Digital-First Leadership


Building a Personal Brand

January 26, 2021
Richard Bliss

In this episode, Richard dives into personal branding and what that looks like in a Digital-First world. He reminds us that personal branding is the consistency of look, consistency of professionalism, and an understanding of, “what do you choose to participate in?” posts, conversations, platforms. Personal branding is knowing what you have to say on social topics, leadership ideas and demonstrating leadership styles consistently. It has to do with YOU, the things that you value, things that you’re interested in.


    Welcome to Digital-First Leadership, the podcast that focuses on helping leaders and teams understand how to master the language of social media in today's digital-first world. Now, here's your host, Richard Bliss.

    Richard Bliss:

    Welcome to the show. I'm your host, as was just said, Richard Bliss. I appreciate you being here and joining me for today's episode. Particularly over the last couple of weeks as we've been together, you've been listening, you know that I've had some great guests on. My last guest, Gail Mercer-MacKay is such a dear friend, and she does such a good job of explaining and understanding just how this idea of building your presence and being out there. Today I kind of wanted to build on a little bit about what we talked about. The idea is about personal brand. In this environment, we're all adapting. We're all adapting to a digital-first identity where we're being known first by how people know us online long before they meet us in person.

    I was talking to a guy a while back, and he had a bit of a, we'll call it off-centered sense of humor. I made some comments to him about what he was saying online, and he said, "Once people get to know me, they understand my humor." The problem is, in today's world, people don't get to know you. They simply start to make impressions of you right from the get go long before you engage with them. This perception, it's outlined in a great book, the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Trout and Ries, who do a great job of kind of talking about it. I want to talk about it. It's the law of perception. It's the idea that how people perceive you is the reality. In today's world, when it comes to personal branding, that perception is defined long before they ever meet you, talk to you, engage with you, because we have so many what are called social proof points, things that identify who we are long before somebody comes and talks to us.

    Let me give you an example. A client reached out to me recently because they had a question. They had posted something on LinkedIn, and it was a very positive thing. It was talking about adapting and changing. It was a great post, but somebody took exception to it. This person began to rant and rave at them for their insensitivity and how they were tone deaf and all of these things. So, they reached out to me. After all, I'm the one who gives them advice about what they should be posting and did they screw it up? I looked at it, but then what I did is I went and looked at the individual who made the comment themselves. I read the comment, and it was just full of this person had some issues.

    I went and looked at their LinkedIn profile, and what do I see? I see them consistently being aggressive and critical and demeaning in almost all their posts that they're doing on LinkedIn. Then I see them posting something asking for the community's help. They even said, "Look, I'm not on Facebook, and this isn't on Facebook, and you're not comfortable with me asking for help, just don't follow me." I was like, "Whoa, that's their opening line in an effort for them to ask for help." So, one of the things I pointed out to the client who reached out to me was, "Look, this person is here using you as a foil to simply push forward whatever angry agenda they have." There's a great book, Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU has a book out there, Post Corona.

    One of the things he talks about is how Twitter and YouTube, those two particular, Facebook as well, are driven by rage, or what we call the rage economy. The more people get upset and enraged and aggressive, the more the LinkedIn algorithm, excuse me, the more those algorithms, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, feed them the very things that they're enraged about. So, they start to get into a true echo chamber. This person had obviously kind of adopted that philosophy. They admitted they weren't on Facebook, but they were taking that very same thing. It was a rage approach. They started aggressively attacking the people they were talking to before they even began to communicate. I don't know anything about this individual, but then they asked for help, and then later on, they start talking about how wonderful that company is and how you should do business with the company.

    I'm sorry. If you don't understand how your actions and how you attack others online in a business environment like LinkedIn, it's one thing if you want to do it on Facebook, you want it personal, or you want to be on Instagram or Tik Tok, that's fine, but you're doing business on LinkedIn and you're actually representing your business on LinkedIn. To take that approach is to create a perception that you really take pot shots at people in public, forgetting that we all see what you say. We all see how you behave. All I had to do was go down and see that this person had consistently behaved in this manner in a variety of other circumstances. So, I was able to tell my client, "Look, you did not do anything wrong. This person was simply looking for a fight and used you as an excuse. Hang in there. You're doing a good job."

