In this generation where a formidable digital footprint is currency, building a recognisable personal brand is not an act of vanity. The sooner we let go of ideas that make us cringe every time we hear others referring to themselves as brands, the sooner we can capitalise on the vast opportunities that exist online when our brand identity stands out.
I cannot recall the number of times I have heard people conclude that personal branding isn’t for them or simply that “it is the art of putting on a façade”. Then there is the notion that it is only for public figures and prominent personalities. This article will dispel those misconceptions and help you to better position yourself in your industry. Yes sure, you may not be a household name like Bonang Matheba or a world record-breaking athlete like Caster Semenya, but why would that be the only reason you invested in yourself? These women have both equally gained acclaim and esteem by reflecting their own individuality and what they stand for. Start thinking of yourself as a brand too with the help of this guide on how to actively participate in establishing and fortifying yourself as a brand.
Part 1: Charting and funnelling your brand assets
Let’s begin with this three-part exercise (that is habitually neglected) of familiarising yourself with who you are. We all have an idea of who we think we are, but the issue lies with whether how we think of ourselves is an accurate indication of how we are perceived by others (online and offline). This is how to make sure that how you see yourself is accurately reflected:
- First, interrogate yourself in order to gain clarity on where your strengths and weaknesses lie;
- Then ask trusted people in your personal as well as professional life about what they associate with you. It’s important to gauge what others think of you in order to understand the perceptions you create in people’s minds. This will help you avoid doing things or participating in activities that are misaligned to the perception you want to create. Nobody wants to be misunderstood; and
- Finally, follow up with an exercise of assessing your environment by identifying potential opportunities and gaps in relation to your strengths and vulnerabilities. It may
be that your current environment doesn’t have any room for your growth or opportunities, which may then call for a move. Such an assessment may be painful in that it will probably reveal some blind spots that have been obstructing you from seeing your image for what it really is or things you may have always known but feared facing head on. Nevertheless, you cannot determine where your brand is going without assessing where it currently stands.
Part 2: Establishing your digital presence
Take a moment to shut out the noise and ask yourself, for what do you want to be known? What is your thing? What is your brand essence, that is, the core of your brand? Be specific and put together a brand strategy that will become your manual. Essentially, it is a long-term plan to develop a laser focus on your speciality. Founder of Hootsuite Ryan Holmes has said: “As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges you will face will be building your brand. The ultimate goal is to set your company and brand apart from the crowd. If you form a strategy without doing the research, your brand will barely float, and at the speed industries move at today, brands sink fast.”
Some marketing experts argue that you must establish yourself as an expert. However, my belief is that there will always be someone more qualified or privileged enough to have acquired more expertise than you. So the idea is not to claim to be an expert or present yourself as what you are not, but rather to distinguish your authority on the subject using knowledge and experience you’ve amassed, coupled with your genuine voice. Nothing beats sincerity and authenticity.
Another harsh reality is that every industry has its gatekeepers so focus on taking up space. Ursula Burns, the first black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, has boldly stated: “I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them.” Here are ways to gain visibility and credibility:
- Establish yourself as a resource through knowledge sharing on digital communities such as LinkedIn and Reddit;
- Research industry players and engage them on their work. Strive to develop long-term relationships with them;
- Offer the value you bring through proposals and showcasing. There are platforms for freelancers and creatives such as Behance or Linktree; and
- Establish your own online presence by branding yourself intentionally rather than being concerned with being “on brand”. You may not need a website, but instead may only need to use your social media as a portfolio. This way you’ll have control over your narrative. A much-needed skill is translating analytics from your platforms into insights for your strategy.
Part 3: Solidifying your brand voice
I’m a shameless advocate for incorporating digital transformation, especially for small businesses. It is inexpensive, interactive and has returns. Here are some aspects for consideration:
Understand your target audience and tailor your content on social media to provide solutions to their pain points instead of selling to them. Do not aim to appeal to everyone;
To help your reach and engagement, your platforms and mediums should consider the context in which they exist. Try researching content ideas on platforms like BuzzSumo or Answer The Public;
Content requires planning so use a content calendar. Social media management tools such as Hootsuite or Planoly will transform your life; and
Maintain professionalism and consistency through visual identity and consistent messaging.
Women have always been cultivators, story-builders and the original influencers. And I believe that digital transformation could very well be our saving grace to crafting strong personal brands that we can cultivate ourselves and be accountable to — now and in the future.