What Most People Get Wrong About Personal Branding

On vanity metrics, positioning statements, and some great examples

When I first heard about personal branding years ago, I thought I had to acquire a certain amount of website traffic, email subscribers and reach a revenue goal.

I’ll make it when I get a million Twitter followers or break six figures a year, right?!

I didn’t know how wrong I was until I worked with a social media agency tasked with building the profiles of some B2B influencers. I tracked their followers each week in a spreadsheet and thought we were making real progress.

An account manager told me, “Bryan, it’s nice to have a sizeable Twitter following, but these stats are vanity metrics. Engagement is what matters.”

Examples of common vanity metrics include:

  • How many people follow your Twitter account or even your Medium profile

  • The number of website visitors you received last week, month or year

  • The number of subscribers to your email list

  • Likes or hearts for your latest Facebook or Instagram post

  • Views of your videos

  • How many people read all of your articles… this one is common on Medium

When I asked the account manager what engagement meant, he explained, “Will they comment on a video or article after watching it? How many of those will join an email list? And will they take out their credit card to buy a product or service?”

Today, lots of so-called influencers laud their subscriber count, website traffic, or earnings. They boast about their achievements on their social media profiles or website. But all the likes and hearts in the world won’t pay the rent.

While it’s fine to demonstrate credibility, these metrics might not reveal the whole story. A hundred Instagram hearts doesn’t always translate into revenue. And website visitors can land on a site and leave just as quickly.

Most people don’t care that a million people read your articles or watched your videos last year. If they do, they’re probably studying your content and building a competing personal brand, i.e., they’re not customers or clients.


Enter the Positioning Statement

A positioning statement is a document explaining who you are, where your skills lie, and how you help others. It informs what you say on a website, social media profile, and even in videos and articles.

On a single page, ask and answer these four questions:

  • Who am I? Elaborate on your backstory.

  • Whom do I serve? There’s a big difference between an aspiring entrepreneur in their early twenties and somebody in the middle of their career.

  • What does my audience hope, fear, dream, and aspire to become? Interview, survey, and speak to your followers.

  • What can I offer my audience? Focus on your strengths and what you excel at.

These are difficult questions to answer, and your document will evolve over time. Ultimately, the goal is to get to a single statement: I help X achieve Y.

After that, the rest is easy.

Create a website that represents your home base. Use your name and a .com if you can. You don’t have to blog or write on it, but it should explain who you are and what you do.

Sure, social media profiles are important, but you don’t own them. Just ask any business that watched the reach of their Facebook pages plummet from 2014 onward.

Next, set up an email list and create an opt-in page for your list. Give something away for free so your ideal audience has a reason to hand over their contact details. It could be a free report, a mini-course, or a video.

You can send traffic to your landing page, site or homebase by writing guest posts for other sites, blogging on Medium, taking part in podcast interviews or through social media. You might even pick up a few new followers along the way.


Influencers Who Get Personal Branding Right

Mike Dillard, Ramit Sethi, and Marie Forleo are three examples of online influencers who get personal branding right.

Mike Dillard’s homepage explains, “I help entrepreneurs start and grow the businesses of their dreams.” He even asks readers a series of questions like, “Do you struggle to make sales and get new customers?” and “Could you use a guide to show you the ropes?”

These questions help readers establish if Dillard, and his paid materials, is for them.

Mike Dillard speaks to his audience

On his site, Ramit Sethi promises to teach his followers to lead a rich life through entrepreneurship, finding a great job or changing their mindset. A while ago, I interviewed Sethi, and he told me:

I’m not sure Ramit, perhaps I should take that quiz?

When it comes to starting an online business, there are so many things you could focus on — a fancy-looking website, building Instagram followers, brainstorming the products you can sell, or the ultimate copy that can increase your conversion rate by 0.049% — but all those don’t matter if no one is willing to pay you for your skills.

Finally, Marie Forleo helps her followers become “the person you most want to be.” She targets mostly female entrepreneurs with videos on MarieTV.

Take a note from these experts. Don’t confine generosity to your personal life.

The biggest and most successful personal brands put their audiences first every time. And they get paid well for doing it. With the right approach, you can too.


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