Over the past couple of weeks, watching Donald Trump make an initial foray into the political mainstream brought into sharp focus for me the factors involved in building a credible and successful personal brand. Now let me state up front that this is not a political article…I have used Trump simply to illustrate the complexities and subtleties of creating a brand.
As a start point, I define personal branding as the process by which we position and market ourselves to others. Here are some introductory observations on the subject:
- personal brands are built using exactly the same principles as institutional and product brands—whether it be Apple, Google, Disney, Nike or BMW
- personal brands are expected to be as authentic and are also subject to the same level of scrutiny in today’s transparent world as their commercial counterparts
- however, the brand-building process is made much more complex because of the closeness and subjectivity involved at every step
- in the case of personal branding, most of the successful individuals involved are not trained marketers but in almost every case, they have a deep and intuitive understanding of brand building.
- managing personal brands requires an extraordinary focus, endless energy and a clear and consistent sense of purpose…and a great deal of time investment and luck
- personal brands succeed because they fulfill a marketplace need and they are different from their competitors
- building a successful personal brand requires having a distinctive point of view—not everybody will love them but everybody must surely have heard of them
- many personal brands fail because they stray too far from their comfort zone or because the person commits an inappropriate act or behavior
Over the years, starting with Tom Peters brilliant article on The Brand Called You, I have developed and updated a number of guidelines for building personal brands but the recent behavior of Donald Trump had me scrambling for some further updates:
- The basis for all successful brands is a sense of purpose. You will need to articulate your vision, your personal dream, your ambition, your long-term life goal and legacy that will then underpin all aspects of your personal brand moving forward. This should be a brief, pithy statement (no more than 10 words) that will keep you inspired and send tingles up your spine.
- Developing a positioning statement for your personal brand is critical. This should be what you wish your brand to stand for in the hearts and minds of your clients/customers, relative to competitors in your marketplace. This statement will keep you focused and make you famous. It should be aspirational and not reflect your current career or status.
- Identifying whom you are targeting is central to success. There could be multiple audiences. For example, there could be a consumer target as well as an institutional target. Agreeing a target means that you cannot appeal to everyone. Just accept that there are people outside your target and leave them be…it’s the art of sacrifice.
- Building a personal brand requires a 3-5 year strategic roadmap together with key defining dates and events along the journey. The purpose of this is to put some stakes in the ground and to bring the brand positioning statement to life. Not all of these defining moments will happen but the process itself is therapeutic and brings reality to the building process.
- Building a successful personal brand means that if you win, others will likely have to lose. So identify who you will need as partners to help build your brand and who you need to beat if your personal brand is to be successful. Who are your nemeses? Where are they? What makes them partners? What makes them competitors? Do they exist today?
- How do you best communicate to your agreed target audience(s)? Is it best to go only the digital, blogging and social media route? Do traditional media and relationship building techniques have a role to play? Which media are your target market most engaged with? And how can your audience(s) talk to each other to help exponentially build your brand?
- The media message must always be in sync with your positioning statement. Brands need consistency of message to be successful, regardless of the medium. As a personal brand, you will often be tempted to go ”off-road” in response to a great incoming messaging opportunity but remember if it’s not aligned with your other messages, it will lead to confusion in the marketplace.
- Your brand should develop a unique and relevant “voice”. Ideally this should be an extension of your own character and personality. It is very important with personal brands that there is a strong correlation between the content, the experiences and you, the individual. Any major disconnect here raises doubt and can destroy any trust that has been built.
- In building personal brands, you need to be very careful who you offend on the journey. Being competitive is fine but being arrogant and rude is not because it is a direct reflection on “you”. Nice guys are successful brand-builders too!! Personal brands also need to recognize their limitations. They need to respect their peers. And they need to behave in an exemplary manner.
- The great temptation and pitfall for personal brands is to become “the Jack of all trades and the master of none”. In the desire to build fame, it is too easy to take on battles that are outside your zone of expertise. It is very tempting to say “yes” to every media inquiry even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Focus and discipline in personal branding requires courage but without the courage to say “no”, brands can rapidly lose their bearings and self-destruct.
In our experience, building a personal brand requires a very solid strategic foundation if the brand is to endure. The resources available in the marketplace to help you execute your strategy are much more readily available. And the temptation is just to get on with the task and bypass some of that strategy stuff. The execution can be the fun bit but it can also eat up your time and your dollars if not properly defined and properly focused.
Returning to the subject of Donald Trump, I believe that he made some basic errors and looks to have paid for it dearly. Building a successful brand as a property developer is one thing, spearheading “the Celebrity Apprentice” is something quite different—messing around in US politics is something else entirely. It is my view that his behavior in recent weeks will signal a downturn in the credibility of the Trump brand and that would be unfortunate given how much energy, effort and resources have been invested behind the individual… an important lesson for any of you contemplating building a personal brand.
Simon William, Sterling Brands