I don’t know about you, but I chafe against the term “personal brand.” If you’re like me, those words evoke images of Instagram influencers being paid to go on fabulous vacations or test expensive beauty products from the comfort of their home. And while I applaud their hustle (and amazingly good fortune, let’s be honest), most of us don’t make money off our “personal brand.” Or do we?

So, here’s the plot twist: I am a marketer!

While I get paid to market salespeople, even I dislike the concept of a “personal brand.” I think of myself as many things: daughter, sister, friend, cat mom, community member, and yes, a marketer, but I am a person and not a brand. How do I know this? According to Philip Kotler, who is considered the “father of modern marketing,” a brand is a “name, term, sign symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product.” And although we’ve never met, I don’t need to tell you that I’m not a product either.

However, like you, I am often in a position where I must “sell myself” to others.

Whether it’s a new client, a prospective employer or coworkers at a new job, we all have to sell ourselves at one time or another. And that’s where it gets hard to escape the idea that we have a personal brand because *sigh* we do. We have characteristics that identify who we are and what we do well and knowing how to highlight those attributes in the best light is the key to getting others to buy what we’re selling… namely ourselves!

I’ve got three questions for you

I developed these questions after examining different case studies that detail unique approaches to market various products. So, if like me, you have difficulty framing yourself and your approach to work as a “brand,” I am presenting three questions you need to ask yourself to become a better marketer of your personal brand, and what you can learn from three consumer brands who successfully answered these questions.

Who is your customer/client base?

This might seem like a fairly obvious question that would be easy to answer. But if you take a deep look into your own company’s client or customer base, you might find some surprising patterns that you never considered.

Back in 2012, creative executives at the Saatchi & Saatchi agency in New York gathered some insights into the customer base of their client, Luvs Diapers. What they discovered when they looked at the data is that many of Luvs’ customers were second-time moms. The agency wanted to find out why this was, so they surveyed a sample of Luvs customers who were second-time moms and discovered that after trying a number of different diaper brands with their first baby, the team found that second-time moms preferred Luvs over Huggies—its number one competitor.

Using this insight, the agency created a funny and charming campaign for Luvs that had moms all over the country nodding their heads in recognition. You may be familiar with the “First Kid, Second Kid” commercials, wherein first-time moms are shown to be very discerning about who they let around their first kid, but when it comes to their second kid, moms will hand their baby to the greasy mechanic or an inexperienced goth babysitter.

How can you apply this technique in your professional life?

When either researching a potential client you’re pitching or going on a job interview, dig deep when gathering insights into the person with whom you’re meeting. 

We all know that you should look at the company’s website and scan the LinkedIn profiles of anyone you’re meeting in a professional context, but don’t just give these a cursory glance. Really dive deep to find qualities about that person that pique your interest, which will give you the opportunity to connect in a deeper way during your conversation. Did they recently volunteer with their colleagues during a day of service for an organization that you care about? Have they written an article on a topic that interests you? Find something that they’ve shared publicly that you genuinely admire and bring it up during your meeting. 

Desk with books and coffee. journaling questions to market yourself

How can you leverage your strengths in a unique way?

Consumers have heard it all before: Product A can help solve all their problems; they aren’t living the right way if they aren’t using Product B, etc. If you have something to sell, the best way to do it is to frame your solution to your client’s or customer’s problem in a unique way they’ve never seen, which will make you stand out and get their attention.

In 2004, creative executives at what was then BBDO/Chicago surveyed people about their cleanliness habits on behalf of their client. What they discovered was that respondents were more likely to leave the house not having showered or bathed, wearing unclean clothes or not having washed their hands, but the one hygienic behavior they would not leave the house without completing was brushing their teeth. 

So, I bet you’re thinking that this survey was conducted on behalf of some soap brand, or maybe for Clorox, or possibly for a laundry detergent brand, or most likely a toothpaste. Nope. It was for a chewing gum product. Yep, you read that right.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the irreverent Orbit Gum campaign that ran in the mid-aughts. In the series of commercials, unfortunate protagonists find themselves in compromising situations where they end up physically or figuratively dirty. In each spot, after the inevitable calamity has occurred, the pitchwoman appears. “Dirty mouth?” she asks. “Clean it up with Orbit Gum.” 

This is a great example of a company gathering an insight that initially appears to be unrelated to chewing gum but then uses it to form the basis of their client’s brand positioning.

I believe this strategy can be easily applied in a professional context. 

If you think about yourself holistically, there are certain skills and attributes that you have that are seemingly unrelated to your professional life but are actually very relevant to how you complete your work and should be showcased as assets. 

If you are a mom of three children, then you certainly understand the importance of time management and place a premium on efficiency. Those are traits that you should highlight with a prospective employer or client to underscore your mastery of those skills. 

Perhaps you enjoy volunteering at a non-profit organization during your free time. Mentioning your commitment to service in a professional context will demonstrate that you have strong people skills. 

cup of coffee on pink plate

What do your customers or clients say about you?

The smartest companies understand that the customer is at the center of their brand. You can offer the best product or service in your category, but if no one buys it, it doesn’t matter. Something that’s also important to take under consideration is that there might be something about your brand that customers value beyond what it is you’re actually selling.

Online retailer Zappos likes to say that they are a service company that happens to sell shoes. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh will often presage that in 10 or 20 years, he hopes people will forget that the company started by selling shoes and will just think of Zappos as a service organization that provides great experiences. 

It’s clear the company is putting their money where their mouth is. If you perform a Google search for “Zappos customer service stories,” a plethora of links to heartwarming anecdotes appear.

My favorite example of Zappos customer service awesomeness is this story from 2007 when the company sent a bouquet of flowers to a customer who forgot to send back her return because her mother had just died. 

It turns out Hsieh was never a proponent of spending a lot of money on advertising. He chose to redirect the amount of money most companies would allocate to paid marketing or advertising and invested it instead in customer service. That strategy, he believed, would lead to strong word-of-mouth advertising by his customers, and that instinct clearly paid off. It also bred strong customer loyalty, as 75% of new Zappos orders are placed by repeat customers.

Because humans are the worst judges of their own behavior, it helps to get feedback from others to better understand what our professional strengths are.

You might discover that you display qualities you weren’t aware of.

Also, hearing that we are good at the pursuits we put a lot of time and effort into can be a rewarding and validating experience. 

Being armed with feedback from others can empower you in a job interview. If you tell the hiring manager that clients and colleagues often say that you are very thorough and detail-oriented, by providing specific examples of what you did to earn that reputation, it will show that you are self-aware and proactive in obtaining feedback. If you gain a reputation as an outside-the-box thinker who provides creative solutions for clients, chances are they will tell their colleagues and you will win more business through referrals.

Now it’s your turn

Now that I’ve given you some questions to consider, take some time to think about how you might answer them in a way that highlights your unique value. Just as each consumer brand out there has characteristics that differentiate them from the competition, so do you and your audience can benefit from understanding what they are!

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Erin Payton

Erin Payton

Erin is a content marketer who has a passion for using storytelling to help her clients build their businesses and strengthen their brands. She believes that everyone has a compelling story to tell, and she enjoys helping them navigate the process of self-discovery. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.
Erin Payton

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