If you want to make money, you must forget about making money. Seriously, don’t even think about it. Always start with value. Value is the currency that binds human relationships and makes the world go around. It’s widely known that the reason human relationships breakdown and eventually fall apart is because one person feels he or she is giving more value than they’re getting in return. Money is simply a byproduct of surplus value, nothing more and nothing less.
What I want to talk about, however, is a different type of value. Not the type of value where you help your friend pick up women or get a dream job, but the value that you can provide to a whole group of people—thousands, millions, or even billions. Not individually-tailored value, but value on a massive scale.
When you go from personalized value to mass value, it’s crucial to package it correctly. Since this value is no longer individualistic to your best friend or running partner, but is targeted to a mass market, it can’t be confusing or ambiguous. When this value is communicated to a group of people, each one of them must immediately know whether it’s for them or not. This needs to be clear from get-go. When I’m introduced to some solution or benefit, I need to know very quickly whether it’s for me—whether it solves my problems and helps me achieve something—or whether it’s not applicable to me whatsoever.
Everything that I’ve described above—from how value is presented to the mass audience to the way it’s packaged—is called a brand. The site that you’re visiting right now—Maverick Traveler—is a perfect example of an effective brand.
A brand starts with a name. In this case, it’s two words: Maverick and Traveler. Right off the bat, this tells you a couple of things: the site is about traveling, but not tour-package traveling—unconventional traveling.
If you’re someone who’s interested in unconventional travel, then you’ll immediately connect with this brand. On the other hand, if you’re someone who gets cold sweats at the mere thoughts of getting on a plane and flying to some far away destination, then this brand won’t appeal to you whatsoever.
The Thoughts In Your Head
As you begin to familiarize with a brand—the name, the content, what it represents, etc—a certain impression begins to form in your mind about the writer (me), the content (written by me), and the community built around the site (people frequenting the site). These thoughts inside your head, these feelings and emotions, whether they’re positive or negative, are the building blocks of the brand. That’s what Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon, meant when he said, “Brand is what other people think about you when you’re not in the room.”
Whether you want to or not, you will think of something when you interact with a meticulously designed brand. You will have a reaction, regardless of it’s positive or negative. You must. It’s like when I say, “Don’t think of an elephant” and you immediately think of an elephant.
For instance, what is Coca-Cola? Technically speaking it’s a dark and fizzy sugary drink. But those characteristics are meaningless when it comes building a brand; you can never build a brand around a product’s chemical and physical characteristics. This is not your high school science lab. To the people who consume this fizzy drink, it represents much, much more. Since it tastes good, when you drink it, you’re overcome with positive emotions and these emotions are further reinforced with loosely related things like freedom, having fun, hanging out with your close friends and family.
Along with a strong brand, comes strong recognition. Tell me if the following sounds familiar. There’s a huge company based in Washington State. Many employees work there. Most of them sit behind computers all day and write software. This software is either invisible to users because it works directly with the hardware (operating system) or are applications that the user interfaces with directly.
Or I can replace the entire paragraph with one word: Microsoft.
Which one of the above descriptions do you relate more with? The first or the second? If you’re like most people, you’ll immediately relate to the second one; pretty much everyone knows what Microsoft is.
When you think of the famous software company, you think of the famous Microsoft logo, the “Windows” operating system that powers many of the world’s computers, and the company’s iconic co-founder, Bill Gates.
That’s because Microsoft is more than just some random anonymous company with a collection of employees who work in their cubicles—it’s a brand. The fact that it’s a vast organization of employees who manipulate zeros and ones in their cubicles means absolutely nothing to the average customer because “zeros” and “ones” hold no benefits with someone who’s trying to finish tomorrow’s presentation for a group of high level execs.
Instead, the company represents happiness, enjoyment, productivity, even magic, because now you have this user-friendly software that makes this plastic box (computer) do amazing and useful things. It allows you to express yourself better. It enables you. People use this software to achieve amazing things, both in business and their personal lives.
The true power of any brand is in the communication of how it benefits its target audience; it’s much easier to connect with such things as being more productive, doing excellent work, and talking with your family (especially when it’s thousands of miles away) via computers than a bunch of random bits and bytes and other technical details that people without a computer science Ph.D don’t have a clue about.
From Human Being To Personal Brand
Microsoft is an example of a big corporation that is able effectively communicate its benefits and aims to the masses by properly branding itself. But brands are no longer tools of giant corporations. You don’t need to have a multibillion dollar market cap in order to take advantage of all the important benefits that branding provides.
Regardless if you’re 115,000-employee strong business such as Microsoft or just one person who blogs about travel or self-improvement, you absolutely must become a brand. Unless you’re interested in only communicating—and being valuable—to your close friends and family, you must find a way to reach a more massive audience, you must figure out how to become relevant to people who’ve never heard of you and have no interest in doing so.
Personal branding starts with an authority in a specific area. Since people’s time and attention is limited, they can’t listen to just about everyone who comes along.
