Creativity, marketing and design, all these disciplines revolve around the idea of creating a brand. And at this very moment, it feels like more and more personal brands are springing up every day. Post-quarantine, there has been an increase in the amount of outsourcing and freelancing because businesses are downsizing. Therefore, now more than ever, personal branding and defining your position in the market is so important for the kind of economy we’re heading into.
If you’re looking to build your own personal brand, dive into this article for some knowledge bombs by Tom and Mike about personal branding.
If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:
- Define your brand
- Targeting, positioning & messaging
- Follow Jacob Cass’ guide to creating a personal brand
For all the juicy stories that Tom and Mike have never shared before, click on the topics above or keep scrolling.
What is personal branding?
The fact is: people connect human to human. If you have a business that does not have a human face, customers will find it harder to connect with you.
Jay Z famously said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” This encapsulates what personal branding really is. It isn’t an app or a product. Jay Z’s audience or customers buy into his personal brand. He could launch a whiskey, sneakers or even an umbrella brand if he wanted. Ultimately, his personal brand is going to dictate their price point.
Similarly, if you’re walking through a shopping mall, every other product is being endorsed by Jlo. While she is the face of so many brands, her own personal brand is well defined and has such a strong message that makes people want to connect with her.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he personified the brand. The values of disruption, innovation and the meticulousness of the brand have stemmed from him as the leader. Apart from his stage presence, even the way he dressed dictated Apple’s identity. Black long-sleeved shirts, glasses and high-waisted jeans became a uniform for many Apple users.
For Tom, personal branding is about reputation: For many influencers, having a loyal following and community helps them pay their bills because companies want to sponsor them. That’s the age we live in. However, personal branding goes beyond being an influencer and getting sponsorship. Whether it’s a person or a company, think of branding as a reputation i.e. how other people perceive and talk about you. If you map that definition to personal branding, your personal brand is how you are perceived by your industry, network and the wider community.
Instead of a physical resume that is limited to one side of a sheet of paper, your personal brand is like a living breathing resume in 2020. If someone wants to work or collaborate with you, they go to your social media platforms to observe your personality, how you treat your audience, your level of expertise, authority, credibility, and the connections and friendships you have established. This brings so much more value than a traditional CV or LinkedIn profile.
If your community and customers are repeating the words you use to define your business, you have nailed your personal branding. For Tom’s company, they wrote their company values and how they want to be perceived in the market on a whiteboard. Over time, their customers would email them using the same words because they’ve woven them into everything they do.
For Mike, your brand is what you define it to be: Your customer doesn’t define your brand, you do. You have to intentionally decide what your personal brand is, where you want to position yourself in the brand world, and what your brand position is in relation to your competitors. You have to sell it in the way you talk and act. You have to fulfil your brand promise to build trust with your audience.
Mike’s audience keeps him in check when it comes to his personal brand experience. To illustrate, he gives two examples. The first: he made a post about price advertising. The background of this post was blue, with yellow and black text on it. But because his audience is so used to Mike’s black and yellow design identity, they called him out on it. Second: he made a conversational post between him and a fictional character Mr. Moore, based on his first name. After this post, many people began calling him Mr. Moore to play along. This is a characteristic of his personal brand – quirky, humorous and playful which his audience identifies and relates to.
So, how can you make this happen for your business? Here are some actionable tips:
Define your brand
What are the values you stand by? What is your tonality? What is your core ethos? What is your value proposition? How are you visually going to encapsulate your brand? These are some of the questions you need to answer to create your personal brand. Map it out, systematically work through it to get some clarity about what you want your brand to be. The step that follows is looking at all your brand touchpoints, essentially everywhere your brand could come in contact with your audience, and making sure they are all aligned. A brand can feel muddy when even a single touchpoint is not on-brand.
You will have nailed your branding when all touchpoints are in complete harmony and synchronization; when every experience has the same visual field, tonality, mood and emotion, be it their Facebook page or customer support.
For example: One of the things American brand Chick-fil-A does is have very friendly energy to them. They say ‘my pleasure’ as a response to their customers. It has now become a catchphrase and is consistent across each employee and Chick-fil-A anywhere in the world.
Dive into Mike’s personal brand: From early on in his career Mike decided he wanted to be the most accessible mentor for creatives in the world. His passion was in mentoring, coaching, uplifting, supporting and inspiring designers because he had never had that for himself. He wanted to fill this void with his own expertise and experience. Therefore, he decided that he wanted to be perceived as the most accessible creative mentor in the business. To stick by his personal brand, he replies to everyone who sends him a direct message or comments on his posts. He even does coaching to be accessible at different price points for his audience. Aside from this, he also tries to be as authentic on his social media as possible, putting up pictures of him skiing, joking around with his two boys and more, because he wants to share his life with his audience, which helps him appear more accessible.
Dive into Tom’s personal brand: If you take a look at Tom’s profile picture, it has a multicoloured, fun segment in the background. He did this to cheer himself up during the pandemic, but it also represents his community which is filled with different kinds of people who have different levels of experience. The colours represent the myriad of people Tom wants to help, and they speak to his personal brand as well.
