For the last 7 years I’ve had a blog post languishing in my drafts called “The Anatomy of Cool”.
There are many reasons it hasn’t seen the light of day — one of which is that pretentious AF title, whew Hillary — but I find myself referencing its contents pretty frequently.
Because in roughly 70% of my conversations with clients, colleagues, and new friends I meet at events, I get asked the same question.
(And everyone’s a little afraid to voice it.)
Is That Still, Small Voice Enough?
The asker often takes a deep breath. Maybe looks down at their hands for a moment. And says:
“I know I’ve got so much to share and say, and I really want to build a cool brand… but I’m just not very loud by nature. I’m kinda introverted, I don’t think I’m very funny, but everyone else rising to the top seems so ~out there~ that I worry I’ll never get noticed. Is it possible?”
Or, it might be that they’re in a conservative industry, and wonder if it’s possible to be memorable and stand out with the constraints of decorum pulling at them.
And every time I look them straight in the eye and tell them the truth:
“Yes. Without a doubt.”
Connection is Your Currency
It’s easy, in a world that favors extroversion (but take it from me, we have our own please-shut-up problems), to worry you’ll be glossed over if you’re not the noisiest, most attention-snatching person in the room.
But here’s the thing: great branding isn’t actually about being the loudest, having the brightest colors, or churning out the thigh-slappingest one-liners.
Sure, those brands might be clogging your social feeds at times, but that doesn’t mean they’re making you a customer, or a fan, right?
Because great branding, like being “cool”, isn’t necessarily about volume. It’s about creating a rock solid, unforgettable connection with your target audience by owning your truth.
It’s the reason why, when you think about the brands you love, they’re probably not an identical lineup of Gary Vee clones and self-professed “rabble rousers”.
Crank it to 11 Without Upping the Volume
The brands you resonate with most can have a ton of other things going for them.
Maybe you love their understated ad copy, or their super calming cadence, or the experience of interacting with them, or (above all) the way they seem to be able to articulate exactly what you’re feeling.
That’s why, when you hear me say “crank it up to 11” I should be more clear: I’m not talking about screaming instead of speaking.
I’m telling you to crank YOU up to 11 — to go all-in on talking about the stuff you’re interested in, to make unique offers for people only YOU know need them, and to share your natural talents in a more consistent way.
But what does that look like exactly?
Personal Branding for the Quiet Ones
That’s the question your other favorite loudmouth and I are getting into on today’s episode of Hillary and Margo Yell at Websites.
The title: “Can quiet people build personal brands?“
Well, y’all already know the answer to that now.
But today, we’re getting into the HOW.
Catch today’s episode to find out:
1:32: Why it’s easy to answer this question, but so much harder to act on it. (Bonus: Margo’s Twitter imposter syndrome which never fails to amuse me because SHE IS SO WITTY GUYS LIKE WTF)
3:58: What I mean when I say “Dial it up to 11”
6:09 Why your brand doesn’t have to be loud, and what it needs to be instead
8:46 The shortcut to personal branding when you’re not sure what to do
8:58 Why personal development is connected to brand development
9:30 What to do if your line of work is technical or conservative
10:55 There are SO many options outside of being loud and funny (and I share some with you here)
Share Your Fav Brands…Quietly
Enjoy the episode, and while you’re over there, let us know:
What are some brands you LOVE who aren’t necessarily the loudest in the room?
What attracts you to them, and why?
And in the meantime – crank it up to 11, dangit.
Whether it’s a whisper or a shout, I promise: your people want to listen.
Those were two good episodes.
I think so, does that mean they’re gonna be terrible?
I know, that means they’re gonna be awful, and we’re gonna watch it back and be like, “Well, fuck it. We’re washed up.” (upbeat music)
Welcome back, marketing nerds of the world. It’s time for another episode of #HAMYAW, and today, Margo and I are actually getting into a topic we get asked about, actually, pretty much non-stop.
It’s literally, constantly. Around this idea of personal branding, but the question we always get asked is, “You know, I don’t think I’m funny enough, I’m not really irreverent, I’m not really loud. Can I build a memorable brand?”
And I think where a lot of people go wrong when developing their personal brand, figuring out the messaging strategy, kinda notes they want to hit, they either feel like they need to be hilarious, noisy, over the top, like in your face, or, they feel like they have to be really uptight and kind of conservative, and professional and buttoned up.
And those are kind of the two extremes we see people vacillating between, and the truth, is what you should be looking for is much closer in the middle of the two, but most importantly, it’s about what’s authentic to you. And I know Margo has a lot to say about this, so Margo, take it away.
Well, can we start with the fact that I so relate to this question?