That means If you didn’t learn how to speak fluent Spanish, you can’t build a brand about learning how to speak fluent Spanish. If you are skinny as a pencil and can barely bench press the bar without any weights, you can’t build a brand about lifting heavy ass weights and becoming a Schwarzenegger look alike and winning Mr. Olympia. If you’ve never worked as a software developer in a competitive high-tech company and build products used by millions of people, you can’t preach about the best software patterns or how to hire the best software developers.
People will only take advice and mentoring from authority figures, meaning only those who’ve done or are on their way of achieving what they themselves are eager to achieve.
Sometimes this authority element is purely visual. You see a picture of a guy with massive muscles and six-pack abs. No additional words or audio is necessary; the picture is enough. It’s obvious that the guy knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to working out and putting on muscles. It’s not necessary to see anything else. There he is—the epitome of the guy who you want to become. And you’re ready to listen to him in order to become just like him.
Or you see a video of a guy who speaks 7 languages fluently. He’s able to hold a conversation in any of the languages with ease. He can talk to people on the street, shop assistants, people of different professions and age groups. He switches between languages effortlessly. And, on top of that, he learned all those languages in record time.
Although not as visual as the guy with huge muscles, this guy too represents an authority in a different area: language learning. After watching the video, you’re interested in learning how he was able to learn all these languages so quickly and effortlessly. The polyglot now has your undivided your attention.
Powerful personal brands have another thing in common: they represent something that’s beyond average or conventional. A powerful personal brand represents the possibility of becoming someone with special powers; it’s a projection of a person who you want to become one day, not a person who you are today. Successful personal brands teach you how to become superhuman.
Another thing to understand about brand building is that you’re not just sharing your achievements with others; you’re also sharing the right path—and the difficult sacrifices that came along with it—to becoming a better, stronger and more complete version of yourself. Having big muscles and a six pack is nice, but building all that not only requires you to do hard work, discipline and toughness that few people on this planet possess.
But there’s a lot more lurking underneath. The fact that I’ve traveled to over 85 countries says a heck of a lot about my lifestyle. It inherently conveys that I’m not working at a regular 9-5 job. It inherently conveys that I’m not some employee stuck in some cubicle. And it inherently conveys that I’m more independently-minded than the average person. And that inherently portrays me as someone who you’d love to meet and share amazing stories with over coffee or beer.
It’s crucial to not only be authoritative and interesting in a particular area, but to also amplify it in order to excite others. You may very well be a responsible, hard working man at some mega corp, someone who loves his family very much, and has the respect of his colleagues and peers, but if you cannot make yourself stand out, it won’t work. Average cannot be amplified. Any number multiplied by one is still the same number.
Fortunately, we’re all unique and special in some ways. Even if you haven’t traveled to 85 countries and only speak one language, there’s still probably something that you can do better than others, something that others admire about you (even if it’s only a close group of people), something that people solicit you for advice about. Or it can be something that you aspire to be that no one else has done.
Putting the real you out there
While a powerful brand comes from authority and projects the ability to become superhuman, you must never neglect the human touch that defines you as a human being. It’s a personal brand after all, not a brand about some faceless corporation or some infallible superhero who’s always doing awesome things and never fails at anything.
Being anonymous won’t work. If you hide yourself by not revealing your picture or sharing things about yourself, you’re not a public person and thus cannot build a personal brand. People need to see who you are. They need to see that you’re an actual living and breathing human being. They need to be able to relate with you. They need to be able to connect with you. And they can’t do that if they don’t know what you look like or how you act.
The part about relating and connecting is crucial. Psychological research has shown that people are attracted to each other by the rough edges in their personalities, the little imperfections and quirks that let us know that we’re human and not some automatons without feelings. When you put yourself out there—not the professionally photoshopped version of yourself, but the raw, unfiltered you—you allow people to connect with you much better and on a personal level.
I know I personally connect better with people who I know aren’t perfect. People who fuck up. People who make mistakes and then laugh them off. Not people who’re trying their hard to be someone that they’re clearly not. In other words: people much like you and me.
Combine this human touch with something that makes you special, something that you’re able to do better (or think you can do better) than your peers, and you have the beginnings of your own personal bulletproof brand. One, that, if nurtured properly and strategically, will evolve into something that’s much bigger and powerful than pretty much anything that you can do on your own.
Not long ago, branding was part of dark and mysterious arts that only select people understood and knew how to cultivate: chiefly those who worked in advertising, marketing and PR. They held glamorous job titles such as ‘brand managers’ and ‘brand evangelists.’
But with the advent of the Internet and the access to the billions of readers and prospective customers that came along with it, all of that has changed. Whether you realize this or not, we’re all brand managers. Every single one of us. If you’re on the Internet, you’re already nurturing your very own personal brand. We can all grow and cultivate our unique character traits into something that attracts a massive audience.
The best part about building a brand it’s that you’re building capital. It’s like building a house. The more you build, the bigger it will become. You don’t even need any products or services. You don’t even need to sell anything. Rest assured it, that the brand you have today will be a much a bigger brand in five years with more power, recognition and, of course, monetization potential.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.