Back in 2007, when Larry Kim was just a one-man band settling into his usual spot at the Panera Bread in downtown Boston to build WordStream, the last thing on his mind was personal branding. “It just wasn’t a strategy initially,” said Larry. Little did he know that a big contributor to WordStream’s well-known name in the industry would be the personal brand Larry accidentally built along the way.
Everyone in marketing knows Larry loves unicorns!
Today, we’ll share Larry’s six best personal branding tips. But before we get into that, let’s do some quick housekeeping.
Although the precise definition of personal branding depends on who you’re asking, the core definition is pretty much universally agreed upon: Personal branding is the process of influencing the ways other people perceive you, typically with the ultimate goal of establishing yourself as an authoritative figure in your industry or niche.
To put it more casually, personal branding is the process of establishing a personal brand—a unique, recognizable set of characteristics or achievements that elevates your standing in your industry or niche. Although Larry’s personal branding efforts began accidentally, it’s typically a deliberate practice. In other words, most people purposefully set out to establish their personal brands in order to gain more traction in whatever industries they’re trying to succeed within.
That may sound far-fetched, but …
So how did Larry become so famous in the digital marketing world? Was he always known as the unicorn loving tech nerd or did he strategically build this persona?
I recently chatted with Larry about all of this and more. He shared that the real start to his online fame came unexpectedly. “SEO was a really important component of WordStream’s go-to-market so I was producing a lot of content,” says Larry. “During this time period, I realized that it was far more value for me personally to get coverage for WordStream rather than have a PR agent represent the company.”
Larry not only realized that journalists wanted to speak with him directly, but he also found that social engagement was far higher when he posted from his personal account versus the company handle. These realizations led Larry to capitalize on his own brand to help his company grow.
So how can you steal some of Larry’s strategies to promote your own company or career path through personal branding? Here are six actionable tips for creating your own personal brand through Larry’s strategy.
The first thing you need in order to build your personal brand is chose a dedicated channel to make your mark. If you try becoming famous across multiple social platforms right away, you probably will not be successful on any of them.
“All of the big names in the industry have a channel that made them famous. Whether deliberately or by accident, influential people discover a channel for their message that has insanely high engagement,” says Larry. “Take Rand Fishkin (founder of Moz), for example; he became ‘internet famous’ from his YouTube Whiteboard Friday series. For me, it was Medium.”
Larry started posting articles on Medium.com back in the day before it was an overly populated platform. This led him to continuously being a top 10 blogger on the website. In fact, he still is to this day, which he says is due to the fact that he “got in their early.”
Once your personal branding channel is locked down, it is time to choose your message. Hopefully you already have some ideas of what you plan to preach, but you need to ensure you’re promoting a compelling and consistent message to your audience.
“There’s the platform and then there’s the message,” says Larry. “The message is ‘what is your point?’ Try to keep your message consistent and dumbed-down so that people will recall it easily.”
Larry recommends using the same principles you would for your company branding but applied to your own individualized message. What is your core belief? Discover this, and make it memorable to your audience.
While Larry has a had several messages that have resonated with his audience, he is most known for his tactical marketing hacks and as the Quality Score algorithm guy in the industry. The message Larry has continuously preached is to “be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys.” Why? Because unicorns are remarkable, and donkeys are not.
Sadly, a message on its own isn’t enough to establish a legitimate personal brand; you need something fun and compelling to bring this message to life. For Larry, this is his unicorn metaphor. In fact, Larry’s unicorn gimmick is so real to me that every time I see a unicorn image or stuffed animal in a toy store, I instantly think of Larry.
“This metaphor works well because it applies to everything, and doesn’t restrict the content I can create,” says Larry.
This tip surely requires you to get your creative juices flowing, but if you are able to come up with something as memorable as unicorns, then your audience will be unable to forget you.
When I was talking to Larry, I was curious as to how personal you should get with your audience. I think the reason media outlets seek out people rather than brands is because people connect with other people. There are so many components of life outside of business, and sharing these personal stories makes others feel more connected to you.
This does not mean you should be sharing details about your birthing story or messy divorce, but it does mean that you should share some personal things in an elegant and professional manner. One great way to do this is by devising an origin story.
“You have to share something personal,” says Larry. “My origin story is a kooky story about starting up WordStream in a Panera Bread. Build a narrative that can be summarized in one to two sentences, and make sure it’s memorable and tied to the core messaging of your beliefs.”
“Networking is super, super important,” says Larry. “My new company Mobile Monkey just released our product in May, and we already have millions of users. This is mainly due to the fact that I have influential friends,” says Larry.
But what if you HATE networking? Well, anyone who knows Larry knows that he is not a natural born networker. It took time and practice for him to grow these skills, and it is still something he is not always comfortable with. Larry describes himself as “introverted” and “awkward.” Yet he is friends with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Neil Patel and Sean Ellis.
So how can you become a better networker? Larry recommends starting online by taking an interest in influencer content. Like, comment, and share the content of big industry names, and they will take notice that you’re doing just that. Then cement these relationships in real life. Before industry events, do your research. Figure out who the top five people you want to meet are, and devise ways to have someone introduce you. Brainstorm talking points ahead of time, and you’ll be new best friends with your favorite industry celebrities in no time.
Before implementing all the personal branding tips discussed above, ask yourself why. What are your goals for developing your personal brand? Is it to grow your company or career trajectory? Do you strive to become a well-known speaker? Whatever it may be, Larry recommends taking the time to think about this.
“You absolutely do not need a personal brand,” says Larry. “Some of the most successful people I know do not concern themselves with this.”
However, if it is something you are determined to do, Larry advises to get experience and become knowledgeable in your industry before marketing yourself. “Figure out what you want to be, and be great at that first. You’ll have a more interesting story to tell,” says Larry. “I worked for 12 years before building my personal brand. Try to get big before you go loud instead of getting loud before you go big.”
In sum, here are Larry’s top six personal branding tips:
Now go forth and build your personal brand!
Margot is a content marketing specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking.
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