What Belly Dancing Taught Me
about Personal Branding
I'm learning to belly dance.
Okay, that's totally overstating it. I'm wiggling to music in what is labeled a belly dancing class.
I've found that I enjoy the constant movement, manipulating my limbs and taking any excuse I can to be silly. But more fun than the belly dancing is the instructor.
She loves this stuff. Her eyes light up when she enters the room, her voice changes pitch, and she hops around throwing out euphemisms that make even the bravest people blush. She's a complete fruit loop. And she's loved for it. It's her schtick.
Or, in marketing terms, it's her personal brand.
Oh no, not another post about personal branding
We've been hearing about personal brands ad nauseum for the past year. Even if you're not sure why you need one, you're certain that you do. It's like a 401k. Or a spouse.
The trouble is, most personal brands make everybody else want to jab forks straight into their eyes. They're based on egos, false promises, and personalities so obnoxious that you'd never be friends with this person in real life.
But as my belly dancing instructor has taught me, you don't have to build a personal brand on being an egomaniac. You can build your brand on simply being human. Or better yet, you can build your brand on being your favorite version of yourself.
How do you create a personal brand that will garner attention instead of hate? Here are some tips I've picked up from my experience on the Web.
And belly dancing.
Claim your niche
My belly dancing instructor doesn't teach the hip hop class that takes place after her session. Nor does she teach the weekend kickboxing class. She's limited herself to belly dancing because she knows that's where she can offer the greatest value.
Trying to teach everything would undermine what she's about and the tribe she's looking to attract. She sticks to what she does better than anyone else.
Think niche. You can't be known for everything. Pick what's most important to what you do, break it down to its simplest core, and be it.
While Copyblogger has established itself as one of the Web's top resources on content, Brian Clark has branded himself the master of headlines. It's a tiny microcosm of the whole content creation space that he owns. It's where he's untouchable.
Create your character
Like I said, my instructor is a fruit loop. The moment you think you've seen everything, she ups the ridiculousness.
She tears her sweats so you can watch her legs curl, and refers to body parts in ways you wish you could erase from your mind. She knows who she needs to be to attract the right audience, and she plays up her quirks to do so. She builds a tribe that falls in love not only with her class, but with her. It becomes so that the class and brand are so intertwined that you can't tell them apart.
Lots of people will tell you to "be yourself" in social media. I'd advise creating a persona that mixes who you are and who you want to be. This heightened version of yourself allows you to lose the performance anxiety and magnify the personality traits needed to attract the right people.
We fall in love with those who are brave enough to do what we think we can't. As long as you're basing your character off who you really are, you'll be able to keep it authentic and still look great naked.
Treat people like humans
My instructor has been dancing for longer than I've been an adult. She's trained in moves and styles that my stiff body can't even comprehend.
But you wouldn't know that by talking to her. She's unassuming and talks to you like you're old friends meeting up for coffee. And she keeps that tone even when instruction has begun. There's no jargon to confuse us, no making things complicated so we feel dumb and she wouldn't dare call herself an "expert" or a "guru." She's just someone who loves belly dancing and is excited about the opportunity to share it with us.
Finding your voice and using it to be relatable is what will make or break your personal brand. It's what separates the brands we love from the brands we wish would die.
It's all about your ability to talk to people in a genuine way and show them that you're one of them. This is where most people get tripped up. We elevate ourselves thinking that it makes us more impressive and authoritative and that our audience will trust us more. Truthfully, all this does is alienate you from the people you're trying to connect with.
Figure out what the real you sounds like, and then use that voice to be real with others. You can't fake this.
Make your brand accessible
My instructor shows up to class early. She stays late. She takes questions in the middle of instruction and will show and re-show certain movements until you've nailed them. Her email address is publicly available so that students can email her with questions. She has an email newsletter to help us stay in contact with not only her, but one another.
She's not teaching a class, she's creating a community.
When you make your brand accessible, you help it grow beyond your niche. Become part of your community. Answer questions. Lift up those who are doing well. Share trusted information. Look for ways to extend your brand through blogging, guest postings [cough], email newsletters, and direct mail.
Everything that you put out should incorporate and promote your personal brand. The more people see you and your tribe, the more they'll gravitate toward it. It's social proof.
Your personal brand is you. It's who you are, what you believe, and what you want to put out there to others.
Use the social tools available to be you as loudly as you can, while always offering a benefit to those around you. Your personal brand may be all about you, but it's also about how you make others feel.
It's emotional DNA, and what separates the personal brands we love from those we love to tear apart.
About the Author: Lisa Barone has the totally pompous title of Chief Branding Officer at SEO consulting firm Outspoken Media. She tries to make up for the title by blogging Important Stuff on the Outspoken Media blog and being amusing on Twitter at @lisabarone.
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