Selling Yourself: The Art of Personal Branding
This week, in an encore episode, we take marketing lessons from big brands and apply them… to you. If you have to sell yourself, sell your services, if you want more "likes" and followers, or if you're looking for a job - this episode explores how to manage your social media, how to pick the best profile photo, how to maintain a consistent tone of voice, how to avoid cliches in your resume. It's time to overhaul your personal brand.
When Georges St-Pierre was 8 years old in St. Isodore, Québec, he was bullied in school.
So his father taught him karate.
By 12 years old, he was a second-degree black belt.
The bullying stopped.
In his teen years, he discovered the UFC - or Ultimate Fighting Championship - and dedicated himself to becoming a UFC mixed martial arts fighter.
Along with karate, he studied wrestling, boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
He won his first amateur bout at age 16.
Nine years later, Georges St-Pierre was the UFC welterweight champion of the world.
As a martial artist myself, I watch St-Pierre with a different set of eyes than a regular fight fan would.
His finesse and precision is astounding. Most of his bouts go this way – first he breaks his opponent's will. Then they accept his dominance. Then it's all over.
And I don't think I've ever seen a fighter with so many tools at his disposal. Most fighters have three or four solid go-to techniques. St-Pierre has about three dozen.
As one writer said, he has an effortlessness in a world where most men grunt and strive and scream.
But when St-Pierre wanted to leverage his popularity with advertisers, he grunted, strived and screamed.
To most marketers, the UFC was a blood sport. Too violent to attach their products to. Too male-centric.
So St-Pierre hired ad agency Sid Lee to help him cultivate his brand.
Sid Lee had never branded a "person" before. As with most agencies, they worked with products and corporations. But they accepted the challenge, and started with research.
Results showed St-Pierre rated high in trust and toughness. Women found him sexy.
With that, Sid Lee got to work.
The first task was to increase St-Pierre's fan base with quantifiable numbers that would attract bigger advertisers. When he suffered a knee injury, St-Pierre took the forced downtime as an opportunity to engage his fans.
Sid Lee helped him refine his social media accounts so that the image he projected was consistent.
St. Pierre brought fans into his recovery process. He had conversations with fans about it on Twitter.
He posted a series of videos on his Facebook page that showed him working through physical therapy. He answered fan questions.
As a result, his Facebook fan-base doubled to 3 million, and his Twitter followers tripled to over 450,000.
But the biggest thing St-Pierre's ad agency did was to position him to advertisers – not as a violent cage fighter – but as an elite athlete.
With that positioning, with a consistent message moving across all his social media accounts, and with a deep understanding of his audience, St-Pierre's endorsement deals doubled in 14 months.
And more importantly, he was getting paid more for them.
Georges St-Pierre had, in effect, borrowed the marketing techniques of big brands – and changed his fortunes.
Every week on this show, we talk about how companies market their wares in a busy world.
How brands create a unique identity, how they use creativity as a business tool, and how their messages remain consistent across many different mediums.
This week, let's take those valuable lessons and apply them… to you.
If you have to sell yourself to the world - if you are looking for a job, if you want to attract likes and followers, if you want to represent your company well, or if you want to attract business - you need a strategy for your personal brand.
So – let's see what learning you can borrow from world champion brands when it comes to marketing yourself.
These days, everyone is a brand. Don't be offended by that – here's what I mean:
You are unique, you have a skill set to offer the world, friends and employers have an opinion about you.
That is the general definition of a brand.
But smart brands know exactly who they are.
One of the first things I tell clients is to do a review of every single touch-point they have with customers.
The reason is to make sure there is a consistency at every intersection. That every aspect of a company is professional, and that it accurately reflects the identity of the organization.
To make sure there are no gaping holes.
I call this the "shish-kabob theory."
A company has a multitude of communication points – it could be a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, advertising, business cards, a storefront and even what people hear when they call and are put on hold.
So – think of all those touch-points as tasty items on a shish-kabob. There is a piece of beef, a piece of chicken, a tomato, a green pepper and a mushroom.
All different, each with a unique taste and function.
But here's the important part – all these things are held together by a skewer. And that skewer is a consistent tone of voice.
In other words, everything should feel like it's coming from the same place.
The same rule applies to people.
In this day and age, there are a lot of ways to project yourself to the world.
You have a website, you have a Facebook page, you have a Twitter account, you write blogs, you post items online, etc.
Those are the tasty items on your personal shish-kabob, but are they all skewered by a consistent, professional brand?
Well, let's do a little reconnaissance to find out - starting with your email address.
An estimated 90% of companies will only accept resumes online.
Therefore, your email address is usually the first thing people – and prospective employers - see from you.
Your email address is a form of marketing.
It is a first impression.
