Karen Kang Sets the Record Straight on Personal Branding

Personal branding is one of those topics that a lot of people talk about but few get it right.  Here to set the record straight is branding expert Karen Kang.Karen_Kang_150

Karen Kang is the author of Branding Pays:  The Five Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand, a great new book on why a personal brand is important and how to develop one.  Prior to her current role as consultant to organizations including AT&T, Genentech, and HP, Karen was a principal and partner with Regis McKenna Inc.  You can learn more about her work and her book on her website, and she’s a great person to follow on Twitter since she shares helpful content on brand strategy, leadership, and other business topics.

For now, take a listen to this interview and learn:

  • why brand relationships with key influencers matters and how to build them
  • how brand education has replaced brand promotion
  • how women have a leg up on personal influence because they have higher EQ (emotional intelligence)

other interviews:


Denise:  Hello, this is Denise Yohn and welcome to the Brand-As-Business Bites podcast.  The Brand-as-Business Bites podcast gives you a taste of insights and information about brands, businesses, and the people who work on them.  It’s available on iTunes.  For more stuff for your brain to chew on, please visit my website at deniseleeyohn.com.

Lots of people talk about personal branding, but few get it right.  Today’s interview is with one of those few experts who has the credibility and the smarts to provide excellent guidance on the topic. Karen Kang is the author of Branding Pays: The Five Step System to Reinvent your Personal Brand.  It’s a great book on why a personal brand is so important today and how you can develop one.

Now Karen was principal and partner with Regis McKenna Incorporated and she has consulted with more than 150 organizations including AT&T and Genentech and HP.  Now I’ve been connected to Karen for several years on Twitter and have learned a lot from our exchanges.  I’m so excited to have her on my program today and I encourage you to join me in welcoming Karen.  Hi there, Karen.

Karen:  Hi, Denise.  Happy to be here.

Denise:  Great.  Well I want to jump right into your book because there’s so much great content.  One of the first things that I want to ask you about is the four steps that you outline on the journey to a strong personal brand. Would you kind of outline those four steps briefly and explain why they’re so important.

Karen:  Yes.  So just to qualify, the five step system that really covers the actual steps that you take.  But what I wanted to do with this branding journey four steps is really to say at the very beginning you need to have a goal. If you don’t have a goal in mind you’ll never get to where you want to go because you don’t know where you want to go.  It’s kind of like being on the ocean with a rudderless ship.  So have a brand goal, figure out what you want to do, and I encourage people to be bold and to stake out a place that they can own.

It just doesn’t make any sense to have a goal of being a “me too”.  Me too today is death.  You have to be differentiated.  There’s too much competition to succeed in life and in your career without being differentiated and being known for unique value.  So have a brand goal, figure out what is that strategy that is going to get you to that goal, and figure out how to message it to a particular audience because your messages have to resonate with that audience.  They have to really hold true to some kind of meaning for someone you’re either trying to solve a problem for or enable an opportunity.  Because in positioning it’s always solving a problem or enabling an opportunity.  So that is the first step in the brand journey.

The second step is to evidence your brand claim.  So if you’re saying I am a leader in XYZ or I am an expert here, you have to provide the evidence.  It’s really best to demonstrate that evidence and do it through your actions or have other people say that you’re the expert than for you to be chest beating and saying that you’re the expert and here’s all this good stuff about me.  Your actions and other people’s endorsements really count.

And that brings us to the third step in the branding journey and that is the brand relationships.  You have to have meaningful relationships with key influencers who can affect your success.  These are people who are going to influence the greater market.  I believe that there’s a 90/10 rule:  90 percent of the market or your ecosystem is going to be influenced by say 10 percent.  And in this age of social media and the internet, that percentage is probably one percent influences the other 99.

And the last step in this journey is brand education, and I’d like to talk about education as opposed to promotion because education gets you in the right frame of mind.  Basically you need to communicate your brand effectively and deliver on a consistent brand experience.  When we say brand experience we’re talking about every touch point; your thoughts, your image, your personality, your messages, your actions.

Everything that people are going to perceive about you and have some kind of interaction with you.  That experience has to be as we say “on brand”, being aligned with what you want your brand to be known for.  So if you do all those things, you’ll be well on your way to being perceived as the brand you want to be perceived as and the brand that will help you to reach your goals.

Denise:  Right.  Wow.  It sounds so simple, but you call it a journey I’m assuming because it is.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of effort to really get through all of those steps.

Karen:  Yeah.  I like to tell people, don’t get overwhelmed.  Just do a few things well.  Figure out what it is you want to be known for and figure out the top three things that you need to do in order to achieve that.  You can always back fill and expand your program later, but do know that you have a brand today.  Whether you like it or not, or whether you think it’s helping you or not, you have a brand.  Even if it’s a non-brand, that’s a brand.  We brand ourselves every day with every touch point, with every gesture, with every word, with everything that we do.

So you’re branding yourself anyway.  So you can start today even by saying, “Okay, today I’m going to go out, I’m going to smile at the world.  I’m going to engage”.  That is a way to brand yourself, and as you think about what that goal is then you can be much more specific and much more strategic about your actions.

