How to Build Your Personal Brand While Balancing Company and Comfort Level
February 28, 2018 | Liz Alton
As a B2B marketer, you’re faced with a number of branding challenges — from explaining what it is that you actually do, to making less-than-exciting (cough *boring*) industries sound intriguing. Marketers today do more than just shape campaigns and figure out how to market products and brands.
You also have to decide how to market yourself and determine what, if any, role you want to have in your company’s larger marketing initiatives. Do you want to be known as a marketing guru, an industry thought leader or a behind-the-scenes hustler who gets things done? There’s a lot wrapped up in these decisions, and the way you approach your personal branding impacts both your employer’s success and your long-term individual career trajectory.
Let’s take a deeper dive into how to shape a powerful personal brand — without selling out.
Why Personal Branding Matters
Before we can really explore the specifics of building a personal brand, we need to look at the context for why it even matters. In the not-so-distant past, marketers focused exclusively on building their employers’ brands. In the B2B market, the collective strength that defined a company’s reputation was what sold consulting deals, digital products and equipment bundles.
A subtle shift has taken place. Between social media and digital experiences in our personal lives, buyers are looking at relationships with brands on a more personal level. One of the byproducts of that shift means to get to know the people behind a brand. The rise of content marketing and thought leadership efforts have shone a spotlight on the experts who shape the experiences companies deliver — and in many cases, marketers are expected to have a voice in the market.
The Harvard Business Review notes, “The way we think about brands needs to change. In the past, they were objects or concepts. You had a relationship with a brand. But in this social age, brands are the relationships. By defining a brand’s particular kind of relationship, companies can create greater engagement, differentiation, and loyalty.”
Thought leadership and company leaders with a presence make a difference to the bottom line. Check out these stats:
- 39% of respondents in an Edelman study said thought leadership got companies invited to submit an RFP for work — and 47% said it played a role in awarding those contracts.
- 92% of marketers told the Content Marketing Institute that the organization viewed content as a business asset.
- Brand messages shared by employees get 561% more reach than the same messages shared on brand social accounts.
- Forbes reports that sales reps who are active on social media outsell their peers by 78%.
- 9 out of 10 business decision makers think leadership is important and spend time on it each week, reports Edelman.
This list could go on, but it boils down to one powerful fact: building your brand makes you an asset to your company, increases your own reputation and opens up a range of opportunities both now and in the future for your professional life.
Think about the way marketers like Neil Patel or Jayson Demers are front and center with their ideas. Each of them has a strong team behind them and heads up entire agencies — but their unique voices and styles stand out in the market. Their platforms help attract customers and grow their business, but they also serve as a calling card if they want to make a shift — whether that’s starting a different business or jumping into the CMO role at a large company.
It’s More Than Just Your Job, It’s Your Career
Personal branding doesn’t just matter for your job today. It’s about the long-term sustainability of your career. Here’s what’s tough: there’s no linear path in marketing anymore. The mythic days of starting as a marketing associate and ending up as the VP of the same company are basically behind us.
When you’re ready to make a move, prospective employers will look at three things, and they’ll weigh them differently, depending on who they are:
- Your background, including where you’ve worked, industry experience and education.
- The campaigns you’ve worked on, including direct experience with specific challenges, mediums and industries.
- Your personal brand.
A great personal brand helps you land opportunities that can change your life and career. It’s an area you have control over, beyond choices that you made earlier in your career, or opportunities that other people have given you.
Comfort Level and Personal Branding
Before embarking on building a personal brand, it’s helpful to weigh these considerations:
Brand vs. individual: How tied to your current employer do you want your personal brand to be? Some marketers decide to become the face of their brand, while others build a more individual platform. Determine if you want your brand integrated with your employer, or more stand alone to prioritize future opportunities.
Your format: Remember, there’s no one right way to build a personal brand. From blogging to speaking to jumping into the social fray, there are nearly endless options available to you. Think about what you’re good at, what you enjoy and what you have the time to manage. The intersection of those three things will point you toward mediums that work for you.
Do you want to do it at all? As one marketer said to me recently, “I chose to work in digital so that I didn’t really have to deal directly with people.” It’s important to think about the stress/return factor. If you have a panic attack at the thought of in-person networking, don’t do it. Filled with existential dread at the thought of personal branding? Don’t do it. Just recognize that if you fall into this space, you’re potentially setting yourself up for a disadvantage that you’ll have to make up for in other ways.
Navigating Some Awkward Discussions About Personal Branding
Even though we live in an age where employees with strong personal brands are an asset, marketers still need to be prepared for some potentially awkward discussions. Several concerns can come up when you’re doing personal branding, vis-à-vis current employers. If your boss isn’t on the personal branding bandwagon, she may worry that you’re building your brand and will leave or may simply not see the value of investing in your brand at all.
Four approaches can help you communicate the benefits of personal branding to a skeptical boss:
- Tie your efforts to your company’s goals: Align your efforts to what your company is trying to accomplish. For example, if your company wants to sell to CMOs, speak at a conference where that’s the main audience.
- Make your boss and company look good: Talk about what you’ve accomplished, highlight wins and make your brand a case study of what to do right.
- Engage in a degree of employee advocacy: Use your platform to promote your company’s brand. Decide how far you’ll go with this and what it will look like. It could mean sharing on social media, inviting company guest writers to your blog or other steps.
