The Why and How of Personal Branding
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One of the most popular features at Platform University is our "Member Makeover." Each month, Megan Miller, our dean, and I review the platform of one of our members, including their blog and social media presence. Then, in a screencast, we share our overall evaluation and specific recommendations.

Photo courtesy of Š

After doing this now for several months, we find ourselves returning to the same basic framework. I thought it might be helpful to share this with you as you think about launching or taking your personal brand to the next level.

A strong personal brand has five elements:

  1. A defined audience. When I first started blogging, it took me four years to attract more than one thousand unique visitors a month. Then in 2008, I hit an inflection point. My traffic exploded. I averaged twenty thousand visitors a month.

    There were several reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that I shifted the focus from myself to my readers. This was subtle but conscious. I started deliberately thinking about them, their needs, and how I could serve them well.

    Initially, I guessed. Then I decided to conduct a survey. I asked them specific demographic and psychographic questions and used SurveyMonkey to compile the results.

    I boiled the results down to a reader profile. It looked like this:

    My typical reader is a male (62%) between the ages of 31-50 (56%). He has at least a college degree (78%) and household income of $70,000 or more (53%). He lives in the U.S. (84%), most likely in the southeastern part of the country (35%). His faith is very important to him (92%).

    This profile enabled me to write more laser-focused posts that had a higher probability of resonating with my readers.

    As you are working to establish your brand, I suggest you start with your audience. Take the guesswork out of it. Use a tool like SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy to collect the results. I've done this for three years in a row and plan to do it again in the next week or two.

    Action Plan: Create a Reader Survey and ask your current readers to participate. Collect responses for a week or two. Summarize your insights in a blog post like I did here.

  2. A clear value proposition. Once you have identified your audience, it's time to decide what you can offer them. What will you give in exchange for their valuable time and attention?

    This may take a little experimentation. I cast around for years trying to figure it out.

    • Do I offer resources to help people work smarter (my first blog)?

    • Do I offer perspective on the fast-changing world of book publishing (my second attempt)?

    • Do I offer insights into leadership (my third attempt)?

    • Do I offer tools for building a personal platform (my fourth attempt)?

    • Do I offer a bit of all the above with some inspiration for personal development thrown in (my current attempt)?

    To be honest, I didn't really figure it out until a few months ago. It came to me while I was out running.

    I help leaders leverage their influence.

    This has become the organizing framework for everything I do. It is the foundation for all my work. Self-development, productivity, speaking, writing, and social media all enable leaders-the people I serve-to maximize their impact.

    What is your value proposition? What do you offer or intend to offer to your audience?

    Don't be afraid to try different things out. You'll know it when you finally land on the right one.

    Action Plan: Develop a one-sentence value proposition. What do you uniquely offer your audience? Start by making a list of possibilities, then narrow it down to one.

  3. A compelling brand slogan. We live in a busy, noisy world. People's attention spans are growing shorter by the year. You only have a few minutes (if that long) to distill your value proposition into a slogan.

    Here are some good ones:

    Some larger personal brands don't have a brand slogan per se. They can get away with it, because their names are synonymous with what they represent. Until you get to that level, I recommend you come up with one and use it. It will help focus what you do.

    Action Plan: Write a one-sentence brand slogan, using your value proposition and what you now know about your audience. Start with a verb or a gerund.

  4. An engaging headshot. If you want to build a powerful platform, you need photos of yourself. Why? Because people want to connect with people not merely brands, products, or causes.

    The right photo can help establish credibility, build trust, and promote engagement. These are at the heart of connecting in the world of social media and essential if you ever hope to sell someone on what you have to offer.

    The key is in getting the right headshot. This is not about creating a Photoshopped, glamour photo (gag). It is about capturing the real, authentic you-just as the people who know you best experience you.

    You don't have to spend an arm and a leg to get a great headshot, but you should be prepared to spend something. You'll save money if you know what you want and plan accordingly.

    For example, in my last photo shoot, I told the photographer I wanted to communicate professionalism, approachability, and fun. That opened up a bunch of possibilities. Based on that, we got hundreds of shots in a variety of locations in less than two hours. It cost me $200. (Your mileage may vary.)

    When you are done, pick one headshot you can use on your website and all your social media networks. This should become your default avatar. In addition, I would ask for shots that show you doing what you do. Here are some ideas:

    • Working at your computer
    • Analyzing your client's data
    • Coaching one-on-one
    • Facilitating a small group meeting
    • Recording a podcast
    • Shooting a video
    • Speaking before a large crowd
    • Autographing your book at an event

    I offer some additional tips in " 9 Suggestions for Taking Better Headshots."

    Action Plan: Find a local photographer and schedule a two-hour photo shoot. Identify what you want your headshot to communicate, then create a list of action shots you want to take.

  5. Simple graphic components. When I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I launched a re-banding initiative called "One Company." Over time our brands had proliferated like bunny rabbits. We had scores of logos, colors, and fonts. Our customers were confused. We were confused!

    So we set out to simplify things by reducing everything to a singular logo, color palette, and font selection. (Yes, there were a few exceptions.) This was hard work, but it made our lives easier and the business more profitable.

    I strongly recommend you do this for your personal brand:

    • Commission a professionally-designed logo. You can hire a designer or use a service like 99Designs, CrowdSpring, or Logo Tournament. I have used all three with great success.

    • Decide on a fixed color palette. There are some wonderful, free tools that help you do this, including Adobe Kuler. Take some time to educate yourself on the psychology of color and then chose colors that are congruent with your brand position.

    • Select your brand fonts. Use two-no more than three. I recommend a serifed font for body text (e.g., I use Georgia on this blog) and a sans-serifed font for titles, subheads, and captions (e.g., I use Helvetica Neue). Then apply your standard ruthlessly to everything you do-website, business cards, advertising, etc.

    You might even create a web-based style guide as I have done here. I created this for our internal use, but feel free to use it as the basis for your own.

    Action Plan: Commission a logo for your brand. Then create a simple style guide (similar to this) that includes your color palette and font selection.

Before you can build a powerful personal brand, you must nail down these five elements. It really doesn't take that much time, and it will save you months-perhaps years-in terms of getting you to your ultimate platform-building destination.

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