This is a guest post from Oren Greenberg, a growth marketer and founder of the Kurve consultancy in London. He helps startups and corporate innovation projects scale using digital channels. He has written for leading marketing blogs and has been featured in the international press.
A business is an abstract entity, which is brought to life by its people. Every team member has a part to play in representing their organization – not in the sense of blindly flying the flag or sacrificing their own identity, but in the sense of owning their area of expertise and sharing their deepest knowledge.
These days, it’s normal for a business leader to build their own personal brand. These are the “thought-leaders” we hear about so often. But I believe that too many organizations stop here, and miss the chance to create a team of people who all have strong personal brands.
In turn, I believe this limits the opportunity to build credibility, reliability, and authority – three of the key considerations for B2B buyers.
So, the tactics I discuss in this Process Street article are designed to apply to team members at every level of the hierarchy. They are suitable for business leaders, but also for executives and junior staff.
How to build a strong personal brand
Stories are at the heart of creating any brand – personal or corporate.
In my view, there are six key ingredients in the recipe for creating stories to build a personal brand:
- Doing impactful and interesting work
- Having collaborative and willing clients/customers
- Awareness of context and broader perspectives/trends
- Willingness to be open, honest, and vulnerable
- Ability to produce compelling content
- Ability to distribute content effectively
The 6 ingredients of personal branding:
By doing impactful and interesting work, a person has a range of experiences (good and bad) to tap into. These real-world experiences provide the lifeblood for compelling stories.
Secondly, having collaborative and willing customers means that you can leverage their experiences to support the stories you’re creating. What are/were their acute pain points? How have you tackled these issues together, and what were the challenges along the way?
Thirdly, to build a personal brand you need to have awareness of what’s going on around you. There is always a bigger context in play – industry trends, technological advancements, etc. To build your authority on a topic, you need to have these factors playing out in the background.
Examples: If you write a piece or do a talk on how to motivate and manage a team of creatives, it would be a huge omission to ignore the wider trend of flexible remote work. Equally, if you discuss how to get website traffic from Facebook, you need to say that Facebook has choked the organic reach of pages.
Fourth on the list is the willingness to be open, honest, and vulnerable. We can all shout loud about our achievements, but really… how interesting is this? To build a personal brand with integrity, you need to talk about how things went wrong – failures, surprises, disappointments, misconceptions, and learnings.
The penultimate ingredient is to be able to produce compelling content. This is no mean feat. The first four ingredients will provide the foundation, but you need the skills – or be able to hire the skills – to create the actual articles, case studies, videos, or podcasts, etc. Luckily there is plenty of talent out there.
Finally, I believe that content distribution is the most underrated and essential part of maximizing the impact of a story, and thereby building a strong personal brand to generate leads. Lots of people spend significant time on the production phase, without considering how to actually get traction thereafter.
Here are a few Process Street articles which will guide you through the distribution and promotion process:
- Advanced Content Promotion Checklist
- How to Develop a Content Distribution Machine
- How to Create a Content Strategy That Works
- Content Creation Workflows: Why You Need One and How to Build It
- How to Use Facebook Retargeting and Custom Audiences to Drive Sales
- How to Organize a Content Marketing Workflow for Your Team
- A Look Inside Bolton Remote’s Content Marketing Process
- And as always, Social Media Safety Rules for 2019
And here’s a broad list of the distribution channels you might consider for personal brand content:
- Organic social media
- Paid social media
- Guest blogging placements
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Pay-per-click Google or Bing Ads (PPC)
- Speaking gigs and conferences
Which channel(s) you choose depends on your industry, goals, and audience. Organic social media, SEO, and guest blogging tend to be long-term investments – whereas you can get immediate traction (new followers, newsletter signups, etc.) by pushing content through paid social media and Google Ads.
Keep reading this article for tips on how to generate leads through speaking gigs and conferences.
How to generate leads from personal branding
As Josh Steimle says in his article about personal branding, a number of global brands have leveraged personal branding tactics to grow. He also references a study by KRC Research & Weber Shandwick, which says that 44% of a company’s market value is “directly linked to the CEO’s personal brand”.
The new breed of personal brand-led businesses include Vaynermedia (Gary Veynerchuk, of course), Buffer, Drift, Slack, and others. You can also look at more traditional examples, such as Richard Branson at Virgin Group, Steve Jobs at Apple, Elon Musk at Tesla, and Jeff Bezos at Amazon.
In truth, it’s not rocket science to generate leads from the effects of a strong personal brand. It takes time, effort, and consistency – plus a deep knowledge of what your audience wants to know.
Business leaders and their teams need to do the following things to effectively generate leads:
- Tap into the unique pain points of your B2B audience
- Achieve consistent quality and depth of content
- Connect with your audience in meaningful ways
In truth, when you’re building and maintaining a personal brand, your focus should not be on generating leads. Your focus should be on adding value and contributing to the community of which you are a part.
It’s a small mindset change – but I believe that if you do this with true depth and integrity, qualified leads will occur as a byproduct of your enhanced reputation. When contacts have a particular problem, and you’re the one in their network who has demonstrated they can solve them, they will come to you.
