Fast Company

Two Branding Gurus Tell Their Side of the Story, Part 2

Personal branding guru Dan Schawbel and brand identity guru David Brier face off.

(This is Part 2 of this blog interview. Part 1 is here.)

I recently interviewed Dan Schawbel, the author of the forthcoming Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the syndicated Personal Branding Blog, publisher of Personal Branding Magazine, and a columnist with BusinessWeek. Recently, Dan was named to the prestigious Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list.

In this exclusive interview, Dan sheds light on the misunderstood realm of personal branding.

David: First off would you define "personal branding" as distinct from pitching oneself in the ordinary, hit-the-streets approach?
Dan: Personal branding is all about discovering what makes you special, and then communicating it to the right people, through multiple channels. We all have personal brands because we're constantly being judged based on first and last impressions, and because we always have to sell ourselves in interviews and in social settings. We also have an inherent need for self-differentiation because of how competitive the world is on a global scale and because people love to feel unique in their own way.

In the business world, it's imperative that we brand ourselves as experts in our field because that's how you get noticed, and get hired. You need to stand for something, target a specific audience, and base your brand around authenticity and your talents. Since the Internet is the global talent pool, you have to have an online presence, so people can find you, hire you, or do business with you. I recommend a blog under your full name, as well as profiles on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I also recommend that you have your own motto, logo/professional picture, and a unique design that you can leverage across your entire online presence.

David: How does personal branding differ from corporate or product branding?
Dan: Personal branding really exists because people can borrow the same strategies as product and corporate brands. For instance, you get a consistent experience at McDonalds all around the world, and whenever you watch Jimmy Kimmel on TV, you know what to expect from him. While consistency is an important factor in branding, products and people both have to stand for something, have missions, values, and goals behind them. Both people and products base their value and "price" off of supply and demand in the marketplace, and every brand needs a Web site, and a presence in social media.

People need to start acting more like companies and companies need to start acting more like people these days. Consumers are begging to purchase from a human-faced business. You won't get the same time of emotion and connection with a product than a person you meet and get along with. A person's body language is more powerful than any product you can purchase on the market too. The biggest difference between personal and corporate branding is scalability. People can't scale but companies can.

David: What tips do you have for someone who wants to really carve out their niche for their personal brand? Can you cite some excellent examples?
Dan: Some of the people who have excelled at personal branding include Marcus Buckingham, who developed the "strengths movement," and has become known to the media as "the strengths and personal development expert." Also, there's Tim Ferriss, who branded himself as the lifestyle design expert, which was new, hip, and attracted a lot of interest. We can learn a lot from Oprah and Donald Trump, who put their name on everything they do, create and license. When I think about escaping corporate America, I think of Pam Slim first because she's positioned herself as the top-of-mind brand in that area.

If you want to successfully develop your personal brand, you have to be as specific as you can with the audience you want to go after. Don't bother being a social media guru, marketing expert, or personal finance expert. You need to be more specific than that if you want to stand out, get noticed, and get job opportunities or new business. Become the top marketing expert in Philadelphia or the top social media guru for reaching millennials. By getting specific, you can differentiate yourself and attract new opportunities. Before developing your online identity, have clear short and long-term goals, and understand your audience as much as you possibly can.

David: How can social media be used as a crutch thus inhibiting someone's personal brand?
Dan: A lot of people think that just by establishing social media profiles that they will get press and new clients. There are over one hundred million people on Twitter, over five hundred million people on Facebook, and over seventy-five million people on LinkedIn. This isn't 2005 anymore. You need to work as hard as you can to actually leverage your online presence to pull in new readers, and leads. Having millions of fans on social networks doesn't mean anything anymore because there's very little direct revenue impact, trust me. What you need to do is to use them so that you're connecting only with potential buyers and influencers and then invest as much time as possible to build relationships with them. Also, you need to use social media to pull people into your main Web site because that's where you can actually convert them.

David: Can the principles of personal branding be applied to larger corporations? If so, what recommendations do you have for larger corporations to make good use of this approach?
Dan: Every single company needs to train their employees to become spokespeople now. You need to get everyone on the same page, with the right message, and to the right audience. There should be guidelines though so people have a reference point. Companies should have a human face so that they can talk to their market like a person, instead of a machine. Press releases and other old media are becoming less relevant, while people (who have personalities) are becoming more relevant over time. Seek people in your company that can bring it to life.

While we both have "our sides if the story" regarding branding, there is the common component of differentiation and refusing to blend in. Additionally, there is a correct assessment of who your audience is.

Done correctly, you will have a brand that knocks it out of the ballpark for all of the right reasons, and not as a result of mere fate. I want to thank Dan Schawbel for joining me in sharing these thoughts with the professional community.

David Brier is an award-winning brand identity designer, author, and branding expert. His firm's work has won the admiration of peers and organizations but, more importantly, has helped clients jump-start their brands in new and innovative ways, even (and especially) when they've failed in previous brand makeovers. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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