Story behind the Passage
When I was still a kid and did something that was typically “Silke,” my parents used to laugh and say: “Gee, you are a brand of your own!” (German: “Du bist eine Marke”). Just to highlight: My parents never worked in marketing or PR or had any idea about business. They simply used this phrase to explain the inexplicable, something that obviously made me different from other kids. I am not saying this for self-celebration purposes here. We are all different from all others. It is just that we often spend half or even all of our lifetime hiding this by trying to be like everyone else.
When you talk to people who know about branding, this is the most stupid thing you could do. Of course, only visible uniqueness can separate a brand from competitors. For company brands, this sounds quite easy, at least the idea behind it. It becomes much harder if the brand is you. For someone like me who obviously had some self-branding talent in early childhood already, this should not be a problem, one might think. But the opposite is true. And this is why I did talk to someone who is a real expert on this today.
What? Silke talking to some self-branding guru? Is she nuts now? She hates people who wrap bullshit into silver paper to sell it for insane prices. Is she on drugs?
Well, you know what the first step of ‘becoming’ a brand is? LEARNING. If you do not learn, you do not even have to start building up a brand because brands are most important if you are running your own company. If you are an entrepreneur who is not willing to learn, you can close the shop down right now. But learning itself is just the overarching mindset behind self-development. This in turn requires open-mindedness. See, and this is why I do talk to people whom I somehow think can help me grow — no matter which “label” they have in the eyes of others. If I pigeonhole people because of some stereotype — how could I ever authentically claim to really care about people and the diversity that we all have underneath the visible surface?
Diversity is a key to my brand. And it turned out to be the keyword that most stuck with me in the conversation today. It did so exactly because I had not expected it to be a big issue. You know, I am trying hard to become more business-oriented because business is in fact an art that requires learning — especially for creative people and chronical thinkers like me. This also means that I know how difficult it is to sell complexity when forming your personal brand. My thoughts on this and the conversation today made me choose the passage above from Oliver Aust’s new book Unignorable. Someone had shown it to me a few weeks ago. The title really resonated with me — not necessarily because of the meaning it has for the book itself but concerning my personality. And such a diverse personality can be quite difficult to manage…
“Creating a strong personal brand can help us get unstuck.” I like this word “unstuck.” You know why? Because stuck is such a telling word, almost onomatopoeic (words that resemble or imitate the sound they describe). Even though “stuck” is a rather quiet state of being, it is something that we all know from different life situations. There is a broad range of cirumstances to which the word applies. School children already experience being stuck when they cannot move on to the next math problem of their homework, for example, or they are stuck because they cannot make it to the next level of a computer game. On the other end of the spectrum, you have grown ups who have climbed the career ladder up to a point where there is no moving forward.
All of them feel stuck.
And the word “feel” is the most important one in this context. For sure, you might be able to see if people look unhappy or even mad but being stuck is something that you can only feel yourself. How could a personal brand change this?
Well, since I am not an expert on this, I can only rely on my own interpretation and talk about it with experts. And since I am not like most other people in business (yes, this is a stereotype), I do not only listen to their actual words. I listen to what I hear between the lines. It might sometimes only be one word or one minor comment that makes the difference. Before I get to what this was for me today, I just want to say why I think that it is indeed true that a personal brand can help people get unstuck: A personal brand liberates you from other brands that you feel attached or even chained to. I think, this is especially important for people who work in large organizations. I sometimes hear friends say:
“If I quit my job there, I will end up as a nobody. Everything I am, I am because I work for them. Whenever I pick up the phone and call some other company or high-ranking official, I get an appointment as soon as I say the name of our institution. If I leave that behind, I will be left behind.”
Friends who say this usually never thought about founding their own company. Until this moment arrives when they are so stuck that there is no other option than starting something new. Then they realize that they — as a person, not an employee — have no brand of their own. They stand for nothing without the business card with the corporate brand above or underneath their name. At least, this is what they think. And do not get me wrong: I was always proud whenever I started a new job and got the newly printed business card that confirmed: I was part of the team. I had value because the company brand had value.
But this is an illusion. It does not take a company for a strong personal brand. The brand is already there. You just cannot see it. If you start seeing it, you get unstuck — if you have the courage to start the journey.
“It opens new doors and brings exciting people and opportunities into our lives.” I have a very ‘spiritual’ reaction to this sentence. With spiritual, I mean that I trust in life as this one big system that regulates itself based on the law of cause and effect. Things come to us if we are ready and people come to us if they are in resonance with us. That can only work if we are who we are — authentic. If we pretend to be someone we are not, new people might still step into our lives. But it will be different. Only if the brand they see is 100% what is inside, the magic energy flows and people really start bonding.
