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Personal branding - Part 1 (a personal tale)

That's just the way it's supposed to be

A brand by any other name is just as sweet

If you want to learn something something, teach it.

I thought that maybe I invented the concept, but putting it into Google reveals that other brilliant minds had come before me. Haha.

Nevertheless, of late, I've been grappling with the idea of personal branding. I taught a pilot course for Total Life Complete called "How to do what you love and get paid for it". The idea is that by finding what you love, and doubling down on THAT, you'll be super motivated and resourceful, and thus be able to create a sustainable living from doing what you love.

There are several factors that support this idea. Creativity research (e.g. by Teresa Amabile from HBS) has found that we are more creative when working on something that we're personally (intrinsically) motivated by. And along with the idea that "necessity is the mother of invention", if we can find our personal leverage point or "burning platform" (our compelling reason to change) then we might realize that, since most of us have to do work to live, and life is short/long that we might as well take the reins and try to do something we love. Then see where that leads us. I did.

The second part to this idea of "getting paid for it", is the emergence of Content Marketing as a means to earn an income. Most of us, when we really niche-down to our personal passions and purpose in life and skills have some experience or advice or content that is valuable to others. And at the least, even if you're not that far ahead of others, if you're willing to hustle and learn and do, then quite quickly you'll be several steps ahead of others that might be interested in what you've done, and in tapping into some of your energy from having done it.

What I tell my students is that even if you don't want to become a self-styled guru of X, but instead want to get a dream job or start a business, then you STILL need to do a little soul searching and take the initiative to produce a mini-portfolio of content to communicate, and add credibility to what you're doing.

Content marketing and branding: chicken and egg?

Content marketing, for me, is simply using images, video, audio and text to create a (positive) awareness and impression of what you offer and who you are (as an individual, group or organization), and create word of mouth around what you're selling (e.g. your personal brand, cause, business, product, service etc). In the case of a job seeker, writing a blog post or creating a video interview is content marketing, and the product is you. I recently attended a presentation from an e-commerce site that sells hair/beauty salon equipment. As content marketing, they produce articles for their blog that help would-be salon owners to think through and plan what they need for a new salon, and thus build trust when it comes time to purchase. You've also no-doubt seen content marketers whose product is more content e.g. have this checklist for free, then sign up to a paid course, book etc.

There are many good articles on content marketing out there, and perhaps I'll write one for a future post. But for now, I want to talk more about the connection between content marketing and personal branding. And, as always, I'll try to be as open and frank about my own experience and challenges and what I've found.

Logically, I thought, you should work out what your brand is (or what you want it to be) as the first step, before writing ANY content (for fear of off-brand content and wasted effort). Then, when you've worked out your brand, create a content plan to highlight that brand, and finally, get around to writing some content... perhaps.

This approach to branding can work when you're doing the branding for someone else... but coming up with an authentic brand for yourself can be quite tricky.

Asking someone to help describe your brand can be a start, but for me, that rarely produced satisfactory results (unless the other person was skilled at personal branding).

The reason is that while these other inputs can highlight something in you that you can't see, the general public are not always great at helping you craft a brand for what you want to be / might become. People see you as you are now.


Another downside of a brand-first approach can be that it be a little artificial and lack authenticity.

An alternative approach, is to create some small pieces of content as an experiment, then look for the common themes about what that says about you: what are you talking about, how are you saying it, who are you that is saying, why are you saying it. That's what I'll describe here.

Branding - What

What do you find yourself wanting to talk about (not what you feel you should talk about)? Which topics?

If another individual understood you, completely as a person, what would they expect you to talk about (not be surprized that you're talking about).

For me, I'm genuinely interested in entrepreneurship and business, and particularly the sociology and psychology of business, and new ideas and research. I read about this stuff for fun, not because I have to.

Music has played a big part in my life for so long, from my time as a DJ and event producer, to the escapism and immersion of UK music festivals. I just realized that I don't write about it much (but now I will), but I do always pay attention to the music at my events, and try to work music into my videos.

Community/Society. Working as a management consultant for huge corporations gave me a unique insight into the workings of global organizations and markets. I also spent years jetting around all parts of the world. The result is that now I'm fascinated in ultra-local community, and also global trends. I'm interested in the role and responsibility corporations have creating a sustainable society.

Work out the full range of what you like to talk about at work and outside of work, then find imaginative ways to weave those together.

Branding - How

What is the how of your communication?

Big picture, detailed. How-to, thought-provoking etc? Formal, structured, succinct, conversational? Pictures, words, videos etc...

I love understanding things, demystifying them and sharing what I learned with others. I also try not to take myself too seriously, to share personal examples, and to write in a conversational way.

Perhaps what I'm about to say is good practice for everyone, but I'm always asking myself "so what" when i write something, and looking to try to impart some value, one way or another. I've realized that just sharing what I'm going through with others openly and honestly can be value. As entrepreneurs, and in life, working out that some thought or problem isn't just unique to you, but just the way it is can be helpful in managing expectations. And more importantly, to help push through.

I always tell people that learning to be more skilled at being creative means that I fail a whole lot more than before! What this really means is that I'm trying more stuff, learning more, and stretching myself. What I mean by failing is being in the state of having a problem you're trying to solve. Perhaps the seed of the idea was good, but the realization wasn't all there. So-called failure is an instant and essential cure for vanity, and the necessary ingredient for editing, and improving your craft. But, you can't edit or improve something you haven't created yet.

Part of this "how" that you'll see in the blog from now on is kind of leading by example. To put stuff out there that is not quite ready (remember that I used to be a consultant, and sometimes we'd spend hours or days wordsmithing a single slide)! First recognize that "great is the enemy of good" and get started, then once you're moving worry that "good is the enemy of great".

Branding - Who

Although these steps aren't necessarily in order, it can be helpful to start directly thinking about who you are after you've thought about what you like talking about and how you like to say it, else you might disappear down a mental rabbit hole.

What experiences in life have you had that have created who you are today? What point of view does this give you?

A taste of running a creative music business in college was always in the back of my mind as a climbed the ladder in a corporate career. Although I left a career in management consulting to found a lifestyle startup and pursue other creative projects, the consulting experience hasn't left me. I found it helpful to think about what tribes or communities that I'm native to. For me, recognizing that I'm native to the entrepreneur, corporate and creative communities was useful in thinking about who I am in a broader context. I'm also native to Gen X. You can also find this idea described by Bruce Nussbaum in his book Creative Intelligence (he calls it knowledge mining).

Branding then, is about finding imaginative ways to incorporate who you are into every aspect of what you do.

Branding - Why?

By now you're probably well placed to talk about the why of your brand.

Why do you do what you do, or why do you want to do, what you want to do in future?

For me, the experience of being stuck is altogether too recent. I've experienced that life is too short or alternatively too long, to not do what you were made to do, and what makes you come alive. Now, I help others to come alive, and also hungrily pursue creative projects and collaborations, as if time is running out tomorrow.

I believe that the world would be a better place if more of us did what made us come alive. One reason is that we'd naturally be less self-centered. As humans our natural inclination is to help others. If we can awaken to abundance rather than hide in fear and scarcity then that's got to be a good thing, right?


We're often advised to lead with our "Why", but in practice I think to actually find that why we should start with what, how and who first. And start by creating, then identifying themes. Then refine and iterate. In the end, it's not what we say about ourselves, but what we do and who we show we are that's important.. and what interacting with us lets our customers do or say in their own lives.