You may have missed it, but the Covid-19 lockdowns revealed an interesting marketing fact. And that’s how personal brands, from entertainment to business, are in crisis.
The Incredible, Always Super Exceptional, Personal Brand
In the years leading up to 2020, personal branding and influencer marketing had exploded. “Exploded” is probably an understatement too. Now, I have yet to see any data attempting to tally up how many personal brands there are out there (nor does a task seem very possible, given the nature of personal branding).
But proxy data gives us at least an insight: by 2019, there were 31 million YouTube channels. Or put another way, as many as 10% of the US population. Yet, almost all the views go to just 3% of channels. And that’s just YouTube.
Granted, not all of those are going to be personal brand or influencer channels. However, when so many probably are, and yet, they’re getting such little attention…
And that’s not all. By this time, 54% of Millennials were interested in influencer opportunities. From the same data, 12% already considered themselves such.
Stop and think about that: over 7 million Millennials already think their personal brand has reached coveted influencer status. More than 35 million are ready to hit the big time!
Ready for the best indication that personal branding was over-saturated? 29% of young children desire to be an influencer.
While being an influencer is not the same as having a personal brand, you get the point. The market is over-saturated, yet lacks a lot of potential. And really, when school children are aspiring to your business strategies, you have to ask how sophisticated those strategies really are.
Personal Branding in Crisis
Consequently, why don’t we ask, how sophisticated is personal branding anyway?
If you’ve ever opened a book on personal branding (or browsed a list of them), you might have been as unimpressed as I’ve been. Get a website, choose a niche, be authentic, set up a sales funnel, find your audience, define your message. It all amounts to a 101 course.
Yet, to really answer our question and to pinpoint the crisis in personal branding, we have to return to the lockdowns.
Suddenly, for a few months, there was a big change: no one was going anywhere. And the whole world was tuning in. Almost all anyone could do was play on the internet and catch their favorite personal brands. And what was the result?
We discovered an entire industry with no personality.
Deprived of staged content and stuck in their homes, all those influencers and personal brands suddenly seemed very boring. And very irrelevant. The truth is, they had nothing to say, let alone anything deep to add.
Economic devastation, possible pandemics, ineffective government, rioting, food lines.
The majority of personal brands and influencers seemed very out-of-touch with the realities of a world in crisis. Yet, in many cases, they had followed all the rules of personal branding.
5 Real Questions for Executives, Businessowners, and Civic Leaders
So, what’s the solution, if it’s not personal branding? What are executives, businessowners, and civic leaders supposed to do?
A world in crisis, and the economic crisis has likely only begun, is a different place than one that’s not. And it requires different marketing and branding strategies. This is especially true for professionals.
Sure, there will still be influencers, as there always have been. Names like Rockefeller, Kennedy, or Michael Jordan will live on in history, not just because of their style or any fancy logos. But because of what they did, who they were, and what they stood for.
And not because they were a mumble rapper with a color palate and some luck, a carefully-curated nobody with an internet connection.
As an executive, businessowner, or civic leader, how do you create something with more bite? Before you set out, try these personal branding questions. They won’t get you a bulletproof personal brand, but you’ll be on your way to one.
- Do you even need a damn personal brand?
Let’s face it, most people believe by solidifying a personal brand… they’ll gain relevancy. This is ass backward. You don’t create a personal brand to gain fame. If you’re already gaining relevancy, you should consider more consolidated personal PR. Even then, you’re not required to do so to increase potential.
- What have you done of note and what do you stand for?
No amount of irrelevancy can be fixed with a personal brand. So, it’s vital to identify what, if anything, you’ve done of note. But also what you stand for, at your core. Most personal brands don’t stand for anything. And this goes beyond “being unique,” as many personal branding resources recommend. A chicken in a tux is unique and might get some views but it probably doesn’t have a worthwhile brand.
- How comfortable are you in the public limelight?
