What is a personal brand? Personally, I had no clue. 

The most straightforward definition I’ve gotten is that it’s the way you personify your goals and values. Which seems simple enough in theory, but in execution, I have no idea where to start. So, I attended three different talks on branding, both personal and corporate, by attending Bjorn Welter’s talk at Tech Open Air on “Branding and Beyond: How to Create a Truly Connected Community” and Future Females “Build a Personal Brand to Influence” event where Kat Brendel and Kaddie Rothe gave their input. In this post, I’ve pulled together the main takeaways on how to actually embody your values into a distinct personal brand.  

Corporate branding

We can start easy with corporate branding before we go into how to create a personal brand. I was lucky enough to attend the Tech Open Air conference this year in Berlin, and I stopped by “Branding and Beyond: How to Create a Truly Connected Community” written and delivered by Bjorn Welter, who has worked in branding for major companies, like Pret A Manger, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Hello Fresh. So, he knows his stuff. 

The main two points I took away are: people want to feel they are a part of a community, and a brand can provide that sense of belonging. But, customers want to maintain their autonomy. Humans are not solitary creatures, they exist within families and tribes, and always strive to have a sense of belonging. Brands can provide that.  

At first, I thought this sounded pretty cliché, but then I thought of the almost cult-like following of Apple users, who identify with one another and connect through features like iMessage or if you own AirPods. Or whether your athletic wear is Adidas or Nike. The brand you select says something about you – it makes others immediately connect with you. This intangible quality of the brand, what they represent, is what branding is. But how do they get there? 

Customers need options!

However, Welter stressed that, like children who are given a sense of belonging with their parents, but are always wandering off getting into things, customers need the freedom to explore. The example given was being at a party. You’ll find the majority of people at a party in the kitchen and not the living room. This is because being condemned to the couch at the party, only speaking to the person beside you, heavily limits your freedom to roam and explore. Alternatively, you could be in the kitchen talking to friends, but then turning to make a drink, or grab some chips.  

A real-life example Welter pulled from his own experience was the Pret A Manger free-drink policy. Any employee can decide to let a customer have their drink for free. No reason needed. This display of kindness made customers feel taken care of and acknowledged, not unlike what someone would do for them in a family. And in turn, the customers became loyal and chose to buy their coffee at Pret A Manger.  

By continuously selecting to get their coffee from Pret A Manger, customers exercised choice to be a part of this community, and it became part of their identity to be Pret A Manger coffee drinkers. Alternatively, if they lacked the choice of where they were able to get their coffee every morning, they may be resentful of the coffee they were forced to brew at their work. Choice matters!

But how does this translate into creating your own personal brand?

The question then becomes, how do you create a brand for your business, that then makes people identify with you and keep coming back for more?

Kat Brendel, CoWomen Co-Founder + storytelling & podcasting expert

If you are self-employed or job searching, you aren’t at liberty to give away free products and services. How do you make yourself unique from your peers and competitors? How do you provide a community? 

Kat Brendel, our proud co-founder of CoWomen, marketing and podcast consultant, and founder and host of the Leading Rebels Podcast provided insight on how to take control of your story and past, and what you can give away, even if it isn’t tangible goods at the “Build a Personal Brand to Influence” event hosted by the Future Females.  

Not everything is a transaction

First thing first, you will be disappointed very quickly with a this-for-that outlook on business. Commenting on everyone’s posts, sending out free goodie bags, or doing someone’s taxes for them, only to get absolutely nothing in return, is not the exception. If you set out on the mission on how you can get one, very specific thing, you’ll probably be disappointed. So, the first step of personal branding is changing this mindset.  

What can bring you a greater return is being genuinely helpful. Send that company an email telling them the link on their site is broken, fill out that survey and let that business know how their product was, offer your expertise on a guest panel for a local event. Casting your net far and wide, while presenting yourself as a helpful, knowledgeable, and honest person will resonate more with people than sending them a free t-shirt in the hope for a specific job offer.

What you have to offer may not please everyone

And that is okay! Find what works for you, that you know you can do consistently. You’re building a reputation for yourself, and it’s FREE (or of little expense). You can also prove your consistency and reliability by utilizing outlets you love. If you love YouTube but hate Facebook, that’s fine! Build a YouTube schedule so people can actually anticipate and expect your videos, and because you’ve selected a medium you enjoy, you won’t dread it and you’ll actually maintain your goals. There is constant evolution, and even influxes, of new media outlets, don’t condemn yourself to one you hate for your personal branding when there are plenty of other options. 

What about your specific story? 

Okay, so you’ve built a [insert media platform of your choice] schedule, you’ve connected with people and businesses to prove that you’re helpful and reliable, but now it’s time to actually talk about you, your goals, and the lessons you’ve learned.  

And while your life may have been filled with wonderful opportunities, there might be a couple mistakes here and there. Unfortunately, shit happens. Many uncontrollable factors on this planet cause things to happen to you. These things are not indicative of your character, and oftentimes they’re out of your control.  

However, you DO have a say in how you tell your story. Kat’s advice was if you aren’t in control of a situation, you are in control of how you choose to portray it. Don’t lie and deny the bad stuff, but let people know your perspective on things. Don’t forget that all of your audience is human. The human factor in your storytelling is what makes you personable and relatable. People resonate with the messy and ugly stuff too.  

But do clients relate to the messy and the ugly stuff?

 

Kaddie Rothe, goalgirls

Yep! Kaddie Rothe, founder of goalgirls, a creagency in Berlin, and the second speaker of the night at the “Build a Personal Brand to Influence” event, has found success through pursuing her business without formulaic structure. Creagency is a broad term for the creative campaigns goalgirls execute. They utilize activism, sustainability, and rebellious thinking to create innovative marketing campaigns for huge businesses, like Bumble. And I was lucky enough to listen to her take on personal branding.

Kaddie herself used to be an Instagram influencer, and in her own words, “dreaded” making personal posts. She heavily debated the word “authenticity” in her talk about personal branding and concluded that there is no authentic version of yourself. People have bad days. Maybe you’re on your period, or you’re hungover at a meeting. You can never maintain a consistent image all the time.  

Luckily, living in Berlin, people like the messy and the dirty. Kaddie found that consistent social media campaigns, and more conventional *read: boring* marketing ploys lack the personal touches that make people connect with businesses. Her business has gained its success and following by having a human factor.  

What is my personal brand? 

What will someone say about you in a wedding speech or when toasting your promotion at work? Those stories that distinctly capture your unique quirks is what Kat thinks may be indicative of what your personal brand is. 

Her advice? Ask people what is special about you! What do they value? Don’t fish for compliments, but what people say might surprise you. What’s the stuff that you do when you’re so focused on making that business deal, or engaging in conversation with a stranger that you aren’t even aware of it? Your self-identifying introvert self might be surprised on how people compliment how sociable you are. You have strengths you may not even be aware of. There are subliminal characteristics that already shine through you, and your business techniques and strategies. You already have a personal brand! You just need to characterize it and translate it into your business. 

 

© All images courtesy of Future Females & Ana Torres