For example: Before the podcast, Tom and Mike had done one collab video. After this video, they began talking about doing a podcast together. Together, they came up with the name Biz Buds because it was very on-brand for both of them. It was related to business without being overly formal, it was about making connections and friends within the community, and it was about accessibility. These two slang words truly captured the vibe of both their personal brands as well as the podcast.
Targeting, positioning & messaging
When creating your personal brand, it’s important to understand who you’re trying to reach or target. Once you’ve figured out your niche, you can try and position yourself in the market and define your messaging.
Mike’s take on targeting, positioning and messaging: When it came to the target audience, Mike knew he wanted to reach three different kinds of people. The first were full-time, solo freelancers, the second were small agencies trying to grow their business from a two or three-person team to a 10 or 15 person team, and the third were designers and creatives who were also freelancing on the side but wished to start an agency in the future. He knew that these were the kind of people who would have an interest in the kind of content he puts out.
Once you have narrowed down your target audience, look at how you position yourself in the marketplace. Look around at your competing businesses and find a niche or a space you can fill in the market.
The clothes you wear, the phrases you say, the way you smile, the way you begin your podcast – they all go towards messaging. Once you have a strong message, make sure it’s woven through every brand touchpoint, from your Instagram bio to post content, hashtags and captions. Make sure you embody the brand in the best way possible.
Follow Jacob Cass’ guide to creating a personal brand
Fellow entrepreneur and friend Jacob Cass has put out a bunch of content about the different things to consider when you’re creating your own personal brand. Mike and Tom take different points from Jacob’s approach and share how it is relevant to their individual brand, and how they implement it at various touchpoints. You can do the same and build your personal brand.
Purpose, mission, vision & values
Both Tom and Mike are very aligned when it comes to purpose and values for their personal brand. For Mike, his purpose is to uplift and support creatives around the world who are fearful about the business side of design and creativity. His mission is to provide them with answers and be the person they reach out to. And his values are being accessible, kind, non-judgemental, empathetic and understanding of the variety of different positions people are in when they’re trying to run their own businesses. For Tom, his purpose and mission are to uplift, support, coach and mentor people. And do that with a lot of empathy. He loves what he does and charges only to scale and do more good.
The way Mike is implementing this is by starting his community and trying to come up with strategies to create engagement. As a new touchpoint he’s experimenting with, he puts out daily questions to try and solicit engagement between the community members. With Instagram, one of his older touchpoints, he connects with people via DMs, comments, and shoutouts for the people within his community.
For example: Tom and Mike had encouraged true fans of this show to DM them during a podcast episode. As a result, they received a number of DMs and to read messages and respond to them, they made a fun video. This is an example of the value of caring for your community.
Positioning strategy, audience & competitors
Tom and Mike agree that they have a defined audience. They are very clear about niching to creatives by basing all their content and messaging around them. When it comes to competitors, Tom noticed that there was a lot of content out there that was regurgitated and not actionable. The design community was very fatigued by it. Both Tom and Mike try to put out as much actionable content as possible, case studies of the students they’ve helped and step-by-step action plans of each concept they speak about.
Difference, personality & voice
It’s completely possible that people who gravitate to others may not gravitate towards you, and vice versa. It’s about finding the right fit. Both Tom and Mike believe that their community gravitates towards them because of their empathetic nature, their ability to hustle and not be part of the ‘bro culture.’ They offer a slightly softer, more human approach.
One of the reasons Mike responds to everyone is because he wants to be accessible to his audience and not be perceived as someone who is better than them. He had someone thank him for replying to them, suggesting that his time was more valuable than theirs. Mike replied saying that their time was every bit as valuable as his. Further, he explained that their time was probably valuable to the people who love them. He insists that this kind of accessibility is something he is constantly striving for.
People often think about touchpoints being something scalable that’s going to hit their entire audience. However, something as simple as a private DM can be just as impactful and confirms Mike’s brand positioning in the industry. When you treat people consistently for years and interact with thousands of people who are all saying nice things about you, you develop a good reputation.
Communication involves core messaging, storytelling, taglines and hooks.
Tom brands himself as an honest entrepreneur and it acts as a huge differentiator for him. He tends to be completely honest with his audience – the highs, lows and everything in between. Mike’s approach is slightly quirkier, he communicates through visual language using the colours black and yellow and it has now become something that his audience recognises very well.
For example: Gary V is into hip-hop culture and dresses very casually. Therefore, it was no surprise when K-Swiss approached him for a brand collaboration and released Gary V sneakers.
In conclusion, a brand is like a human form, it is ever-evolving and adapting to change. It is an extension of you, a tangible asset you can leverage in your career. While it’s important to create a strong foundation of how you want your brand to be, understand that it may not be forever. It’s about tweaking those dials and making micro-adjustments over time until you find the essence of your brand.
Define what you want your brand to be, who your target customer is, your position in the market with relation to your competitors and then your various touchpoints which encompass everything from the visuals you use, to the words you say. In a world of creatives hustling for work, it’s important to define your personal brand as it will help people do business with you.