A Personal Take on Personal Branding
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the importance of personal branding and how such an approach to your career can provide you with direction and ownership of your professional future. The basic premise was about how we all need to be more considerate about our individual 'brand' since we are currently living through a digital transformation that has fundamentally changed how we communicate and network with peers and potential employers. With that in mind and understanding that many of us are in a flux state right now regarding our careers and lives, I wanted to share a more personal take and a course I developed on the subject. It has made such a positive difference in my life. I believe it can do the same for many of you.
The fact is that digital disruption will only continue to accelerate, further increasing competition, exposing skill gaps, and possibly rendering many of us irrelevant across the global job markets. I believe we have reached a critical inflection point that can be seized upon. By developing a better understanding of ourselves and our true nature, we can amass the energy, passion, and curiosity levels necessary to thrive inside and outside of work as well as to keep up with what lies ahead. I understand that this concept probably holds a bit more weight for me than most others because not only did I recently changed career paths, I also happened to change continents. Finding myself in a new situation where my past successes were now mere memories, and my network and contacts were now an ocean away, it was time for me to rebuild from the ground up. Fortunately, I was able to go through this process while at the same time consider our relationship with this current digital revolution.
About that Branding Life
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with great branding and solid positioning. One of my first memories regarding having an emotional branded connection was being a fan of the American Football team, the Oakland Raiders. Although my eldest brother nudged me in that direction, I think it was evident to me even as a 7-year-old that this brand was highly considered and consistent through-out. They positioned themselves as the archetype villain in relation to every other team in the league. They had black and silver uniforms, a pirate as a mascot, and a devil made care attitude that emanated from the owner, the players, and the fans alike. Another influence on me as a kid had to be those first 3 Star Wars films. Even if I knew I was supposed to root for the Rebels, I couldn't wait to see Darth Vader on the screen. I was also genuinely in awe by all things Empire; The ships, the logos, those costumes! Whoever worked on that Galactic Empire style guide was obviously top-notch. As a teenager and still today, I get much of my branding and positioning inspiration from the music industry. Bands such as Gun's and Roses, Iron Maiden, and even Devo seared themselves in my memory as examples of exquisite brand building.
In my twenties, I got to dive head-first into a pre-digital, Thank God, fashion industry. Where the concept of brand and pin-point positioning was everything, this was a time when just one magazine editorial, a daring print Ad, a new model on the runway, or a new brand launch at Barneys could drastically and instantly change the industries overall "mood." If only you had the eyes and instinct to see it. The fashion industry soon began to feel like home for me. I loved the pace, the travel, the people, and the excitement of seeing mood boards and Pantone chips turned into actual tangible collections of products.
After about a decade of sales jobs and some sputtering start-up attempts, I finally started to really hit my stride in the industry's footwear sector with my first footwear company called Pour La Victoire. I figured out its correct positioning by walking the floors of every major dept store in the US, collecting and compiling notes. I then created easy-to-read charts that showed the distribution of all the company's current products by category, price, and fashion forwardness. The wholesales buyers loved my presentations, where a comprehensive understanding of their business was the lead-off. The business doubled every year for 5 years straight then was sold to private equity. The experience gave me the knowledge, confidence and network to keep doing what I loved. Which was creating brands.
Ok, now I'll stop being so self-indulgent with my past. I think you get it; I am a bit sensitive to the cultural zeitgeist and I try to think in terms of 'brand', differentiation and positioning. This has enabled me to translate that into some actual companies, albeit some more successfully than others. No matter which brand, I knew precisely their values, mission, narrative, and tone of voice. Here the irony in all this; When starting to take a personal inventory and prepare for my career Act II here in Europe, I had no idea what I stood for, what made me unique or where I even where I wanted to end up. Go figure, someone who has been into branding and positioning their entire life has neglected his very own and now needs to figure it out for himself.
