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Executive Personal Branding: Top Of Mind, Top Of Market with Brian Basilico
My guest is Brian Basilico. Brian is a very special person to me for a couple of reasons, one of which is he inspired me to launch this podcast a number of years ago and has given me a lot of insights and mentoring along the way for which I am truly grateful. He is also the host of the Bacon Podcast and he is an expert in helping people create more deal flow, generating more customer interest, creating more customer connections and turning that into money. He does a lot more things, but let’s just go straight to this topic. Welcome, Brian.
Thank you for all the fine kudos and all of the wonderful accolades and what other adjectives I can come up with to try to say thanks. I’m excited as heck to talk to you. We’re going to be talking about how to build a personal brand, which is probably pretty counter-intuitive to a lot of people because they tend to think that their business is their brand. I think that’s an opportunity that’s missed by a lot of people in the C-level position and in owners of companies. If you think of an Elon Musk, you think of somebody that’s got a personal brand. If you think of somebody like a Jeff Bezos, it’s a personal brand, which is just going to go down the Steve Jobs route. Those are all people that stand out from the crowd. They are A-type personalities. They’re bigger than life, and not everybody has that gift. That shouldn’t stop people from thinking, how can I brand myself? A lot of times people will equate the business to a person. That’s one of the reasons why you want to do it.
I like where you’re going with this. We all know that we do business with people we know, like and trust. That happens with businesses. We don’t do business with businesses. We do business with people within businesses. The first level of this is no. If we can, as the head of the organization, create a relationship where people know who we are, that starts a lot of the heavy lifting that your marketing needs to do.
Let’s talk about some of the things that usually hold people back because I think that’s the first piece of this pie. Number one, I’d like to call it the Golden Tower Syndrome, “I am protected by my assistance. I am protected by my vice presidents, my sales teams, all these other things. I am here to function as the head of the organization and direct the orchestra.” Daniel Barenboim still gets a lot of kudos for waiving his magic wand when he stands in front of an orchestra. Being protective of time and stuff makes sense. It does make sense but herein lies the problem. It depends on how big your company is but if you’re out at a trade show, people want to get to know, like and trust you. They want to know you as a person. They want to know that you have their best interest.
Obviously, part of your best interest is to make sure that your stockholders are satisfied but your customers want to be as satisfied as well. That’s how you build sales. That’s number one. Number two, it’s the old introvert-extrovert thing. Not everybody who is at the top level is somebody that wants to be out in the forefront. Sometimes they just like to sit there, crunch the numbers, and make things happen. I understand the whole concept of introvert versus extrovert but what people want is to know you as a person. For example, you’ve got a bunch of guitars behind you right now. I know it and you know it and that’s one of the interest points that we have is we’re both musicians. That creates a point of communication, a point of like, because I know you’re creative. I know you think like I do, I know you think musically. There’s a different way of thinking when somebody is playing a guitar or piano than it is to programming code. Even though they’re both creative activities, there’s a different mindset into it. That’s where I think that people tend to pull themselves back from. Probably the second piece of this is how do we overcome that and what are the benefits of it? Why would you want to do it?
I like where you’re going with this again. One of the reasons why I love talking to you is you have these magnificent ideas. The thing that is important to keep in mind is that executives, especially CEOs, are tasked with one thing, and that is to maximize the value of the shareholders. You do that through profitability. You do that through growth. The way that we do that is by being a person of interest to people who value companies. One of the reasons why executives have to be out front even if they may not want to be is because it increases the perceived value of the organization. It is the CEO who’s out in front that the shareholders find interesting, and are attracted to, and want to buy their stock. Investors want to have a conversation with them and to put money into their company. As a CEO, your job is to be a person of interest to your shareholders and your investors. You can only do that through a personal brand.
One of the things that are going to help people get their arms around this is let’s define, in the world of personal brands, what is a brand. We all know branding. Some people think of it as a logo or the formula from Coke or the perceived Kleenex versus tissue, that kind of stuff. A lot of people think that brand is in that area. When you’re dealing with some obscure software program or mining for something other than coal uranium or something like that, you’re doing something that’s outside of the box of everybody’s normal vernacular, it’s hard to think of what a brand is. Let’s get down to a brand. A brand is very simple. Number one is you are a unique person. The first thing you’ve got to do is first identify who the customer is and we all have multiple customers. You have the stockholders and you have the people that buy your products.
You have your employees, you have your vendors and you have your legal team, and you have your competitors. There are a lot of players in here.