Confession time: I don’t care for the public limelight. It’s not that it bothers me, but I think of it as a waste of time. Although some personal brands may be more private with aspects of their lives, the truth is that your brand will be public facing. And come with limelight. That’s the point, right?
- How much do you actually have to say?
Remember how I said most influencers during the pandemic had nothing to say? Before you launch into creating your personal brand, review if you have a lot of something to say. And whether it matters to anyone. Many people think they have what it takes to write blogs, make videos, or post new photos until they discover… you have to do it a lot and for the long-haul when you have a personal brand. What’s almost as bad as standing for nothing? Having nothing much to say in the first place.
- Do you have a contrived personality?
While many personal branding resources hammer on authenticity, the truth is that most of what is considered authentic is gimmicky and contrived. And executives and politicians especially have a problem with this one. If you struggle with being overly concerned with your optics or think branding is a generic template for how you’ll act in public… personal branding might exacerbate the problem, not fix it.
Personal Brands with Real Bite
Let’s turn away from strategic questions to real-world examples with personal brands that have potential to weather crisis. Brands with some bite. Although we make take a closer look at these individually in the future, they offer a solid foundation and interesting examples.
Now, these personal brands are not without their controversy. After all, we’re looking at ones with a little bite, not lots of bullshit.
And yes, executives, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and politicians can learn a thing or two from personalities that manage to have solid followings. And they still have a backbone, not to mention relevancy in a world in crisis.
- Richard Branson – Virgin Group
A gusty, freewheeling businessman and investor with a big smile
Branson has long been on my radar for his risk-taking adventures to promote his brand. And for how he’s known for taking personal interest in his organizations and staff. With iconic hair and almost always smiling like he loves life, he’s handling this age of chaos by being calm under pressure in all his public communications. Even as his companies face imminent peril.
- Jocko Willink – Jocko podcast
A hard-nosed media personality and businessman who never stops
What I love best about Jocko’s brand is that it is simple and consistent. From his short, introspection video to his ever-classic early-am watch shots, Jocko is perfect for this time of crisis. Instead of being preachy or political, he’s down-to-earth with real advice you know is backed by real experience. No candy or sugar-coated branding here.
- David Goggins – Can’t Hurt Me
Author and athlete who has defied the odds and what people thought possible
Goggins’ personal branding is sure force of will. And a lot of cussing that you would think wouldn’t work in marketing. This is a man who does hard things and is known for it. But as the world reeled in crisis, he went through his own crisis that would have ruined many other personal brands…he had to have knee surgery. They said he’d never run again, let alone ultras. A few months later, he’s posting insightful videos on how to get back up and fight.
- Ryan Michler – Order of Man podcast
A tribe-builder going against the grain by building masculine culture
Ryan is a regular guy who’s built his personal brand around being a regular guy who raised himself up from the muck. Then, he passionately began leading other men down the same path. How has he handled the various crisis we’re facing? Michler wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, tactfully, against what he sees is happening. He also tapped some great podcast guests to address issues the world is facing. He also has an intense loyalty to staying true to his values.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Fooled by Randomness
A bristly, highly-intelligent investor with no toleration for bullshit
Known for roasting “experts” and “intellectuals,” Taleb took to the crisis like a fish to water. Granted, he also wrote the book, in part, on dealing with risk in a fundamentally chaotic world. Never one to shy away from confrontation, he has always been willing to hit back against crisis with sophistication and savvy. And most importantly, an amusing mix of personal branding elements: add one part deadlifting, one part esoteric math and language studies, a dash of good food, and a whole lot of lambasting, and you get a real guy with a real following.
- John McAfee – McAfee Associates
A businessman and executive known for being a little off-the-wall
And finally, we have John McAfee. A little nutty, he made news when he refused to remove a pair of woman’s underwear from his face and don a “real mask.” And yes, McAfee was the founder of the antivirus company you’ve probably had on your computer. Throughout this crisis (and before), his personal brand has centered around mocking an elite class that has completely lost touch with reality. And his personal brand is just that: stepping out on a limb and shedding the slick executive look for something more memorable.