Your brand and professional reputation is the one thing that will set you apart from your competition. Branding is the only tactic you can employ that is truly unique and that your competitors simply can’t replicate completely.
In branding, you’re dealing with the perception of your audience. To be regarded as an expert is what really matters. This isn’t a form of trickery or positioning yourself as a ‘marketing guru.’ It just requires a change in the way you communicate.
Instead of communicating like a beginner with no proven track record, you should be communicating like an expert with lots of knowledge and experience under your belt.
It’s about being yourself, being passionate about what you’re doing and really believing that you are worthy to communicate these things.
People trust experts. People believe in experts. Most of all, people choose to do business with experts.
By definition, an expert is someone who has a defined set of skills and personal experience, who is widely recognized as a thought leader within their industry.
However the true value of an expert is defined by an entrepreneur’s ability to solve problems and communicate these key learnings to earn their customer’s trust.
These are the people who take the time to post ‘how to’ videos, share detailed analysis of their product and key metrics, and communicate their thought process through reflective blog posts. It’s this combination of detailed research, practical advice and openness with their knowledge that defines them as an expert.
For example: Andrew Chen is considered an expert in growth hacking, a relatively new term to describe a person who has a hybrid of marketing and coding skills. He consistently shares his key learnings on his personal blog and has compiled a directory of experts in this field so his readers can learn from the best.
Nathan Barry, the author of Authority, a guide to publishing your own e-book, is an expert in writing, app designing and publishing. During the release of his first e-book, “App Design Handbook,” he made over $12,000 in the first 24 hours. But Nathan hasn’t kept his secret to success to himself — has shared his tips and techniques with others so they, too, can learn from his strategy.
There’s a certain merit and inherent trust that we naturally understand when a brand can confidently communicate its field of expertise. That is the type of individual or brand to whom others like listening or following.
The best way to position yourself as an expert is to have an opinion and use your voice to define your brand. You won’t get much attention if you’re only regurgitating other people’s views or sharing their opinions.
Take the example of Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary created Wine Library TV to great success because he was passionate about what he was communicating!
That exuberance—yes, the shouting, profanity and everything else—is the reason why people tuned in to hear Gary speak about wine. I’m 100% sure that Gary could have paid the most renowned wine connoisseur in the world to deliver better, more accurate and factual content.
But if Gary did that, then it would’ve lacked the intense passion that Gary had used to communicate his brand’s unique message. If the “expert” he hired wasn’t passionate enough, his business would have been just another plain old wine business.
As part of your branding activities, it’s important for you to have a voice.
It’s crucial to differentiate between a voice and an opinion here: an opinion is what you say, while a voice is how you say it.
Aarron Walter, Director of User Experience at MailChimp, has said this about the voice of their company:
We take our brand very seriously at MailChimp, not because we are hyper brand-nazis, but because our brand is our personality. It’s who we are as individuals and as a collective. We think a lot about how to convey our personality consistently while adapting to different contexts.
Some ways people have used their personality, opinions and voice to build their brand and expertise include:
Jason Goldberg, the CEO and founder of Fab.com is known for his opinionated, insightful and transparent blog posts. He consistently blogs, covering product announcements about Fab, and uses the blog as a platform to rebut media speculation. For example, What It’s really like to work @fab is a great read!
Alexander Ljung, Founder of SoundCloud, who spray painted his leather jacket with the SoundCloud logo and wore it to conferences. It was a cheap, easy tactic and stood out from the crowd of tech geeks wearing their branded t-shirts, plus caught the eye of potential users and investors.
Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box has always shared interesting perspectives around being a startup founder. If you keep an eye on his Twitter feed he dishes out thought-provoking reflections, all under 140 characters. Some may call him the Yoda of the tech world.
The 10% between “90% done” to “100% done” takes most of the time, causes most of the stress, but is all of the value. – Aaron Levie
If you’re waiting for encouragement from others, you’re doing it wrong. By the time people think an idea is good, it’s probably too late. – Aaron Levie
And in the early days of TheNextWeb.com, the three founders, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Patrick de Laive and Arjen Schat, were a mischievous bunch who were notorious at the time for wearing stylish white suits at tech events. They were so bold, that they even showed up on Michael Arrington’s doorstep, dressed to kill, demo-ing their wares. They grew their blog because they focussed on a niche: European Internet geeks. They listened to their audience, gave them a voice and platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their startups, and now run Europe’s second largest tech conference, second to leWeb.
In similar fashion, the founders of SnapChat, Reggie Brown, Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel, used their personalities and product to get the attention of Andrew Chen. They sent him a Snapchat of themselves holding a sign saying ‘AndrewMeetUs.com’ which directed Andrew to their pitch and story. Suffice to say it got Andrew’s attention!
Looking at the entrepreneurs above, there are four key ingredients to the way they built their expert brands and reputations: their uniqueness, passion, a drive to be better and their ability to communicate all of it.
Here’s how you can replicate their branding and reputational success:
1. Know yourself. Recognize that you are unique and that the way you do or think about things is something that no one else can replicate. Communicate this authentically and build your personal reputation based on that uniqueness.
2. Teach the thing you are most passionate about. Being a good teacher and an expert normally goes hand-in-hand. So figure out that one thing that you are most passionate about and share everything you know about it. Be the expert and thought leader on this topic by actively engaging others on expert communities such as LinkedIn, Quora and OpenForum.
3. Refine your craft by talking to others. I consider myself an expert on personal and professional branding, and have taken 30-odd Clarity calls with other entrepreneurs about this. By talking to these other entrepreneurs about their branding challenges, I’ve managed to refine my own opinions and infuse their experience and knowledge with my own branding experiences. Talking to others has definitely made me better at branding.
4. Write. Often. I’ve found writing to be the easiest way that I can share my thoughts, opinions and ideas about the things that I’m most passionate about. There’s no requirement about where you publish, the form (short tidbits or long-form articles) of what you publish, or how regularly you do so. Start by just writing and sharing as often as possible. (And once you’re finding yourself writing regularly, consider writing an e-book to become even more authoritative.)
Using branding to define your professional reputation is the most transparent way of gaining your audience’s trust. It shouldn’t be a ‘cardboard cutout’ of key messages plastered across social networking sites, but a genuine extension of your personality.
Your personal brand is a mixture of your views, values and opinions. It’s these opinions that define you and encourage others to take note and listen.
If you are passionate about something, then say it. You might be surprised by the amount of friends, colleagues and journalists that turn to you and view you as the expert — asking for your professional advice.