There are a lot of different players. You can’t be civil and have 26 different personalities. Primarily you’re focused on the two major ones. Your goal is to make your stockholders happy and make your customers happy. All the rest of that, your vendors and the people that work for you, are all part of that play. They’re all part of your orchestra. That’s number one. You’ve got to identify the audience. You might have a slightly different brand to your stockholders than you would to your audience and people that are going to purchase your products because there are different value propositions. That’s number one. Get that in your head.
The second one is what problem do you solve? It’s really simple. For the stockholders, it’s to make the money. They are not a whole lot to that. The more you make them money, the happier they are. They want to make money, you solve the problem of making them more money. My business is built the same way. I always say that I’m not in the marketing business, even though what I would be is a “marketing person,” I set up marketing systems. What I tried to explain to my clients is I’m not really in the marketing business, I’m in the making money business. In other words, I help you identify things that are stopping you from achieving making more money.
A lot of times people are blindsided by things that they can’t see. I can go in and look at something and I’ll give you an example after we’re done with this explanation. I have a perfect example on a small basis that will get you really clear on that. That’s number two. What problem do you solve? You solve something for audience one, you solve something for audience two. Audience two, they want to make money. If you’re selling B2B, they are in the business of making money. They may use your product to produce something else that’s going to make more money. They have the same issues that you do. They have to talk to their shareholders, they have to talk to their bosses, and they have to talk to whatever it is. That’s the thing. What problems do you solve for those people and what is the perspective that they have of that problem?
Then the last part of a personal brand is what makes you special. What makes you unique that you can help them understand that you solve this problem better than anybody else? Where I find a lot of CEO level people or a lot of people who do not want to be in the limelight, they want their people to handle that. In reality, if you’re at a trade show, if you’re at a stock conference, if you’re in any of these things, you still have to have that in your mind, that that is the perception that people are looking at you, so you might as well fulfill the need that they’re asking for.
They’re going to be looking for that. If you can’t articulate that or you can’t embody that, then you’re not a person of interest and then somebody else will be. I want to recap what you were just talking about when it comes to branding. You have to illustrate that you’re a unique person. You have to solve a problem that is a value for your target audience and you have to be able to articulate what makes you special and unique that makes you better than anybody else they can talk with. The way that I like to talk about brand is it’s very simply this. It’s a customer experience people want to repeat, they will pay for, they can’t get anywhere else, and that they’ll tell others about. That brand is a promise of what you do for your customers and why they can’t get it anywhere else. Personal branding then brings into play this concept that you can have this experience every time they interact with you as the executive. That’s what creates the value and makes you a person of interest. How do we put this together?
Let’s treat it like we’re on this podcast right now. We have a goal. You have a goal. You want to deliver great content to your audience. If they come to your podcast and they feel like they’re not getting any value, they may not listen to the next episode and you lose them. Every single time you have to up the game. The same thing it is with me. I’m here to basically propel my ideas, my way of looking at things to help augment the ability for you to be able to provide great content. That’s why you asked me on so that I can propel my thing. I’m looking at you as a vehicle to help me get my message out. You’re looking at me as a way to solve the problems or at least open the minds of people so that they’re going to come back and listen to your podcast. What we’ve got to do is say that it’s all about the story. It’s all about the messages. It’s the things that we’ve learned. It’s the way that we can communicate to these people a personalized story about who we are, why we do what we do, and what’s in it for them. That’s really what it boils down to.
You just gave us a formula for telling a story. Who we are, why we do what we do, and why they need to pay attention to us.
It’s the same story in the website world which I talk about all the time. When somebody gets to a website, you have a very limited amount of time. You usually get about three clicks in two minutes and everybody that shows up at a website asks three questions. Why am I here? What should I do? Why should I do it? That translates to the same thing. We’ve talked about this before, radio stations, WII AM and WII FM. A lot of people broadcast on WII AM which is what is interesting about me. That’s the way a lot of people tend to format their stuff, “I’m Harvard educated, I’ve worked for this company, and I’ve done all these other things.”
Those boring self-aggrandization. Those are not brands. Those are simply proof points to a story, they are not the story.
Now flip it over to the WII FM. FM, obviously, is higher modulated, it’s better quality, and it’s all these other things. That’s the radio station that the people who are interested in your brand are listening to, which is what is in it for me? They’re listening to, “What’s in it for me?” The bottom line is if I come to you and say, “I’m a marketing guru. I’ve written four books. I have a top 35 podcast in the marketing space, I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people, and I played guitar in front of thousands of people.” If I walk into you and say, “I’ve got a unique perspective through all the 40 years of me working on the business that I understand your end goal of why you need to make money, how to make money, and how to get people to pay you.” Which one of those two is going to interest you more?
