An Introduction to Personal Branding Tactics
In today’s ever-changing world of enterprise, we see more than ever that there’s disillusionment between the public and larger corporations.
So much so, that people are now looking away from the bigger players in the market and turning to businesses that they feel more comfortable with on a personal level. There’s a growing desire from B2B and B2C audiences to see the personal side of a company, and people are more impacted by a positive personal brand than ever before.
Startups can maximise their potential by embracing and promoting each team member’s own personal brand, and this begins with the founder(s).
In this article, I’ll look at ways to build your personal brand in a competitive space. In turn, this identity will help to grow your startup and establish an enduring reputation.
My Experience of Creating a Personal Brand
From my experience of growing a personal brand, I’m keen to point out nuances in the different channels. Twitter is a “one-to-many” channel, whilst LinkedIn is a more direct conversational route. For myself, LinkedIn has been the most beneficial platform, and has helped me to build an audience that trusts what I have to say.
Here are some ways that I leverage LinkedIn as a personal brand-building channel.
Worth the whack, that’s for sure. LinkedIn Premium allows me to fine-tune my searching, filtering seniority, industry, interests, and more. It enables me to see who’s interested in my profile, and perhaps most usefully, it allows me to InMail people of interest.
Here’s a useful guide by Jeff Molander, outlining how you can improve InMail response rate.
LinkedIn Groups have been paramount to the building of my personal brand. However, many make the mistake of using self-promotion within these groups, and there’s nothing more bothersome to members than this. The primary focus must be to contribute, rather than to self-promote.
Offer great insights, answer questions, and allow your profile to speak for itself. Keep reading, as later in the article I’ll look at designing awesome social profiles to represent your knowledge, experience, and expertise.
Here’s a useful piece by Stephanie Sammons at Social Media Examiner about using LinkedIn Groups to build influential connections.
I’m big on making connections, but only the right ones. My connections are all people that I can legitimately have a conversation with, and provide real value to. In many cases, it’s the other way around.
This is where the alignment between personal brand and startup brand is particularly evident, in making connections that have potential to become partners, providers, or clients of my consultancy in the future.
LinkedIn’s own blogging platform was launched in 2012, with the help of huge figures such as Obama, Branson, and Arianna Huffington. It’s been making a serious impact over the last few years, and is operating as one of the superior content publishing and distribution channels for B2B.
I’ve been testing different LinkedIn Pulse strategies recently, switching between long-form original pieces and shorter snippets that link out to more comprehensive articles on the Kurve site itself. There’s value in both approaches. The snippets tend to drive more traffic to the website, but there’s better in-platform engagement on the long-form articles – likes, shares, and comments aplenty.
Above all, LinkedIn Pulse is an excellent way to distribute your expert content direct to a targeted audience, all of whom will receive a notification when it’s published on the platform.
How is Personal Brand Relevant to Startups & Business Growth?
Building a reputable startup brand takes some time. So too does a personal brand. In order to gain the trust of your audience, you’ve got to deliver consistently. Whether this is delivering regular useful content or great after-sales customer service, brand reputation is for the long-term.
As impactful short-term growth hacks go, this use of LinkedIn isn’t the only answer. However, combined with lead-driven PPC campaigns, influencer marketing tactics, and conversion-led content marketing, it offers a credible route to consistent growth. Overall, through these LinkedIn activities alone, I’m getting 2 leads per week on average.
Aside from leads there have been many more benefits. I’ve connected with some brilliant partners, providers, and freelancers. I’ve also been headhunted by recruiters and spotted by startup founders that are looking for co-founders and CMOs.
For a B2B startup founder, building a presence on LinkedIn can be incredibly fruitful.
Channels for Building a Personal Brand
Social media is unavoidable when building a personal brand, but there are many other ways to enhance your reputation and that of your startup. Here’s an overview.
The rise of video blogging (vlogging) has coincided with several success stories in recent years. Some YouTube stars have made themselves extremely wealthy through this channel. This comprehensive guide to vlogging by Vlog Nation makes for useful reading.
The key to vlogging for B2B marketing is that you must come across as personable, likeable and above all, knowledgeable. Whether it’s B2B or B2C, people are less likely to care much for businesses as staid entities than they are the person representing it. People do business with people they like.
For startup founders keen to reach out and give insight into a chosen field, webinars are a brilliant option. These closed sessions have the advantage of allowing people to come forward with ideas and suggestions, and to ask any questions in real-time.
You can run webinars through Google Hangouts, GoToWebinar, or even through one of the fastest-growing social channels, Periscope. Convince & Convert have published a step-by-step guide to hosting a successful webinar, which is worth a read.
Podcasts are on the up, with listenership growing every year. Look out for podcasts on the hunt for guests in your field of expertise. Proactively apply to popular podcasts in your industry, and tell them that you’ve got a story to tell. Record an audio clip and send it to them. After all, they’re interested in voice, not written text.
Failing that, setup your own podcast (with very simple equipment), invite influential guests, and grow your following. Position yourself as a thought-leader, and demonstrate your personality alongside your expertise.
Link your interviews back to real-world events, ideally mentioning your startup in the process. Represent your brand, but don’t shove it down the audience’s ears.
Written content is paramount to establishing a reputable personal brand. Here are some of the major channels for written content.
Blog writing is a staple element of digital marketing, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Expertise-led editorials enable you to demonstrate in-depth expertise and research, and highlight real-world case studies to build credibility.
