“The emergence of digital technologies has democratised branding from the province of marketing professionals to any teenager with an Instagram account. Brands can be institutional or personal, profitable or playful, but the environment they compete in has expanded to the global arena, where change is the only constant.” (Taylor and Schreiber, Rebranding Branding, 2017)
Today we have the huge pleasure of having Darren Taylor and Mark Schreiber with us. In this interview, Darren and Mark share with us their insights on their new book and on personal branding. Enjoy!
WW: Hello Darren and Mark! Can you tell us more about yourselves?
Darren: I founded a brand agency, Taylor & Grace, in Melbourne, Australia, 10 years ago with a big vision; to elevate the importance of brand strategy to senior business leaders, as existentially important – up there with governance, finance and risk.
I’ve worked as a brand strategist for 20 years, while pursuing a parallel endeavours in music and the arts, and have noted with interest the rising prominence of the personal brand.
Mark: I’ve been writing and publishing novels all my life, and there are fewer fields where personal branding is more important than book publishing. Now I’m also working with Darren Taylor and have learned a lot from him about brand strategy and how this applies to a whole range of industries.
For the past two years I’ve been a digital nomad, active in the startup community and living in cities on four continents, including Singapore.
WW: How do you define personal branding?
Darren: In its essence it is the same as for all branding: communicating who you are and why you matter.
With personal branding, we are talking about people rather than products or services.
WW: What are the similarities and differences between a person with great personal branding and a cult leader?
Mark: This is a great question!
I actually don’t think there are any similarities. Not deep ones anyway.
People with great personal branding, like Taylor Swift or Leonardo DiCaprio, offers something of value that their customers want.
But cult leaders don’t have customers, they have worshippers, in some cases slaves. They gain power not by offering value but through fear and control. Taylor Swift knows if she makes a gangster rap album her base won’t buy it. She has to care what her fans think if she wants to maintain her popularity.
Cult leaders, on the other hand, are popular for the opposite reason: because they impose their will and tell people what to think, and they use censorship, psychological manipulation and often physical force to ensure compliance.
WW: What are the key differences between branding for a person, and branding for a product?
Mark: Products are objects and people aren’t. Products exist for our pleasure. People are, in Kant’s phrase, ‘things in themselves’. Companies and individuals get into trouble when they forget that.
When you are branding a person you have to take into account many things that don’t exist in branding a product, such as their personal life, their relationships, their goals, which may often be in conflict with your brand strategy and which will almost certainly change over time.
WW: Would you encourage everyone to invest in personal branding today? Why and why not?
Mark: I know some people who have no need for personal branding. They tend to be older or retired and in stable relationships, or not looking for a partner.
But if you’re applying to a university, or just got laid off, or divorced, or if you post a lot on social media, or want to create a LinkedIn or OkCupid profile – in other words, if you’re most of us you need to invest, and invest continually, in personal branding, whether hiring a coach or consultant or simply reading books and blogs and soliciting feedback from friends and mentors.
The world, and our place in it, has recently become a lot more dynamic. In the past people naturally branded themselves by their economic station in life, their job, their religion, their home. These things often remained stable over their lifetime. But now the expectation is that we will have many different jobs, homes, partners, and that our economic circumstances will change as well.
A great example is the disruption of the silent film industry by talking pictures. Silent screen stars relied on their emotive faces. But sound meant they now had to speak on camera. Those who could not brand themselves as talking actors no longer got parts, while actors who could brand their commanding voices, like Orson Welles, became the new stars.
WW: Congratulations on your book! In the personal branding chapter, you wrote that the one biggest misconception that people have of personal branding is that they regard it as superficial, fake and self-serving. Can you elaborate more about this misconception?
Mark: Branding is a neutral term. We’ve always done it and there’s nothing inherently wrong with branding yourself, your business, your country, your religion. Until modern advertising, however, we just never thought of it as branding, and until social media we didn’t think much about personal branding.
People who criticise branding as a field equate it with deception and manipulation. But branding is really communication, and those instances which are fake are corruptions of what branding should be. As for the charge of being self-serving, effective branding is other-directed by communicating value to others.
The best personal brands use their appearance, their style, their first impression to communicate that value. It is then incumbent on them to be authentic. For those who are, the Arnold Palmers, the David Bowies, the George Michaels, their lives touch our hearts. Those who aren’t, the Lance Armstrongs, eventually crash.
WW: Can you share with us one other thing about personal branding that people think they know, but is actually far from the truth?
Darren: Most people go to parties on weekends, without giving a thought to where a photo of ‘that drunken moment’ ends up. It is now standard practice for most organisations, particularly larger ones, to reference social media channels when considering candidates for a role. Doesn’t matter whether you are Miley Cyrus or the next receptionist for the widget maker down the road, be mindful that few moments are private, and if they need to be, you might need to think more like an organization and take extra care to control your comms channels!
WW: How can someone uncover their key values? What if they don’t know?
Darren: Start with asking, what is a standard of behavior that is deeply important to you in your every day life? Work and personal. For you to display and for you to see in others with whom you deal.
- Write yourself a list.
- Shortlist four.
- Qualify them by asking these questions:
-If you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money to retire for the rest of your life, would you continue to hold on to these values?
-Do you see these values being as valid 100 years from now as they are today?
Sit with them for a few days: place them above your computer screen. Do they still stand true? If not, review and revise.
If you need help, ask someone who knows you very well. An outsider’s perspective can unlock some nuggets.
WW: Can personal branding change over time? Will it not be inconsistent?
Darren: Like all forms of branding, personal branding evolves over time in response to changes in your physical, mental and spiritual self as well as external factors such as your profession, friends and family and even… world events.
A brand is designed by its creator and perceived by the world. Expressing your personal brand is a conscious and continuous act and needs to be connected and possibly adjusted as your environment and self change.
WW: Do you think that a person can brand himself or herself across many categories effectively– or is it spreading himself too thin? Is it wiser for that person to go “all in” in one or two niches?
Darren: Being single-minded is a key branding success factor. Unless you have the luxury of deep pockets to market your brand, I recommend keeping it single-minded.
And if you are looking options to diversify your brand’s offering, it’s handy to ask yourself, how can I credibly position this new offering under my current brand so as to avoid dilution and the need for costly promotion?
WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?
Darren: With the advent of social media, every one has a public personal brand. Not every one needs a publicist, nor a personal brand strategy.
But it’s important to have a position on personal brand – is mine important to me, or not? And why? If it is, you might want to be more purposeful about how you behave and communicate, where and when and ask yourself the question: am I practicing how I want to be perceived?
We hope you have enjoyed our interview with Darren Taylor and Mark Schreiber. Be sure to get a copy of their new book!