The last one is way more interesting until I want to get to know you as a human being one-on-one, but that’s simply not what we start. We have enough friends. I’m going to recap what we just talked about here for our audience. We have to answer three questions when people have any interaction with us, whether it’s a website or anything else, “Why am I here? What should I do? Why should I do it?” Those are important elements. I want to add one more that I found to be very valuable and that is, “Why should I believe you?”
There’s the truth factor of everything too.
We always have to have some level of indication of proof to reduce the perceived risk of the conversation that we’re attempting to trigger. Remember, all of us, the first time anybody meets a stranger, there’s a high level of perceived risk. The great thing about a personal brand is it decreases that level of perceived risks because they already know something about you. There is some element that you are a person of interest. That’s one of the key reasons why you want to do this is it decreases that perceived risk which speeds and accelerates the deal flow. Let’s talk about how we put together the story for personal branding.
I love to use LinkedIn profiles as a template. That’s one of my favorite things to do. Most people go on LinkedIn and this is actually how we got the conversation going because I was teaching people how to find a job.
I want to go into there but I also want to frame up why you do this. One of the interesting challenges that we face today as a mature, senior, experienced, lots of scars and bruises guys, is that we are actually not very hirable. A lot of people reading this probably are not going to get a job. They have to approach the world from a different basis. I want you to share with my audience your approach to this.
That’s exactly where I was going with this thing. What I was trying to explain to these people is that years ago, we used to have this thing show up in our driveway every single year. It was called the newspaper and you’d pull it out and it had three sections in there and those three sections were jobs. You could go through and you could look up jobs based on all these different categories and salary ranges and physical locations. Then the internet came along and that changed the way that it worked. That’s one of the reasons newspapers are falling apart is because they made a lot of money from not only adds but classifieds. All of that has been taken away by eBay and Monster and now LinkedIn, and LinkedIn was bought by Microsoft.
When you sit down and look at it, the bottom line is that in anybody’s office now and when you go to an HR office, there is a stack of 600 resumes sitting there. The question is, out of those 600 people, how do you stand out? What I tried to tell people is you are no longer getting a job, what you are getting is a gig. A gig is, from a musician standpoint, you are hired to play a concert. A concert is three hours, you play the three hours, and you make the audience go crazy. If they love you, come out and you do an encore and then you move on, you go to the next gig. The more that you sell out those gigs, the more that people pay you.
It’s very similar to us as a personal brand. What we have to do is think of ourselves as a one-man band and we’re in there basically to go in to wow the audience, fulfill the thing that we had said we could do, which was to perform, sing, dance, whatever it is, go in for an encore to say, “This is exactly what you need to do to continue this on,” and then move on and leave them wanting more. The reason I use LinkedIn as one of those things is I tried to tell these people is you have to differentiate yourself. Going back to what I said before, what is your story? What problem do you solve and how do you say that you are the best person that ever in the history of the world solve this problem? At least have a unique perspective on how to do it.
Let’s look at a LinkedIn profile, and this is something I find a lot because I teach LinkedIn to sales teams. A lot of the times the CEOs of companies do not have any kind of online presence when it comes to that. They may have a bio on a website, but they don’t spend any time on their LinkedIn profile. To be honest with you, somebody is checking out your company for investment. If somebody is checking out your company to buy your products, a lot of times they’ll go look at that and find it. The question is, do you want to be known as CEO of ABC Company or would you rather be known as a strategic partner that helps you identify opportunities that maybe you did not see yesterday? Which one sounds more exciting?
This is why I like LinkedIn is because it helps you progress through the story. What’s your headline? It’s not your job title. Your job title goes down in your employment section. There you can say you’re the CEO of a company. Your company logo will show up and all the other stuff. The first thing that people see is the headline. Who are you? What do you do? What problems you solve and who do you solve it for? That’s really what it boils down to.
I want my audience to get this within their head. The reason why this is so important is that every time you make a comment on LinkedIn, every time you post that headline gets tacked right under your name. They see your name and then they see why they want to connect with you, why they want to have a conversation with you. It’s not because you’re a CEO unless they want to sell you something. It’s because you are promising them an outcome for that connection. That’s why you want to comment and post, is to keep landing that headline of who you are and what you do, not what title you hold.
