Personal Branding? It Starts With Your Story!

If you are going to release the power of your personal brand, you need to appreciate the power of your own story.


 That’s why the first thing I do with a new client is put them in front a video camera and ask them to tell me their life story.

And there’s a catch. They only get two minutes. Which coincidentally is the amount of time I was given to do a report for the evening news during my twenty-year career as a journalist.

I was lucky enough to get my first job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC Television, in the Montreal newsroom.  Being the newest member of an already seasoned team, of course, I had to pay my dues.

One of my first news reports, if you could call it that, was about a moose that got loose in downtown Montreal. I was also assigned to follow the annual pilgrimage of two Peregrine falcons who hatched their chicks fifty stories up on a downtown skyscraper. I knew I was hopelessly destined for the animal beat when they next assigned me to the rescue of three Mallard ducks whose fluffy little fannies got stuck to a nearby river during a spring thaw.

But then one day, I got to do a big story and that was when I realized that these “less newsworthy assignments” had not entirely been a waste of time. I discovered that all that training to make something out of nothing was a great exercise in storytelling. After all, if I could make a story about a duck’s fanny sing…

 Do you think of yourself as a story?  Most people don’t. But, in fact,  your story is your most powerful marketing tool. Discovering how to tell your story is the first step to understanding that the key events and highlights of your life have symmetry and a context that fit perfectly together.

Try it. Try telling your life story in two minutes. Record it if you can and see if you notice a theme developing.

(Next Time: What did actor Billy Crystal learn about personal branding in the 1991 movie City Slickers?)

What Is Your Secret Sauce?

Companies spend a lot time and money on developing their brands. Essentially, a brand is built on a combination of feelings and thoughts about the company that resonates in the hearts and minds of their customers.

Why shouldn’t that be true about people? That each one of us has a brand, which is to say, each of us at our core is really about — and stands for something.

We have talked about Personal Branding NOT about being famous, nor is it about setting up a Facebook Page and having thousands of followers on Twitter.

Certainly, these can be effective tools to promote yourself but they are not your personal brand. In fact, social media has confused the issue by making some people think that promoting yourself as a brand is self-centered, self-indulgent and frivolous.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Personal branding is about identifying that essence that describes who you are and how you are unique. It is the value that you provide – like a secret sauce, it is that one essential ingredient that sums up your ultimate contribution to the world.

Don’t mistake this for what you do. So many of us define ourselves by our role, job or profession. “I am a father.

“I sell real estate.” “I am lawyer.”

Imagine instead if we described each other by who we are, that is, by that one thing that really makes us special —

Imagine if you were “The Truth Whisperer.” Or “The Enhanced Listener.” Or “The Big Idea Optimizer.”

Don’t these descriptions intrigue you to know more about these people? And they are all real people I have worked with. Do they also make wonder about what “Your Secret Sauce” might be?

(Next time: Can You Tell Your Life Story In Two Minutes?)

Branded: I am The Hula Hoop Queen!

Yes, ordinary people like us can have a personal brand. I know because my father gave me my first taste of having one (along with my 15 minutes of fame!) while he was running his PR business — when he rather shamelessly exploited both my brother and me to help him promote his clients’ products.

On one occasion, Dad asked me to meet him at Toronto City Hall after school. When I arrived, I saw Dad and his photographer waiting for me with a hula-hoop.

This was 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, with the highlight of the summer being the world’s fair in Montreal. The popularity of the hula-hoop had certainly dwindled since it’s heyday in the 50’s, but it was my father’s mission to stage a comeback using me as his less than enthusiastic accomplice.

“You can hula-hoop right?” Dad asked.

“A little but I haven’t done it in awhile,” I told him honestly.

“Doesn’t matter. Just take off your shoes and wade into the reflecting pool and fake it while we take a few pictures.”

I was now fourteen years old and my prime hula-hooping days were behind me, and so as I struggled to move my hips and keep the darn thing from falling down, I noticed a crowd was gathering.

