Aggressive Vs. Passive Personal Branding: Top Influencers’ Advice For Small Business Owners

By Janil Jean , Feb 28 2018

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A few decades ago, in the 1970s, personal branding for a business owner would have been going door-to-door, meeting people in the neighborhood, attending networking events and perhaps even travelling to conferences. In the digital age, the dynamics of personal branding are still the same but how we go about it has changed. For someone like Daniel Schawbel there is no other way for personal branding to succeed than to “demand attention from your audience” like in the case of Donald Trump. But I couldn’t help counter “think” about Barack Obama as an alternate personal brand. The poles apart examples motivated me to reach out to experts in the field, and ask about their take on: aggressive versus passive personal branding. What do they think is the best approach?

What Is Personal Branding?

Before we go further with the approaches, let’s start with understanding what personal branding is. Author Dan S. Kennedy establishes that great brands follow a linear path of branding:

What Is Personal Branding?

Meaning, when you go about establishing a brand you have to start with the core values. For example Sam Walton defines Walmart’s core values as “great value and great customer service”. McDonald’s has their 3-legged stool: McDonald’s brand, franchises and suppliers.

Then you channel these values into your strategies which further translate into tactics. Personal branding works on the same linear path and it can be described as:

“Personal branding describes the process by which individuals differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd by identifying and communicating their unique value proposition and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve specific goal” – Colette Mason

“It is building a personality to communicate your values and skills. … It is the total emotive perception that others experience in their relationship with you.” – Imac Mduduzi Dube

When defined in the above context, four factors emerges which make personal branding different from conventional branding:

  • Individual values
  • Individual perceptions
  • Individual relationships
  • Individual personality

Meaning, personal branding is dependent on the personality of the individual who carries the brand. Congruent with this factor, a study conducted by Nielsen reveals that 83% of people would trust the words of an individual recommending brands as opposed to only 70% of people who would trust information coming directly from brands such as from a website. This makes personal branding a powerful tool, and the reason why today companies large or small are using it to enhance their brand messages. Now the question is which way should you choose to go about it?

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Aggressive Agility

1. Jill Salzman

Personal branding is being out there to promote your brand at a personal level. You want people to trust you enough to buy products and services from you. Unfortunately, there is a lot of noise out there, and Jill Salzman, entrepreneur, founder of The Founding Moms  and personal branding expert recommends:

Jill Salzman Quote

2. Lisa Barone

Moreover, in a highly competitive environment, startup and small business owners strive for a crack in the door to wedge their way in. If you want to use personal branding as a means to boost your business, you have to create a strong voice to deliver your message according to Lisa Barone, Chief Marketing Officer at Overit:

Lisa Barone Quote

3. Cristina Roman

Not only it is about the voice but it is also being there at the moment. Once upon a time people used to hang out at mom n pops cafes; today people like to be seen and heard at branded spaces like Starbucks or Burger King where the hip crowds are. As a small business owner you can’t afford to let big brands override your passive personal brand. According to Cristina Roman, Digital Communication Consultant at Shoestrings & Fancy Things :

Cristina Roman Quote

4. Michael Dinich

And considering this is a digital age, you have to be aggressive and outwork your competition through active social networking – grow your connections, get people to talk about you, and make your brand sound the loudest. In the words of Michael Dinich, owner of Your Money Geek and advisor at Your Money Matters:

Michael Dinich Quote

I couldn’t agree more. The idea, as these experts point out, is to be the center of attention to effectively communicate your brand message, and eventually sell your product or service. However, David McNally author of Be Your Own Brand is of the view that:

“A personal brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes your outstanding qualities and influences that person’s relationship with you.”

Aggressive personal branding works like a push notification – it attracts attention but people don’t want to be bombarded with a lot of notifications all the time, do they? That’s where passive personal branding comes in.

Passive Power

5. Melissa Reyes

People tend to get attracted by what’s within an individual, and how s/he can make a difference in the lives of others through building trust and relationships. It’s not about the product but the experience of getting it; it’s not about how much the service costs but the value it has in enhancing one’s life; and life begins with a mission, a goal. This is why Melissa Reyes’ advice sits perfectly with this ideology. An inspiring author and owner of Bubblr Media and she says:

Melissa Reyes Quote

6. Bill Corbett, Jr.

When you align your goals not on “selling” but in “nurturing” then personal branding takes a different turn – it becomes an inbound magnet. The more you invest your efforts in building relationships, the stronger your brand, and the more “return on effort” you get. Bill Corbett, Jr. of Corbett Public Relations, Inc. offers 3 simple rules to follow:

Bill Corbett, Jr. Quote

7. Henry Kaminski, Jr.

Corbett, Jr. is not alone in this perspective. Henry Kaminski, Jr. of Unique Designz passionately feels that no one likes to be pitched at. Why give your audience the power to switch you off when you can easily own that power? His advice is:

Henry Kaminski, Jr. Quote

8. Cheval John

Do you agree? Positioning is about giving value for the right audience. Whether you choose to position your personal brand through offline or online digital media, it should be consistent. We’re talking about personal profile, website, social media, videos etc. all should be tightly knit to give a holistic picture of your personal brand, and what your brand stands for. Cheval John of Vallano Media advises:

Cheval John Quote

In an ever-changing business environment, your audience is already struggling with their own perceptions of varied brands, why make it difficult for them to choose? By being there for them at a personal level and in their micro-moments, you make it easy for them to reach out to you and make instantaneous decisions. That’s what passive personal branding is about.

The Neutral Ground

And in this, influencer marketing has become a personal branding niche that opens exponential opportunities for businesses to connect with their audience at multiple levels. The influencers or the experts are the ones that most people turn to when they need someone to endorse their decisions, regardless of the fact whether you’re passive or aggressive about your personal brand.

9. Shana Haynie

The matter is thus not about being passive or aggressive but how you build your personal brand that matches with YOUR business niche, audience, and personality. Shana Haynie, Co-founder and COO at Vulpine Interactive advises business owners to:

Shana Haynie Quote

10. Alexis Zanger

Once you’ve got a great business model and marketing plan in place, you can use both approaches to maximize your audience reach – after all who says you have to be limited to one? Alexis Zanger of Aegis Software, resolves this argument in her advice:

Alexis Zanger Quote

Personal branding is a valuable tool, especially for startups and small businesses where budget is tight, and resources are scarce. As business owners, you can capitalize on your expertise and target market by taking the first step – connect with them. It doesn’t take much in terms of money but it can become the foundation of your brand.  Build your tribe, nurture relationships, engage and give value before you jump into sales pitches. If you don’t know where to start, here’s an infographic with the theoretical framework to help you build your personal brand.

Which approach appeals to you the most? Share with us your views.

Personal Branding

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Janil Jean is an idealist blogger and social media addict who loves conversations related to branding, storytelling, startups and small business technology and design.


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