Everyone has a story to tell, what’s yours? As the post-pandemic job market slowly opens up, that story could be the key to landing your next opportunity and inspire your personal brand. Our lives are impacted by our online presence, both personally and professionally. Before you look for that next step in your career, consider how you are presented.
The WVU Marketing Communications Online programs recently brought together Dr. Dawn Edmiston, Clinical Professor of Marketing in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary, Brianne Fleming, marketing consultant, blogger, podcast host, and instructor at the University of Florida, and Tod Meisner, Associate Brand Manager — Social Media for Aflac, for an Integrate Online panel to discuss how to define your personal brand to succeed in your career.
What is a personal brand and how would each of you describe your personal brand to someone else?
Brianne Fleming: For me, a personal brand is really an extension of who you are primarily online. We kind of build it up in our heads to be this formal presentation of who we are, but it's really not. It's just an extension of who you are in your real life and your career amongst friends, family, coworkers, but portraying that online as well on social media and on your own website. So it's really just an extension of who you already are.
As far as my personal brand. I like to think that it's true to me. I like to teach people about marketing, but through the lens of something that I love and have always loved, which is pop culture. Particularly late 90s, early 2000s pop culture.
I have a podcast called Making the Brand, where we'll take lessons from music or sports and movies anything in pop culture and derive marketing lessons from them. For instance, we dropped an episode today about marketing lessons from Harry Potter, so fun things like that. I just like to talk about things that I've naturally grown up with and loved and trending topics and culture, but also adding marketing to the mix because I love that as well.
Dawn Edmiston: I would define a personal brand as a strategic and intentional process that involves understanding and defining your value proposition to others.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of that little own organization Amazon once said that your personal brand is what people say about you when you walk out of the room. I like to think that what you would say about me when I walked out of the room.
My personal brand promise is to teach people how to discover and share their value with others.
Tod Meisner: Back to your point from Jeff Bezos, people are going to form those opinions of you and they may control it just as much as you do. The control was there for us to own it, but if you don't own it, or if you don't use your channels appropriately, the general masses are going to define it for you.
Why is a personal brand important for marketing communicators practitioners in 2021 and beyond?
Brianne Fleming: You don't have a personal brand, but there are just so many opportunities that are uncovered by being present online. I always say people think that having a personal brand makes you promotional and like all you do is talk about yourself and it's all about ‘oh look at me and my personal brand.’ But it's not making you promotional, it's making you present, seen, heard, to the point where opportunities can fall into play. I don't even think I would be here having this conversation with you if I didn't have an online presence or a personal brand of some sort.
For marketing professionals, specifically, there is such a community out there. One that I've been happy to be a part of, especially on Twitter. There's so much to learn and there are so many other professionals we can learn from. So rather than just passively consuming knowledge and information from people you may admire, you also have the potential to contribute your perspective, no matter where you are and your career. You don't have to be intimidated. We all can learn from each other.
Dawn Edmiston: I definitely understand the concerns that we have about marketing and the commercialization of marketing. Even Oprah at one point said, I am not a product until she realized that she is one of the world's most powerful brands and so now she has that mindset as well. She understands that when a product or service is associated with her name, that is going to signal a certain value to others. And that's really what your personal brand does. It's a signal of the value that you are able to contribute to others. And that's why it's so important.
Do you think personal branding could serve as a self-development tool, like an extension of self-development efforts?
Dawn Edmiston: It's so important to think about self-development as you're developing your own brand that's your internal perspective. But, the personal brand has two perspectives, the internal and the external. You need to recognize the value of both of those perspectives. As a self-development opportunity, you also need to engage with external audiences. You need to think about who is going to value the products or services that you are delivering.
How you may be perceiving your personal brand may be very different from how others perceive your personal brand.
Brianne Fleming: Absolutely. And to add on that just personally, I've felt that in my journey. You know, it really does call for you to develop yourself and ask yourself what I want to be known for. I always joke that just sitting down and trying to write my bio or my about me on my website, could be one of the hardest exercises. It challenges you to think about what you want in the future.
