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{Podcast} Thrifty Marketer Talks

branding and marketing personal branding Nov 29, 2022

 

In a podcast with Vivek Nair, the host of Thrifty Marketer Talks, Marina shares her insights on personal branding, marketing, and social media.

Marina Byezhanova is a co-founder of a personal branding agency, the Brand of a Leader, and has been quoted in publications such as Inc.com, Forbes.com, Fast Company's Success Magazine, Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Post. Marina's mission is to inspire entrepreneurs to speak up, stand out, and be radically authentic through the power of building their personal brands.

The following is the extract from the podcast where they talk about personal branding and how you can use it to build a successful brand that is portable and sustainable:

 

Vivek Nair - So, the first question is, what is a personal brand and why is it important for everyone to focus on building one?

 

Marina Byezhanova - The advent of social media and virality has given rise to a new breed of marketing and branding experts who are quick to point out the benefits of personal branding. However, there are still many misconceptions about what personal branding actually is.

A personal brand is the recognizability of your name, which is predicated on a unique differentiator or angle. You need to differentiate or conceal intimidation into many people, a lot of people say, I don't have anything unique. So an angle, choose an angle, and we're going to be speaking about that. And then a clear association that your name evokes in people's minds consistently. That's a brand and because it's your name, that's a personal brand.

 

Vivek Nair - I've never heard somebody give such a unique take on that. So let's make this a very open conversation. For example, a lot of people struggle with building a personal brand. When I say the word personal brand, most of them cringe, some of them become very uncomfortable, and they start scratching their head. So, what are some of the salient benefits of building a personal brand? Why should somebody invest time and energy into building a personal brand?

 

Marina Byezhanova - So, if we're looking at personal branding as the process of creating recognizability of our name among the audience that's relevant to us, what does it give us? Opportunity, right?

For example, I'm an entrepreneur and want my name to be recognized to get opportunities for my business. In return, I can attract employees, I can retain staff, and maybe even board seats because there's recognizability in my name. Instead of constantly looking for a new job, or looking to be promoted, and constantly having to sell yourself, which is very uncomfortable to most of us. When you build recognizability of your name, and people know it is your name associated, opportunity comes to you instead of you chasing opportunity.

The difference between sales and marketing is that in sales, you're knocking on doors, whereas in marketing, you're building something, and then attracting the opportunity that you're looking for.

 

Vivek Nair - Right. I got that. So the first point that you mentioned kind of leads into my next question.

Leaders having a strong personal brand have a certain amount of likability, right? For example, Sir Richard Branson, right? I don't think any Virgin employee will hate him. Because his persona is so strong, and his personal persona reflects his personal brand. So my next question is connected to that. Is it critical for leaders of organizations today to have a strong personal brand today? If yes, what kind of impact does it have on the brand or the company they are reading about?

 

Marina Byezhanova - Well, there are a lot of studies that are coming out on the topic. One of them says that 47% of a company's reputation is influenced by the reputation of the CEO. We also know that 80% of people don't quit companies, they quit their boss, right?

Anybody who's watching this right now, think about quitting their last few jobs. Was it the company or was it the manager? People quit the boss. So it stands to reason that people would also be attracted to the company dependent on leadership. We also know that with younger generations, people are looking to work for mission-driven companies, they're looking for a fit with their own values and an organization that has the same values.

Well, it's really hard to communicate organizational values, because people are a little bit skeptical, right? Of course, companies will narrate stuff from their accounts. But when you're able to get to know the leaders of this company and see what they stand for, and what they embody, it humanizes the organization and builds a bigger connection there.

 

There's still a lot of research to be done to make a direct connection between a CEO or leader's brand and connect that to the employer's brand. It's one of my research projects right now. But definitely, all of the signs are pointing in that direction.

You mentioned Richard Branson, and how likely his employees wouldn't hate him, right? He has a very likable personal brand to say. And it's okay to have a polarizing personal brand. That's not as likable, right? Donald Trump has a huge personal brand rooted in authenticity. You can like him, and you can hate him very passionately. But it's about rooted in authenticity. So it attracts and also detracts, and that's fine in both cases. Depends on your goals. Right?

 

Vivek Nair- Exactly, I completely agree with you. Right. My next question is that you know, a personal brand always needs to be built on some basic pillars. There are some you rely on to build your personal brand. So what are some of the key characteristics of a powerful personal brand?