    What does this have to do? This has to do with the idea today that you should be thinking digitally-first about your personal brand. Now, what is a personal brand? That's a great question because you're like, "Well, I don't know what my brand is. What do I do?" The brand is anything. It can be anything you want. I mean, literally it can be anything you want. That means it can be made up and fictitious if you want. I certainly do not recommend you do that. Let me give you an example. In my book, Digital-First Leadership, I use an example, and I'd like to reference it here, that the presidential campaign for Bloomberg, Mike Bloomberg, okay? When he jumped into the campaign, if you remember, he spent a tremendous amount of money, tons of money, and it was working. He started to rise rapidly in the polls without ever once having to confront a question or anybody. It was all social media. It was all online advertising. It was all TV ads. It was all a manufactured persona and brand of this individual.

    Then it all came crashing down. Now, I got to admit, I was interested. This guy seemed to have his act together until he got in front of an audience and had to be himself. If you didn't watch the debate, you can go back to YouTube and see how that unfolded. But in two debates, the most expensive presidential campaign ever run by an individual came crashing to the ground like the Hindenburg, blowing up in the air. Why? Because the online brand that we all had come to see of Mike Bloomberg did not match at all the in real life person that we saw on stage. Now, you can say, "Well, that wasn't real life. It was manufactured." No, no, no, no. This is a guy who could afford the most expensive debate coach that he needed, he could buy. He could afford the best teams to come together and help him prepare.

    What did he demonstrate? A complete dismissal of the entire process, and thereby because he dismissed the process, he dismissed the audience, and the audience saw that, that there was not an individual here that cared about them. He wasn't worried talking about them. He's like, "What am I doing here? Why do I have to deal with you people? I just want to go get to get to work." That might work in his business environment where he's the boss, but he's out there trying to build a brand and spent a billion dollars and blew it. Now, who knows what got in the way? Some would argue ego, because you got to believe, what coach let him get onstage that unprepared? Yeah. I don't think any coach stood up to him. But what's my point here? My point is when it comes to building that personal brand, you really need to pay attention to it.

    There's certain things that you can do. One is that when it comes to building your personal brand, there's something I refer to as, and people have heard me say this many times, it's also in the book, the three Ps of personal branding, predictable, persistent, presence. Predictable. Every Tuesday, you expect this episode, this podcast to come out, every Tuesday. I do my best to make sure it happens. Every Wednesday, I have a newsletter that goes out, and I do my best and my team does their best to make sure that happens. Why? Because you begin to anticipate that content. It's predictable. Persistent. That means that over time you have seen me, I'm going to use me as an example, you've seen my brand consistently persistently being there. It's predictable. It's not always been predictable. I struggle just like anybody else, but I've also been, the second P is I've been persistent.

    If you follow me on LinkedIn, you've seen me for years, putting out videos, putting out snippets, putting out ideas, training, putting out videos, all kinds of content. You have seen me on Twitter, you have seen me on Facebook, you have seen me on... well, I am on Instagram, but mostly that's what my garden and my flowers and that type of thing. But you have seen me on Instagram. You have seen me, if you've followed my career for any length, you've seen me on CNN. You've seen me on... what else have I been on? ABC. You've seen me in publications. You've seen me quoted. You've seen me on podcasts. You know what I mean by heard. Persistent. I have been talking about and dealing with these things for years, so that gives you some idea. Well, what happens if you're just starting out?

    If you're just starting out, then realize that you need to be predictable, but then you need to get behind as many, let's just say episodes as possible. When I launched my first podcast back in 2011 around crowdfunding and Kickstarter and that type of thing, one of the challenges I realized is that I was kind of in a crowded space in some ways. In other ways, I was all by myself, but I needed people to feel that I had been doing this for a while. I hadn't, I hadn't been doing it for a while, I just kind of taught myself, and thought, "Oh, Hey, I think there's something here." So, what did I do? I pumped out 100 episodes of my podcast as quickly as possible. Why? So that people perceive the perception of my listeners was, "Hey, this guy's been doing it for a while," because most people do, like this show comes out once a week, I was doing once a day.

    You need to find a way to demonstrate that you have been doing this. Don't just do it for a little while and stop. The digital world is littered with millions, and I am not exaggerating, millions of podcasts and blogs and other content that just has a great idea and then it dies. So, persistent, stick with it. The third one is presence. What I use by this is that I should be able to... you, I'm going to switch this, you should be able to find me in a variety of different places to reinforce the fact that I am not just one shot wonder. I will see... I'm going to do this a little bit I will see LinkedIn experts telling me how they are so... there is one person, I'm not going to name their name, but I have followed them on YouTube because they have these, actually they're really good YouTube LinkedIn videos about how to use LinkedIn. I'm not going to say their name because I found them, I'm like, "This is good stuff."