You bring up another good point. Part of being Lady Gaga is people will pay tons of money for you to come and sing, but being Lady Gaga also means that a bunch of people or paparazzi are trying to find dirt, take pictures, do all this other stuff. There’s this balance between you’re going to make a ton of money, but also there’s that freedom portion that goes away when you’re a celebrity. As a CEO, that’s one of the fears that hold people back from filling out their LinkedIn profiles or doing anything that is forward facing because they want to be behind the scenes. I just want to make that point is you are a celebrity whether you like it or not.
Is that what your Board of Directors want, is for you to be behind the scenes? My bet is it’s not. Your Board of Directors wants you to be out front driving business, becoming the competitive differentiator between you and everybody else on the planet. If you want to be behind the scenes, go work for the federal government, go work for the three-letter agency.
Based on the point that you said, the next thing is your story. It’s the summary and that’s what it is. The first thing people see is your picture. There’s a banner that goes above it. You can put your logo, you can put whatever you want up there. You can put a meme for all anybody cares. Your picture, then your title, they call it a title but it’s really your headline, and the next thing is your summary. When somebody sees your summary, they’re going to see the first two lines. One of my favorite things is I do Google Ads for people. Google Ads has taught me an incredible skill. In Google Ads, you get 30 characters to tell the headline, not 30 words, 30 characters. When I’m working with large pharmaceutical companies, that blows their mind.
A lot of times their name plus their generic name, both would make up and take up most of the 30 characters.
That’s it. They’re so busy trying to promote that brand, here’s the name of the product that they forget the problem that they solve. With those first two lines, you’ve got to hit them between the eyes and it’s not, “I am a world-renowned expert in operations and marketing perceptions.” The key thing that you’ve got to think about is you’ve got to hit them between the eyes with that first two lines and we go back to the, “What’s in it for me?” I always like to write those in the third person, not in the first person because I don’t want to “I, I, me, me,” all over myself. What I want to do is I want to come across as, “Brian has helped small to midsize businesses find sales opportunities that they did not know existed.”
Would that make you want to read a little bit further? What kind of sales opportunities? What does he mean by small to midsize businesses? That’s not a perfect statement, that’s not what mine says, but I’m just saying you try to create some intrigue to get people to read further. That’s the purpose of a headline. That’s the purpose of an opening paragraph. That’s the purpose of being above the fold on a newspaper. Then from there, you’re telling the story of who you are, what you do, why you do it, and what’s in it for the end user. That’s what it’s about. That story in that summary is one of the most important parts that you need to write about yourself and have it done in the third person. It doesn’t hurt to get a professional writer to do it for you.
I agree with that. Take a crack at it, but let me tell you something, you probably need somebody else to write the story for you. The reason why is that other people can see your brilliance. For you, it’s second nature, there’s no big deal, but other people can really dial into that. Throw a few dollars at somebody to help you write that story. It’s totally worth it.
You’re a CEO, go get a professional headshot. Write your story, but get interviewed by somebody and have them write it for you. I do this all the time with my clients. When we’re working on marketing concepts and websites and things of that nature. I hop on the phone with them and I record it and then I sent it to a company called the Rev. Rev will transcribe it and then I can take a look at that text. Now I can take that text and massage it and take the bits and pieces of that and put it in order. It’s like building a puzzle out of what they were saying and put it into a sequence that is focused towards the end user, not what they wanted to say. Then I run it by a professional copywriter who will go through it, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, and helping to make sure that the story gets the message across. Even a third party is looking at it on top of the person who did it, myself, and now we’ve got a third party who is a professional writer looking at things and that’s how you create a great copy.
You and I are both great copywriters, but that said, we’re fools for writing our own copy for ourselves. There’s a great piece of advice, and that is never do your own legal contracts. Always hire a lawyer to do it. The same thing applies when it comes to marketing. Don’t write your own copy. Let somebody else do it. As good as you might be, you don’t want to do that. I agree with that. I hire out copywriter and other skills. Even though I do it for other people, you just can’t do it for yourself. Now that you’ve got the story written on LinkedIn, where do we go from there?
From there it’s about using that information in your connections. The thing with a personal brand is a brand is something that is repeatable by somebody else.
One of the most important things you said is, “A brand must be a story somebody else will tell somebody else.”
Your next goal is to take the three things that we did, the headshot, the headline and that paragraph, or at least the summation of the summary and turn it into something that you could tell somebody when they say, “What did you do? How did you get started? Why are you here?” Whatever questions they ask you, that you can come off and say that. Mine is very simple. When people come to me, they say, “What do you do?” I say, “I’m an online marketing strategist, but the real essence of what I do is I show you why and teach you how.” That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say is I show you why and teach you how. “You show me why what?” “Why you need to do what you need to do to market your business.” “How?” “I will show you how to do it. I will teach you how to do it yourself.” If you don’t want to execute it yourself, here’s the thing that I find very important is don’t be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. Learn the concepts and then you can articulate how you want it done to the people that are going to get it done for you. This is not something that you farm out. When you’re with your own personal brand, you have to make sure that you can articulate it. Even if somebody else is saying, “Our CEO does this,” you want them to speak the same way.