 

Marina Byezhanova - Number one, you have to choose an angle that was going to help. Now, what makes an angle right? What can be your angle? You don't have to overthink it. It can be anything. A word, an adjective, a short phrase that really truly represents who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe in. For example, think of Brene Brown, it's courage and vulnerability, right? Now she didn't come up with those words or those concepts but it's those clear associations that she works in people's minds because the angle is so clear. You think of Gary Vaynerchuk. You think of him, and you think of hustle.

You want to think of what it is that represents you. It's a process of introspection. You can do this one exercise that we do with our clients. When we help them develop and uncover their personal brand, we do an exercise called the lifeline. You take a big sheet of paper, you put a line in the middle, and you map out your whole life from as early as you remember. Personal, professional, everything.

And then you look for common denominators and patterns that can be indicative of something that keeps surfacing for you. Look at your core values and really strong beliefs that represent who you are. That can be your angle, a strong core value, or any particular work that describes you. That's pillar number one.

Pillar number two is associations. People will often say that everybody has a personal brand so you want to manage it properly and be in control of it. That is a myth. Everybody has a reputation and everybody has a brand. But to make a brand, it has to be associated with specific things. So if you want to be known as an expert in a particular area, what are the associations that need to happen for people to make that connection?

 

Vivek Nair - Absolutely. I completely agree with you. So moving on, let's get to a little bit of practical stuff. The question is that if somebody wants to decide to invest in their personal brand, what are some of the baby steps you recommend to them?

 

Marina Byezhanova - So the process of building a personal brand is very clear. It needs to start with figuring things out and working on your strategy before you're starting to execute. The biggest mistake that people make is they start executing. And then that doesn't work. And then all of it falls apart.

Start with the basic strategy questions.

What is my angle? How do I want to be perceived? Who are the people that are relevant to me? What are the things that I want to be talking about? And then how do you not want to be perceived? What are the people that are irrelevant to me? What are the things that I'm not going to be talking about so all that?

The first thing that you do before you do anything is sit down, go through introspection, and figure out all those pieces that will serve as the roadmap. So every time you're about to start taking action on your personal brand building and your visibility building, you have something that can guide you that becomes really important. That's really the first step.

Vivek Nair -Right. You have worked with so many leaders across the globe and guided them in building their personal brands. What are your top three pieces of advice for leaders who want to build an authentic powerful person?

 

Marina Byezhanova - Number one, realize that you are your own worst critic, and you are your own biggest bottleneck. The people that we work with are wildly inspiring and will work with very successful business owners from across the globe. And yet they often have doubts as to what they can offer in value. So number one is to accept that you absolutely have something of value to say.

Number two would be figuring out a strategy before execution. And then number three, trust the process.

So if you're executing it yourself. Look at the strategy you built and do not revisit it every week, or every two weeks, just stick to it. Because the personal brand building is all about longevity and building those associations with longevity in mind. What wins the game is consistency. And if you engage in people, if you're working with, let's say ghostwriters, or you're working with a social media team, whoever you're working with, trust them, let them do their work, and don't be a bottleneck in the process for them.

 

Vivek Nair - Got it, got it. Yep. Everybody thinks that why will people listen to me, who am I to talk about these and all these things? I have observed this with a lot of experts, people who are very passionate about a subject. But once they start talking about the subject, they lose track of it. What I've seen is emulating can be really helpful. So can you name some personal brands that can be the best role models for the leaders who want to build personal brands?

 

Marina Byezhanova - I am not really a fan of emulating other people. I think it's important to have role models in the sense of, who are the people that you look up to. Who are the people that inspire you? Who are the thought leaders in your industry that you really admire? But when it comes to personal brand building, there's no point in emulating it, you're not going to sound authentic. It doesn't speak to you for a reason.

So we do an exercise with our clients. We ask them to build a list of people who they find to be influential and interesting and why. And then we ask them to look at that list and see what it is about those people that they find so attractive and interesting. So this exercise is to identify who those people are to you. What is the common denominator? What is it that you like about them, dig a bit deeper, and then emulate that, and that becomes quite unique for every single person?

 

Vivek Nair - Wow. Actually, I've never heard about it like that/ So, you speak a lot about portability when it comes to personal brand. Can you share some insights on that? What does it even mean?

