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Build Your Personal Brand: 6 Starting Steps

Highlights of my CoveyCast talk with branding expert Patrick Hanlon

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Patrick Hanlon

Personal branding — we’ve heard of it, we know it’s important, but we don’t necessarily know how to do it. So I sat down with “brander-in-chief,” Patrick Hanlon as part of a CoveyCast podcast interview about how to apply big-brand concepts to creating your own personal brand. Patrick is the CEO of Thinktopia, a social branding agency, and he’s an expert on helping big brands such as PayPal, Microsoft, and Levi’s discover their true voices. He’s also a published author and TEDx speaker — check out his work on “Primal Branding,” (he says the book is required reading for YouTube employees). Here are some highlights from our conversation:

 

#1. Branding is storytelling
From the moment we’re born, we wrap ourselves in stories. We’re told that we’re a boy, a girl. A sister. Daughter. Brother. Cousin. Grandchild. Part of a family. Part of a neighborhood, a city, country. We’re told what we’re good at, we’re told what we’re bad at, and we’re told what to believe and what to wear, and what to eat, what not to eat, and everything. All of these stories just kind of build — we wrap them around us. And then at some point, it’s a story that we have, that we tell and that others can hold onto.

… And we’re in control of the story
If people like the story, we keep telling it. If people don’t like it, we adjust it. So, how do you boil those stories down, how do you change that story, and how do you put it down on paper so people can use it?

 

#2. Brands are belief systems
Once you create a belief system, you attract others to share your beliefs, and on the personal side, [these] are probably the people that we hang out with, right? When you look at brands as a belief system, there actually is a system behind belief, and that system: there’s a creation story, there’s a creed, there are icons and rituals and a lexicon — you might call sacred words — and there’s a group called the “nonbelievers,” and a leader. And those seven elements create a constellation of parts that wrap themselves around products and services, certainly like Nike, like Apple, but also you.

 

#3. It all starts with a creation story
Once we know where you’re from, we want to know what you’re about. And that could be “Think Different,” “Just Do It,” “Coke Is It,” etcetera, etcetera. And on the personal level it gets to, what do you really believe in? Then icons signal who we are: once we know where you’re from and what you’re about, we have to be able to identify you. And so if you’re a product, that comes down to your logo, like the Nike Swoosh or the American flag.

 

#4. There are two ways to brand yourself
There’s the way where you always wear the same thing. Lucille Ball, I think, always had the same hair and Woody Allen wears the same eyeglasses, whereas Madonna and others kind of disrupted that — she rebranded herself every 18 to 24 months. It’s another way to go, and you have to define who you are and what you want to be and how you want to do that.

 

#5. You must have a vision
Sometimes people wake up and they realize that they’ve been walking inside someone else’s story. You might have a story all your own and might want to live out your own story. You have to know what you believe in or want to believe in. You have to have a vision for yourself. You have to have an intention to do that. And a dream of some kind. And dream and vision might be synonymous. But you have to have that and a lot of people do have that, but the important thing is to have an intention and to want, the desire to do that and make that happen is critical. Otherwise, you just stand on the sidelines. And so a thing that we do with companies and you can do it for yourself is that we say write a headline about yourself. Imagine the year is 2025, you’re writing for The Wall Street Journal, you’re writing for The New York Times, you’re writing for the Arts section or the Social section or whatever of the Times or Huffington Post. Pick the publication of your choice – YouTube – and what is your headline for 2025?

 

#6. Connect the dots
Once you determine what your vision is and what your intention is, then you go back and sort through your life. I mean if you want to start a cupcake company, you go back to when you made cupcakes with your grandmother or your mother. And that’s the foundation and you work from there.

 

Listen to the full podcast on Podbean or iTunes to learn about how your daily rituals can provide a basis for reinvention, the importance of putting yourself out there socially, and why curiosity is essential for survival.

 

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