Craft Your Personal Brand In 2021
What is a personal brand? The phrase puts some people off. Although, in a way, we all have a personal brand, it’s what we do with it that counts.
The phrase “personal brand” elicits very different responses. For some people, it’s just part of life. For others, it’s something ugly, an attempt to turn every conversation into a sales pitch.
I’m in the first camp. Fine-tuning my personal brand has always been a part of my life. It comes with trying to make a name for myself in music and the arts. But I know some of you are in the latter camp and are sceptical about the idea.
So, let’s talk a little about what personal brands are, away from the hype and cult of the hustle, to see how personal brands can work for each one of us.
What Is A Personal Brand?
A brand is a way to differentiate one product from another in a marketplace. More than just a logo or packaging design, a brand is a story. Most importantly it’s a story about trust. Why should you trust a brand? You trust it because it will deliver on a promise, a promise to make you happier, healthier, sexier, or wealthier.
But people are not products.
However, we do face a similar challenge, because we make promises, and we need people to trust our ability to deliver on those promises. Also, we need a way to differentiate ourselves from others who make different promises or simply are not trustworthy.
Working on your personal brand is a path towards that.
Notice I didn’t say creating a personal brand, because you already have one, regardless of your feelings about this subject. The way you act, the things you do, and how you do them, that’s your brand. Think of it like the impression you make, and we all make an impression, whether good, bad, or indifferent.
Why A Personal Brand Is Unavoidable
Cultivating your personal brand means being intentional about the impression you make. I think Dolly Parton said it best,
“Figure out who you are and then do it on purpose.”
– Dolly Parton
This challenge has always been with us. But it feels more acute now since the impression we make depends so much on what we share online. The Zoom-era work-from-home culture has allowed so many people to live like internet influencers. This has just accelerated a long-standing trend, in which the demands of technology have increased the number of skills workers are expected to have. Skills like typing, creating presentations, or communicating electronically went from being specialist tasks to things everyone was expected to do for themselves.
Li Jin, formerly of Andreessen Horowitz and founder of Atelier Ventures, has highlighted how most people’s jobs will increasingly have characteristics we associate with online content creators.
“No matter which industry you’re in, people are all going to be creators. … Everything will have a creator component to the job. … Everyone will have to build influence online, because we’re living more of our lives online. … All of us will have to adopt some of the skill sets and behaviors of creators in order to be successful.”
– Li Jin
Of course, you could try to avoid this and pretend this trend is somehow going to slow down. But you’d be taking a big risk and also potentially missing out on some benefits. Particularly because cultivating a personal brand puts you on a powerful path to personal freedom.
A Path To Freedom
Let’s get cosmic for a moment. What are you asking the universe for right now? What big thing, in your work or personal life, are you hoping will manifest itself soon?
One way to think to think about your personal brand is to imagine yourself in this context. What change are you hoping to create in the world? How do you plan to bring it about? What kind of people do you hope to do it with?
Hopefully, this sounds big – life mission big – because that’s the point.
This is how a personal brand becomes liberating. You clarify what you stand for in a way that lets people rally around you. Also, you stop being someone who’s here for whatever and become someone who’s here for something in particular.
Some people won’t like your brand. That’s cool. Those people aren’t for you anyway. They were never going to cheer your successes or support you in the tough times.
But the people who are for you and what you want, well, they can find you now.
A Personal Brand In 2021
Approaching your personal brand this way lets your values shine through. This matters because, in 2021, we won’t trust anyone or anything whose ethics are unclear. We’re too jaded from all the broken promises. We’re also tired of toxic people, unsafe workplaces, and unsustainable products.
What we’re looking for is perspective. It’s like a compass to help us navigate through life.
Think of people you admire. How much do you know about their perspective on current issues like climate change, racial or gender equality, mental health, or economic injustice? Maybe they don’t talk about their values all the time. But their opinions still shine through, enough for you to know what their truth is.
But it’s hard to do all this anonymously. You’ll need to find your voice and make some choices.
How To Tweak Your Personal Brand Right Now
One place to start is by crafting a simple introduction to yourself. There are many versions of this. I think of it as the XYZ sentence. I’m an X and I do Y, so we can enjoy Z. For me that becomes, I’m an artist and I write articles, blog posts, and books, so we can enjoy a more creative life.
Try that for yourself.
Next, put some intention behind it. Put this introduction into every act of communication. Online, in person, even as you talk to yourself. This is who I am, this is what I do, and this is why I do it.
Hopefully, two things will happen. First, it will start to feel like you’re telling a cohesive story about yourself. Second, you’ll begin to pay attention to the edges of life around you. This will raise a lot of questions as you audit your words and actions.
This is important because boundaries matter. Brands are as much about what they don’t offer as what they do. Coke doesn’t sell trucks, and McDonald’s doesn’t offer investment advice. With both, you know what you’re getting and also why you might say no to either.
This is where the freedom comes from. You can redouble your commitment to the people and places, things and tools, that move you towards your goals. And you can be comfortable in saying goodbye to those that don’t.
But most of all, the freedom comes from choosing to be yourself.