This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of GLOSS Magazine.
Authenticity and storytelling in personal branding
People find inspiration in unexpected places. This morning, inspiration struck whilst wandering into a room featuring an upturned wicker basket of small people’s shoes.
The inspiration was not due the pint-sized jogger-shaped mess on the floor - created by one four year old simply to wanting to see what was at the bottom of the basket – rather the framed words of wisdom from Dr Seuss buried amongst the stuffed toys, Thunderbird rockets and Lego blocks on the shelving nearby.
Sage advice for pre-schoolers maybe, but also words that would have any fully grown business and entrepreneurial types nodding their heads when considering their personal branding. Specifically, the relevance of that statement when building an online platform for you, your ideas and inspirations, and, ultimately, your business.
Here’s what I thought of as soon as I read that quote.
The way we’re doing business has changed dramatically, and continues to do so.
It’s inconceivable that just five years ago people were debating whether or not social media was relevant to brands and businesses. Many saw social media as little more than a platform for a bunch of very bored people to talk about what they had breakfast.
Similarly, back when digital self-publishing exploded onto the scene it was seen as nothing more than an outlet for people who couldn’t get ‘really’ published.
In the experience of one now well-known thriller author (also my partner-in-crime and dad to our two little superheroes), his lifelong dream to be published was quashed by traditional publishers until we edited his manuscript into submission, self-published via print-on-demand and ebook, and sold a few thousand copies. We built his author platform online and via social media to the extent that it attracted the attention of a digital publisher, Momentum Books, which sent him to the bestseller lists on Amazon and iTunes in Australia and America. These days, he has a literary agent, is shopping his three books to major worldwide publishers, has reached more than 100,000 enthusiastic readers, received countless five star reviews and his book series has been optioned for film and television.
So digital and self-publishing has put the power to publish squarely back into the hands of the people, rather than old-world publishing industry gatekeeper types – and this has revolutionised the way in which we can share creative and business information worldwide. But five short years ago, not everyone knew what to think – because storytelling had been democratised again – until we saw where it could take people just by giving it a red hot go.
Today, social media is undeniably a primary way in which individuals present their personal and professional brand, and organisations chat and network directly with their customers. Meanwhile digital publishing provides opinion leaders the ideal platform to showcase their thoughts on a global scale.
As a result, your brand is increasingly important, as is the distinction between personal and professional blurring to become one and the same.
It takes good communication skills and some creativity to differentiate your business and your positioning to your competition. But once you have a handle on your point of difference, the next most important part to get right is how you approach your brand, and how you put it across in a way that resonates with others.
First and foremost, always try to tell a personal story about your work, what you do, and why you do it. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways we can get a message across – whether it is fictional, factual or anecdotal – we break down barriers and put people at ease when we can draw them in with a story.
For example, rather than simply inviting someone to an event, tell them more about why you are curating it, and why it is important to you. Instead of asking someone to invest in your services, talk about how you came to provide those services, and use third party endorsement - other people’s experience of you – to enhance the overall picture.
And instead of lecturing people on your life-changing theory, draw them in with an anecdote or a recollection that helps to bring your takeaway point to life. Because people will remember the moral of the story through remembering the story itself – that’s human nature.
In simple terms, find ways to keep it real.
It’s easy to portray on social media channels an airbrushed, perfected, edited version of ourselves. That’s ok, most of the time, especially if you’re a public figure.
With the increasing conflagration of our online and offline selves, showing online that we are not indestructible is a realistic depiction of life and people will respond to that – and remember you for being the person who is willing to let their armour down every so often. How you do that is up to you – whether it’s an image, a funny joke, a heartfelt post or an anecdote – but try it at least to gauge how people respond!
And in the words of Dr Seuss again...
You’re different to everyone else, and that’s your strongest point when building a brand. Define your point of difference, bring out your unique voice and perspective, enunciate your ideas and thoughts, collaborate with like-minded people and don’t be afraid to experiment and lead the way a little – even though it may feel a little uncomfortable and crazy when in the middle of it all. It’s about loving your work, being passionate about where it takes you, and letting that shine through.