Last week I spoke at a marketing conference and afterward a woman came up to express her frustration.
“I know it’s not your fault,” she started, “But the descriptions weren’t clear and the program said you were going to talk about marketing on LinkedIn, and I thought you were going to talk about B2B marketing and how we can optimize our LinkedIn pages, so when you went into personal branding for LinkedIn I got a bit frustrated. My neighbor was so angry she couldn’t take it and had to leave your session. Again, I know it’s not your fault, I’m just venting to you.”
I was caught off-guard and wasn’t sure quite what to say, so I did what I always do when I don’t know what to say, and I listened. The woman repeated her main points a few times, which consisted of:
- The program description wasn’t detailed enough
- LinkedIn marketing means optimizing your company page
- Personal branding isn’t B2B marketing
I couldn’t argue the bit about the program description, as I never looked at it and only know what I sent in to the organizer (which quite clearly talked about personal branding and thought leadership for LinkedIn as my focus).
I wanted to say that LinkedIn company page optimization and content marketing strategies for it aren’t what I focus on (my first interest is personal branding and individual influence, and LinkedIn second), and that as far as I was aware LinkedIn company pages were a waste of time for most companies (although not in 100% of cases), but as she wanted me to listen more than I think she wanted me to talk, I kept my mouth shut.
But that last point left me puzzled, long after she had left. Perhaps I misunderstood her, I’m still not sure. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why, if she was interested in B2B marketing for her company, she wouldn’t be interested in learning about personal branding for LinkedIn. After all, personal branding is the most effective form of B2B marketing on LinkedIn.
What Is Personal Branding?
Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. – Jeff Bezos
This quote works for personal branding just as well as corporate branding.
What do people say about you when you’re not in the room?
“Oh yeah, she knows everything about computers, she’s like Kim Komando.”
“He’s a marketing guru, seriously, like anything about marketing he’s the go-to guy.”
Your personal brand extends to all areas of your life, not just professional ones. Bezos himself has long been known as a savvy entrepreneur with a long-term focus, and more recently has added to his personal brand “That guy who cheated on his wife and lost $36B in the divorce settlement.”
However, your personal brand is generally made up of “expert areas.” When I say “expert” I don’t mean things you’re the best at, just things you know a bit more about than most people, which reminds me of the joke…
Q: If you’re walking through the forest with a friend and a bear starts chasing you, and a bear can run up to 35 mph, how fast do you have to run to outrun the bear?
A: Faster than your friend.
Case in point, when I moved to Hong Kong in 2013 I got into trail running. I lived in the small fishing village of Mui Wo on Lantau Island (paradise for trail running, btw) and it just so happened the founder of Asia Trail Mag also lived there. I was writing for Forbes at the time, so when he found out that I was into trail running and knew how to write, he asked me to write a column for the magazine. The only problem was that I was new to trail running, and didn’t feel like like I could write a column about something I knew next to nothing about.
“That’s ok, we’ll have you write the beginner’s section,” he said.
To write my column, each month, I would think of a question I had as a newb to trail running. I would then go research that topic, figure out the answer, and write an article about it. Because I was so new to the sport, I knew exactly the questions other newb’s had, and I knew how to talk to them without talking down to them. After all, everything I was explaining I had been clueless about just a few hours before. And yet because I knew a little bit more than my audience, I was an expert.
Similarly, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on China or Chinese. Sure, I lived there for two years and took one-on-one Chinese lessons for six months, but I’m nowhere close to fluent and am nothing of a China scholar. Still, compared to someone who has never studied Chinese at all, has never traveled there, and has never read a book or article about China, yeah, you could say I’m an expert.
Other expert areas I have that make up parts of my personal brand include:
- The chief marketing officer role
- The CEO role
- The founder role
- Academic research
- Book publishing
- Public speaking
Some of these things I’m more of an expert at than others. I have 20 years running a marketing agency, whereas most of what I know about depression I learned from Silent Souls Weeping, a book I read a month or so ago. But if I ran into someone dealing with depression who hadn’t read or learned anything about depression, I could help, at least a little. Does that mean it’s part of my personal brand? Only to the extent others know that I have the knowledge I have, which is admittedly small. But still, it’s something. Your personal brand is made up of expert areas both large and small and nothing should be discounted.