 

Marina Byezhanova - Portability is fascinating. And it's something that we stumbled upon by accident. So in my personal branding agency, Brand of a Leader, we work with entrepreneurs from across the globe. And we also do quite a bit of research. That is one of our points of differentiation. We really dig deep into what personal branding is, and all the different facets.

So a year and a half ago, we conducted a study, we were interviewing Gen X entrepreneurs predominantly from North America, asking them why they were building a personal brand. One of the answers that we got was about portability. And we thought, what an interesting concept. Essentially, what our respondents told us is that they're building a personal brand because they want the ability to take their skillset, their experience, and their knowledge with them anywhere they go.

Our lives are not linear anymore. We're not working for one company for 30 years, and then retiring with a gold watch. People are switching careers. They're moving countries. They're starting their own businesses. And they want to be able to do that without having to start from scratch every single time.

Businesses start and sell, jobs come and go. But if you have a personal brand, that is something that you own. You can take it with you anywhere. When I built my business, which crashed and burned during the pandemic. I was able to pivot really quickly and start a new business and still have my community supporting me and network and clients that started approaching us. So that is the idea of portability, which is that your name is an asset. If you work on it, if you build equity in it, if people know your name, that's an asset that stays with you forever.

 

Vivek Nair - Wow, that's the first time I'm hearing about the term portability. So one of my favorite personal brands or a person who might be one of my favorite people in the world is Mark Schaefer. So this term can relate to him very closely. He has that aura he has built in the world of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and things like that. Just your explanation brought it to my mind. So I just thought of sharing that.

 

Marina Byezhanova - I think it's the same for Gary Vaynerchuk, right? He's like selling sneakers and has a marketing agency, etc. Why is he doing that because there is value equity recognizability in his name and what it stands for, and everything else fits under that umbrella? And we can all do that. We can all do that on different scales, and different levels, depending on our goals.

 

Vivek Nair - Absolutely. I think Gary V is on another level. All right, so my next question, which people get very finicky about when it comes to personal brand is content. There are questions popping up like do I need to create a lot of content? Do I need to blog or do I need to make videos or do a podcast? So content is a critical element in building a personal brand, obviously. So what is your advice to leaders to tackle this content dilemma, which is a common question among people who want to build a personal brand?

 

Marina Byezhanova -Yeah, it's a very common question and a major hurdle. For instance, if someone is going to post on LinkedIn, they're like, well, what am I going to say? How often should I post? What kind of content should I create? So, it's absolutely crucial to have a strategy in place and to understand what the goals of your personal brand are. Similarly, knowing the audience that you're trying to reach and understanding what kind of content they want to consume, that's going to help you come up with topics, right?

I'm not just talking about social media platforms, because I think it's very important to note that a lot of people hate social media. And a lot of people build very strong personal brands, and they're not really on social media. Seth Godin is a perfect example of that. So social media should not be the only focus when it comes to content strategy.

So the first thing you decide on is the audience? And what platforms are you going to be on?

Then you decide what types of content you are comfortable creating, right? There's no hard and fast rule about doing something you're not comfortable with. If you're not comfortable being on video, don't be on video. If you like the sound of your voice and you want to start a podcast, go for it. But if you're not comfortable with it, don't do it just because you feel like you should.

So depending on your preferences, depending on your audience, you come up with different content formats and topics. Again, the angle and the association you want to make will also help you decide what topics you want to touch about. The overarching theme of your personal brand will be woven into every topic that you talk about.

Two to four topics. Four is absolutely the upper limit. So one to two things will be that you actively do and are known for. And then one to two other topics will be those that humanize the credibility of your brand. Something you're passionate about. Yet something that falls under your umbrella.

Once a month, sit down and write yourself a list of questions under each topic. Kind of like interviewing yourself. Write out a list of topics. The next day, create content on that topic. This could be a video, blog post, podcast episode, or social media post, doesn't matter. Whatever your medium is, whatever you're most comfortable with. And that's done too.

And then you pre-schedule your posts if it's for social media platforms. If it's not for social media platforms, you're still executing in line with those content pillars. And finally, you stay in your lane. Doesn't matter if something of global importance is happening. If it doesn't fall under your positioning, your umbrella, or your angle, and does not align with your content pillars, then you say nothing about it. Stick to your topics, that will be my advice.

