When you break a personal branding rule, one of two things happen. Either you get nervous and immediately fall back in line, or you keep pushing, blow past conventional wisdom, and find yourself all alone on the other side of the personal branding rainbow. But, don't worry, being all alone just means you don't have to share your giant pot of gold.
Over the past three years, as we've gone from Twitter friends to roommates to best friends to business partners to co-creators of the hugely popular new iOS wallpaper app, Paper'd, we've broken all the personal branding rules along the way. We've turned each broken rule into a new rule of our own, and we use these truths to guide our brand.
1. Publicly Merge Your Personal and Professional Lives
Broken rule: Maintain a clean, "business only" image
Although the topic of personal branding has the word "personal" right up in front, most advice still warns against sharing too much of who you are with your customers and clients. And yet, the early success of Paper'd was heavily driven by the social capital we've built by talking about everything from dating and sex to family and mental health on our personal blogs.
The more shockingly honest you are about yourself, the more your personal life can act as a filter for your professional life. People aren't just buying your products/services anymore, they're buying you, and being open about yourself, your struggles, your successes, etc. sets you apart from the squeaky clean public faces of others in your field.
2. Be Who You Really Are
Broken rule: Focus on being universally likable
No matter what you do to try to get people to like you, there will always be someone who doesn't want what you're selling. And that's okay. In fact, it's amazing, because the only way to offer true value to your network is to stand fiercely behind everything you believe. The flip side is that there will inevitably be things you don't believe, and therefore you won't be the perfect fit for everyone. Use that to your advantage. Some people will be turned off, but the people you attract when you're true to your most authentic self are the people you need to be working with.
3. Allow Your Brand To Act As An Umbrella
Broken rule: Have one single focus
We're told that, in order for a personal brand to succeed, it has to be single-focus. There has to be one message, and it has to be consistently maintained in every facet of your business.
What if, instead of focusing on one consistent message (some experts even take it as far as saying you have to boil your personal brand down into a single word), you focus instead on just being yourself. We're all multi-faceted people with more than one interest/passion, and it's helpful to be honest about that. Wouldn't you love to know that your kickass small business attorney is also a competitive triathlete? Isn't it fun to learn that the girls who designed your iPhone wallpaper app once installed a ball pit in their apartment?
Revealing more than a single focus isn't a weakness, it's a strength.
4. Don't Underestimate Your Customers
Broken rule: Assume people are stupid
No one actually comes right out and phrases it like this, but a lot of personal branding and marketing advice is focused on making sure your message can be understood by the lowest common denominator. And yet, when you're on the other side of the branding equation, can't you always tell when you're being fed the dumbed down version of what someone really wants to say?
As you build your brand, always remember that your audience is made up of a collection of individual people - people just like you who want to be respected, valued, and engaged. The most delicious success comes when you give people the chance to get involved with your brand in brilliant, lively, and fun ways.
5. Focus On Thoughtful Interaction
Broken rule: Always reciprocate
You've heard this advice a thousand times. "Respond to each and every comment/tweet/email. Follow everyone who follows you. Be wary of people who don't make an effort to interact with everyone in their large audience etc. etc." We've never done this. Instead, we focus on quality of interaction over quantity of interaction.
People can easily recognize reciprocity for reciprocities sake, and it doesn't make them feel good. Social media engagement (and other forms of brand to audience communication) are vital, but true brand loyalty is built when we remember that each individual conversation is really just one person talking to another person. Be yourself, treat your customer with respect, and your personal brand will build itself, one conversation at a time.
Jamie and Nicole are the rule-breaking duo behind Paper'd, the fun and addictive new iOS wallpaper app that lets you show off who you are & what you love. With nearly 200K users after less than a month on the App Store, Paper'd has proven that high-end, clever, funny, and inspirational wallpapers really do make people happy. When they're not trying to put a smile on your face with their latest wallpaper design, Nicole & Jamie can be found talking about television characters as if they're real people while frantically emailing each other gorgeous travel-related photos with subject lines such as, "CAN WE GO HERE? WHAT ABOUT HERE?"
Follow Jamie Varon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamievaron