It’s no secret to any reader of this blog that an intentional, carefully-managed personal brand is critical to take control of your career in today’s professional landscape. As Mark Schaefer elaborates in his most recent bookKNOWN, “You need to be known for something in a relevant space that’s large enough for it to matter. You need to create content in a way that makes a difference and builds an audience that you can activate.” By following Schaefer’s advice, and the four steps in his book, you can build an enduring personal brand and become a recognized thought leader in your desired field.
But what happens, when your passions and career experiences change over time? In Dorie Clark‘s HBR article on this topic, she quotes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Clark emphasizes, “Your path may make perfect sense to you, but how can you persuade others to embrace your new brand — and take you seriously?”
My personal rebrand story: From “China guy” to “Global Marketing Strategist”
I recently went through a “personal re-brand” in preparation for the release of my next book, Digital Influence. I spent the first half of my career in Asia working in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and Singapore. As a result of my regional business experience, and years of article writing building up to my first book, China Goes West, I became known within my professional circles as the go-to “China guy.”
However, at the same time as I traveled around the world speaking about “China Goes West” and the rise of Chinese international brands, my day job focused more on global marketing. As I accumulated more than a decade of marketing experience, I faced Longfellow’s dilemma above — my colleagues and business partners knew my professional strengths as a marketer, but the topic I was known for by anyone who Googles “Joel Backaler” was almost exclusively China-related.
Manage your personal brand, as your favorite company manages theirs
I knew in order for Digital Influence to be successful, I’d need to rebrand from purely a China insider, to a more global marketing focus since the book’s content on Influencer Marketing covers more countries than China. To do this, I partnered with digital marketer, author and international keynote, Cynthia Johnson, and her talented team at Bell + Ivy in Los Angeles for their external perspective.
The following quote from Johnson sums up why I chose to work with them, “Think about why you love your favorite brands. It could be their name, their product, their messaging or even something as simple as their color palette. Overall, these brands are memorable and have an impact. That’s what we do at Bell + Ivy; we create a voice and proliferate influence for our clients so they can create unstoppable change in their industries. Branding has the power to do that.” Johnson and her team members all share my own belief that a personal brand is just as powerful as any corporate brand, and as such it requires careful management to ensure you are perceived in the way you would ideally want others to know you.
3 Steps to your own personal rebrand
Johnson and her team took me through a series of steps that anyone going through a personal rebrand can follow:
1. Personal brand audit
Before you can re-brand you need to fully understand your current personal brand through careful review of your digital footprint. The Bell + Ivy team conducted a personal brand audit on my behalf to identify everywhere my name appears online, how I’m generally positioned, along with any inconsistencies of how I appear from site to site.
2. Update personal brand positioning
Based on their findings from the personal brand audit, we collaborated on updating my personal brand positioning to more accurately reflect the current topics I’m writing and speaking about. In other words, want to be known for. It was more of an “update” because I still want to be known for my China expertise (I speak Mandarin and have been involved directly or indirectly with the country since 2001), but we needed to tie in my marketing experience as well so we came up with “Global Marketing Strategist” since that allows me to cover marketing topics from China and any other part of the world.
The final step in the process is actually a series of many steps that I’m still working through at the time of writing this post. With my new personal brand positioning established, I updated my online platform, from a new personal website, to consistent positioning across all of my social media profiles and bylines, and finally the ongoing creation of new content that ties back to my new brand positioning. The last bit of course, is far from simple — consistent, high-quality content-creation is the only way I’ll truly be able to re-brand to help new members of my audience view me based on the topics I now want to be known for, rather than judging me by the work I’ve done years ago.
Now it’s your turn
A personal rebrand isn’t easy. It’s much more comfortable to continue along the same path where people know you for what you do best — or at least what they think you do best. As your passions and career experience evolve over time, it’s only natural to pivot into new areas. But be thoughtful in how you do so. Inconsistency (multiple rebrands) will hold you back over the long term so choose the right time, follow these three steps, and you’ll be ready to take your brand to the next level.