“Keep going. You are doing great,” Dad shouted as a news photographer, then a TV camera crew and finally an intrepid reporter took off his shoes and socks and waded over to me to ask a few embarrassing questions —

“How long have you been hula-hooping?”

“And when did you decide to hula-hoop your way to the world’s fair?”

And that’s how I found myself branded as Canada’s Hula Hoop Queen for a summer – creating quite the buzz along with a short but successful revival of the hula hoop, much to my father’s and his client’s delight. Needless to say, my hula hooping certainly improved.

And it was all making me think – if I could be branded for a summer with so little to go on, what kind of brand could one create based on a genuine discovery of who you are and how you are unique!

(Next time – What’s The Recipe For A Personal Brand? Your Secret Sauce?)

You Don’t Have To Be Famous To Have A Personal Brand!

Billy Bishop –  Canadian Hero

When I was a little girl, I used to sneak upstairs to my parents’ bedroom and rummage through my father’s underwear drawer. Ok, it sounds weird, but it was there, until the family donated them to Canada’s War Museum in the nation’s capital, that we kept my grandfather’s war medals.

War medals are a piece of history in anyone’s family. But my grandfather’s are in a class of their own. That’s because my grandfather is Billy Bishop, Canada’s and the Allies most famous World War One Flying Ace who shot down 72 German planes.

Billy’s only rival was Germany’s Baron Von Richthofen whose final score was 83 allied planes. Think Snoopy versus the Red Baron in the Peanut’s comic strip and you get the gist of the kind of mythical status my grandfather and these first knights of the air have achieved.

In fact, since his death in 1956, my grandfather has been the subject of books, documentaries and a highly acclaimed play called ‘Billy Bishop Goes To War’. There have been streets, bars, cafes and even a couple of airports named after him as people’s fascination with his unique place in history continues to this day and well beyond.

Sadly, I never knew him. Billy died when I was just three years old. Still because of his iconic stature, he has lived on both as an enormous influence in my own life but also in the imagination of thousands of others.

That’s because my grandfather is a brand.

And I think that’s how I became fascinated with branding in the first place. I always wondered – Do famous people develop a brand because they are famous? Or do they become famous because they have and know their brand?

What do you think?

I have concluded that it’s probably a bit of both. You don’t have to be famous person like Billy Bishop to have or know your brand – But you DO have to think like one!

(Next time: My 15 Minutes of Fame as The Hula Hoop Queen!)

The Journey To Discover Your Personal Brand!

I was a late bloomer. I am talking late, late, late bloomer.

In fact, it took me until I was almost 30 to get serious about a real career. (Working for an airline just to get the free travel didn’t really count in my books.)  And it was half a century before I finally figured out what I was really, really good at and always meant to do. Never mind. I got there. In fact, I was at the top of my field after 20 years as a TV news correspondent, having worked with all the major Canadian networks and two US networks, when I discovered that I was feeling stuck, uninspired and restless to do something else, although I didn’t know what.

I bet some of you can relate.

Maybe, you are thinking about re-inventing or re-positioning yourself.  Perhaps, you are simply looking to take what you are doing to a much higher level and/or want to raise your profile and reputation in your field and industry.

And the truth is, these days, with so many people doing similar things,  many of us ARE looking for ways to stand out and differentiate ourselves – especially when we feel we have something special to offer, and we want people to understand and benefit from the value and contribution that we can provide.

My journey to discover my “Personal Brand” helped me make the transition to an incredible new life and business, and I have helped hundreds of people in business, politics, law, health, fashion and entertainment do the same.

A word of caution. If you are serious about taking this journey to discover and awaken your personal brand, you have to be prepared to be open, vulnerable and exposed. So I challenge you  —- as I did for myself and believe me, there were some surprises along the way — to get out your branding iron and Dare To Be Exposed As The Success You Really Are!

(Next Time: Famous People Get Branded, Why Not You?)