Creating your brand (part 1): What is a personal brand?

I presented a session at Blog On MSI last Sunday on defining and refining your personal brand as a blogger. In the first of a short series of posts recapping the presentation, I talk about what a personal brand actually is – and what it isn’t.

We often talk about bloggers working with brands but we don’t often talk about the fact that, as bloggers, we also have our own brands. In fact, we are our own brands because a blogger’s brand is really an extension of their own personality.

Why me?

Brands need to be credible. So what makes me credible to talk about personal branding?

I’ve been blogging for nearly a decade, over which time I’ve written seven different blogs, including contributing posts for the website of the Metro family of newspapers. As a professional marketer for over 20 years, I’ve worked for the UK’s biggest retailer, Tesco, and with iconic brands such as Top of the Pops and Post-it Notes. I now run social media for West Europe for a major US-based multinational.

I know blogging. I know branding.

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Photo courtesy of Emma/ourfairytaleadventure.com

What is a brand? (And what isn’t it?)

Read any marketing textbook and they will define a brand as, ‘a symbol, mark, logo, name, word(s) or a combination of these, used to distinguish a company or product from others in the market’ or something similar.

The key word in the above definition is ‘distinguish’. What a brand really represents is a promise of consistent performance that sets it aside from others and, in the case of a person, it’s an extension of that individual’s personality. It’s what makes you you.

Branding consultants McNally and Speak describe a personal brand as ‘a perception or emotion that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you’. That’s a highly jargonistic description but it does make two key points: branding is all about perception (your audience’s, not yours) and it is about a ‘total experience’, not just a snazzy logo or a witty, pun-tastic name.

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking they have total control over what their brands stand for. That isn’t necessarily the case if you fail to behave consistently.

Take Gerald Ratner, the 1980s high street king of affordable jewellery. He gave a speech in 1991 in which he said that he was able to sell products at such a low price “because it’s total crap”.

Apprentice candidates have made less disastrous statements. The public abandoned Ratners in droves, the value of the company’s shares plummeted by £500m, over 300 stores were forced into closure and the group rebranded itself from Ratner to Signet in an effort to distance itself from its by then former chief executive’s gaffe.

Oops.

The moral of the story? It can take years to build up a brand’s reputation but only minutes to destroy it if you don’t treat your audience with consistency and respect.

Successful branding isn’t necessarily about being the biggest or having the best quality product. For instance, easyJet is relatively small compared to the established international giants but it has a strong and clear brand that serves a specific customer need for low-cost air travel without unnecessary and expensive extras. The car brand Mini has an iconic image and a brand positioning that oozes chic style. They’re neither the cheapest nor the best cars – but they are the coolest in the eyes of a significant portion of the market.

Similarly, some of the best blogger brands out there aren’t the best-known ones with the biggest followings. But they do what they do in a way that no one else does that makes their audience sit up and notice. That’s great branding.

Why do I need a personal brand?

God’s honest truth? You don’t need a personal brand.

But – there’s always a ‘but’, right? – if you want to stand out from the crowd, get noticed and be in control of how your audience perceives you, then you need to think about your personal brand.

You may have a clear picture of what you represent but your audience may not if your focus is not clear and consistent. For example, what do you see here?

old-lady-young-lady

Some people immediately see the elegant young lady looking away. Others see a wizened old crone in profile. A few see both equally easily.

And this is the point. Different people view the same thing in different ways. It’s a matter of perception, and the only way you can make everyone see you in the same way is to be clear and consistent. Without clarity and consistency, your content isn’t razor sharp. Without razor sharpness, it’s easy for your content – and your brand – to disappear into the crowd.

Here’s a sobering statistic. The average piece of content posted on the average Facebook page reaches between 3-5% of its audience. So if you have 1,000 followers, only 30-50 people will see it – fewer still will actually read it. Anecdotally, I would say the average percentage for bloggers is somewhat higher but still not far over 10%.

What does this have to do with having laser-focussed content? Well, this. Facebook’s algorithm determines whether to serve a potential reader your content based on their interaction with your previous content. If they have regularly clicked, liked, commented or shared your content in the past (i.e. if they have engaged with content they have deemed relevant to them), they are more likely to be dealt your post over someone else’s.

In short, every piece of content matters. You are better off being regularly relevant to a smaller audience than you are being occasionally relevant to a bigger audience. So be relevant, be different and be unique so that you have a better chance of standing out from the crowd. That all adds up to better contacts, more opportunities and maybe even a new job.

The last of these was certainly true in my case. Over the course of a couple of years, knowing that I wanted to pursue a job in digital, I cultivated a professional brand based on my interest and experience of social media, blogging and the online world, even though my old job was distinctly offline. So when I decided to apply for my social media role, my ‘brand’ in the eyes of key decision-makers and influencers carried a lot of sway.

That, in a nutshell, is the power of branding. It tells people who you are, establishes credibility and says, “Hey, this is me”. By telling people exactly who you are and what you stand for, it makes others stop and take notice. And that, in an increasingly crowded world of bloggers all competing for scarce attention, is priceless.

In the next post in this series, I’ll take a look at what elements make up a good blogger brand and look at some examples from the parent blogging community.

Creating a personal brand

Part 2: What makes a good blogger brand?

Part 3: Doing a self-evaluation of your brand

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