How to build your personal brand without the *cringe*
(+ why build one at all?)
I get it - you hate self-promotion - but you're missing the point.
Let’s cut straight to the cringe – most people, including you, dislike the term “personal brand.” If you’re the exception, this post isn’t for you. Everyone else, stay with me.
I hear you: “The influencer movement is so fake,” “I don’t want to be one of those self-promoting people,” “A person isn’t a brand.”
Or how about this? “People will think I’m full of myself, or (and please excuse my ‘Aussie’) ‘I don’t want to look like a dick-head’.”
Or these classics: “Personal brand is just for: the beautiful … the articulate … the photogenic … the popular … the insecure … the power-seekers… the fame chasers, the ..: [fill in the blank with whatever trait you believe you lack or loathe]…
I hear you — but there’s a shift happening
Call it what you like, the growth in personal brand is part of a massive societal shift towards greater freedom of identity. Sure, it might look like something else — with people behaving badly at times — most movements start a little ugly. (TLDR: skip the history lesson? The answer to the question in the headline is at the end of this post).
This shift started about 20 years back when reality TV began. Around the same time, blogging was hatching — with everyday people, learning to express their feelings in public to some applause. (Thank you to Blogger, Twitter and Medium founder Ev Williams for the huge part he played in those revolutionary platforms for self-expression.)
Big Brother — the global TV show that kick-started the reality TV trend — was essentially a bunch of 20-somethings sitting around sharing their vulnerabilities in public. Part of the reason it was so popular is many recognised their own vulnerabilities and gave them silent cheers. On the surface, there was a lot of muttering about how lame and cringe-worthy Big Brother was. The ratings told us differently and the series lasted well over two decades.
Then social media happened. And the arrival of ‘status updates’ and all variations of social sharing which has completely changed our approach to communication and our view of privacy in both good and bad ways. I believe these changes have been more evolution than evil-lution. I write about that here.
Wait, you are saying? “Reality TV is now manipulated reality, social media is heavily curated what about fake news?” Yes authenticity is lacking at times. Yes its fake and ugly at times, but no more fake than the social masks humans have worn to fit-in for centuries. At least now we are also having real conversations about real issues and in many areas that has created real change.
There is no turning back. Communication is a lot more democratic. Far from the one-way communication of the traditional media model where only 'writers' got to express, people of every stage and walk of life can now share their reality and have a voice.
We are still in the very early stages of change. Like any movement, there are early adopters and it can be painful and nauseating watching them test out their new communication methods in public. Up next is mass adoption. And that’s why we need to pay attention.
The real reasons we hate personal brand
The *other* less worthy reasons for our discomfort around personal brand– which feel closer to the truth--is that being visible makes us feel self-conscious, ashamed, scared, guilty, lazy, inadequate, needy, desperate… [fill in the blank of whatever you are afraid of.]
Maybe you were raised to believe that keeping a low profile somehow makes you a better person? Perhaps you feel guilty for having a higher profile than a family member, a colleague, or your boss? You may feel it’s selfish to put so much emphasis on yourself?
Whatever your guilt or shame is, it's probably misguided. Everyone is entitled to acknowledgement for their work; everyone is entitled to self-expression. Keep in mind that many of the benefits of having a profile flow back into your current business or business pursuits and to those who depend on you for their career or financial success. Everyone benefits.
A common myth (or fear) around personal branding is that it is the territory of charlatans and try-hards. No doubt that there are many such characters in the public eye.
Yet, you alone determine how much substance you have behind you when you step forward into the spotlight. And ethical choices have little to do with status, or profile, although we love to stereotype. Instead, it has everything to do with your inner compass.
I’ve spent much of my career persuading very worthwhile contributors to stop playing small because status and profile is often the best way to help their cause.
It’s not “worthier” to stay in the shadows. It’s simply more comfortable. And it’s infinitely better to nudge yourself forward than to be watching someone less worthy take your place.
Despite having spent years building brands and personal brands, I got dragged kicking and screaming to the personal brand party 🎈 like many others. One of the issues that got me to step forward (aside from the obvious double standard I was creating) was the frustration of seeing others quite literally using my words and achievements to build their own profile.
We can avoid the need to focus on our personal brand — personal profile (the term is semantics). Dismiss it – diss it as you please. But please don’t kick yourself next time you see someone else receive the advancement and the acknowledgement you want for your efforts.
Doing it without the cringe — how?
I promised there is a way to do this without the cringe. Yet, I’ve spent most of this post dealing with objections because — believe it or not— getting out of your own way is the hardest part of building a personal brand.
The fundamental misconception about personal brand is that it equates to fame or celebrity. And it can — but that’s not the aim. Personal brand is about elevating your profile, helping others to understand what you do and why, and serving as a magnet for (mostly) business or professional success.
In truth, personal brand should rarely be about *self-promotion* —and yes, that is cringe-worthy when that’s the main game. It should, rather, be about cause promotion.
The simple secret of a non-cringe-worthy personal brand is rather than promoting yourself, promote what you love and want to spotlight — promote your area of expertise, educate others-- there’s nothing cringe-worthy about that!
Share, spotlight, amplify and talk about what you love. In a professional context, that’s a magnet for attracting more opportunity in that area. Highlight other’s achievements in that area, curate and share great content on the subjects you are interested in. Speak up about your concerns in that space. Share your news and participate or create initiatives in the area you are passionate about. You will gather your tribe around you in that area. Give. You can read more about that here.
That feels good — not awful, right?