- Use metrics to show success: Decide what metrics matter and collect success stories to demonstrate ROI on your efforts. One blog post I wrote helped an employer land press coverage in a large business magazine. In another case, I was able to attract a big name to a client’s event thanks to a social media connection.
Create a Branding Roadmap
Let’s assume that you’ve decided a personal brand is worth it, your employer’s on board and you are ready to dive in. How do you get started?
Every great brand is built with a clear understanding of three things:
- Who do you want to reach? Is your audience future employers, decision makers in a specific industry, business experts or someone else entirely? Get clear about no more than two or three audiences you want to target.
- What’s different about you? What is your brand, and what makes you different from the rest of the marketers out there? Perhaps you’re a digital expert in manufacturing and can speak to burgeoning trends in the customer experience for that industry. Maybe you talk about SEO in a way that’s demystified and non-technical for non-business audiences. Define both what your brand is and how it’s different.
- What do you want people to do? What’s your call to action? Is your goal to amass a following, increase visibility, set yourself up for a position with a larger organization or attract leads to your business now? Clarity on this point targets your messaging, channels and much more.
Decide What to Do
You’ve thought about your strengths, you’ve weighed in on your employer’s goals and you’ve clarified what you hope to achieve. Here’s a quick guide to determining whether a specific channel is right for you and how to maximize the value.
Speaking: Speaking at networking events and industry groups is fantastic exposure. It helps you get in front of decision makers and can be one of the fastest ways to generate leads, make contacts and raise your visibility. Speaking, however, is an unforgiving medium. There’s no edit button, and people will judge you for your energy and ability to be dynamic as much as for what you say. When you’re evaluating events, get maximum ROI on the branding front by looking at:
- What’s the cost to attend, in dollars, time and logistical hassle?
- Is the audience made up of the right targets?
- How much control do you have over exposure and messaging? For example, a keynote has a higher potential ROI than a 5-minute panel spot.
- Does the event tangibly align with your organization’s goals?
Social media: Few people aren’t active on social media. The question is whether your social activity will be a personal or professional engagement. When this is your medium, it allows you to build connections, amplify content and jump into the larger debates. Making the most of social requires some consideration:
- What channels will you be active on?
- What’s your overall positioning? Will you focus on boosting the signal on industry news, acting as an employee advocate or posting original content?
- Will you walk the party line on industry topics or be controversial?
- What’s the end game for social? Examples might be raising visibility, building an audience for other initiatives or turning contacts into offline leads.
Blogging: Blogging is a medium that can work for building a brand in many ways: on your own site, your company’s digital properties, online forums like LinkedIn and Medium, or guest posting on other sites. Most people who get leverage from blogging ultimately do some combination of these things over time. Making the most of blogging takes some strategy:
- Where will you post? In part, this links back to your goals. If you’re job hunting, LinkedIn is a great place to start. If you’re just trying to be more visible in your company’s mix, their blog properties could be the right choice.
- What’s your unique point of view? Blogging and digital publishing are pretty saturated. What value do you bring to the market? Think in terms of voice, data, case studies and more.
- What’s your call to action? Define the specific calls to action you’re interested in, and have a clear plan for how they contribute to your larger personal brand roadmap and goals.
Writing for publications: Landing a contributor spot on Forbes or contributing to an industry publication can vault you into thought leadership territory. It builds visibility and gets your name out there faster than almost anything else. However, there’s also a high degree of scrutiny that comes with this type of exposure. Mistakes are very visible and can have serious repercussions. You’ll have to spend significant time developing your work, researching it and polishing it. Here are some factors to consider:
- Are you ready for the work level and the scrutiny?
- Do you have an original POV you can showcase in this medium?
- If needed, do you have access to resources that can help you (or the time to tackle them yourself) with factors such as editing and research?
- How will you leverage this into other opportunities? Can your choice of topics, calls to action or follow ups on the momentum translate to bottom line results?
There are a few other options available, too. You could go out and start a YouTube channel, attend industry conferences, start your own website, or tackle any emerging channel. The same tenets hold true:
- Does it play to your strengths?
- Does it align with your (and your employer’s) goals?
- Are you willing and able to embrace the cons, as well as the pros, of the medium?
A Final Note on Career Trajectory
Having a strong personal brand really does benefit you in the long term. Maybe you want to move on to a role at a Fortune 500 or a well-funded startup. Perhaps you’re getting ready to start your own venture, write a book or go out on your own and launch a consulting career.
That’s one of the best parts of marketing today — the flipside of a linear path is an abundance of dynamic opportunities. A platform, an audience and an established strategy for communicating what you’re focused on at any moment can open important doors.
As you’re developing your personal branding strategy, it’s easy to get caught up in what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable, what your employer wants and what results you need to generate this year to prove that it was all time well spent. However, don’t forget to step back and ask what’s in it for you personally. Where do you want to go in your current career? What’s your next career move? What’s your 5-, 10- or 20-year plan?
Work backwards from that. A column is a great foundation for a book. A strong network can help you launch a business. A reputation for insightfulness can land you lucrative consulting contracts. Make sure your own personal objectives, whatever they are, are reflected in your plans.
Marketers today can make a strong business case for building a personal brand, both for their company’s bottom line and for their own career growth. Here’s the thing, though — the route you take there is entirely up to you. Be strategic and think in terms of day-to-day outputs and long-term objectives. Nail down your personal branding roadmap and be clear that while no plan is perfect, having a strong personal brand can help you land opportunities, grow your company’s visibility and open doors that would otherwise be closed to exciting long-term career paths.