    Then I went to their LinkedIn profile. They don't have one. They do not have a LinkedIn profile and yet they're putting out these videos talking about how to do things on LinkedIn. When somebody tells me, "Hey, I'm really famous at something," I go look for the social proof points. Do they have a Twitter account? How many followers do they have? Instagram? How many posts have they been putting out? YouTube? Do they have a consistent body of work, and how many people subscribed to their profile? Now, it's not a popularity contest, but if you are telling me that you want to build your brand and yet I can't find any social proof points to help reinforce that that brand extends beyond you, then that's a problem, which is why I just said you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Again, the Instagram thing, YouTube.

    Here, I'm not great on all of those, but I have a presence, and you can see that. Let me tell you a story. I haven't told this story for a while. I used to write for Forbes when I was working for a company called NetApp, and I helped ghost write for a lot of executives, shadow write. I would sit down and we would talk. If they said it, I would help write it and put it out there. So, I put some content out on forums. You can still find some of my content out on Forbes. One of those articles I wrote on Forbes is about crowdfunding, because I happen to know something about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. So, I put it out on Forbes, This individual anonymously started to rip into me in the comments about my lack of social proof points to be able to speak on crowdfunding on Forbes.

    What he did is he used my... I had a little YouTube channel I was experimenting with. It was pretty bad. I had a pretty good Twitter following 20, 25,000 followers, and I had this article on Forbes, and I had my podcast, which at the time was my primary source. I didn't even have a website. But I had thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of downloads on my podcast, as people listened to me give them advice on how to raise money for crowdfunding. But he ripped into me because I didn't have any social proof points that would prove that. He also did that anonymously, but not too anonymously, because my fans who listened to my podcast and liked my advice went and hunted him down and found that he was an economics professor at MIT and that he really didn't have any position to criticize me.

    So, what my point here is, is that this was an example of where he felt I didn't have strong presence to be able to talk on that authoritative topic. I have to admit, I didn't have the presence. I had the authority. I could. I knew what I was talking about, but I didn't have the presence. Today, that's why this is such a key of being successful, is finding that presence. So, what is it that you should be doing or focused on when you're trying to build that predictable presence? Okay. One of the things is to realize that, and we're just about out of time, is to realize that you need to be consistent with your look and feel. We've got the three Ps, predictable, persistent, presence. Now, imagery. Imagery needs to be consistent, the whole branding concept. Use the same photo in all of your different pieces.

    People are like, "No, I like to change up my photo and do this." I appreciate that. But that's you getting bored with what you're looking at. Trust me, your customers and prospects haven't gotten bored with that photo. It's incredibly important that it's the same photo across the different platforms. Why? Because when I go to look for somebody on Facebook that I've been doing business with, or flip it, I go to look for somebody on LinkedIn that I've been doing business with on Facebook. They have a different common name. They might have a common name that I can't find, and I'm looking for their picture. I'm always looking for the picture first before I'm really looking for the name. If I do find the names, there's six of them, I'm looking for the photo. Use a photo that consistently brands you across all the different platforms.

    I mean, that sounds obvious, but it's incredibly challenging for a lot of people not to get bored. Trust me, they're not bored with you. You're bored with you, but they're not. So, that's one. Use that imagery to do that across that on a regular basis. The other thing that you should do then is to pick a series of words that you believe are associated with you. This comes back to, again, the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. We're talking about leadership and focus. You should own a word. If you think about... what could I use as an example? Think about FedEx. What word did FedEx own? I'm going to put that in past tense on purpose. They own basically the word overnight delivery. Yes, I know that's not one word, but that's two. I don't know how many words that is, but overnight delivery. But they kind of gave up on it because they started competing with general delivery because they were competing with UPS.

    So, they didn't become known for overnight delivery, because when you think of overnight delivery, you think expensive, particularly for business. Then that left that word open because FedEx abandoned it. It was their word. So, who took over the word overnight delivery when it came to getting stuff to my house? If I buy something and I want it tomorrow, who does that? Amazon Prime. They now own that word for delivery. Prime comes to me. That's one way of thinking about owning the word. You can't take a word away from somebody unless they willingly give it up. FedEx gave up the word overnight, Amazon picked it up and used it for their Prime, and now FedEx is struggling for their self-identity. Figure out what word you want to own for yourself or for your company. What do you want to be known for? Is it a passionate word?