LinkedIn: There’s no avoiding it
You could argue that there’s currently no better platform than LinkedIn for building a personal brand in B2B. And it’s proven to be a great platform for generating B2B leads. These two factors combined make LinkedIn deserving of a dedicated section in this article.
What can you do on LinkedIn to build a personal brand and generate more B2B leads, beside simply creating and sharing your insights and experiences?
#1. Play the branding game with algorithms:
Currently, LinkedIn tends to penalize updates with links directly in the post, because they want to keep people on-site. It also favours a particular layout of text – broken up into single lines. These algorithms will change constantly over time, but you need to play the game.
#2. Actively reach out:
If somebody has viewed your profile, something you’ve done or said has probably piqued their interest. They might be hesitant to send a request for fear of it being considered an overture, so you should open up the conversation instead.
#3. Look for win-wins rather than sales:
It’s perfectly reasonable to connect with someone without a sales pitch. Can you create a win-win instead? Perhaps an interview, a service swap, or a shared content collaboration. Remember, all meaningful relationships start with a mutually-beneficial conversation.
#4. Buy into the LinkedIn blogging platform:
LinkedIn wants to give its own blogging service a good reach within the platform, so it makes sense to publish content there – even if you’ve also published it elsewhere on the web. Think of it as a promotion tool rather than a content management system (CMS).
For more detailed tips and advice on connecting with key decision-makers on LinkedIn, check out Vinay’s article: 7 Tactics To Connect With Decision Makers On LinkedIn.
While LinkedIn gets a lot of attention in the personal branding sphere, it is really just another distribution channel. It needs the same fuel to be effective: compelling stories, crafted into great content.
The difference is that LinkedIn is a community with active users who are already in the “work” mindset – ready to learn about how to improve their career, do their job better, make more money, hire better people, and grow a business. This is what makes it an unavoidable tool when building a personal brand.
Build personal branding through speaking gigs and conferences
Speaking gigs are a key weapon in the personal brand-building arsenal. I’ve personally found speaking at workshops and conferences to be a great lead generation tool. Moreover, they are an excellent way to mix with new people in the startup and scaleup community.
Unfortunately, speaking at an event is not everybody’s idea of fun. Remarkably, studies show that public speaking is a bigger fear than the fear of death. The fear can certainly be overcome, and every business should have a program to help staff break through this barrier.
A speaking gig is the combination of two parts of personal brand-building simultaneously: content production and content distribution. As I already mentioned, the focus should be on educating and adding value, but there are also smart methods to increase your opportunities for lead generation:
#1. Highlight real-world stories:
Show how one of your partners, clients, or customers had a particularly painful experience, and how it was fixed. Align this with the topic of your talk. Be open about the challenges and mistakes along the way, rather than just talking yourself up.
#2. Collect contact details:
Before you finish, gather as many business cards and/or email addresses as possible. You can incentivize this with a competition or a giveaway.
#3. Align follow-up strategy:
Make sure you’re delivering consistent educational material in the follow-up sequences. Refer to the themes in your talk, and expand on the insights you’ve already given.
#4. Know your audience:
If possible, research attendees in advance. Gear your talk to their specific pain points, and use examples that they can relate to. Seek input beforehand by requesting questions they want answered, and start to build a relationship before you appear on the stage.
#5. Don’t disappear:
It takes guts for an interested person to approach you after your presentation. Be proactive in your introductions, gracious with your time, and try to attend more than just your own gig.
Remember, speaking gigs shouldn’t operate in isolation from digital channels. Video and audio recordings, photos, slide decks, and Q&As can all be repurposed into other forms of content. And connections made in real-life can be taken online.
Make personal branding a priority and develop a process
Remember, every team member has the potential to develop a strong personal brand. Each person has a unique and original viewpoint, and a set of experiences which can educate others in your industry. The more representatives you have sharing unique knowledge, the more credible the whole brand becomes.
Every single person on the team has the ability to:
- Tap into their experiences to find compelling stories
- Create and distribute high-quality content (or partner with a writer)
- Build out their LinkedIn profile and stay active on the platform
- Test themselves at public speaking opportunities
To generate consistent leads through personal branding initiatives, you need to make it an accepted priority for the whole team. Your brand is the sum of its parts, so it’s important to champion those who step-up to share their knowledge and try to grow their own audience.
This also helps with employer branding, because it shows talented candidates that you value employees and that you empower them to build their own individual influence in the industry.
The key to generating B2B leads through a personal brand is to consistently add value to your community, tell real-world stories, and contribute meaningful insights and experiences.
Then you can develop a process for helping build and maintain the personal branding you’ve developed across the team. Formalize how much content you’ll create, document processes that you use, and formalize your repurposing processes.
If you professionalize your personal branding process, you’ll professionalize your personal brand.
This goes for the whole team. We can’t all become mainstream thought-leaders or influencers, but we can build a reputation for expertise in our niche. This reputation for expertise will give you an edge over competitors when a B2B buyer is considering who to work with.
How do you build and maintain your personal brand? Have you got any tips for us? Let us know in the comments below!