One of the issues people are concerned about as they start to define their personal brand is being restricted to one subject or area. They ask "Can I be an expert in more than one field or should I focus on one?" You have the freedom to brand yourself as you choose, and you can always expand your offerings, based on the knowledge you gain and your new interests. When you have an assortment of interests, you need to make sure you manage them properly, both in terms of the time you allocate to each and how they are intertwined in your lifestyle, online and off.
If you have multiple interests and they are related, then your brand will be much more powerful because those interests can complement each other. For instance, if you are a financial analyst working at a bank during the day and a stock-trading blogger by night, you can bond both, without drifting away from your current brand (provided of course that you don't violate any confidentiality rules or insider trading laws).
If your interests aren't related in any manner, then they should be completely detached, such as having two distinct Web sites catering exclusively to each. If you're an accountant for a Fortune 500 company and a male model, you definitely want to separate those identities and career paths from each other because how you're perceived as a male model may impact how seriously you're taken as an accountant.
Starting Over—with Brand Recognition I recently spoke to Mario Armando Lavandeira, best known as celebrity gossip blogger extraordinaire Perez Hilton, about how he has combined his many interests and built a brand name around them. Perez Hilton may not be his real name, but he's used it to start Perezhilton.com, one of the most popular blogs in the world, and has extended into books, a clothing line, a VH1 series, and now a music label. "It happened very organically and slowly," says Hilton.
After successfully conquering the blogosphere covering the celebrity scene, Hilton realized that he's more passionate about music than he is celebrity gossip, which may surprise some of his followers. He told me it's taken him over a year and a half of meetings and negotiating to finally launch his new music label, Perezcious, with his first artist, Sliimy. He explained that the reaction to the music he posted on his site and the subsequent success of many of the featured bands made him realize that he wanted to get involved in music in "a bigger way."
There is no doubt that Hilton's massive online platform and brand equity have supported his entry into new fields. Hilton, on the other hand, feels that being successful in one area doesn't mean you'll succeed in another. Paris Hilton, Heidi Montag, and other stars have failed to transfer their fame to music careers because they weren't cut out for it in the first place. "It's like an actor trying to become a musician," he says. "People have preconceived notions of who you are, so it's a level playing field."
Hilton studied acting at New York University and then started to entertain people online through his blog and then on TV and radio. Producers didn't pursue Hilton, nor did publishers battle for his attention. "All of these things happened because I made them happen," Hilton explains. "Very rarely does it happen that an opportunity presents itself." When you're trying to be successful in many areas, you will have to put in the sweat equity.
Sometimes people will try and pigeonhole you after they become comfortable with your current brand. In Hilton's case, when he took a stand against California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriages in the state, his readers criticized him for getting away from his core content. Hilton, who is passionate about legalizing gay marriage, continues to use his online platform to share his opinion, even though it's not related to his core subject. Like Hilton, use your passion and interests to propel you, regardless of whether doing so conflicts with what people expect of you.
Now, you're sitting there saying "but I'm not Perez Hilton, how can I build my personal brand?" Like any major brand, you need to begin somewhere. For starters, identify your passion and your strengths and then form your own distinct niche, so you can stand out. To do this, conduct research online through sites like Google (GOOG) and Technorati to see which markets are saturated and if there is a void for you to fill with your expertise.
You could use a blog, podcast, or another medium to distribute your knowledge and ideas, but make sure you leave room for your other interests, so you aren't trapped in one exclusive area (unless you want to be). Then, share your content across online communities so you can talk directly to your target audience and listen to what they have to say. Within those communities, join discussions, provide free resources, and support the current members of the community by answering their questions. Finally, allocate time each and every day to build your community from the ground up by connecting with new faces and bringing new people into your world.
We can all learn a lot from watching Hilton and other megabrands. You won't be an overnight sensation, and you may not have a top blog or start a record label, but you can identify your passions and share them with the world. The Web has allowed everyone to diversify their interests and build a brand around them.
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