In today’s “me” economy, personal branding has become all-important. Want to become known as a thought leader? Want your next gig to find you? Need to help your startup reach every milestone? You need a solid personal brand.
But where do we learn to make our brands stand out? Who are our role models? And whose personal branding methods can we learn the most from -- even if it means learning what not to do?
Thankfully, the actions of President Trump provide six personal branding lessons -- the good, the bad and the butt ugly.
Leverage the “testimonial economy.”
Since the beginning of the Social Age, the digital world has spawned self-promoters and spammers. Over time, we’ve become immune to people talking about themselves. The Super Bowl excluded, we’ve learned to tune out all forms of advertisements.
So how do we get people to learn more about us -- without spamming? We become so damn good at what we do that other people do the talking for us. Through endorsements and recommendations on social media, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites, we let others be our personal branding flag bearers.
President Trump is a master at this game. He knows every single sound bite and every tweet will be covered a million times -- by both traditional press and on digital platforms. The world is his digital echo chamber.
Lesson No. 1: Want to build an enviable personal brand? Leverage the "testimonial economy." Be so present on social and digital media and in person that you don’t have to talk about yourself. Sit back and let your supporters -- and even your haters -- do the talking for you.
Be willing to take a stand.
President Trump is always willing to take a stand. More important: He is more than capable of rallying people around that stand.
Despite being considered an elitist by some, during the election Trump took on a populist position. He simply echoed what many people already said or thought about topics like job loss and immigration. By doing so, Trump created an army of ambassadors who helped him win the highest office in the land.
Lesson No. 2: Effective personal branding doesn’t mean everyone thinks you’re always right. Sometimes, it’s about creating just enough conversation, and perhaps even controversy, to keep your face in the spotlight.
Listen to the other side.
Having the audacity to take an unpopular or even vilified stand is one thing. But with a personal brand, drawing an immovable line in the sand, complete with barbed wire and gun turrets, is quite another.
In the past, President Trump has taken things a bit too far, such as when he sued Univision after the network dropped its coverage of the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants following Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants.
Lesson No. 3: Strong opinions are certainly welcome on social media. But when building a solid personal brand, we must demonstrate empathy for those on the argument’s other side. And as we reach “leader” status, we must show we’re willing to consider all the wisdom around us.
Build a diverse support team.
You need a strong support team. And that team must include not only people who can disagree with your views, decisions and communication style -- it must include those who can bring you down to Earth when you start to turn down a negative path.
While President Trump held job interviews with people with whom he disagreed in the past, ultimately he chose those close to him to fill key positions.
Lesson No. 4: Build a team that can take the edges off your passions. Let them help you find that place where you don’t just make your point, you change how others think about an issue. That is the definition of “influencer.” And a sure sign your personal brand works well.
Know when to shut up.
Over the last eight years, we saw some clever and carefully orchestrated jabs delivered by President Obama. At times, he certainly wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. But he also delivered his message clearly in well-timed quips, and often with a sense of humor. Rather than initiating anger, even his harshest critics often said, “Ooh, good one." President Trump's jabs, on the other hand, are often polarizing.
Lesson No. 5: Along with your support team, determine how your personal opinions will affect your personal brand -- before you express them. And if that impact is anything less than positive, shut up!
Make Grandma proud.
Many would agree one of the low points of the Presidential campaign was Trump's mocking of a disabled reporter. The quickest way to activate the social media lynch mob? Deliberately ridicule a person too easily turned into a victim. In an unforgivable way, pick on someone, or something, weaker than you. Just ask Desmond Hague and that beaten puppy.
Lesson No. 6: Be kind. Not in a "kumbaya, can’t we all just get along?" way. But in a "would Grandma be proud of me?" way. And if that just isn’t possible? Run to your support team and scream, “I’m about to do something stupid . . . stop me.”
Personal branding is a lifelong learning process. Sometimes that learning comes from our triumphs -- the good. Other times it hits us in a "let's not do that again" way -- the bad. And sometimes the lessons come in the form of bona fide failures; some so harsh that at the time it feels like we're getting a PhD in what not to do -- the butt ugly.
As you're building your own personal brand, pay equal attention to all three forms of learning, as each helps guide us toward a balanced -- even enviable -- personal brand.