Tod Meisner: My about section transformed when I was in our internal newsletter. It was the month of my birthday and the internal newsletter team said, hey, we're going to celebrate birthdays, fill out this questionnaire. Then someone else did the write up on the questions that I answered, and I was like, their words about me sounds way better than what I could say about myself. So, if you're stumped on the about portion, ask your friend, your colleague, your significant other, someone close to you, what's your story about me.
What's the starting point to identifying your personal brand?
Brianne Fleming: Take a moment to reflect. I didn't have a lightbulb moment until I really reflected on who I am and the things that I love. But one thing I really want to recommend is reflect back on your childhood. For me, personally, as I started working and getting into the working world, I lost sight of the things that I grew up loving or the reasons that I got into this field. There were things that I enjoyed and aspects of the industry that I clung to but I kind of lost my way as I got into the corporate world and I forgot what I was passionate about.
I can bet we all have a personal story. Either from our childhood or maybe our adolescents are a little later that really signals why we are the way that we are. Whether it was, you know, the first moment that you knew you wanted to get into marketing, or you knew you wanted to get into your field.
For instance, on my about page, I talked about how growing up, every weekend I would go to the mall and I would buy a Tiger Beat, Teen Beat or Bop magazine because that's what I grew up loving and I would just pour over the pages and look at the copywriting, the layouts, the photography, the ads and that's when I knew I wanted to be a part of this field and do something creative. I imagine we all have a story like that, that will inform everything else you do in the future with your brand.
Dawn Edmiston: And I actually share a childhood story as well. When I was a little, little girl, I would take makeup price tags and place them on my sister's toys and sell them to my imaginary friends. So, I think I was born to be a marketer, and although that's not something I necessarily share in my narrative of LinkedIn, it is how I started my LinkedIn. It is how I started my perfect pitch video, which you can also watch through my LinkedIn profile.
It just kind of gives people the warm and fuzzy feeling to think about their own childhood and to understand you better through your own personal story. I think, more fun to write, but it's also more fun to read for whoever you're presenting yourself to and being able to develop an authentic self. One of the reasons why I teach the development of perfect pitch videos in my classes is because this is so much more dynamic than a one-dimensional resume.
Brianne Fleming: Yeah, your resume is typically just an eight and a half by 11 PDF, but your personal brand when you extend it other places online. It really has no bounds. There is no limit to where you can be seen and where you can publish and who can see your work.
I always joke that I feel like I'm becoming best friends with people on Twitter that I've never met, especially in 2020, but people won't know the magic of both your personality and your expertise and knowledge, unless you get out there and publish it. So, whether that's starting with a Twitter account just to get comfortable. Or going and doing a full-fledged personal website and blogging or publishing on other media outlets. It just starts with the work and getting seen.
What’s that one question you should ask yourself to kick off your brand? If you're going to start this exercise, what's that one question to kick it off?
Brianne Fleming: What would I create if I didn't think people were watching? What do I love so much that I'm going to go this route and create it anyway? Just thinking about my own personal experience when I first started really getting serious about my personal brand, I thought okay, I have a marketing background and I'm an instructor at a university. I'm going to portray myself as this marketing educator and be super polished and professional and that's who I am, because on paper, my resume says I'm an instructor at an accredited university and I need to act a certain way. It didn't feel like me. It didn't feel like my own voice. I just felt almost like a fraud, like I was just putting on this facade and persona as being you know more, I guess, not to say academic. I mean, I am an academic. But I didn't want to always feel like I needed to be like a textbook when I talk to people. I wanted it to be my own voice.
So that's when I said to myself, you know what, I love pop culture, and this is the lens that I want to talk about this field in this industry through. I don't know if anyone else is going to care about 90s pop music or boy bands and things that I love but I'm just going to do it anyway. And maybe I'll find an audience doing that, but I know I'm going to have a lot more fun and it's going to feel true to me.
So just create what feels right to you first. Don't feel like you have to conform to what personal branding is molding you to be. It's personal to you, it's always going to be what feels best in your heart.
Dawn Edmiston: The second question that I would ask is where I can make a difference. It doesn't need to be that you're creating this grand mantra overnight, because this is a long process.
Do you need to be public everywhere, or is it okay to mix and match?
