Becoming Known the Key to Personal Branding Success

Known book cover

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be famous (assuming you are not already famous)? Celebrities and their lifestyles fascinate us. I once saw a “person on the street” interview in which a teenage girl said her career goal was “to be famous like Paris Hilton.” Fame has become a career path, apparently.

You may have no desire to become famous like Paris Hilton, but you can aspire to be something even more important: known. That idea is at the heart of the latest book by social media marketing expert Mark Schaefer. His sixth book is Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. Schaefer knows a thing or two about being known. He is recognized, err known, as an authority on blogging, content marketing, and social media marketing. His {grow} blog has legions of followers, and his podcast “The Marketing Companion” (co-hosted with Tom Webster) is billed as “the most entertaining marketing podcast”—and delivers on that claim.

A Fix for Bad Personal Branding

You can find a lot written about personal branding… and a lot of it is crap. Oh, you can find plenty of blog posts sharing the five or seven steps to building your personal brand. The problem is the task of building a brand is such a monumental task it cannot be tackled in a 600 word blog post.

Another shortcoming of most works on the topic of personal branding is that they are heavy on what you should do but light on how to do it. In Known, Schaefer overcomes both of these limitations. The book has the needed depth to walk anyone through the process of positioning and communicating your brand. Moreover, application exercises throughout the book enable you to gain personal brand clarity.

Becoming Known

Known is the culmination of extensive research and interviews with people who are where those of us reading the book aim to reach: being known. Schaefer distills his research into becoming known by identifying four critical factors.

  1. Finding your place (what it is you want to do and can do consistently)
  2. Finding your space (an “uncontested niche” to be differentiated)
  3. Finding your fuel (creating content in an “open space that reflects your interests and personality)
  4. Creating an actionable audience (activating responses through engagement, networking, and influence).

Schaefer’s presentation is so effective, it is tempting to say “it’s that simple.” OK, becoming known is not as easy as 1,2, 3, 4. It is hard work and requires persistence, themes that appear regularly throughout the book. But, the blend of concepts, how to, and case studies of people who have succeeded in communicating their personal brand’s value indeed make Known a personal branding handbook.

Best of the Best

So what are my takeaways from Known? Here is the list:

  • Be wary of following your passion. It is advice espoused by many personal branding and career experts. Instead, Schaefer advocates focusing on a “sustainable interest” that can connect your brand to the well-being of others.
  • While you seek to stake out an uncontested niche (i.e., your space), you do not have to be the first person there. First-mover advantage can be just that, an advantage. However, history reminds that being first does not equal being the greatest (think Atari video games and Commodore PCs).
  • Content is the fuel to become known. People may come to know you, but it will happen because they know your content, first.
  • Never publish content that can be created by someone else. Lack of distinctive content puts one on a fast track to anonymity.
  • Audience is the fire created by fuel (content). It is not enough to create great content. An audience must be aware of it, relate to it, and accept it.

Now What?

A drawback to many business books is that it is difficult to maintain momentum from ideas taken from a book. If that happens after reading Known, it will be our own fault. Why? The key to being known is consistency. Managing the four areas of your brand (place, space, fuel, and audience) is an ongoing concern. Consistency is a must. It will not come from a book, blog, conference, or other person. It’s our turn to become known.

Look Different like a Zebra/Cheetah

Let’s face it- the pace of change and speed of competition seems to be under the influence of performance enhancing drugs these days. Leaders are tasked to stay on top of change, build an internal organization, and develop a community around their brands and business. The multiple demands can be dizzying. Fortunately, a new guide is available to assist in navigating this difficult terrain.

Leadership and the Call of the Wild
A recently released book by Micheal Burt and Colby Jubenville, Zebras & Cheetahs, Look Different and Stay Agile to Survive in the Business Jungle, provides a unique perspective on how managers can simultaneously direct business strategy, organization culture, and customer relationships. Burt and Jubenville cleverly use analogies from the wild to illustrate how business leaders can learn from the jungle to discern vision, make decisions, and lead people. Among my favorite analogies are:

  • The Current of the Urgent– The daily pull of emails, meetings, phone calls,and other “priorities” can occupy the moment and remove our focus from what is really important to advance our business. While these activities can be checked off to-do lists, they can be like trying to swim against the current- you will work hard but not get very far!
  • The Tribe – Seth Godin popularized the notion of tribes as essential to our success whether it is cultivating advocates for our brand or developing employees. Burt and Jubenville define a tribe as “a group working together through struggle and success.” Does that not describe any organization? There are successes and failures, victories and losses. The tribe must persevere through all of those events to flourish.
  • The Zebra – A leader should be distinctive, standing out to the tribe and be recognized by others in the jungle. Like a zebra’s distinctive stripes, a leader should be perceived to be different than the rest.
  • The Cheetah – Agility is crucial in today’s hyper-competitive markets, but being fast is not necessarily what is needed. The Zebra and Cheetah (Z&C leader) move with what is called “deliberate speed.” Burt and Jubenville describe deliberate speed as rapid movement coupled with a sense of purpose and understanding. Such agility is influential in shaping behavior of the tribe and instill purpose in them, too.

Look Different

The takeaway from Zebras and Cheetahs with the greatest impact for me was a simple but powerful directive: Look different. Why did these two words resonate with me? They were powerful because the phrase contains dual meanings. One take on look different refers to the unique makeup of a Z&C leader (the book’s cover illustrates this application of look different). The book is an instruction manual on how managers can blend the distinctive qualities of the zebra and cheetah to stay agile and lead a tribe toward shared goals. The second take on look different is more of a mindset to employ in our professional lives- look different(ly) at the problems of customers, the challenges faced by employees, the ambitions of competitors, and the dynamics of the external environment. Most importantly, I must look different to fuel my  professional growth. Also, it is important to point out what look different is not– wild hair style, outrageous wardrobe, or outlandish behavior. Those are esoteric gimmicks, not authentic characteristics of a Z&C leader.
Your Z&C Trainers
Here is one more analogy from the jungle to ponder- Burt and Jubenville are the trainers who use Zebras and Cheetahs to coach us to reach for a higher level to be Z&C leaders. Micheal Burt believes “everybody needs a coach in life.” That includes those of us called on to be leaders ourselves. Leaders need to be nurtured and developed in order to advance their tribes. We have the capabilities to look different; Zebras and Cheetahs provides the map to navigate the concrete jungle and not only survive, but thrive.