And it has an outsized impact on your chances of landing an interview.
So "email@example.com" is not a good idea.
Neither is "firstname.lastname@example.org."
If you are trying to sell yourself, your email should sound and look professional.
Most hiring managers won't even look at a resume if it comes attached to a novelty email address.
In a study done in Amsterdam, 73 recruiters were shown six resumes.
All the resumes had similar credentials and experience levels.
With all that being equal, the ones with cutesy email addresses were consistently rated lower – even though the resume content was nearly identical.
When recruiters are going through hundreds of resumes, the appropriateness of an email address is a first-stage screening tool.
Quirky email addresses make people appear not only less professional, but less honest and humble.
One more tip – HR managers and recruiters don't like to see a resume from a work-related address – it suggests you're looking for a job on another company's time – it's bad taste – and makes hiring managers wonder if you just might do the same to them.
Use a personal email address when job seeking.
Learn from the big brands – be consistent and professional.
Let's talk resumes.
A smart CV is like a smart advertising campaign.
It should be created with four questions in mind:
Who is your target audience?
What is your unique selling proposition?
What do you want your audience to feel?
What's the call-to-action?
Question one is critical. In order to impress your target audience, you have to know your target audience.
Do your research – what do hiring managers in your industry like to see? What are they looking for – specifically? What characteristics do they share in common? What moves them?
Your resume will never be relevant if you don't know your target audience intimately. When copywriters are being briefed on a new advertising campaign, fully half of that briefing is made up of analyzing and understanding the target market.
Can't stress this enough.
You want to tailor your resume to this audience. Furthermore, you should be tailoring your resume to each company. Never send out generic resumes.
If you're talking to everyone, you're talking to no one.
Question number two is - what is your unique selling proposition?
What unique skills or life experiences do you bring to a company?
This is the heart of an advertising campaign. All effective ads are centred on the Unique Selling Proposition - or USP - of a product.
Why is this important? Because the USP tells customers why they should care.
It tells them why they should buy this product over all others.
It's the same with your resume. Why should a company buy you over all the other applicants?
Spend time on this. An American Express survey showed that 65% of managers are looking to hire experts – yet most people position themselves as generalists.
Be specific. This should be the heart of your CV. What makes you stand out over all your peers?
If you were to write, "I do my best work between 6-8am before anyone gets into the office," I have one word for you.
If you list your online gaming experience leading "warrior clans" as "leadership qualities" – as one applicant did – I have three words for you:
What the what?
Question number three is - What do you want your target audience to feel after they've read your resume?
This is sophisticated marketing at its best. It's what separates smart brands from everyone else.
It's not enough to merely list credentials and experience. You don't want a hiring manager to just comprehend your credentials – you want them to feel completely intrigued by your resume.
Enough to put you at the top of the list - and call for an interview.
That means the language you choose is important. The tone you strike is critical. The readability of your resume and the way it's organized should make people feel there is an interesting mind at work.
As a copywriter, I can tell you that smart writers sweat over the words they choose. Most resumes contain overused buzzwords. Like:
Those skills are important. But don't just say them, demonstrate them in your cover letter, and in your resume.
Show – don't tell. That's the rule of advertising.
Finally, question four: What's the call-to-action?
Every good ad asks for the sale. Call us for details, go to our website, visit our store, reach for us in the dairy section of your grocery store, for example.
Therefore, in your resume, tell the company you want the job, and suggest a next step.
It could be as simple as, "I really want this job. What else can I do to convince you?"
Or "Reach out to me if you want to talk Beatles, hockey or improving your marketing program. Here are my contact details."
Nice, personal, and to the point.
Speaking of asking a prospective employer to contact you for an interview, make sure your voicemail is professional.
It shouldn't be silly.
It shouldn't be one of those impersonal pre-recorded ones that phone companies provide.
And a call from a prospective employer should NEVER, EVER be picked up by a third party – like a roommate.
Your voicemail should be your voice. With a short, professional and pleasant outgoing message saying you will call them back promptly.
Let's talk profile pictures.
In advertising, this would be the product shot. Visually, it's the most important part of a commercial. More time and care is put into a product shot than any other moment in a typical commercial.
Nothing makes people want to buy more than a beautiful photograph of the product.
The same applies to your profile picture.
Face perception is one of the most highly developed skills in humans. It influences how people judge trustworthiness, enthusiasm and competence.
It's critical to have a profile photo. You are seven times more likely to be considered for a job if you have one. It's like selling a house – if there's no photo – you wonder what's wrong.
Many people choose scenery, kooky pictures or Twitter's default "egg" profile shots – all fine – as long as you're not hoping to look professional.
First rule: Choose a photo that actually looks like you.