    For example, right now, the word I'm really trying to own is digital-first identity, helping people understand how to get out there and be digital first. Now, I don't know if that word is going to work. LinkedIn is a word, a lot of people own that word, but LinkedIn specifically for helping people understand how to build a digital-first identity. Boy, that was a lot more than just one word. But you got the idea of what I'm trying to do. Find that niche, and the smaller the niche... excuse me, the more focused the niche, not the smaller, the more focused the niche, the more powerful your brand will become, which sounds so counterintuitive. You think, "Oh, I need to talk to everybody." No, no, no, no, no. You need to talk to a very small group. For example, when I did my previous podcast and this whole Kickstarter thing, I didn't just do Kickstarter to everybody. No. I started with Kickstarter to board gamers.

    From there, it became comic books and video and technology and all kinds of other things. But board gamers dominated the category and I became the leading voice podcast on how to use Kickstarter to be that. Same thing here. Find the word that works for you, that you can, excuse me, dominate your category. It's got to be a real category. It can't be just like... I think the example they use in the book is Frozen Paws, like ice cream for dogs. That's a category that's not going anywhere. Pick a category or a topic or a focus that helps. Okay? If you'd like... we're out of time, and there's so many things I want to talk about on this, but here's some things to think about. Pick three topics that you want to be known for. Share them with somebody. "Hey, what am I known for?" Pick those three topics, those three words. What am I known for?

    For example, one word that somebody used on me was prolific. I've got to admit, I wasn't sure I was flattered. I do have five children. Maybe that's what they were talking about. But my goal has been to be prolific. You can find my book, you can find my podcast, you can find it on Kindle, you can find my videos, you can find my posts on LinkedIn, you can find my Twitter. Yes, prolific is one of the words I've tried to use in this space, but it's not really a word that defines a category. Find a category word for you. If you'd like some help on building your personal brand, I have a guide that you can download on my website,, or Sorry about that. You can go to either one of those and find this guide to download it, if you're interested. That will help you do that.

    Here's the last story I want to wrap up with, why I am so passionate about this. By the way, this is a great story. Hopefully you've stayed to the end, because this is a really good story. It's also in my book, but I wanted to share it here. That is, I'm from Olympia, Washington. I have a brother named John. I lived in San Diego and I have been in the tech industry almost my entire life, and my name is Richard Bliss. Now, why in the world does that mean anything? Because, go ahead and Google Richard Bliss, San Diego. The first entry you will find is that Richard Bliss from Olympia, Washington, living in San Diego, who's in the tech industry, was arrested in the late nineties in Russia as a spy. That's the first entry. That is not fake.

    Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright had to get involved to have Richard Bliss removed and released. What do I want to say? Russia did not say he's not a spy, but Russia agreed to give him up, I'm going to put this in air quotes, "temporarily". They still consider him a spy. He got released. His brother, John, was quoted in the press as saying, "Look, my brother is not a spy." Ladies and gentlemen, this is all a true story, except for one part that maybe you have been asking yourself. I am not that Richard Bliss. My mother called me in the late nineties. "Where are you?" That's all she said. I answered the phone. "Where are you?" "Mother, I am not in Russia." This Richard Bliss was from Olympia, Washington. I'm from Olympia, Washington. He was living in San Diego, I was living in San Diego. He worked for Qualcomm, I worked for a different tech company. He went to Russia and got arrested, and his brother, John, got quoted in the press.

    All of those things don't apply to me, but I have failed every single security check. Well, not anymore. I failed a series of security background checks when I was in the tech industry for awhile, because one of the first things they do is they Google Richard Bliss, San Diego. "Oh my gosh. Our future employee was arrested as a spy." Now I have to do background checks with my clients, because I do business with a lot of companies that need to do background checks because the nature of the business that I do with them, I send them a link and say, "Look, just so you know, I'm going to fail your background check. This is not me." I sometimes have to prove it, which isn't hard, especially because I think at the time I was on CNN. I think I was on the news at the exact same time, I was, at the exact same time he was being arrested, and in Russia. I'm in the US actually on TV, so people can see that it's not me.

    But my point here is, is that I use this example because if you don't control your personal brand, if you don't get out there and make a strong statement about who you are and what you stand for, it is so easy in today's environment for legitimate actors to take control of your narrative. It's so important that you find a way to get yourself out there in a predictable manner over time, as many places as you can, so that people find you, see you, recognize you and get to know that you stand for something. Download the guide, go to my website, download the guide. Thanks for listening. Hopefully this has been entertaining. I apologize. It was a little bit longer than normal, but it's always good to talk to you, and I appreciate the feedback that you've all been sending. Everybody have a great time and take care.


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