Every time, I’m like, so I was on stage a few weeks ago whenever this airs, that I get this question from a lot of B2B companies, where they were like, “I am in this really, really conservative industry and I don’t understand how to be myself, and like how to do the branding stuff, where we have like a place and tone, and I don’t know how to make jokes.”
And I was like, putting my expert hat on, it’s easy to answer the question, but then I opened Twitter, and I’ll see like, “Oh my God, you guys are so funny, and Hillary’s so funny, and everybody’s so funny.” And I was like, “I don’t have anything interesting to say, like what can I say on Twitter?”
That’s what I say about you to everyone I meet. I’m like, “Margo, yeah, not very interesting and not very funny, but she’s got great hair, so she makes an excellent cohost.” Come on, woman, give yourself a little more credit.
I am putting that on my, um, (mumbles) but the hair game is on point. (laughing)
But it’s fair, it gets in your head, you start to think things, it’s natural. We’re human beings, we want to fit in. Like belonging and fitting is built into our DNA, and so we kind of just, without even knowing it, sort of take stock of the room we’re in at all times.
Sometimes that room is Twitter, sometimes that room is the internet, and we look and we’re like, “How are we supposed to behave here?” Okay, what are the norms? What are we allowed? And so often, when you hear people like us, say things like, “Dial it up to 11,” and by us I mean, Hillary, ’cause I totally just stole that from you. But like, what does that mean if you’re not big and outgoing and really playful?
And you and I, were sort of born, we have the opposite problem where we were told to keep it small and shut up and not be so loud, and so it’s been a real release for us. But some people are, you know, we have a lot of introverts that follow the show, and we have a lot of people who have, well you’re human beings, you have complexities, and nuance to your personality. And a lot more than necessarily humor and laughter.
And I think that was the point, at least for me, of how I interpret the question is you’ve gotta lean into you. And that is scary because it makes you vulnerable. It means you are going to be seen, and that’s the part that is more interesting to me.
If you’re an introvert and you’re into books, then like, dial that up, like be into books. If you’re into photography, if you have observations about, I don’t know, chapstick, then you like right those down. I don’t care, but like, not being afraid to be the you that’s a little weird, I think it’s more what we mean.
I think also, we need to clarify, when I say, “Turn it up to 11,” people think volume, and that is, in some instances true, like literally this whole show, we’ve made a joke about how loud our voices are and we’re Hillary and Margo Yell at Websites, this is just how we talk, we’re not actually yelling.
But no, when I say, “Turn it up to 11,” and when we talk about this in the branding space, people, I’m talking about amplifying. Its not about noise or volume, it’s about energy. It’s about where is your focus going.
What topics are you talking about that are really meaningful to you? What are you sharing that’s maybe a little outside of the norm of your industry, but is incredibly important and energizing and exciting for you?
And this is, in my Statement Piece Framework, this is why I talk about the three Statement Piece scenarios, and how people examine what they’re really for and really against. And often, that doesn’t need to create a lot of noise, but what it does, is it creates a connection, and that’s an energy thing, more than it is a volume thing, more than it is a humor thing.
And there’s so many different things you can do with your brand, be memorable, and stand out, and just like making penis jokes in your email list like some people I know. Or, like posting silly memes on Facebook.
You know, there are so many different things that you can do that are outside the realm of humor and also outside of the realm of being hyper-conservative or buttoned up because you’re afraid to rock the boat.
So I think it really is taking stock of figuring out what you are most interested in, and what also you’re bringing to the table to your brand and your profession that has always been a part of you, and this is something I talk to my students about.
It’s something I’ve worked on a lot in my brand, something my mentor taught me, my mentor Sara Oncomo, is that you look around at your life, and there are things that you have always done and things you’ve always been naturally good at and things that you’ve always gotten comments on that leak into your profession whether you want them to or not. It’s your gift, it’s what you do naturally.
And in my case, that was not necessarily the noise, although that has been helpful. That’s why I have the Statement Piece brand because I was always wearing a statement piece of jewelry, I’m always about communicating through my style and through my mannerisms, and communicating who I am by my word choice, by my clothing, by my jewelry, before I even talk to somebody or have a conversation.
I want them to know something about me. And I think that’s why Statement Piece Studio became the new face of the brand, was because I was like, “I wanna help people do this for themselves.” And my statement piece is not always a huge necklace.
Like, I have a tiny ring that says “Boss.” I have this beautiful engagement ring that I wear constantly that says, “I’m very engaged and awesome.” But, it doesn’t always have to be loud is what I’m saying. It just has to be clear and it has to be something you’re excited to share and talk about. It has to be you.
It has to be you. I think part of what gets so hard about this is often that it’s invisible to us.
So like, it is really easy for other people to tell me what’s unique about me.
But when I’m sitting there by myself in my room, trying to like write up my brand’s plan, it’s really really tough to see. And so, that’s why I think using other people is helpful for this conversation if it’s a personal brand, for sure, but I love what you said on clarity about what you stand for.