 

Vivek Nair - Fantastic. Thank you so much for that fantastic answer, Marina. So, you know, the last question related to the topic, then we move on to a little bit about you and your brand and your stuff. You already touched on this, but I want to pick a little bit on this topic, what are your thoughts or advice on choosing the right platform? Or if it is not even important, you can mention that as well, for building a personal brand. What is your advice on that?

 

Marina Byezhanova - Um, I think it's very important. I do believe in growth, and I do believe in pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. But I know that building that visibility, and putting ourselves out there is uncomfortable for most people. So my advice is contrary to most people's advice. I really believe in choosing what feels most comfortable, or the least uncomfortable of all options. So if you are cringing at the thought of a specific platform, just let it go. It's fine, find a different one.

Platforms range a lot, from social media platforms to writing a book, having a personal website and having a newsletter, launching the podcast guests and people's podcasts, having local events, that you're managing yourself to meetups, and whatever creating a buzz in an offline community and connecting with people in person. There are endless options.

You write out a list. Then you sit and you think about its course. Consider whether there is the right audience there because it needs to be an intersection of what speaks to you and what speaks to people that you want to be knowing your name and having that recognizability.

Then just start with one. Most of us are pursuing specific goals, entrepreneurial goals, or employment goals. Choose one and stick to it. Stick to that platform, don't overthink for a year, do not think whether or not you're doing the right thing, just don't think about it. And then in the year, sit down and think was there an opportunity that came through it? Any opportunity was a good opportunity. Then another year, you don't think about it. So it's better to just be focusing on Facebook, or just be focusing on LinkedIn, or just be focusing on podcasting, right?

And then just post the links to your stuff on the other social media platforms, but you don't really focus on creating content there. Just focus on the one you do really well if you get excited. With time, you can add another one. There's no need to feel that you need to do at all that and to spread yourself thin. You know, on LinkedIn alone, if you were posting more than two times a week, you are in the 1% of most active users, right? So you're already killing it with your consistency and building a personal brand for people to recognize our names. That's huge and it takes time.

 

Vivek Nair - Absolutely, absolutely. So the takeaway here is to stick to the lane, do your stuff, and be consistent about it. Cool. Okay, so now that the topic questions are over, I have some personal questions for you. For example, you have been doing some fantastic work over the years. So I want to hear a little bit about you, your work, and your personal branding agency, which is called Brand of a Leader. How has the journey been so far? Your pivoting moment, your key accomplishments. So please tell us a little bit about your work and your agency.

 

Marina Byezhanova - So the idea of launching Brand of a  Leader came in 2019, but the goal was to launch it three and a half years later. It was November- December 2019. I had this idea while on a retreat in Turks and Caicos. A beautiful place, perfect for ideation and dreaming.

I was there with a fellow entrepreneur and I was telling her about my dream of a personal branding agency. Helping people find their voice, scale the reach of their voice. Something that's a perfect alignment with my life's mission and my own personal story. Being born in the Soviet Union, and growing up in post-Soviet Ukraine, there was no voice there. I came to Canada and nobody understood my English. Again, no voice.

To me, the concept of voice is very is quite priceless and precious. And so I realized I wanted to start a personal branding agency and help people find their voice and scale their reach. But it was going to be a big pivot. So I wanted to go back to university while riding my other business, complete a research program, a Master's Degree Research Program, study, analyze personal branding, and develop my own methodologies, scales, and all those different things. Only once all of this is done, then launch the business once I finished the program. So that was the plan.

So sitting in Turks and Caicos, Sandy/Sandra, my friend, and an interior designer, told me to just go for it.

She said this is something that's right up my alley. That's an awesome idea. What are you going to call it? And me, what am I going to call it like and think about it, and what Brand of a Leader? And she says, that's a cool name. I like it, that's awesome. But you know the domain is not going to be available so you might have to think of something else

I go check, and the domain is available. Like $0.99, for the first year. She goes, Oh, my God, this is a moment to take a picture, buy the domain. I did. And but again, the plan was this was going to be three years later. But then COVID happened, my other business got punched in the face and they got decimated on every angle. And at the time, I was having a lot of conversations with now my co-founder about you know, should we start sooner? What should we do?