I decided to put myself through the same vigorous process I would do to build a brand. One that needs to be consistent internally and externally, authentic, sustainable, and can foster at least some sort of competitive advantage. While doing this, I have also been documenting the entire process by creating these types of blog posts, frameworks, tools, and courses that I plan to start distributing. As a marketer, I understand (read: hope) that this type of documentation is the foundation for an engaging content strategy. Let me rephrase that I believe that good content is a byproduct of documenting good work, but that's an entirely different article. The whole thing is really part serious business, part creative art project part; I don't know where the hell this is going to go, but I am just trying to find the right balance of being of value to others and living a purposeful and passionate life for myself.
I am sharing this because I think it's important and often overlooked in today's' day and age. Most of us are so busy, swept up in the current of life that we never fully understand what we value and where we want to go. Due to this digital disruption, the time has come where that type of thinking can limit your opportunities and damage your career prospects.
"This is a very complicated world. This is a noisy world. And we are not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us - no company is. And so, we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us." -Steve Jobs
Self-Discovery: Discovering my Why and Identifying my NorthStar
Now, I am going to outline the first steps in the personal branding process. The focus here was to identify my core values and where I wanted to be at the pinnacle of my career (aka my NorthStar). I was kind of familiar with these concepts thanks to author Simon Sinek and his famous Ted Talk. He explains how the leading companies in the world are unequivocal on their 'Why' or purpose, which allows them to build a corresponding value system that can act as decision guidelines even in the most complex situations. To find my own, I began by investigating some of the classic Psychological and Marketing frameworks that have stood the test of time.
One of the most helpful ones was Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I now understand the pyramid level I was stuck in and how it obstructed a level of self-awareness necessary to arrive at before you even started thinking about anything regarding purpose or meaning. It turns out I was stuck right in the middle of the psychological needs area where my need for affirmation, quick fix accomplishments, and prestige keep me in familiar and limiting patterns. I also dug into the Brand Onion concept created by the authors Chernatony, McDonald, and Kotler. They view a brand like an onion with many layers where each inner layer informs the other. When all layers are in alignment, brands, or a person for that matter, feel more authentic and consistent. Since the first two layers require one to know their 'Why' and their values, the Onion just reinforced the importance of starting any branding project with this.
From there, I began to research and find any tools or exercises that can assist in my quest to understand and articulate my values. It turns out there is quite a bit out there to help. It is not quite as much as, say, how to smash your goals, increase your social following, or lose weight in X amount of days, but if you look, you can find it. What I found was an entire range of tools that, at some points, had me relying on gut intuition and at others forced me to take a pause and reflect from their deep questioning.
I analyzed my past and present, project into the future, and made notes of the key and peak moments in my life thus far. When I felt the most joy, the most passion, and even the most frustration, all to understand each period's corresponding values, I also got to create passion boards, vision boards, and mission statements while being as creative and aspirational as I could. It was some pretty intense and, at times, trippy stuff. In the end, I was able to identify for the first time what my core values were. Words like energy, growth, relationships, creativity, and leadership have taken on whole new meanings and have caused me to reprioritize in most areas of my life. Best of all, I also started to realize my NorthStar and what my next company was going to be. Now that I completed those aspects of my brand or my Onion's insides, it was time to work on the more external parts to achieve a holistic brand identity, but I'll spare you those details for now.
Ok, I admit a lot of it sounds a bit unnatural for a person to think like this, perhaps overly ambitious or too calculated, mechanical; I get that. But now that I have gone through the entire process, I don't see it that way. Corporate brands have been trying to appear as human-like as possible for as long as I can remember. By focusing on and developing mortal characteristics and personality traits, they can become more relatable, identifiable, and memorable. Increased competition forced them to do this, and you can't deny that the great ones have created pretty amazing identities. They feel authentic, very well aligned, highly considered. They seem to have a gravity about them that draws us in.
Then why shouldn't we follow suit and treat our careers and lives in this same way? This process did that for me, and for the first time in a minute, I am working and creating with the wind at my back. The 2020 pandemic didn't change anything but the inevitable. It was a Black Swan event that just pushed us all into the future a little bit faster than we all would have liked. Let's all take it as a sign to reflect, regroup, re-up and remember "It's never too late to be who you might have been" -George Eliot
Thank you for reading. And please reach out to me personally if you want to know more or are interested in working on my free course: Own your life: A Brand called You. It can take you step by step through the entire personal branding process. You can also download on the course section of this site.