I think people don’t do that. This is where the personal and the professional intersect, because we are sort of taught that there’s a separation of church and state and that this doesn’t have anything to do with the other and no one cares, and I have found that to be absolutely untrue.
There are so many of my readers who connect with me on the things that are really random. Like, I really like the video, the Get Up, and it just makes me really, really happy and I mentioned it in a small email, and for no reason, other than that I was like, “If this email was not interesting to you, here’s something that might be.
‘Cause it just made my day smile and your day should smile too.” And it was the most clicked-on link, right? Like, it’s just people are people, and we’re all multi-faceted, and it’s helpful to anthropomorphize your brand, but also to humanize you if you are the brand.
Yeah, building the connection, and I think a lot of solopreneurs forget that. When I think about, like I need to build a personal brand, then I think of it as something outside of themselves. Like they have to build a persona. It’s not a persona brand, it’s a personal brand, guys. And it has to be personal to you.
Thank you, that was a good one. TM, trademark pending.
But no, I think it’s really, really vital for people to, all, in a lot of ways I think entrepreneurship, personal branding is a really radical form of self-expression, because it is essentially learning how to make money from your gifts and straight-up personality.
It’s a little different from branding around being an artist or a musician or a painter or something where you have your art to kind of speak for itself. When you run a business, it’s a totally different art form, totally different way of kind of making money, and it’s a really wonderful opportunity to explore what’s meaningful to you, and learn how to share it and find your community that way.
It’s a huge gift to me, as somebody who was often noisy and on the outskirts of a lot of things in life. And now, I’m on the in-skirts in a lot of ways.
It’s mostly because I’ve been able to connect with people who resonate with what I have to say and what I’m interested in. Probably not the loudness of my voice that draws them in, but rather the weird things I tend to talk about, the transparent nature of my writing and my work, and the work we do here together, and just building a place where people can see themselves.
It’s not about who you’re making laugh or who’s making the most noise. It’s about how people can see themselves reflected in you and feel connected to you that way.
Yes, I love that. And that is why we say personal development is so connected to developing your brand.
If you don’t know yourself, then this stuff is not gonna work because you’re going to end up building a facade, and it’s a house of cards, and then it falls apart because you are having to maintain that so much.
I think another approach if it’s not a personal brand, but you are a brand if you’re like working in a company where you’re like, “God, I really wanna humanize this a little bit more.” One, you can work with a team on that in developing the voice and what that sounds like.
Starting point, I think is with your customers, ’cause often they will tell you what they want to hear, and they will speak in the way that they need to be spoken to. And so I get this question a lot from people who are at technical companies, or so they describe themselves, like SASS or something, like, “We target developers.” I always ask them well like, “Are developers human beings?” (laughing)
That’s a weird question, and I’m like, “Yeah, exactly.” It’s a weird question because it doesn’t matter if it’s a technical subject. There’s a human being on the other end of it who has thoughts and feelings and dreams and hopes, and all of the things that you still need to address. You just make the jokes within that, or you make the references or the in-group dialogue, jargon, the lexicon, all needs to be reflected in the way they talk to each other. Reddit exists, therefore…
Therefore, technical people are talkin’ a ton.
Those are facts. I also wanna double back on a point you made on Twitter, I think, where you were like, “Everyone’s talking about human focus marketing, who the hell else is marketing for?” I was like, “Boom. Mic drop.” It’s so true, and it’s always like, “We speak human.”
It’s like, yeah alright, but I want you to speak connection, I want you to speak intrigue, I want you to speak comradery, and I want you to speak deep understanding. Fuck speaking human, I speak human. You know, whoever on the streets speaks human, but it’s really about having to build that connection.
And we have about one minute, so I want to just remind you guys that if you’re wondering what you do between being funny or being really buttoned up, there are so many different things you can do in between there. You can share irreverent observations, you can share what you’re really for or against, you can be a really strong powerful luxury voice, you can actually be really calming, chill, laid-back brand that really resonates with people.
There are so many options outside of being loud and funny, and I want you to take some time this week to study the brands that intrigue you the most and think about the qualities that draw you to them, and chances are, it’s not because they’re loud and silly. It’s because they have other things that are making you feel pulled to them.
Oh my God, I’m gonna do that this week. I love that, I love that. I’m definitely gonna do this, and maybe I’ll even post about it in the comments, and if you guys do this assignment, post about it in the comments, we will talk about it with you. We’d both love to see what brands you come up with, what you see in those brands because that is likely what you see in yourself. So, I am Margo Aaron.
And I’m Hillary Weiss.
If you liked this video, please like it below and share it with your friends. We will see you in two weeks. (blows kiss)
Photo by Juliet Clare Warren