Your Genius Zone
Once you make a list of your expert zones, you can overlap them to find your genius zone, a concept I stole from Gay Hendricks’ book The Big Leap, which you should definitely go buy and read right now.
As you overlap two or more expert zones, you’ll find interesting intersections that make you unique and well-suited to solve certain problems.
For example, if I were to say “I’m a marketer with 20 years of experience!” then most people would say “So what?” and rightly so. There are a million other marketers out there with 20 years experience. We’re a dime-a-dozen.
If I were to say “I’m a skateboarder!” then same thing, there are 20 million of those.
But if I ask “Who knows as much about marketing and skateboarding as I do?” then we’re talking about perhaps a dozen people. Imagine Nike wanted to make a push into the skateboarding market in China to ride the wave of popularity due to skateboarding’s introduction as an Olympic sport, and they were looking for an American executive they could work with, and they said “You know what we need? We need an American who knows the skateboard industry in both China and the US, and who has 20 years of marketing experience, and 20+ years of experience in the world of skateboarding.” Who else would they go to? I might be the only person in the world who could meet that need.
What combination of expert zones makes you unique? What niches could you “own” easily?
How a Personal Brand Can Build a $100M Business
I was sitting on a boat making it’s way slowly from the Bitter End Yacht Club to Richard Branson’s Necker Island (another personal branding story I won’t tell here) when I asked one of the other people on the boat the usual question, “So what do you do?”
“I just got hired on at Nike to work in marketing, but I used be a partner at an agency,” she said.”
“Oh yeah? I have an agency as well, how large was yours?”
“About 600 people.”
“Oh wow, mine is only around 30, that’s huge! How did you grow it that large?”
“My partner…um, well, he has a big personal brand and it attracts a lot of attention.”
“Really? What do you mean?”
“Well, he has written a bunch of books about marketing and his personal brand has landed us a lot of clients.”
“Wait a sec…who’s your partner?”
There I was, talking to the woman who had worked with Gary Vaynerchuk to build up Vaynermedia from a team of 10 to over 600.
Sure, Vaynermedia did a lot of things right, and Gary did a lot of things right, but the fact remains that none of it could have happened without Gary’s personal brand which he built up through his writing and speaking.
Personal Branding + B2B
Vaynermedia is a B2B company. They work with corporate clients. It was built on personal branding.
My own agency, MWI, is a B2B company. We built it up with personal branding.
Buffer, Drift, Slack, and many other companies were built with the assistance of strong personal brands on the executive team.
“Great, a handful of examples, Josh, gimme a break. In God we trust, all others bring data.”
Fine, here you go:
A study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research says 44 percent of a company’s market value is directly linked to the CEO’s personal brand.
Here’s some more detail–that same study said that when a CEO has a good reputation (which is another word for “personal brand), they are better able to attract investors, positive media attention, and talent. They also retain talent better, and are fortified against PR crises.
Does this all sound like stuff only a B2B CEO would benefit from?
Personal Branding + B2B + LinkedIn
When was the last time you visited a company’s LinkedIn page? I’m not saying it never happens, but I never do it. Whenever I ask rooms of attendees at my talks and workshops to raise their hands if they’ve ever visited a LinkedIn company page I rarely see a hand go up. If you work at a company that has figured out how to do effective marketing through a LinkedIn company page then more power to you–you’ve figured out what almost nobody else has. What I know for sure is that it’s a LOT easier to focus on the personal brand of an executive and drive bigger results.
You’ve heard the saying “People do business with people they know, like, and trust.” You could say they do business with companies they know, like, and trust, but tell me honestly–how much does anyone really “like” a company? Sure, we like Nike, Apple, Tesla, and…notice how those brands have relied heavily on personal branding? Nike uses the personal brands of its sponsored athletes, Apple is still riding the Steve Jobs wave, and I guarantee half of Tesla owners are men who imagine they’re Elon Musk at some point while driving. Ok, those are all consumer brands rather than B2B brands, but the point is all things being equal, we would rather do business with a smiling person we like than a faceless corporation.
What about Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn itself? We don’t use Amazon because we like Bezos, or Facebook because we want to feel like Zuckerberg, or LinkedIn because we want to feel like Reid Hoffman walking out of Microsoft with a check in his pocket for $26B.
I’m not saying you can’t build a successful business without personal branding, I’m saying a powerful personal brand can pour fuel on the fire and take you to places you could never go otherwise.
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