And the latter case is actually just as valuable. Whenever you start really living and showing your personal brand, you will start being very radical about who you spend time with. You just notice a lot earlier when people somehow are not the right audience for your brand and the message you send out. In contrast to someone who is not brand self-aware, as I would call it, i.e., not authentic, you have no problem to tell people to move on without you.
This is actually something my conversation partner this afternoon also mentioned in a side note. And I fully agreed. But it is not easy when you are at the very beginning of this process. What he said was: “If people do not want to work on their personal brand, you cannot enforce it. Well, at least, it does not make any sense according to my experience.” And that is so true. You can try to enforce it — which is what entrepreneurs who have not found their own brand usually do — but it ends up in a disaster or nowhere at best.
What does all this have to do with diversity??? Can you get to the point please, dear self-branded Silke?
“My hope is that this book will help you build a personal brand that is right for you.” Yes, I am almost there. On some days, a daily blogger like me needs a few more passages to get to the point. This is what storytellers call dramatic arc, right? Today, the arc is sort of like a slowly rising curve with only one boom effect in the last part of this post! Anyway, this sentence above really summarizes my message today — if I ever have anything that comes close to one message in all the words you read from me. I surely have a message in underneath the text…
Writing a book about personal branding to “help” people is something that many people might be able to do — but only a few do it. And I am not discussing the sentence above because of the topic of personal branding. I am saying this because books can help — if you write them in a way that they actually reach the audience. For me, this helping part is the crucial thing behind writing. But it is also very difficult to get helpful knowledge across in a world where only market figures, likes, and claps count. Well, at least people think that. I do not think so because I am old-fashioned. I believe in quality and therefore ignore marketing. This is stupid? Sure. But that is me. And people who work with me do so because of that — because of me and the real value I help create.
No, I am not going to mourn capitalism now. To the contrary: I want to highlight how fulfilling it is to write in order to help. For me, writing is the only means of expression which really makes me feel understood — or at least heard. You might argue now: “How naïve to think that people like Aust write books to help people. For Pete’s sake, they want to market their brand!”
O.k. So what?
Is writing a book on self-branding not really walking the talk if you are an expert on this? I would rather have a real expert write about it than some 20-year old TikTok or YouTube star (nothing against TikTok and influencers here, but there is simply a different career perspective and life experience involved). Plus, and now I am coming back to the starting point: Whenever I talk to people, I do so for a reason. I want to find out about the person behind the book, or a post or whatever media format. There is always a “behind” the label level because any label, no matter how clear it is, leaves room for interpretation. So, there is only one thing that makes you gain clarity: a personal conversation. And if you yourself are quite far in your personal (brand) development, you are able to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.
How did the conversation help me figure out more about my own brand if I am already claiming to know so much about it? Well, here we go, here is the diversity part. For me, being so diverse in terms of qualifications, interests, skills, and target groups has in fact become the core of my brand value. I would not be able to do any of the things I do and enjoy them if I did not bring all of this to the table. But communicating this diversity as the unique core of my brand — of Silke — is a different story due to the complexity it entails and the confusion that results for the audience.
This is exactly the point from which I derived most value today: The expert encouraged me to do just that: Truly embrace the diversity and communicate it accordingly — no matter what. Will people get confused? Maybe. Will these be the people that I want and should work with? Maybe not! Will I ever find people who do not get confused?
Remember, this was a human being I was talking to this afternoon. Within about five minutes into the call, I had thrown the entire diversity of my being in front of his feet. And what happened? It ended up being a wonderful conversation. In other words: This turned into a use case of personal branding. I practiced it already without being fully aware of it. And I got the immediate feedback from the expert — not just in words, in deeds — that people can deal with it. At least some…
“A personal brand that is right for you” is there already. But it helps to have people who make you see it more clearly. The courage to then go out there and communicate it, is your job. Again, nobody will force you to do this. And I will be the last one to make you contact some expert on it. The only thing I know is that diversity as a personal brand is not the easiest thing to communicate. Still, if you are playing in the Champions League with all your diverse talents — stand up for it. You have no life time to waste. There is enough mediocracy in the world. And there always will be. It should not stop you from solving problems that require people like you — with diverse personal brands.
1) Did you ever think about yourself as a brand?
2) Are there people that you met in the past but felt you were not ready to talk to them on eye level? Who were they? What would you tell/ask them today?
3) If you need help on any matters of personal development — which sources do you consult?
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