this one. If you are up to find a loyal tribe that cheers for your brand and your products personal branding is the way to go. And it is a very powerful tool when it comes to product development or service design.

When I first heard about personal branding I strongly thought of „self-pr“. And there is a part of personal branding that is related or equal to self-pr. But what personal branding can also do for you: It can hook your audience. Not just because you are interesting or your product is great. You can make your clients and customers part of your product design process. Ask for their ideas. Ask for features they would like to have. Ask what they think of different product options.

It’s one part having an awesome focus group that helps you build a better product. It’s one part creating the product that people actually really want to have. And think back to the „invested in your story“-idea. When you involve people in your process it makes your product part of their mission. Think of your audience as a squad of brand ambassadors.

And that‘s the power of personal branding. If you take it a step further and use personal branding as a way to start a conversation and make things personal. If you want to read more on this, read up on this blog post.

But my company already has a strong brand.

First of all: Congrats. If you have a clear and distinguishable brand that is something to be proud of. But you know. It’s not just about simple branding. In the past, you needed a brand image and got a premium selling point. But today? New studies show that the era of brands is long gone.

Levi‘s is a great example of that. Levi‘s is still a clear and distinguished brand but – and that’s a problem – I know that less people buy Levi‘s to get their share on Levi’s brand image. Apple is a different kind of brand. For years they promoted their brand essence („being different and creative“) and people bought Apple products to show to the world their uniqueness (as in „I‘m different and don’t go with the mainstream“). But these days? I haven’t heard the Apple vs. Android phone discussion in quite some time.

A totally different kind of brand is Kim Kardashian. And although there are a lot of things she does that are just not my type of shoes (okay, I legit forgot the way the saying goes but I hope you get the picture), she is one of the best personal branders out there.

Why? Because she doesn’t stop at being a brand and has a name. What she (or rather her social media team) is doing is start a conversation. She offers connection points. She shows herself in a certain light, attracts her tribe and then connects with them. One of the smartest marketing things she does? She uses her brand to ask her audience what they are interested in (product-wise). And by that has the opportunity to create even better products. She takes her followers with her. And by that grows her brand perception.

So if you are already a brand: Don’t stop at „just“ standing for something. Make the next step. Don’t be afraid to connect with your audience. Get on all the lives (Instagram, Facebook), give something back, connect and communicate with people.

With the way, the world is right now marketing is no longer a two-week-one-way-street. It‘s not just connected. It’s interconnected. So get out there and let the communication go into both directions.

Personal branding is only important when you want to be big on Social Media.

I read the most amazing article on Medium some days ago. It was from a former police officer and all about „Things you should do instead of Social Media“. The reason why I opened this article was that I thought it was going to be about Social Media detox. Boy, have I been wrong.

The article is basically about „honing your skills“. In a nutshell: If you don’t have mastered your craft, it is not really important how many people follow you on Social Media. The article got me thinking. On the one hand, I realized that there was a lot of resistance insight of me. For me, Social Media is such an important part of my marketing mix. On the other hand when I read all these bad written sponsored posts that want to sell me another „please improve your life“-online courses I get really annoyed.

Annoyed as in: You expect me to take you seriously when you quite obviously didn’t do your homework. So, yeah it really is „get back into the real world“ and do your homework!

Which brings me back to the misconception of personal branding that I want to tackle here. For sure, personal branding can happen on Social Media. But that doesn’t mean that it has to happen on Social Media. Your personal brand doesn’t begin at your login to any Social Media medium. And it doesn‘t end when you shut down your computer.

Personal branding is a way of life. It is a way of you approaching your business and yourself. With the one question at the center: What do you stand for? Your personal brand should be aligned with your inner belief system and core values. Live, breathe and eat what you stand for. So no, personal branding is not just for people who like to hang out on Social Media.

It’s a way for you to show any potential clients what makes you and your business unique. And unless you are selling to robots, your potential clients are real humans. Made of flesh and bone. Out there in this real world. Where you can meet them. Without a smartphone or Social Media profile.

So make sure that you have your personal brand ready when you meet your next potential customer. No matter where it is happening. And start bringing your personal brand into the offline world. At a dinner event or while riding on the bus. Connect. Online and offline.

And a final bonus misconception: But I don’t need a brand. I am a simple employee.

I love this one. Why? Because I fell victim to this misconception for many, many, many years. After I graduated from university and when worked for several years at a big automobile corp I always thought my CV is the way to go. I never really thought of an active reputation management.

First of all, I always assumed that I needed a certificate for every quality I want to be hired for. And certificates I had. So what‘s the problem, people can read, can‘t they? Then I assumed that bosses are smart and capable and can detect what their employees can do. I mean, if I fix your problem once you can be sure I do it twice, right? Only after my long sabbatical and while reading Tom Peters book (here’s an article about the book) it occurred to me that I might need more than a simple CV for my next business steps.

Have you ever looked across the room and wondered why person X is well-known for this or that skill? Have you ever wanted to change careers, focused only on the hard skills and wondered why someone else got the job? Even if you might have been slightly more qualified?

It is simple as pie: The other person‘s personal brand was better.

Let’s recap what personal branding is:

  • You have a set of clear and distinguishable values
  • You have a set of clear and distinguishable skills (soft and hard skills)
  • You have found connection points and started a conversation (two-way street)
  • You are personable

And this can also work without Social Media and without owning a business. As an employee. Think about what you want to be known for at work. Then go out and talk with people about that. Got a new certificate? Don’t promote your boring piece of paper. Tell people why you needed to get that new skill. How does it help others? What fascinates you about that? You do voluntary work? Promote the cause and why. Here are some ideas what you can show to build your personal brand.

Go out and connect with people. Not on the superficial small talk level. On the personal branding level.

After years of working in the automobile sector Anna Christina Harms decided that she should stick to would she really loves: Educating, photographing and strategizing. She is now living in Berlin and supporting freelancers and SMEs with their personal branding and social media strategy.
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