Fake it till you make it? Terrible advice when it comes to building your personal brand!
There is a misconception that personal branding is all about crafting a curated image of ourselves, and it is a misconception that needs to be passionately refuted. So many clients come to us asking for exactly that, only to find out that our core value at Brand of a Leader is: radical authenticity. We believe in the undeniable power that stems from embracing your individuality, whatever it may be, instead of trying to channel a disconnected-from-reality image of yourself.
This misconception is certainly not unfounded. When we think of social media, we think of filters, facades and exercises in image crafting. This is indeed all part of the Instagram “lifestyle influencer culture.” Yet, to us as thought or opinion leaders, it must bear no relevance whatsoever. Let me prove this to you. Think of a business leader, entrepreneur or politician you love or loathe. Really think of them. What is the one thing they have in common? I would argue that they are all — for better or for worse — unapologetically real.
The ROI of authenticity is undeniable: authenticity implies being honest about our values, our beliefs and our actions. In turn, this builds trust, which is a core priority of all inspiring leaders. A 2020 survey by Salesforce found that 92% of customers consider trust to be the single most important factor when deciding whether to do business with a company, echoing the 2019 study by Accenture that found that 81% of consumers would switch to a more trustworthy brand. And yet, trust in CEOs is at an all-time low, with a 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer study indicating that only 37% of people trust their CEOs to do what is right (a drop from 49% the year prior!) and a 2020 PwC study showing CEO distrust among 63% of respondents. Shocking numbers — but an opportunity for us as founder CEOs to build trust vis-à-vis our radically authentic brands.
This should also come as welcome news to introverted leaders. I work with many introverts who hesitate about building a personal brand because they fear being molded into a louder version of themselves, incongruent with reality. I debunk the myth of having to be an extrovert in order to build a personal brand in my previous article.
So, how do we do it? How do we build a radically authentic personal brand? Let me share with you the five-step process:
Step 1: Self-awareness
Go through a process of deep discovery to understand who you really are. We cannot be deeply authentic without developing deep self-awareness first. At Brand of a Leader, we take clients through a journey of introspection that has them reflect on their entire life journey and all of its most significant moments, starting in childhood.
Step 2: Define your values
Knowing our core values is a crucial step, and I talk about the process of uncovering them here. A radically authentic brand is rooted in clearly stated, unapologetic and crystal-clear core values. Some people build their brand positioning entirely around a compelling core value, often something that aligns with their life’s mission. Even if that is not the route you take, getting crystal clear on your values and incorporating them into your content (bio, social media content, thought leadership pieces, and so forth) will allow you to attract like-minded people on the basis of shared values.
Step 3: Get feedback
Validate your core values and the key components of your radically authentic personal brand with those who know you the best. It can be daunting to get radically authentic feedback, but it is immensely helpful. Want it to get truly real? Ask people to submit their replies anonymously. Use a free online survey tool; punch in the questions, and share the link with your network. When people don’t fear hurting our feelings and are able to express themselves freely, the level of honesty tends to follow. And yes, feedback can sometimes hurt, but it is a price worth paying for insight and clarity.
Step 4: Self-acceptance
In the words of the wildly inspiring Brene Brown, “authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” A daily practice. Drown out the external noise, what your business dictates your brand should be, the market gaps you observe and what works or doesn’t work for someone else. Embracing who we truly are at this exact moment is not only liberating but also imperative on the journey of building a radically authentic brand.
Step 5: The right platforms
When the brand is clear, the next step is to market it. I often see people looking at others and emulating their marketing plans. Instead, I recommend that you choose the platform(s) that feel the most authentic to you: If everybody else is taking TikTok by storm, and yet you feel like a complete phony when you are on it, then it is not the right marketing vehicle for you. If the world is telling you that long-form writing is dead, and yet you feel the most “yourself” when you express yourself through an artfully woven-together net of words, then drown out the noise and dominate a blogging platform.
One of the biggest fears we have about being radically authentic is that we will be disliked, judged or receive hatred online. And this is true — deeply authentic brands are meant to repel the misaligned. And yet, they are also wired to magnetically attract a deeply loyal and connected following. This translates into raving fans, among employees, customers and those we end up inspiring along the way.
In conclusion, personal branding is not about creating a curated image of yourself, but about embracing your individuality and being unapologetically authentic. Trust is a crucial priority for all inspiring leaders, and authenticity is the key to building trust. By following the five-step journey of building a radically authentic brand, you can attract like-minded people and build trust with your customers. As the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson state, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” So, don’t fake it till you make it — be true to yourself, and watch your brand shine brighter than the sun.