Brianne Fleming: I really don't think there's a perfect answer. I think it comes from experimentation. For me, I thought Instagram was going to be my platform, but I really found my groove on Twitter and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with going all in on Twitter and maybe keeping Instagram for more personal moments and closing off my Facebook.
But as far as Facebook, specifically, I think there's a big opportunity there for groups. So maybe there's something that you're passionate about. Maybe you want to start a running group or a writer’s group or there's healthy recipes you want to start a group for and bring people together, that's a great place to have that two-way communication and create that community.
Dawn Edmiston: Yes, the first question you need to ask is, where is your audience. Because if you are not communicating with folks who are on Twitter, do not be on Twitter.
If you're an artist, you really need to be on Instagram. If you're a chef, you might want to be on Pinterest. So, think about your audience, first and foremost, and don't try and be everything to everybody.
How do you formulate your perfect pitch?
Brianne Fleming: I think it's about remembering that your brand voice is just your voice, especially when it comes to personal branding. Just talk the same way you would be your best friend. I really had a light bulb moment when I realized that people on Twitter are occasionally sending me the same meems that my best friend sent to me like 20 minutes ago. That's how I really knew that I am portraying the same person I am to my best friend, as I am online. It took me a while to get there, but just remember your voice is just your natural voice and who you are, don't filter it down or try to sound smarter because you feel like, oh, I need to brush this up and my personal brand needs to also be professional. Just be you and just write like you talk.
Should I transition my brand when I'm transitioning companies?
Dawn Edmiston: And I would say that you're not transitioning your brand. You're bringing it with you. There are going to be plenty of transitions and I wouldn't want you changing your brand every time you were changing a job. Think about it as though you're bringing your value with you now, and that brand will evolve.
What are some personal brands that you would recommend folks to view as inspiration?
Brianne Fleming: Some Twitter friends come to mind. If you guys aren't following Alexa Heinrich, her handle is @HashtagHeyAlexa. She is a marketer, but she added that second layer by talking about accessibility and marketing and how to make sure our communications are more accessible for screen readers.
There are some other people I follow on Twitter that use color really well. Just simply defining a color that is what you're known for is a huge signal in defining your personal brand. Christine Gritmon, @cgritmon on Twitter, is always in red. Jake Zachariah, @jzjakez, is always in yellow. He loves Bob Ross and that's like part of his brand but you compare these things to people like Prince, who always had purple. You can own a color as well.
Dawn Edmiston: And let me pivot that question slightly to talk about what you can do in particular and LinkedIn to ensure that the right people start to follow you or be recommended to you. The power keywords is critical. If you have developed your profile, well done. If you've developed your profile with a personalized URL, even better. But make certain that when you're developing your profile that you are using keywords. Again, not necessarily of what you've done in the past, but perhaps who you want to be in the future. Using those keywords and fully developing your profile is really important to being able to connect you to the right people.
Tod Meisner: Ryan Reynolds is an actor, and he's funny yet, that's him. He’s incorporated himself as now a genius marketer and running a marketing shop that he can market himself and his products and then they do it seamlessly.
Because his brand that, that's him. He's an actor. He's a marketer. He's an entrepreneur and it's all just him.
What's the steps that someone can take to build their brand as they leave today? What's their jumping point to say, man, this fired me up, I'm ready to go do it.
Brianne Fleming: Start publishing on whatever platform. A good start is on social but I always encourage everyone I talked to, my students, especially, that you need a personal website. We all need our own little corner of the internet that we own is our place. You really want to direct people to your content to engage with everything you've written, to read your related posts versus a related post about someone else.
Dawn Edmiston: And I would leave you with the reminder that you are worth the investment. You need to invest in yourself, even if it is just 10 minutes a week to build your brand. I actually have on my LinkedIn profile, I do not develop many LinkedIn articles, but I did develop an article on how LinkedIn found me my dream job at William and Mary when I was not even looking. So if you happen to need hope in your life. I hope that this is a story of hope that I can share with you.
And I said 10 minutes a week. Just spent 10 minutes a week connecting and engaging with others, be intentional about what you do and how you do it. And keep in mind that it's not enough to simply build a brand, you need to live your brand and then you need to share that brand with others.
Be sure to visit integrate.wvu.edu for the full recording, as well as upcoming sessions.
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