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Personal Branding Requires Authenticity and Uniqueness With Robin Landa

Personal Branding Requires Authenticity and Uniqueness With Robin Landa

MP recently chatted with Robin Landa, who holds the title of distinguished professor in the Michael Graves College at Kean University and is the author of 25 nonfiction books published by esteemed publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Berrett-Koehler. 

Landa has earned recognition for her design, writing, art, and teaching, including awards from the National Society of Arts and Letters, ADCNJ, GDUSA, the National League of Pen Women, Teacher of the Year, NJ Author’s Award, Kean Presidential Excellence awards for research, and Human Rights Educator award, among others.

Personal Branding with Robin Landa
Robin Landa, Distinguished Professor, Michael Graves College at Kean University / Photo courtesy of Robin Landa

Considered “one of the great teachers of our time” by the Carnegie Foundation, Landa has taught university students and trained industry professionals to generate many worthwhile ideas. Landa champions her university students, advocates for industry diversity, equity, and inclusion, and provides university scholarships. 

Now she is co-authoring a book with Greg Braun, titled “Shareworthy: Storytelling for Advertising.” When she is not working, you can find her dancing with her husband or watching “Jeopardy” with their daughter in her hometown of NYC.

Personal Branding

What is a personal brand, and how does it evolve? 

Your personal brand is your professional promise: what you stand for, what you’re all about, your skill set and education, your performance, and what you promise to deliver.

Undoubtedly, one’s career, expertise, and skills evolve. Your personal brand should reflect the evolution of your hard skills, soft skills, and knowledge. You want to stay relevant to the times, context, discipline, and professional communities.

Why should someone consider developing a personal brand, and why do personal brands matter?

To stand out, you must be a “recognizable type of something,” which is how one dictionary defines brand. A personal brand aids in making an indelible impression on the people who matter. 

Building your own brand entails codifying your brand personality and expressing it in all visual and written expressions across media channels and in person. 

Essentially, establishing a personal brand helps you not only differentiate yourself in your discipline, but it’s your North Star—your guide to what you show and say publicly and professionally.

How can someone begin to develop a personal brand from the ground up, and what steps should be taken from the beginning?

Start with strategy. Consider several factors when formulating your personal brand strategy:

Authenticity

It’s true to who you are; it’s not fabricated.

Ownership

You “own” an identifiable quality, personality, or posture.

Relevance

The branding is based on an insight into your target audience/sector or discipline and into yourself.

Consistency

Your construct uses transmedia to create coherent messaging and a personal brand voice and tone in all written and visual communications (with slight variations and modifications, depending on the media channel).

Codify who you are, your promise, and your position in your discipline into a core concept or construct. 

That becomes your strategy. 

To help, answer these questions:

What’s your goal?

Who comprises your core audience?

What would you like your core audience to think about you? 

What’s the single most important takeaway message about you?

What’s the key emotion that would build a relationship with your audience?

What’s the core of your brand personality?

How can someone develop their personal brand’s story, what should be included in the story, and why should they take the time to do so?

One way to think of your personal brand story is as your elevator pitch.

Establish your credibility with your credentials.

Explain what you bring to the table, what you promise to deliver, or the problems you solve.

And optionally, make a personal (or emotional) connection—something about yourself that will connect with people, such as, you volunteer to teach reading, you rescue abandoned dogs, you believe in upcycling, or grow tomatoes on your terrace. Or include something characteristic of you, for example, "I use my powers for good," "dog lover," or "wine aficionado.”

Another way to conceive your story is as if you were an author writing your character in a graphic novel.

 Ask,

What’s my origin story?

What is my superpower?

Who needs my superpower?

Keep your story short and succinct.

Use a specific voice consistently, e.g., sassy, funny, hopeful.

Say what you want to do or be.

How true to one’s natural self does a personal brand need to be, and why?

Authenticity is critical. Your personal brand represents your values, mission, who you are as a professional and as well as a citizen, what you stand for, and what you can deliver.

When personal branding is used professionally, that context should ensure you filter out your personal life, the parts that aren’t remotely professional with the exception of humanitarian or charitable works, e.g., partying.

How should someone choose the appropriate channels to tell their story, and should each channel have the same content or have different content? Why?

Ask, 

Which media channels or platforms will best facilitate your goal?

Where do the people you want to reach spend their time?

Each media channel or platform is different and can offer different (rich) experiences. Creating a transmedia personal branding program entails weaving some common threads through all visual and written/verbal components across media, with the understanding that each media channel can offer unique brand experiences for your audience.

This means you must formulate and create a strategic and unified program. Rather than approaching individual messages as isolated, it is a strategic imperative to see every expression and platform—from your visual identity to your CV to your website to your LinkedIn posts—as a contributor to your entire personal brand.

Coherence aids memorability and recognizability.

Personal Brands for Entrepreneurs

How can entrepreneurs develop a meaningful personal brand while putting almost all of their time and attention into their businesses?

Your personal brand is a business asset. As soon as you write your bio, create your CV, or website, or post on LinkedIn, you’ve begun to establish a personal brand, intentionally or not. 

Any entrepreneur’s personal brand should be identifiable, memorable, distinctive, and flexible (for transmedia use and to allow for improvisation [and perhaps pivots] within the personal brand blueprint).

You can hire professionals, especially good brand designers, to assist if you don’t have time to devote to this.

Personal Branding Mistakes

What are three personal branding mistakes people generally make, and how can such mistakes be avoided? 

Design Flaws

Poorly designed CVs, websites, and logos. 

Hackneyed Phrases and Common Adjectives

Using hackneyed phrases and using adjectives that you’d find in almost everyone’s description of themselves, for instance, hardworking or responsible.

Casually Approaching Messaging

Being too casual about what you post and say publicly across channels. LinkedIn is not a social media platform; it’s a business networking platform. 

To avoid these mistakes, hire a graphic or brand designer to design your CV, website, and logo (if you think you require a logo.) If you think you can’t afford a good graphic designer, you can; many graphic design majors at universities are capable and eager to do paid freelance work. Avoid clichés and well-worn phrasing. And think of adjectives that wouldn’t apply to almost anyone. 

Other

Is there anything else you would like to share?

A personal brand is a brand experience for your target audience. 

What impact do you make when colleagues and other professionals meet you? Work with you? Converse with you?

What makes you stand out? 

What have you accomplished? 

What makes you a valuable member of any company or team? 

What are the benefits of working with you? 

For example, a benefit might be that you’re supportive of your colleague’s work. It’s not just about how you perform, but your ability to support colleagues and empower the team or company to grow or perform. (Be objective and honest but don’t ever put yourself down.)

When I interviewed Steve Liska, Liska + Associates, about personal branding for my book “Build Your Own Brand,” he advised:

“What are the top five things that define you? These are your brand attributes. Are they unique? Rate them.”

Responses provided by Robin Landa, Distinguished Professor, Michael Graves College at Kean University.

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