When it comes to branding, there are two kinds of business owners: those who prefer to stay behind the scenes and let their companies do the talking, and those that outshine even the million-dollar companies they leave behind.
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As a marketer, I’ve always wondered why some entrepreneurs are able to take their personal brands to the next level and became household names while others try their hardest to get noticed but never seem to get a lucky break.
Let’s take a look at four famous influencers who rode their 15 minutes of fame into the sunset, and see if we can figure out what sets them apart.
1. Guy Kawasaki
Guy Kawasaki has an estimated net worth of $30 million. Yet many people have never heard of him. In fact, one of the top Quora pages about him is titled “What is Guy Kawasaki famous for?”
Kawasaki started out as one of Apple’s early employees. Today, he is the chief evangelist at Canva and helps get tech startups off the ground. He has amassed millions of social media followers and appears in every major business publication you can think of — all without starting a major company on his own or writing a business book you can name off the top of your head.
How did he do it? By effectively using social media. Kawasaki was one of the first real social media influencers, and he used Twitter to elevate his brand and attract followers who cared about what he was saying. He didn’t need a business or even a best-selling book because he didn’t wait for his audience to find him — he just started shouting from the hilltops.
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In Kawasaki's own words, “A large social media presence is important because it’s one of the last ways to conduct cost-effective marketing. Everything else involves buying eyeballs and ears. Social media enables a small business to earn eyeballs and ears.”
2. Ramit Sethi
Ramit Sethi has been called “Generation Y’s favorite personal finance advisor.” It all started when Sethi wrote a best-selling book on personal finance called I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Today, his blog of the same name has more than 23 million readers. His fans are so loyal that they host meetups around the world to discuss his teachings. You can’t make this stuff up.
What’s the secret to Sethi’s success? Some would chalk it up to the instant fame he got from writing his book, but that wouldn’t be fair. Plenty of people have written best-selling books but couldn’t leverage their newfound fame. Sethi separated himself from the pack by continuing to give his readers fantastic, actionable advice on a regular basis.
He relentlessly tests and launches new businesses, products and courses that help his readers continue to improve their lives. First, he tackled personal finance. Then, he taught his readers how to start an online business. He’s even tested out a healthy eating and fitness site.
The moral of the story? You have to stop doubting yourself, develop a system for success and keep doing what works. As Sethi says, “The single most important factor to getting rich is getting started — not being the smartest person in the room.”
3. Neil Patel
Neil Patel is arguably one of the most famous marketers in the United States. He’s been recognized by the White House as one of the top 100 marketers in the country and currently owns the first and second results for the keyword “online marketing.”
It’s easy to chalk up Patel's success to his marketing prowess and spending power. But there are plenty of marketing agencies with way more money and much bigger advertising budgets. What separates Patel from his competition and helps him build a hugely influential personal brand? Transparency and an obsession with quality.
Patel is very honest about his life story, personal flaws, business failings and marketing experiments. His blogs include a huge number of unique case studies, and he rarely just rehashes or repurposes someone else’s content. This has given him a large and very loyal audience that considers him the de facto authority on online marketing.
Patel is also willing to spend money on quality content for his readers. For example, he invested in a number of free ebooks for QuickSprout. That’s not noteworthy on its own — lots of businesses invest in similar educational resources and marketing collateral. But Patel spent over $30,000 on each ebook. He didn’t cut any corners, which is why some of those ebooks are the first search result for key words that matter to Patel — like “online marketing.”
As Neil puts it, “All content is not created equal. Some content will go viral, generating tons of hot traffic to your blog, while other content will be lost in the archives. If you want more of the first kind, you’ve got to put your readers first.”
4. Susan Cain
The most newly minted influencer on this list, Susan became famous for writing the 2012 book Quiet. Since then, she’s made countless appearances on T.V., had two TED talks and even started a management consulting company that aims to “unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all.” The New York Times credits Cain with instigating a quiet revolution of introverts.
The great thing about Cain’s meteoric rise to fame? She never expected it. She began her career as a Wall Street lawyer and negotiations consultant and was doing just fine financially when she decided to live a quieter life writing at home. She took her time completing Quiet — seven years, to be exact –and was so terrified of giving her TED talk that she hired an acting coach for six full days.
Cain’s personal brand blew up not because she planned for it, but because her audience loved her. Misunderstood introverts around the world saw her as a hero who was finally showing them (and the rest of the world) just how valuable they can be in the workplace. Cain wasn’t seeking fame or fortune. She was just doing her best to help.
“Everyone shines, given the right lighting,” she says.
What will you be known for?
Each of these influencers made a name for themselves in slightly different ways, yet all of them managed to create multimillion-dollar personal brands. These brands will follow them around for the rest of their lives, no matter what jobs they have or companies they start and sell. Their brands will grow with them and change with them, too.
That’s why everyone should start branding themselves in college. Your personal brand will most likely outlast everything else you do. It will make you valuable even if you don’t have a single dollar in your checking account. But, like your reputation, your personal brand is also very fragile. It is what you make of it.
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So here’s the million-dollar question: What will your personal brand be about?
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