Nobody likes a braggart. But everyone likes to feel that they stand for something. Small wonder, then, that in the 21st century, personal branding--the art of packaging and presenting yourself or your company as corporate giants like Reebok and Pepsi would products--has become so vital to both career and business development.
Credit tectonic shifts in both cultural norms and commercial realities: In a faster-paced, increasingly visually driven world where attention spans are shrinking, more parties are competing for less, and out of sight is out of mind, let's be frank. Immediate and sustained visibility isn't just crucial to making sure you stand out from the white noise, let alone rivals competing for the same limited pool of dollars and resources. It also, for better or worse, increasingly defines public perception of who you are and what values you and your business represent.
Call it self-aggrandizing if you like. Label it indicative of a decline in social values if you wish. But make no bones about it. People tend to make snap judgments based on what they see at first glance (you know what they say about first impressions), and basic marketing principles still revolve around frequency and reach. Therefore, it's essential that if you want to be viewed a certain way, you not only need to project the corresponding image at a glance, but you must also grab the reins and take control of your own fate, rather than letting others arbitrarily define you or your enterprise.
Looking to instantly boost your business, establish yourself as a subject matter expert or simply generate widespread awareness for your particular passion, field or cause? Here are five simple strategies that individuals and organizations alike can use to instantly set themselves apart from the pack.
- Craft a Compelling Pitch--The first rule of personal branding: You need to be able to clearly define yourself, and sum up precisely what it is you and your business do, in 30 seconds or less (also known as the fabled "elevator pitch"). When in doubt, make a simple matrix of the skills you feel you or your business excel at, and the personal qualities and values you're most proud of. Then create a powerful and truthful description that best connects the dots. Ask yourself: How do I see myself? Are you a "web design guru," "leader in forensic accounting," or "top data warehousing solutions provider?" Because that's how most others will summarize you mentally--as a short, descriptive tag that's lumped into a single grouping. To this extent, your pitch needs to be brief, to the point, and ensure that--as time-strapped individuals are wont to do--when you're quickly shunted into a specific mental category, it's the one that best matches your experience. That way, when the person in question has a need for a specific service, they know exactly whom to call. Pro tip: Rather than vying for attention in an area that's saturated with rivals, instead strike where the competition isn't, and pick a niche that's clearly being underserved. That way, your voice won't just ring out louder--its echoes will also travel further.
- Take Control of Your Image--It can't be stressed enough: Search engine marketing cannot be ignored. From prospective clients and business partners to job recruiters and candidates, countless professionals (all increasingly strapped for time and bandwidth) are turning to services like Google and Bing to research specific topics, service providers and potential hires in ever-growing numbers. Therefore, it's imperative that you tap into the power of these platforms to build brand awareness and reinforce the message you're trying to convey. As a starter exercise, try inputting your name or your business's name in Google, and see what comes up. It's vital that the majority of results that appear--especially the first ones that pop up, as they're the likeliest to be clicked on--be those you want, and that all speak to the same clear message. To this extent, you should not only own a website with your personal name as the domain (www.johnsmith.com) or a simple variation thereof (www.johnjaysmith.com); you should also have profiles on all major social networking services (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.) under the same name. Also, keep in mind that virtually everything you say or do online is publicly visible and tends to linger. So always think twice before you post something dubious or upload pictures from last night's party to your Facebook profile. If it's not something you'd feel comfortable sharing in front of co-workers or clients at the office, it's not something you should be projecting into cyberspace.
- Make Your Point Heard--Many hesitate to speak up for fear of criticism or ridicule. But that's exactly the dilemma in an era where so many are competing for so little--it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Keep in mind that at its heart, personal branding is about establishing yourself or your business as a subject matter expert that brings unique, indispensable services to the table, not just being another faceless cog in the wheel. You need to create platforms (blogs, podcasts, self-published books/magazines, online video channels, etc.) that can help broadcast your views to as many members of a specific audience as possible and galvanize support and community input around them. All of these vehicles should also be stamped with your signature name, logo, imagery and overall sensibilities. Once built, it pays to pump out content through them that illustrates your expertise as religiously as possible, whether via articles, surveys, opinions, research reports or topical analysis. Countless platforms exist to help spread the word and grow your readership or viewing audience as well, from Facebook and Twitter accounts to LinkedIn groups and custom-built, Ning-powered social networks. Alternately, you can always blog for popular outlets, submit bylined articles to trade magazines in exchange for a picture and bio, or participate as a speaker at trade events. Along the same lines, don't hesitate to share content with or send updates to fellow subject matter experts who can help to cross-promote and generate awareness for your initiatives. Essentially, you don't just want to be active and highly visible--you want to be a strong, stable and welcome presence everywhere your audience goes.
- Be Generous with Your Time--Doing other professionals and business owners favors, taking the time to answer reader questions or making a point to contribute to charitable causes that benefit your field as a whole may not seem cost-effective from a monetary standpoint. But acts of kindness and generosity aren't just good for building character. They also serve to generate goodwill and help build invaluable relationships and contacts that can pay off immeasurably in the long run. Charitable work presents great opportunities to establish trust, grow your personal/professional network and make a positive impact--you never know when it might lead to a vital mention, review or referral. And there's no quicker way to build support for a cause or make an unexpected ally than by spending time and effort to go above and beyond the call of duty. It doesn't just speak to personal values and work ethic. It also presents a prime opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
- Get Out and Mingle--Whether using blog posts, tweets, press releases, online newswires, your professional Facebook page or free services that connect experts with fans or reporters to build public and media rapport, accessibility is the name of the game. Not only do people need to know you're out there--they also need to know where and how to reach you, that you're available to connect as needed and will respond to requests for outreach in a timely fashion. This doesn't mean having to broadcast your personal information to the world or staying up until 3 a.m. responding to 400 e-mails. But it does necessitate that you not build too many layers of insulation between yourself and incoming queries, and be respectful of acknowledging people's questions and feedback (even if it's just through a series of blog posts). The bottom line: If you want to be a go-to guy or gal, you've got to earn people's trust. That means being genuine, being as good as your word and being capable of delivering high-quality work or insights on tight turnaround. It also means being willing to signal via your actions that you don't just hear what they're saying, but are further actively seeking out others' opinions and assigning weight and import to both sides of the conversation.
Technology expert Scott Steinberg is the CEO of high-tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global, and a celebrated gadget guru and video game expert who frequently appears as a technology analyst on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN, and has contributed to 400+ outlets from The New York Times to Playboy and Rolling Stone.