Denise:  Right.  So what are some of the common situations in which having a strong personal brand is particularly important?

Karen:  I think that it’s important especially to note the triggers.  What are those changes in the company, the market environment that make it such that you might have a greater opportunity by going out and either reinventing or rebranding, or branding for that particular opportunity.  Certainly it’s going to come up when you’re looking for a job or you’re trying to change a career, but it also might come up if there’s a change in say company ownership or your boss changes or the leadership changes in your company.  There may be a new objective, a new culture being introduced and you can brand yourself in a way that you will be seen as valuable in that new environment.

There’s also times when management or leadership is shifting in the kind of leadership traits they’re looking for.  Today I think that there’s so much more emphasis on collaboration and cross-functional cooperation that if you have an image say of a lone wolf, you might want to shift that brand image you have and actually change your behavior so that you can be seen as a potential leader in a collaborative organization.  And today for women with this trend toward finding more value in EQ or emotional intelligence than just IQ which is more analytical intelligence, I think that women have a leg up because they have this innate capacity for EQ.  So instead of just trying to brand as a man, brand yourself as a woman with these innate capacities for connecting, for collaborating, for mentoring, and for communicating.

Then do it in a way that maps to the corporate objective. A lot of companies are seeing a shift in their technology or their business strategy, and these shifts again are a great opportunity to be recognized and valued for your expertise or your skill set.  Even if you don’t have a background in that particular technology, you can become a quick study.  You can volunteer for industry groups that promote the technology, and be known for someone who moves in those technology circles for instance.

Denise:  It sounds like a lot of this is about being aware of what’s going around in your surroundings and your environment and in your contacts, and then linking your brand to be relevant into that context.

Karen:  Yeah, and it’s so important today because the world is changing so quickly.  If you look at the competitive forces with globalization, you look at new technologies, social media, there are whole industries, businesses that no longer exist because times have changed and the technology has changed and the business models have changed.  Look at all the new things for instance that Apple has done that people didn’t think about music just being digitally distributed for instance.  Now the old industries are really suffering.

The same thing is happening with books when you look at what’s happening in publishing.  Me as a new author, I’m paying a whole lot of attention that.  The world is just consolidating and one big giant has all the power.  You look at physical books, but the e-Books are really taking over.  Four times as many books are sold in a digital format than a physical format today, and we just have to see the handwriting on the wall and instead of saying “woe is me”, jump on the bandwagon.  Say how can I really take advantage of this new trend.

So we need to be better at reading the trends and positioning ourselves for leadership in new areas.  There was just a LinkedIn blog by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and he said we need to take risks in our careers.  I believe that taking risks is really not all that risky because if you don’t take the risk and you’re just being a “me too”, eventually you’re going to hit a dead end.  That in itself is risky behavior, to not recognize that we need to change when the world is changing around us.

Denise:  Right.  How is branding a person similar or different from branding a company or a product?

Karen:  Well first, there are a lot of similarities.  The Branding Pays: Five Step Methodology that I show in this book on personal branding really is a very similar methodology that I’ve used for companies.  So with companies, we go into a lot more depth in terms of competitive analysis and positioning message matrices and looking at doing a lot more market research than we do for a personal brand.  But even when you’re thinking about your own personal brand… For instance, I do have a brand assessment questionnaire in the book that people can give to other people who know them to get some external input.  So it’s not just them in a vacuum thinking through what do I need to do with my brand, but actually getting some input from the outside.

I think it’s a very similar methodology.  I think that when you actually go to brand actions and engagement when you’re a single person, an individual, I think that you can have so much success in branding through your engagements through one-on-ones or one-to-many engagements and being known as a personality and being able to tell that personal story.  But if you look at the trend in branding for companies, the most successful ones are trying to put a human face to their corporate brands, either through people who are Tweeting for them or being on social media and being individual personalities that are representing that brand or just in how they engage.

Somehow getting that personal connection or telling stories in a way that seem more human.  I see a lot of similarities in how companies and products need to brand and how people need to brand.  But I think that the bottom line is that when you’re branding people, that human connection is up front and the most important thing.

Denise:  Well Karen, all of this is such great information.  Really appreciate you sharing it.  For my listeners, I encourage you to check out Karen’s website brandingpays.com where you can learn more about Karen and her work and about personal branding, and also buy the book which is excellent.  I also encourage you to follow Karen on Twitter.  Her handle is @KarenKang all together, one word, KarenKang, and she also has a Facebook page called Branding Pays.  Karen thank you so much for sharing your insights on how we can make ourselves more successful.

Karen:  Thank you Denise.  It was a pleasure.

Denise:  I’ll talk to you soon.  Bye-bye.  That’s it for today.  Thanks for listening to the Brand-as-Business Bites podcast.  Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes so your brain will always be filled with good stuff to chew on.  For more information or to contact me directly please visit my website at deniseleeyohn.com.  Take care and thanks again.

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