As we’ll see from later examples, the best blog articles are transparent, honest, and bring the reader along on the troublesome (yet rewarding) startup journey.
Leverage larger audiences by writing for popular publications and other websites. Reach out to webmasters and blog owners with a topic idea, and highlight why you can offer unique insights. This will increase brand awareness and perception of your expertise and influence, whilst also offering the technical SEO benefit of a high-quality backlink.
Being a self-published author brings some credit. Being a published author brings yet more. Nurture the perception that you know your onions by writing an eBook. You can offer this as collateral for email signups, or upload to the Kindle store.
Remember, written content is nothing without the right distribution strategy.
Facebook for Building a Personal Brand
Potentially, Facebook may a good channel. But the “family and friends” vibe of Facebook doesn’t necessarily lend itself perfectly to personal brand-building. Some careful customisation is required.
In theory, you could create multiple separate friend networks on Facebook, by segmenting people into “acquaintances” and other custom lists. After importing your email contacts into Facebook, organise them and select particular groups when sharing your business-orientated content and thought-leadership pieces. Don’t be surprised if some contacts are less than enthusiastic about a Facebook friend request.
As you start gaining influence, create a page and drive people to like it.
Personal Brand Examples: Success Stories
Time to tell some stories from other influencers that have built a personal brand and seen it positively impact the growth of their startup business.
As highlighted in his post about personal brand-building, Ryan embarked on a new app venture with a co-founder. In his quest to generate buzz for the upcoming product, he started to blog regularly about progress and actively reach out on Twitter (his favourite platform). His efforts paid off, with his site becoming the main referring domain for traffic. He built a solid reputation and grew his personal follower count to nearly 8,000.
One of the most widely-recognised faces of digital marketing, Rand Fishkin has spent the last few years building quite the following. As the co-founder of Moz (originally SEOMoz), he’s positioned himself as a true thought-leader and influencer.
In his article about personal brand-building, John Doherty says that by his own admission, Rand used to “suck at it”. Regular appearances on the hugely popular Moz Whiteboard Friday, and a relentlessly active social presence has seen Rand’s following grow to over 320k, whilst Moz has skyrocketed to around $38 million in revenue.
As another key influencer in the digital marketing world, Neil does incredible job of personal branding. He’s the co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar, and uses his experience to create amazingly in-depth tactical content. From this, he’s a regular speaker at major conferences and events. His great work and his growing profile has helped him win major awards from the White House and the UN.
As if to highlight his expertise in this area, he’s published a comprehensive guide to personal branding, which can be found on the QuickSprout blog.
Another good resource are these 12 tips for building a unique personal brand, curated with the advice from multiple experts.
In all of the above examples, there’s been a focus on delivering true value to one’s followers. Above all, there’s a transparency and honesty to the way they operate; they allow the audience to engage with their personalities, feel their insecurities, and challenge their opinions. It’s this openness that draws people in, both in business and personal worlds.
You could also look to stalwarts such as Sir Richard Branson as exceptional examples of personal branding, albeit not so pertinent to fast-growth startups. Branson’s communications team fully appreciates his strength as the brand ambassador. The majority of online content published by Virgin features Branson, heavily peppered by nostalgic imagery of his success.
Building a brand with personality
When starting up, it shouldn’t be underestimated how much of an advantage it is to present yourself as a personable, accessible company.
The truth is that every team member has their own personal brand, each of which can be leveraged to improve the perception of your startup in its audience’s mind.
To build a brand with personality, you must celebrate the personalities within it. Encourage your team to contribute articles, apply to speaking events, and engage with customers and clients. A common concern is that recruiters will swoop. Your best team members are more likely to stay if you celebrate and promote their ambition.
Other simple approaches will maximise the humanity of your business. Whether it’s the rejection of automated phone lines, or the removal of complicated complaints procedures, it’s proven that people value the convenience of the human touch. Don’t be sterile, faceless, or over-reliant on customer-facing processes.
Lindsay Kolowich has written a comprehensive guide for HubSpot about developing a strong corporate and brand identity, which you can read here. She features the “brand identity prism” and talks about physique, self-reflection, and understanding one’s place in the market. A good read.
Social media is a superb channel for promoting brand personality. As I’ve already mentioned, it should be coherent with your personal profile and represent a unified tone of voice.
By using platforms like Twitter, your startup can connect with others in the industry, banter with customers, and even bout with competitors. The LinkedIn audience typically reacts well to behind-the-scenes company culture, insights from projects, and news from the industry. Each channel has its particular nuances, but each enables you to portray identity and personality. This is where you can combat the big organisations effectively.
Everybody has a personal brand, but it’s how you nurture it that matters. Especially important for startups is to generate trust, and fast. This trust is linked to the perceived competency and expertise of the startup founders and early-stage teams.
A solid quote from the folks at Visible Logic sums this up nicely;
“At the beginning, your startup’s reputation is closely connected to the reputation of the founders. If the person or people behind a startup are hard working, show integrity, or are perceived of as bright or eager or resourceful, all of these traits will improve the likelihood that someone will take a risk and work with you, work for you, or invest in your startup.”
Always consider how your behaviour as an individual reflects the brand, both in a positive and negative light. Personal branding is not limited to the online world, either. Physical networking will forever remain an important element of generating leads and sales, especially for B2B startups.
Digital offers an unrivalled opportunity to build an influential presence and demonstrate expertise to a huge audience. When your audience is looking for an expert to solve their problems, a strong personal brand will ensure that your startup is front of mind.