I’ve not been in the mood to write this newsletter for the last couple of weeks. It’s hard to be relevant when it seems like the sky is falling for so many. I asked my favourite marketers whatsapp group what I should write about, and they suggested personal branding – an evergreen topic and very relevant today. As I was trying to research this late last night the 12 year old asked what I was doing and promptly suggested I write about Billie Eilish. “Be like Billie” is the theme song of her generation, but in this case it was good advice.

A quick recap – Billie Eilish is a teen singing sensation. But she also became a fashion icon of sorts by wearing baggy clothes, and with trademark black hair. She says it stemmed from a poor self-image, but also because she wanted to do things her way, and not be defined by the aesthetics of other pop stars. Now, at 19, she’s on the cover of Vogue – in a rather revealing corset, and blonde hair! Because, well, you should be empowered to do, well, whatever!

In the midst of the pandemic she is getting oodles of coverage with the interview questions coming from the likes of Orlando Bloom. The personal branding takeaway is that the external manifestation of your brand matters, but you can always break free from your past and try something new.

In the case of Billie, her core offering, music has not changed as dramatically. But for professionals in the current environment, even that may be required.

Let me explain. Whether it is products, services or people, success in a shrinking market is all about increasing your share of available spends. You can do this either by increasing your marketshare for an existing product or by creating a new product. In the marketing context, you could be the CMO who is made group marketing head and therefore survives any, how should I phrase it, er, rationalization, or you could create a new niche like “growth marketing” and own it. You can be the agency that sucks up all the available marketing spend by offering what the client really needs at this time. Recessions are not bad for everyone. Read this piece on how to Rock a Recession.

Back to personal branding. Ultimately it is about who you are. At the core of this are your values – you have to be a trustworthy individual, and be liked by your future employers or clients. Next is the external manifestation of your core – what’s your equivalent of the baggy clothes and goth hair? In the professional context it is also important to define what you offer. Here framing makes a huge difference. Are you a digital marketer or do you deliver leads? Do you sell an educational app or do you make education possible for the bottom of the pyramid? Are you an architect or do you make homes that people love to come home to? With every additional year of work experience it seems to get harder, and harder to define what we actually do. It is easy to drift into the “lead successful teams, drive transformation, deliver outstanding business results” generic blah.

Next up, why should the few available jobs come to you? It may look all gloomy outside, but there are folks getting poached with 75% pay hikes. It’s not a secret who these people are – they have skillsets that work in the new, digital, distanced economy. Or they have used 2020 to reposition or retrain themselves to be relevant to this new reality.

And they aren’t all geeks. Even Michelin 3-star chefs can play a new game. Years before I had enjoyed one of my fanciest meals ever – 6 courses of beautifully plated exotic food. In a recent respite from the lockdown I was able to enjoy the same food again. But this time it was served in the room, and the wine for each course was poured into small, numbered bottles kept in the mini-fridge so you could serve yourself. A zoom call on the in-room TV ensured you could see the food prep live and listen to the chefs discuss the menu. Additional bonus – no need to dress up. In fact, thoughtfully provided dressing gowns meant you could stuff yourself at leisure. Same experience? No. But in some ways the new experience was more intimate and luxurious than the old one. When we finally can go out without masks, I’d imagine that they would offer this in addition to the traditional dining option. And remember the point about marketshare? Certainly eating out budgets have shrunk and will continue to be reduced, but a fancy chef who can think remote is better than a no-brand chef who cannot.

If you’re wondering what next – chart your own path! I had written about Stan Lee in an earlier issue. He took a core skill of writing and parlayed it across a career of 70 (!) years.

As an artist the “Why” is relatively easier – most are driven to create. Billie Eilish sang because it was fun, and she’d probably sing at some level even if it wasn’t her profession. For the rest of us it follows Maslow’s hierarchy – we need security, food, shelter, then comes esteem and self-actualization. I’d just like to throw in the point that it’s hard to be self-actualized without financial independence, so it is important to keep our eyes on that prize too. Back to the “why”. The goal of a personal brand is to be respected as a leader, an artist, an artisan in your chosen craft. It is not to win followers, awards, or money – those are the lagging indicators of having achieved status. The answer to “Who you gonna call when you need help with ____________” has to be you.

Personal branding isn’t an exact science, because it is unique to you and your needs. But there is some great material on this. I can recommend a series by Ira Pradhan (she leads Internal Communications and DE&I at Freshworks) and another by Sunder Madakshira (Head of Marketing for Adobe, India). Or search for ‘Personal Branding” on www.paulwriter.com – I’ve written about it a lot over the years, and spoken about it in various events.

Hope you are all well, and wishing you success with your personal branding journey.


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