The thing about GaryVee, as Gary Vaynerchuk calls himself, is that you can love him or hate him, find him exhausting or have your spirits soar at the sight and sound of his YouTube shows, but you just cannot ignore him. That is personal branding lesson #1 from his quarter of the world.
But first, who is GaryVee? In essence, he is a “storyteller, hustler, and digital marketing expert”, like a million others around the world. What sets him apart is that he is uber-successful at it. Gary’s career started in the late 90s when he established one of the first e-commerce wine sites, WineLibrary. An e-commerce pioneer in his own right, his site grew the family wine business from $4 million to $60 million in sales.
Now a CEO and co-founder of digital agency VaynerMedia, Gary’s marketing and branding efforts with Fortune 500 clients have grown the agency to four locations across the world. Gary is also a four-time NYT bestselling author and an early investor in some of the biggest startup brands of our times, including Uber, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or a social media influencer or simply gunning for that funding or promotion at work, personal branding plays an important role everywhere. Everyone’s doing it, but few are doing it right. GaryVee has the art down pat, and here’s all that we can learn from him:
Before you get on a personal branding project and talk about every trending topic under the sun to make yourself relevant, you need to know exactly which areas are your key strengths, where your words can add value, and how talking about them can add value to your personal or professional aspirations. According to Gary, these strengths are not always what we imagine them to be and need much more introspection than we usually warrant them.
He says, “You can’t take a romantic view on the skills that have made you successful so far in life. For example, you might have been a straight A student even though you have no passion for academics. Or you’re naturally amazing at basketball, but that isn’t what you truly want to pursue. But one way those strengths can come in handy tremendously is by using them as a blueprint to discover talents you may not have understood before. Maybe you’ve been blinded by the overarching strength itself because you aren’t passionate about it, but list all the things that that skill requires you to do. Don’t take them for granted. There are many things that go into being good at something. Your potential doesn’t end with that one skill.”
Your personal brand cannot be devoid of all that you feel deeply about because then it will neither come across as authentic nor sustain the test of time and interest. When it comes to running a business or building influence, passion comes in handy, because it is infectious and translates into immediate interest from your audience. Gary says, “Give as much time to what you love the most. You can grow with it. You will be bigger than you could ever imagine if you do the thing you love the most. It’s just the way it is. It’s so obvious.”
Brand building is a long and difficult journey. It does not happen overnight. In our times, that means that all that you do and say in the process of building your brand gets recorded – in Twitter archives, public keynotes, and other corners of the internet. So any kind of inconsistency is also on record. In such times, the best technique for safe personal branding is to speak your own truths. Being honest, consistent, and authentic ensures you don’t falter, or worse, “get caught”. That is also the only thing that connects you to your audience and differentiates you from the hordes of “thought leaders” that clutter our world.
How many times do you read a LinkedIn post and think it is too much hard-sell of one’s many virtues? It happens all the time in personal branding. If your personality and work do not – on their own – reflect your values and you have to spell them out, then you are not doing personal branding right. A hard-sell is simply a quick and easy transaction. It might convince a few people in the immediate future but it will not last.
Speaking of the acute difference between selling and branding, Gary says, “I’m building for the long term because I think it’s about the brand. So many of you are in it for the quick sale, and you are going to be forgotten.”
When you are ready to project your personal brand – on social media or offline – you are going to need another skill to not come across as a living version of a powerpoint deck. You are going to have to tell stories about yourself. That is really the essence of personal branding.
Storytelling has been quite the buzzword in marketing in the last few years or so. But in reality, marketing has always been about telling amazing stories that resonate with the audience at an emotional level. This is not true of just business advertising, it is also true for personal branding. A personal anecdote or experience immediately makes your opinion relatable. But this openness to relating personal stories is not easy to manage at all times, less so for guarded individuals – but it is worth the effort.
According to Gary, “Storytelling is the game. If you’re unable to convey your story, consumers will not consume your product, whatever that may be, whether it’s content or entertainment or food. Whatever it may be, if you’re not capable of telling a story, you are not in the game with human beings, because that’s what they want, that’s what they do, that’s how they roll, and it’s the main principle of marketing in our society.”
Sometimes, the most analytical, intelligent individuals who have the capability to see things differently or to bring fresh perspectives to situations lie low and shy away from personal branding. Somehow, culture and tradition have always dictated that being different is a bit of a problem. But the good news is that in the age of loud Twitter opinions and eccentric Snapchat filters, it is actually cool to be different and eccentric. Everyone is trying to be different and break the clutter. So if you are different, why wouldn’t you wear it like a badge of honour? In fact, Gary advocates accepting the anomaly that you are, instead of trying to check the boxes of social acceptance even if you are no good at it.
According to Gary, the most influential leaders, entrepreneurs, and opinion shapers – Jobs and Zuckerberg to name a couple – have been offbeat. They were social anomalies before they got lucky. He says, “If you want to be an anomaly, you have to act like one.” So if your personal brand shows you in a different, offbeat, or non-conformist light, there is no reason to shy away from it.
There is a lot to think about in what GaryVee says once you are done being overwhelmed by the 100-words-a-second marathons that are his YouTube videos. His lessons are not quick fixes. They take years of hard work and hustle. But his biggest lesson of all is to wear your most authentic, true, eccentric self on your sleeves.