Don't laugh. Many people choose old photos when they were younger. As one recruiter said, if your photo is old enough to buy a drink at the bar, time to change it.
One of the truisms in marketing is that you don't want to promise one thing, then deliver another. If people see a smiling 29 year-old in a profile pic, and a 41 year-old walks in for an interview, it ain't good.
Some studies suggest that over 90% of recruiters use social media to screen candidates. And they spend a fifth of their time looking at profile photos.
Snap judgements are a fact of human nature.
By the way, there is a website that will rate your profile picture.
It's called Photofeeler.com.
In partnership with Princeton University, the site helps you test profile photos. So you upload your profile shot, then you are asked to rate 10 other people's photos. Then people, in return, will rate your picture. And it's all done anonymously.
Your photo is judged in three categories:
So I submitted my photo – the one currently on the "Episodes" page of this website.
The results were:
I had to laugh. Then cry uncontrollably.
Photofeeler surveyed 60,000 ratings of 800 profile photos and suggests the following rules:
Smile - if your teeth are visible when you smile – even better.
Slightly squinch your eyes in a smiling way. Wide-open eyes suggests fear, or a sociopath.
Head and shoulders is better than face only.
Dress for the job you want.
No party or vacation pics.
And keep your head upright and straight. Apparently women, in particular, tend to tilt their heads in photos, which can make you look less self-assured.
Remember, it only takes 100 milliseconds for someone to draw conclusions about who you are based on a photo.
Let's talk social media behaviour.
Interesting to note that being absent from all social media sends up a red flag to potential employers.
In this day and age, NOT having a Facebook page or any kind of social media account could be interpreted as:
You've got no tech savvy. Meaning you're inept or so far behind the times that you are a liability.
You have nothing to offer. You are two-dimensional or lazy.
Three – you've just done a panic dump. Why have you disappeared off social media? Was your Facebook page a scrapbook of bad decisions? What are you hiding?
As we said, over 90% of recruiters screen applicants online. 34% of employers admit to checking their own employees social media profiles – and that's just the percentage who admit it.
The reality is – if a recruiter has seen your resume, they've also Googled you. And if you don't exist online, it begs more questions than it answers.
Other yellow flags include use of profanity and too many questionable party photos.
Employers judge self-monitoring. They want to see what you deem as acceptable public behaviour.
Again – you can do whatever you want on your social media - just know there are implications. Especially if you are advertising your services to the world.
In the world of marketing, brands maintain a consistent image across many different mediums. While the formats may change, the tone, the content and the imagery remains professional, and it feels like it's all coming from the same place - back to my shish-kabob theory.
So, look at all your social media accounts. Look at your website. Does it feel professional? Are you projecting a consistent identity across all your social media accounts? Are your posts smart and interesting?
Remember, your Facebook page is the first interview.
As a matter of fact, employers consider Facebook to be an unfiltered look at you. Meaning – it's more revealing than a job interview where you know you're being observed.
As Jay Leno says, even Charles Manson can be on his best behaviour for a 10-minute job interview.
Use your privacy settings – separating your personal life from your business life, but remember that anything said privately can become public in a heartbeat. All it takes is a quick screen capture shared with the world.
So be mindful of your content.
54% of resumes are loaded with grammatical errors.
33% of people badmouth a former employer, or current boss or a fellow worker on social media.
20% post derogatory statements about certain groups, genders, races or religions.
24% lie about their qualifications. In a digitally connected world, it doesn't take prospective employers long to connect the dots – or find the missing ones.
A survey by Microsoft found that 70% of companies looking to hire say they found content online that caused them NOT to hire a candidate.
What you say online – matters.
The messages you post are like suitcases – they are packed with clues that prospective employers or clients can interpret in a number of ways.
So be smart: Tend to your brand every day.
Maybe marketer Seth Godin sums it up best:
"Overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and always act like you're on Candid Camera."
Because… you are.
Selling yourself may be the most important campaign you ever undertake.
In the good old days, it was a mailed resume and a job interview. These days, while you're researching companies, companies are researching you.
The digital world gives us many doors to knock on, but it also gives the world access to your windows.
So projecting a professional image is paramount.
Borrow a page from smart marketers – differentiate yourself first and foremost. The best brands are the most clearly defined ones. So be interesting, be fun and let your unique personality shine through.
Decide on the kind of identity you want to project. Be smart about what you post. Don't send up any red or yellow flags. While too much filtering can feel inauthentic – be willing to stand behind what you post in a job interview.
When in doubt, use restraint.
And remember to take care of your shish-kabob.
Because as Georges St-Pierre discovered, people want to do business with a consistent brand.
Do it right, and you'll be seen as competent, influential, and who knows, you might even be likable…
…when you're under the influence.