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.