You ever hear someone say “oh, I’m just not good with money” as an excuse for their terrible choices? How you handle money is a statement of your character and values. While not everyone needs to be hedge fund managers, everyone needs to know how to at least take care of themselves.
Personal branding is the exact same.
What you believe about yourself is the foundation of your brand.
Personal branding isn’t just for influencers. If you’re trying to not be a run-of-the-mill employee all your life, but actually want to build something of significance, you need a personal brand.
More bluntly: you already have a personal brand. It just probably sucks.
Imagine telling someone “oh, I’m just not good at brushing my teeth!” They would look at you funny, for one. Next, if they cared even one iota about you, they would let you know teeth-brushing is non-negotiable. Personal branding is now part of the fundamentals of life.
It doesn’t always mean having 100,000 followers on Instagram. It means when someone finds you, they’ll see you’re a worthwhile individual with positive momentum.
This is a two-part post. Part 1 is about your values, which are the foundation for any brand. Part 2, appearance and tactics, is about how to deploy your values through your presentation.
Branding is a heuristic. You see something, make a quick judgment about its value and potential, and take action accordingly.
Example: you see someone attractive across the room at a friend’s party. You make eye contact, give a playful smile and they smile back. You walk up and introduce yourself.
A brand is “good” when it gives you a strong promise and then delivers. If you go to a 5-start restaurant and the server was just wearing a T-shirt, you would almost be insulted. Conversely, I went to a restaurant called Lucile’s this past weekend, and the mugs for coffee are all mismatched. My friend’s mug was one of those freebies from a credit union down the street. But that works because it was part of the down-home, New Orleans charm. It was not trying to be a fancy restaurant, just a fun one.
So, what does this mean for personal branding?
Here’s your blueprint:
- What do you care about (values)
- How do you come across (appearance)
There’s plenty of detail within those two, but that’s the basic formula.
You Are What You Value
The term “values” is so overplayed that the word has almost lost meaning.
Don’t think of boring stuff a company says and no one means like “integrity, teamwork, innovation, diversity, etc.” I’ve yet to meet a team who doesn’t think they’re not “collaborative” but when you meet
In real life, a brand three—maybe.
Let’s get some examples:
- Apple: beauty, simplicity
- McDonald’s: speed, consistency, ubiquity
- Amazon: comprehensive (“the everything store”), efficiency
- The Louvre: the greatest
- Barack Obama: authority
- Donald Trump: momentum, brute force
- Steve Jobs: brute force, casual (a weird combination, which is what made him so interesting)
You don’t have to agree that Apple’s computers are beautiful, Trump was a momentous person, the Louvre is the greatest of museums. But understand those are the values each of those institutions and people are going for, in my estimation.
Don’t overthink your values. What do you care about?
What Do You Care About?
Really, what do you care about?
Write down the first 10 words to come to mind. If you run out before 10, that’s fine. Your gut’s first few answers are probably the most honest answer.
For me, I care about building and creating (whether that’s as simple as writing a blog post, or developing a web app) and getting other people rich. I struggled to think of more values off the top of my head, which means those two probably outpace most others for me.
As an aside, those two reasons are exactly why I have this entire blog. That’s my convergence.
Values can shift over time. Over time your values are tested. If they’re worthwhile, they survive. If not, you change them up.
For example, Holiday Inn began as the middle-class option for travelers, where it wasn’t a seedy motel, nor was it the Ritz. It was clean and affordable. That was it. I haven’t been to a Holiday Inn in years, but I’m guessing it looks like just about every other hotel chain at this point. They are not known for being clean and affordable now (not saying they are not those things, but it is not part of their reputation). Their values look a lot more like McDonald’s—ubiquity, consistency, etc.
Not All Change is Good
Your values will probably change over time. This may be good, and it may not be.
For example, let’s say one of your core values is “fairness”. If you get cheated a few times, your value will be tested. Is it worth keeping your value as it is? Do you need to tweak it? Do you need another safeguard, or maybe just throw it out entirely?
Cynicism is weakness, and it’s the most common reaction to disappointment. Not trying to turn this into a therapy session, but I say be conscious of your practical values. Constant complaint is a sign of cynicism. Unless you’re trying to be a social commentary grifter, which God knows we already have enough of, then don’t become a complaint machine.
The people and brands worth following are the ones trying to create, not critique.
Who Doesn’t Need a Brand?
If you’re a billionaire, a political powerbroker, or a high-end art dealer who only exists as a phone number shared between elites, you probably don’t need this post.
Not because you don’t have a brand—you very much do. Everyone has one. You’ve just already honed it into your particular niche.
A specific type of person doesn’t need a brand. That itself is part of their brand. They’ve already got your own thing going and they probably want to stay lowkey.
Kim Kardashian has a massive brand, one of the biggest in the world. But very few people know who her manager(s) is. Yet her team is extremely well-known to a select group of people. Within that select group, those people have a very meaningful level of clout and can accomplish much.
Unless you’re trying to become behind-the-scenes support to the extremely wealthy and well-known, you need to build your brand.
If you’ve become a multi-billionaire like Peter Thiel, then your investment firm’s website can look like this. Until then, let’s build some social capital.
The foundation of any brand is your values. Your values are the 1–3 things you care about most (relative to your public brand).
Unless you’ve already “made it,” you need a personal brand.
In part two, we look into the practical steps of brand building. Don’t even start on that until you’ve clarified what your values are. Be intentional with what you choose to care about and don’t overthink it.