Want your business to stand out? Personality branding offers one way (with Ed Gandia and Danielle Hughes)

In earlier postings, I have referred to some episodes of the “High Income Writing” podcast of American copywriter, Ed Gandia. Gandia is usually insightful and often gathers intriguing solo professionals to the “microphone.”

Recently, Ed interviewed New York-based branding and copywriting consultant, Danielle Hughes, about how to increase our success as creative professionals by developing our own “personality brand.” Ed prefaced the interview by observing how reluctant self-employed creatives are “to let our personalities shine.” We either don’t know how to do that, or we fear that by doing that we’ll “alienate potential clients.”

And yet, as he writes, “people are hungry for personality. Having a distinct point-of-view and brand message drives connection.” Branding ourselves with personality will draw clients to us. We need, in his words, “to stand out in a sea of sameness and a world of duplicates.”

In her branding business, “More than Words Marketing,” Danielle Hughes helps her clients to build their “genuine personality brands,” to give them the space to be themselves in their messaging.

She stresses that “personality branding” is not about pretending to be someone else, but instead creates a business that reflects us, our personalities and temperaments.

Generational differences have led us to feel we cannot show our personalities. For instance, Gen Xers, like Hughes (and many of us), have internalized a model for business that forbids us from showing ourselves. We fall in with the company line and think of ourselves as “wearing different hats” for various tasks. By contrast, Millennials are highly digitally based and blend all aspects of themselves into one presence.

But won’t standing out and being genuine about ourselves get messy, you might ask?

Hughes says we needn’t (to use Ed’s phrase) “give away the farm,” when we develop a brand out of our personalities. She defines the process as something that makes our services “genuine,” open to connection with prospects and clients and that expresses our individuality.

These aspects of “personality branding” are separate from the merely “personal,” the latter being confidential things we should keep to ourselves, that are private and don’t belong in business settings. Total disclosure is not the aim.

Hughes says that “personality branding” started with social media influencers who blazed their trails by sharing their daily activities, such as what they were eating and where they were going. But such influencers usually have “bigger personalities” than other (potentially more introverted) creatives, like you and me. There are some entrepreneurs who don’t want to talk about their personal lives and who may feel “small” by comparison to these influencers.

Ed reminds listeners in this very noisy digital world that we need workable ways of differentiating our voices from others, or else our messaging will resonate with no one at all. The copy we create should sound like it comes from us and not as if it’s computer-generated.

Our personalities and stories are unique, cannot be genuinely copied by others and are what make us interesting. So the qualities, hobbies, passions and quirks about our personalities are all fair game. Hughes adds that most of us understand instinctively when to stop, before going into too much detail or over-sharing. We usually can tell how to stop before being loud, obnoxious or boastful.

Hughes says that the content we used to record in the “Hobbies” or “Special Interests” sections of our resumes is perfect to mine for “personality branding.” So it’s a good strategy to include in the “About” pages of our websites comments on your favourite movies, shows and music.

Inherent in “personality branding” is the understanding that doing it well will alienate some people. Hughes and Gandia say that some of this is necessary, and even useful, because we should “weed out people who aren’t the right fit” for our services or products.

She says, “If you attract everyone, you attract no one.” Focus on a niche set of clients who recognize your VALUE and forget about the rest.

Aim not for “milk-toast,” but for “amusing and distinctive”; whimsical but not traditional. When you write your “About” page, pretend that you’re writing to a friend, not a client. Be conversational, and don’t spring too quickly to defend your boundaries.

A great example of a marketer who excels at personality branding is my mentor and friend, Michael Katz, of Blue Penguin Development. Katz opens his blog postings (that are really short enewsletters) with quirky stories about his life, family and daily experience.

For instance, he connects marketing truths to daily activities, such as the process of teaching himself how to juggle–or from encounters at a local networking event.  And so on. When one of his prospects wrote Katz, annoyed, saying she “couldn’t care less about his family and dog and please unsubscribe me,” Katz merely laughed and moved on. He knew she was not a prospect for his services.

Hughes recommends that we write our own “Brand Guides”: Ask friends and contacts to describe three to five characteristics about us. How they perceive us pertains to how clients will perceive us. Then apply these words and share stories that they inspire. These characteristics and stories become our “personality branding,” and can be applied to our websites, to conversations we have with our prospects, to content that we produce, such as our newsletter, podcast, video, etc., to our social media (including your LinkedIn profile); to our email correspondence, and so on. 

To share aspects of ourselves, in her view, is paradoxically to be true to ourselves, which will always be persuasive and compelling to our prospects. Share “what you are comfortable with,” Hughes concludes, but without getting “into the weeds” on any topic that could “light a firestorm of controversy.” Unless, that is, you’re an editorial writer for a political magazine!

Our fear of sharing ourselves is built on the assumption that we can be “everything to everybody.” When we set that (false) assumption aside, a capacity for growth, difference and genuine sharing emerges. That is what marketers mean by “personality branding.” And that’s why we should consider it as more than a passing trend or fad in our businesses.

In my case, I have commented in social media on the importance of strong women leaders in our crisis-ridden world, including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez  and Jacinda Ardern . Doing so may have offended readers of different political leanings. But they are not a pool of prospects that I’d appeal to, in the first place.

And now it’s your turn. What are your views on the usefulness of ‘personality branding?’ Will you apply Danielle Hughes’ insights to your marketing?