Building Your Personal Brand

We are in the brand business. We help brands identify new opportunities, increase the value of their brand and build stronger relationships with their clients and customers. We use design methods as a platform for doing this in the most compelling manner for our clients.

So, on occasion we are asked about personal branding and how these methods and principles apply to an individual. Here are some thoughts on how our methods might help build a stronger personal brand.

1. Start with an audit and some one-on-one interviews: The audit is as simple as a Google search on your name and looking at the areas where you appear. What words are used to describe you, when they aren’t your words? What images come up consistently? Is this how you see yourself, are these the words you use? The interviews are a bit harder, you’ll need to ask a set of people to give you truly honest feedback. This is a close friend, colleague who has nothing to gain or lose or a family member who knows both your professional and personal life. Create a discussion guide with hard open-ended questions for the individual to answer. If you can’t find a handful of people fitting this profile (we typically study 12-15 people to find patterns), you may find it worthwhile to sign up for Huddle, a new offering that will facilitate the forming of a personal board of advisors. Yeah, that’s right, your own board. More on this later.

2. Strategy starts with stewing on the information you’ve gathered: This is the setting direction stage of any brand. Immerse yourself in what you’ve heard, seen and most important, what you want for yourself in the future. Write it down, all of it. Don’t worry if it sounds petty, odd or strange, just write down what you see in your future. Fill the pages of a notebook with sketches, words and sentences. Clip articles from magazines, pull images from the internet, feel free to move from descriptive to metaphorical. Then, step away for a few days and when you come back to it, identify patterns in what you wrote. Take sticky notes (Post-It Notes preferred) and create one per big thought about what you see in your future. Then, leave the stickies somewhere you can see, somewhere you look but not right in front of your face (back of a bathroom door, inside the cover of a book, etc). When you go there, rearrange the notes once a day, a week or so until you start to struggle to make changes. Now, take a photo. Use it as your phone screen saver for a few months, while you start to build your new brand.

3. Building a stronger brand starts with your digital self. We all know the internet keeps everything, so this is a process of getting the internet to notice the things you want to have known about you. Put out more about yourself, in the right doses. But, don’t set up a social media profile if you’re not going to use it. Visiting a three entry Twitter account with nothing new for a year leaves the impression you’re either lazy, forgot the password or just out of touch. The next on the list is guest blogging. Don’t start by setting up your own blog, use the need for content existing in other more active blogs. If long form writing isn’t your thing, take a closer look at Twitter (words with visuals) or Instagram (visuals with words) as you consider building your digital profile. Next, and perhaps the most important, provide reviews in all areas of interest to you. If you’re a designer, BrandNew is a great place to vent (just remember, if you ever put your design up there, friends don’t let friends rip on their designs). If you eat or experience life, Yelp is a great place to be vocal about what you love and hate about any particular experience on the planet. And, last but most important to this author, offer reviews on Amazon. If you’ve purchased a book, read it and have a viewpoint, make it heard in the digital halls of Amazon. If you don’t mind starting with our book this author would be very grateful. Reviews are good for you, builds your digital profile, and good for the author. They can respond to reader feedback which increases their visibility on Amazon.

4. Build a stronger brand, moving to your physical self. If you’re not naturally outgoing, this is likely the hardest one to accomplish. But, know that those who are more gregarious are less likely to want to sit behind a computer screen long enough to build a strong digital profile. Either way, set a minimum goal for yourself of one coffee meeting per week, whether you’re employed or not. Most people wait until they have lost a job, then start networking and the look of desperation is sometimes way too visible. Build your brand, physical and digital while you’re employed, it is your insurance policy for when things beyond your control go bad. And, when you start small with one coffee meeting a week, you might find it grows to three or five a week rather quickly and if you’re like me, sometimes two per day.

Building a brand isn’t flashy. It also isn’t as fast or as glamorous as you’d expect. Most of it is discussing, thinking, writing, creating, thinking, discussing, meeting, discussing, writing and creating some more. You’ve been building your personal brand all your life and hopefully your parents helped a lot in the early years. Going forward, think about what brand you’re building and what inspires you to move from standard type to italic. Lean forward and go.

Aaron Keller
Author, “The Physics of Brand”
Co-Founder, Capsule Design

About The Author

Aaron Keller

I am an author, strategist, researcher, cyclist, reader and consummate entrepreneur. When an interesting idea crosses my path, I find any way we can bring it to life. Earning an MBA from the Carlson School and numerous valuable credits at the school of hard knocks, I’ll sit at a boardroom conversation with anyone. Want to talk business strategy, consumer behavior and design? Oh, it’s on.


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