And so it's a COVID business that was born in 2020, a lot sooner than we expected. And it's scaled exponentially, beyond belief as well. We have clients now in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. It's incredible. And we have a team that's globally distributed as well, which is quite fantastic too. So I'm giving you the positive highlights. There are some, of course, a lot of learnings, and a lot of failures along the way. But it has been immensely incredibly, incredibly rewarding.

 

Vivek Nair - This show was started during COVID too. Just to spread positivity among people. I had just started the show where I called one of my friends who's a very positive person I know and an entrepreneur, and we were just having a chat. And I just put it up on Facebook Live. A lot of people liked it because it was such a dim, dull period. People were going through a lot of trauma. And when people like you, come on the show and share their struggles, a lot of people take a lot of inspiration from that.

I remember you commenting on one of my posts. That's how I came across the Brand of a Leader. First of all, you commented about one of the posts I did for Ukraine, and I know you have a past connected to Ukraine, I know it's your home country, etc. So I want to ask. You can feel free to say no to answering this question. But I want to know, how are your friends and family there? How's the situation? Are they safe, etc?

 

Marina Byezhanova - It's a heartbreaking situation and continues to be. So certainly nobody in Ukraine is safe. Because it's just continuous, brutal, aggression that is absolutely not stopping. It is absolutely mind-blowing. I mean, as I mentioned, I grew up in post-Soviet Ukraine. I lived there until I was 16. Basically, until I finished high school. Now to see videos of tanks on the streets that I walked every single day, and to see my school that I went to completely destroyed is absolutely surreal. To see it being done by people who are neighbors.

So there are a lot of neighbors that countries have in Europe nonetheless. We have a lot of family members in Russia, a lot of friends in Russia, and a lot of Russians have a lot of friends and family in Ukraine. So to see this brutality and to see that it is not only brutality that comes from the government level, this is the brutality that's very passionately supported by citizens. By people. By normal, regular people is what is more heartbreaking. They will be defeated, Ukraine will prevail, and Ukraine will rebuild.

And what's also done by all of this is to shine the light on the Ukrainian brand. What it means to be Ukrainian, of course, on a long-term basis. When we look at it hundreds of years later, this will be quite meaningful, and quite historical in nature. This has accelerated Ukraine into Ukraine that it's wanted to be for many years. However at a cost that is absolutely unfathomable.

 

Vivek Nair - Absolutely, absolutely. I'm trying to do my bit most of the time for people who are going through all this. Talking to loads of people on LinkedIn and trying to share their voices. So it's kind of a very bad situation, people with egos. Running countries is not good at all. But anyway, I see a post today on LinkedIn, which put a smile on my face related to Ukraine. There was one picture from a couple of months ago that a bombed building is already rebuilt. That gave me such a kind of goosebumps, to see that how powerful common people are. The strength of the common people in Ukraine is commendable. Once all this is over, I obviously want to travel to that country to you meet the people who did this. The people fighting for their country. It's mind-blowing.

 

Marina Byezhanova - So just quickly, the amount of beauty that people have been creating in the middle of absolute chaos and destruction is beautiful. Buildings are being rebuilt even now during the war. People will return to their houses with fences completely shelled or paint flowers around the bullet holes. It's absolutely beautiful.

And one last thing, a lot of people ask how they can help. What can they do? And I want to mention that help does not only mean monetary help. At the beginning of the war, so many people donated, and it's just incredible. I'm so grateful for that. And all Ukrainians are, and some people continue to donate

But writing about Ukraine, sharing about Ukraine, and talking about Ukraine, is absolutely crucial as well. In the early days, I was exchanging messages with my best friend from childhood, who was hiding in basements and all of that. And I was telling her that everybody was talking about Ukraine and British support. And she said you have no idea because you're posting there from your comfortable homes while we're here. You know, trying not to die. But no, she said, it changes everything because we know, we're not alone. And because we know we're not alone, we know it's all going to be okay. So my request to everyone, the same as you are doing, and thank you so much for it is to share about Ukraine. It's not futile. It's really, really meaningful. And it shows the world that we stand united. It shows an aggressor that we oppose aggression. And it means a lot. So thank you for what you have been doing.

 

Vivek Nair - Everybody's with Ukraine, without a doubt, for sure. So thank you so much, Marina, for taking the time out today. Keep doing the great work.

 

Marina Byezhanova - Thank you so much. I'm happy this was valuable. And I'm here should you or anyone have any questions.

 

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