There are people that are masters at this. Some of them are politicians, some of them are Bezos and Elon Musk and things of that nature. You think about Elon Musk, the first thing that comes to my mind is this car in the sky with an astronaut playing David Bowie. How’s that for a brand? It creates this visual, emotional thing. That’s the one thing, the last piece of this that I want to bring to with a personal brand is everything boils down to emotion. It’s not cotton dry. If you can create excitement, fear, desire, the greed, the seven deadly sins, whatever it is, you’re trying to create some kind of stir of emotion with somebody when you produce this brand. If it’s so dry that cereal would not touch it. Try to get some help getting it a little bit milkier. There’s a reason why we put milk on cereal because it makes it a little bit more digestible.
It’s fundamentally inedible until you add more food.
That’s the point. Whatever you’re doing, you’re trying to strike an emotion. Remember, everybody’s got multiple audiences. The emotion that you’re going to strike with your stockholders is security, it’s growth, it’s trust, and all of those things. These sound like stoic words, but the reality of it is that when you feel safe, when you feel grounded, when your doors are locked and you’re in your domicile, you have a certain kind of feeling. When you’re out in the world, you feel different. When you’re in your car, you realize that you’re basically a magnet for bad drivers. You have to be somebody that’s aware of everything, and you’re in heightened awareness. You have different emotions in different places, and the same thing goes with your stockholders and it goes with people that want to purchase your thing.
I only want to focus on two because I don’t want to over complicate it. As soon as you master those two, those are the two biggies. The people that are going to be your stockholders and the people that are going to buy your products. Then you have to work on your employees, you have to work on your vendors. You have to work on the caddies at the golf club, whatever it is that you want to do. Those all have different brands, but the key thing is that once you get that essence, it can be transpired to each one of those with different emotional needs.
I think that’s a great way to put this all together. The personal brand ultimately has to trigger some feeling within somebody, otherwise, it is not a brand. It’s not a story. It’s some pitch and that’s not going to help you. What a great wide-ranging conversation with some specific tactics for our audience. Brian, you always deliver the goods. How do our readers get ahold of you? What can you do to help them develop their personal brand?
The simplest thing is to Google me, Brian Basilico, from there you will find me across the internet on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Twitter. You’ll find my podcast, the Bacon Podcast. You’ll find my website, B2B-IM.com. From there, there are multiple ways that you can contact me. You can connect up with me. It’s based on your time and your need. When you are ready, I’m here to have a conversation with you. The bottom line is it’s up to you. I’m not here to sell anything. I’m just here to educate and inspire.
When the time is right, people buy. That’s the magic of how that works. Go listen to Brian’s show. I am honored to be the most featured guest on his podcast. I got to say, Brian drags out some kick-ass, amazing goodness out of me. It’s fun to be on the other side of the microphone when it comes to podcasting. Brian, once again, it’s so great to have you on the show, and readers, go take action, make this stuff work.
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About Brian Basilico
Brian Basilico is an award-winning, internationally recognized author and speaker (and a self-professed geek). He’s the founder and president of B2b Interactive Marketing Inc., an award-winning marketing consulting and production company in Aurora, Illinois. B2b was founded in 2001 and helps companies and non-profits market their products and services through the effective use of online tools including websites, blogs, email, social networking, Google, S.E.O., YouTube, and more.
Brian’s career spans almost 40 years. Since his first production company in 1979, he’s produced thousands of projects for hundreds of companies, ranging from solopreneur to Fortune 100. Brian combines years of marketing experience with technical expertise, to build online campaigns that continue to produce measurable results. As a musician, technician, programmer, producer, and consultant, he has built a reputation for creativity, innovation, and translating “geek speak” into English. Brian is also an adjunct professor, trainer, speaker, and author of many marketing and social networking blogs and articles.
Brian is also the host of the popular The Bacon Podcast. It’s a twice weekly show that includes tips and tricks, and guest expert interviews. The Bacon Podcast is one of the top 35 Outstanding Podcasts as chosen by Inc. Magazine.
He has also been featured as a guest expert in many print and online publications. He is a contributor to Inc. Magazine Online, Business2Community, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Local Newspapers including the Chicago Daily Herald.
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