Throughout the year, I monitor what's happening in the world of personal branding. At year's end, I analyze the data to predict future trends. My take on 2014? It will be a year of personal branding evolution—not revolution.
Of course, evolution is the key to survival, especially in our competitive international marketplace. Here's the first installment of an article on trends that will have the most impact on the brand that's you.
1. Social Access at Work—From Restricted to Required
Many companies have been reluctant to allow employees access to social media while at the office. In fact, according to a study by Statista released in September 2013, one in five US employees are not allowed access to Facebook, one in six aren't allowed access to Twitter, and one in ten aren't even allowed access to LinkedIn. YouTube and other sites are also restricted at many companies. It would be almost impossible for you to do your job as a marketer at such a company.
Over the past year, however, I have seen numerous companies loosen their restrictions or eliminate them entirely, and that trend will accelerate in 2014—for two reasons:
- First, companies realize they are losing the war. They can block social media sites from corporate infrastructure, but they can't prevent employees from using their mobile devices to tweet, check in on Facebook, and update their LinkedIn status.
- Second, they understand that employees need social media to do their job—because every employee is a brand ambassador.
2. Social Savvy—From Optional to Essential
If you don't have social media skills, your personal brand will wither up. Period. Social media is no longer simply a lighthearted, youth-oriented way to differentiate yourself. Adopted by virtually every demographic segment, social media is now perhaps the most powerful tool in your competitors' suite of marketing tactics.
Most employees, regardless of their role or generation, will be expected to participate in their organization's social branding efforts. As a marketer, social media savvy is even more important for you.
As you know, in branding, we highlight the distinction between rational brand attributes and emotional brand attributes. Rational brand attributes are concrete, deliverable traits—the table stakes that get you into the game. Emotional brand attributes help you connect with your audience on a much more meaningful and emotional level, allowing you to differentiate in a compelling way that tips the scales in your favor. Having social savvy enables you to tap the impact of authenticity and immediacy, building a personal bridge to your audience.
Today, regardless of your role or level, understanding how to use social media to do your job better is a requirement. Whether you're sourcing staff, building marketing campaigns, enhancing relationships, developing new products, designing print ads, or performing market research, you will thrive only if you know how to harness social media to deliver greater value to your company.
3. Digital—From Final Frontier to Launchpad
At Reach (my company), we always say, "Be real before being virtual." We mean that you must work on your brand in the real world before building your brand online. That's still true, but the timeline is nowcompressed. Your online identity should be drawn from your authentic traits, but that digital identity needs to go live as soon as possible. For your audience, digital now precedes real.
As a society, we continually research brands online, and we often search for a digital profile of people before we meet them. Before heading to the conference room, we check out our colleagues who are on the meeting attendee list. We scour prospects' LinkedIn profiles before meeting them. We Google potential candidates when deciding whether to interview them.
I had a great conversation with Mitch Joel for the Reach Personal Branding interview series. In his new book, Ctrl Alt Delete, he talks about "digital first"—how our first place to go for information or services is online. That trend will gain momentum. Accordingly, you need to be vigilant about building and managing your online brand, because it now delivers your first impression.
4. Video—From Black Tie to Business Casual
If you've been reading my personal branding trends for the last several years, you know that video features prominently. It's the next best thing to being there, allowing you to deliver a complete message and build memorable, emotional connections with viewers.
Until recently, a lot of video-related personal branding activities were limited to studio shoots. And although highly polished videos aren't going away, user-generated video using online video applications is on the rise.
I'm not referring to the YouTube approach, this is video captured and created by amateurs using professional online tools that assist in professionalizing the video presentation. As Catharine Fennell, CEO of videoBIO said, "In 2013, we have seen over 500% growth in the SaaS-based online application side of our business compared with 100% growth in our video production services division. People are learning when they need the full production, polished video and when user generated video is adequate, and sometimes more authentic."
Just as our comfort level with apps and social media has soared, so will our comfort level with video. More and more people work remotely, so video will become even more important for workplace interactions, allowing you to "be there" no matter where you really are.
We'll also incorporate it into our regular communications. That means using video to send thank-you notes to account executive at the ad agency who went the extra mile, to create introductions to new internal clients, and to feed weekly "go-team" messages to geographically dispersed staff. We'll hold Google+ hangouts to chat with colleagues and network contacts. Conference calls will no longer be confusing audio experiences, thanks to real-time video conferencing with our team.
As these formats become more common, don't let their casual and impromptu nature become an excuse for poor quality. If you're video-conferencing from home, you should still dress for success. If you're recording a pitch, take time to rehearse so that your voice is carefree but not careless. The days of canned videos are on the wane, but a video that screams "amateur" will have an equally negative impact on your brand.
To make sure that even your casual videos are brand builders, find a place with the right lighting and background, and make sure the audio quality is great. Create a consistent place to produce your videos. Like the set for favorite show, your setting can create a unique visual symbol for your brand itself.