I have clothes hanging in my closet that I’ve barely worn since I bought them. They’re practically brand new, hanging there and never seeing the light of day. What gives?
Here’s what I’ve learned. If you buy a fancy cashmere sweater because you think it’s the type of thing you should wear, you won’t wear it. If you get a flashy suit vest and suit vests just aren’t your style, it probably won’t make it out of your closet when it’s time to get dressed.
Personal brands are like wardrobe choices. You need to be honest about whose attention you’re trying to get, what your natural style is, and the story you’re trying to tell. Without all that, you won’t make comfortable clothing choices, and you definitely won’t have a personal brand you can relate to. It’ll be more likely to hang in your closet, along with the rest of your unloved vests and sweaters. R.I.P.
On the flip side, an authentic and relatable personal brand is like a perfectly tailored suit. You’ll look great, feel great, and be much more likely to close the sale, get the dream job, or land the first date.
To get your personal brand to feel less like an ignored sweater and more like a tailored suit, you have to get to the heart of what makes you “you.” To do that, I guide all my clients through the following five-step brand extraction process.
1. Determine your goals.
Setting goals are an obvious first step for people looking to improve their online image, but I don’t mean goals like, “I want to look good online” or “I want to generate ROI.” These aspirations are great but they don’t take into account the personal branding work that’s required.
In order to improve your digital presence or drive more business online, you’ll need to start generating lots of online activity: publishing content, growing a social media presence, engaging in PR initiatives -- the list goes on.
With all of that digital activity, it makes sense to dive a little deeper into figuring out your specific goals first. Otherwise, you waste a huge opportunity to use those online efforts to support where you’d like to be two years, five years, or ten years down the line. Remember, looking good online is a means to an end -- and you need to determine that end before you start.
What are you most excited about achieving in the next few years? Do you want to write a New York Times bestselling book or would you rather land your first speaking engagement? Do you want to be generating a certain amount of revenue at your company or would you prefer to start your own venture?
Your answers to these questions (and the ones below) will be the steering wheel that drives your personal branding campaign. Without them, you’re just pressing on the gas without looking where you’re going.
2. Pinpoint your unique value proposition.
You would never begin marketing a business before you’ve determined the product and its unique value in the marketplace. Or you might, but it probably wouldn’t work out so well.
Personal brands work much the same way. Before you start a blog -- before you even send out your next tweet -- you’ll want to pinpoint your unique value proposition.
That’s a fancy way of saying you need to figure out A) what benefit you offer people B) who those people are C) how you solve their problems and D) what makes you different from others like you.
If you’re having trouble answering these questions, I find it’s useful to first determine why you’re passionate about what you do. From there, you’ll be able to figure out what audience you’d like to help the most and how you can do that better than anyone else.
3. Craft your professional story arc.
People remember stories. Think about someone you really admire -- a CEO, a public figure, a family member -- and ask yourself why you admire them.
There’s a compelling story to tell about that person, right?
J.K. Rowling is one one of my favorite examples. Rowling grew up poor and remained that way as a single mother struggling to make ends meet for her daughter. She got the inspiration for Harry Potter while stuck on a train, and hurriedly wrote it down on the back of a napkin. Her manuscript for the first book was rejected 12 times, but she persisted anyway until a small publishing firm gave her a chance, and the rest is history. Rowling went from being unemployed and living on state benefits to becoming a billionaire in under a decade.
Another favorite story of mine comes from Anik Singal. Singal was a kid who just wanted to prove he had what it took to “make it” as an entrepreneur, experimenting with digital marketing for 18 months straight before he finally made his first dollar. He learned quickly and grew his business from nothing to $10 million, and then watched everything come crashing down as his business, finances, and health all went down the tubes. Given a second chance, Singal took a hard look at where he was, shifted his priorities, and then worked even harder to get to where he is today as the dedicated CEO of Lurn, one of the biggest digital publishing platforms in the world.
Determining your own story arc will be crucial to crafting a brand narrative that your audience will relate to and remember. Your brand narrative will come naturally if you ask yourself the right questions: What obstacles have I overcome? What desirable goals have I reached or am in the process of reaching? How have I changed for the better?
Talking this out with someone else can be extremely helpful to get a little distance from the narrative you already hold in your own head. If you want to try it by yourself, imagine someone on an interview asking, “Give me the whole story -- how did you get to where you are today?”
4. Establish your character personality.
Your personality is an essential part of what makes you, you. Without her perseverance and passion, J.K. Rowling would still be the author of Harry Potter, but she wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or memorable. Anik Singal wouldn’t be the same entrepreneur without his “fighter” persona.
As you ponder your own personality traits, remember that people typically describe themselves a bit differently than others would describe them. And since “others” will be the ones engaging with your personal brand online, theirs is the more important perception. Your audience is never wrong.
Don’t run the risk of expressing an inauthentic or ineffective brand. Ask your your friends, family, and colleagues to choose some adjectives they would use to describe you. Consolidate those adjectives and choose the ones you connect with the most.
5. Distill it down to a brand statement.
Once you’ve gathered all the above information, it’s time to distill it down to a brand statement. Just one or two sentences that you’ll refer to internally to keep your digital strategy consistent as you begin engaging with your audience.
A word of caution: you can use the same information to craft a brand statement that’s incredibly exciting or painfully boring.
Let’s use Santa Claus as an example, because why not.
Here’s one way of presenting Santa’s brand:
Santa Claus is the CEO of a non-profit organization that gives gifts to children globally. With decades of experience in supply chain management and manufacturing technology, Claus has helped turn Christmas into the modern celebration that it is today.
Here’s another way:
Santa Claus is the jolly, grandfatherly figure behind the single biggest gift-giving operation in the world. Known for his spectacular flying reindeer and wacky chimney delivery system, Claus has become a loved cultural icon who’s turned Christmas into the modern celebration that is today.
If you were using each of these brand statements as a blueprint for a digital strategy, I bet you can guess which one would would generate interest and which one would put readers to sleep. And unless you’re a mattress company, you have no business putting people to sleep.
Take the time to make your brand statement compelling -- it will serve as a guide for your online efforts, and livening it up can make all the difference.
When you’re done asking yourself these questions, you should feel a sense of comfort. There’s an overwhelming relief in having an authentic personal brand. Unlike clothes that hang ignored in the closet, the authentic brand is like the classic outfit you can’t wait to grab again and again because it aligns perfectly with who you are, how you feel, and where you’d like to go next.
Originally published at Entrepreneur.com.