personal_branding

There are four parts to every career. To illustrate them, I’ll use Elon Musk, since his personal brand is strong enough to inspire superhero movie characters.

It starts with discovery:

1. Who is Elon Musk?

Then demand:

2. Get me Elon Musk.

Then, the person becomes too successful to be easily accessible:

3. Get me someone like Elon Musk.

Lastly, a person’s legacy:

4. Who was Elon Musk?

Most people get stuck at No. 1. The best way to grow beyond it, according to writer and consultant Michael Parrish Dudell, is with a strong personal brand. “People don’t take personal branding seriously. But if we do a focus group for a bottle of bleach, why wouldn’t we do it for ourselves?” he said to a crowd of founders and digital media-ites at WeWork’s Summer Camp event in upstate New York.

Certainly the idea of developing one’s “personal brand” sounds narcissistic, and maybe even a little slimy, like the kind of wisdom peddled by the social media gurus and ninjas of the world.

But it’s worth caring about, because if you don’t develop your own personal brand, others will do it for you. (VC Mark Suster recently wrote about this concept as well.)

The concept is comparable to the social media argument held in board rooms of large corporations five years ago. Do we really need a Facebook page? Do we have to hire someone to do Twitter for us?

That attitude quickly evolved as companies realized that customers were already talking about them on social media, publishing things about their carefully crafted and maintained brand. They could choose to ignore the conversations, or they could participate and help to shape them. And thus, an entire new marketing sector was born.

Personal branding isn’t dissimilar. Everyone has a personal brand, i.e., an image of themselves that others hold. Some people just take a more active role in shaping that image. Those that do are better positioned for success, argues Parrish Dudell. In recent years, he has made a career out of his brand as a content marketing consultant and public speaker (though he admits to not doing much in the way of social media).

If you want people to invest in your company, work for your company, hire you for their company, support your efforts in any way, or even just use your product, you need credibility and a good reputation. That’s even more true in the tight-knit circles of the tech and venture capital community.  Sure, Elon Musk may not have ever sat and down thought about his personal brand, but most of us are not 1 percent the bad ass as Elon Musk. For anyone striving to make a name for themselves and expand their network, personal branding can help.

Parrish Dudell believes it starts with self-awareness. You have to understand how you’re perceived before you can communicate your strengths to the world. When he first started taking personal branding seriously, he went so far as to do a focus group on himself, asking a friend to show a video of him to strangers and gather keywords about himself. He established that his brand is about being friendly, smart, charismatic and funny. Anyone trying this out can’t be self-conscious about their flaws, since there will negative perceptions too. You can’t change who you are, but you need to be aware of your best qualities in order to promote them.

“I would love it if you told me I was rugged, cool and suave, but that’s not how people see me,” he says. Ergo, promoting such an image would be inauthentic. “You can only communicate your brand it if makes sense,” he adds.

Those qualities seem pretty high level and generic, but it works, Parrish Dudell says, because people need to understand you in the simplest possible terms. “People only remember one thing about you. … People aren’t interested in the whole package, they want that one sentence (about you).”

After listening to his talk, peppered with jokes and some friendly audience Q+A, I’d say his focus group got it pretty much right. Charismatic guy. Funny, too.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]