Nowadays, I don’t think there is much question over the validity and the effectiveness of a personalized approach to branding, marketing and customer experience. But, what I think may still be largely confused is that it’s not about a “personalized approach,” it’s actually about being personal. I don’t need my phone to beep coupons at me when I get within a 5 mile radius of Home Depot or my web browser to somehow remember my search history and stalk me on every webpage I visit with ads for that item or similar. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about putting the personal in personal branding. Embracing the wholeness of who you are and putting that out there for the world to know and connect with. While it can leave the person sharing of themselves incredibly vulnerable and exposed to criticism…. it’s a risk worth taking, because it helps form a strong bond with an audience and leads to opportunity! For personal brands and businesses wanting to share a more personal side of who they are, the question that often comes up is how personal is too personal?
I think this completely depends on the person or brand, as this is… as you might expect… a very personal choice. As a personal brand myself, I oftentimes struggle not with how personal I want to be, because I really am all of me in all that I do, but want to do so in a way that is meaningful to my audience. I always consider what is going to be most valuable and relevant. That being said, sometimes inviting an audience into your personal world is exactly the point and is most relevant, especially when it’s really a form of relating to your audience and welcoming them to relate to you. I personally believe that when you make it personal for yourself and your audience, you make real, lasting connections that authentically forms trust and friendship – not just transactions and clients.
We can all learn a lot from Taylor Swift and her unrivaled ability to connect with her audience on a deeply personal level on a worldwide scale. She doesn’t have millions of fans, she has millions of friends who support her, no matter what, and feel like they know her personally, because she has allowed herself to be known. Through the autobiographical lyrics she writes, to private listening parties she throws, to how she goes out of her way to reach out to a friend individually. She loves her fans and they love her back. And you can’t have that sort of connection unless you’re willing to put it all out there. Now, most of us can’t even begin to dream what it would be like to have that sort of loyalty and advocacy for our own brands… or can we? What does she do that is so different? I think it’s obvious: She is 100000% focused on her audience first and is not just committed, she’s devoted to them. Goodness, what if we were all so devoted to our audience? What might we do differently?
Well, reaching the bar that our girl Taylor Swift set might seem overwhelming, but I know a couple people that are also great examples of how making it personal is never too personal. I adore them both and even more so the longer I know them. These two professionals share their lives and in doing so bring so much value to the lives they touch by being personal and how they use their experiences to genuinely help others.
I can’t help but talk about him quite a bit in my writing. Brian Fanzo – Engineer of Awesomeness – everything he shares is from his unique and personal perspective. From day one, he has always shared that he is a devoted husband, loving father, change enthusiast, and technology junkie. Even though I have not yet had the pleasure to meet him face-to-face, I feel like I know what he is all about and admire his willingness to take all of us on his journey with him. He takes us everywhere from conferences to his home office. He even takes us on vacation sometimes! Brian can turn almost anything into a teachable moment and takes his real life experiences and shows how we, too, can apply what he’s learned to our own lives. Moreover, he shares who he is at home and I love seeing when he posts pictures with his family. He connects with his audience on a human level and I think that is most important of all.
Carlos Gil – an exceptional person and marketing professional – is someone who shares his life and perspective. Carlos doesn’t shy away from the truth and makes himself available to others and lets his audience in on his journey. Maybe you’ve caught his recent announcement about joining the LinkedIn team. If you haven’t, you have to check it out. His experience is one so many of us can understand and relate to. He shares his whole story with his audience and by sharing of himself, he not only gives us advice on how we can learn from his path – he let’s us know him better. Just look at everything he has published and you will see that he uses his experience to help others and isn’t afraid to talk about what’s real and personal (#SMRealTalk). It all matters. Carlos’s values come through in what he does and who he is. He also shares pictures of his family and travels and it feels awesome to get to know him better on a personal level. He obviously values his audience enough to let us in. I especially love how he shares his personal reflections via the written word and video. Knowing the context of his story and how much he appreciates the relationships he has is simply incredible to experience. You should be certain to at least watch this recent video of his and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
These two have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are today professionally. What is important to note, is that they didn’t get to where they are today, because they colored within the lines, if you will. They went outside the lines and showed us the whole picture of who they are and what they’re all about. They don’t tell us what they do to help others, they are always helping other people and their audience sees it in action all the time. I trust them, not because they tell me I can. I trust them, because they have allowed me (and others) to get to know them for myself.
Wow. Even as I am writing this post, I am so encouraged that real honesty, hard work, and integrity does matter and does help you reach your professional and business goals. I think the point is that you should share your personal experiences to engage with your audience, because it’s not just valuable – it’s invaluable. How much is a reputation worth? What is the value of trust? Can you quantify the worth of loyalty? As the famed Ted Rubin talks about and Brian and Carlos practice: What is the RonR (return on relationships)?
Being personal: It’s valuable, because it’s real. It’s important, because it helps others. It’s lasting, because it’s built on a foundation of truth… your truth.
How personal is too personal? That I think you can only find out once you really start putting yourself out there.
While there is no formal prescription for personal branding, here are some things that I try to keep in mind:
Be yourself (not a version of yourself)
Focus on your audience (they matter most)
Provide value (it’s about them, not you)
Create your own content (write, video)
Give, then give some more (it’s not give to get, it’s just give)
Show up (out of sight, out of mind)
Build relationships (be genuinely interested in others)
Care about their experience (with you)
As a marketer, the importance of figuring out those lovely “key differentiators” for a brand is always high on the list. From my experience, I have never met two of the exact same person… Perhaps we need not look further than inside ourselves and the people within our organizations to see what truly makes us different.
Cheers to all of you who live the personal of personal branding and much encouragement to those of you who are ready to take the leap. How personal do you think is too personal for you?
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