How to use content to stand out and build a personal brand
Part 5 of Content Brand, a series on using content to ace your startup's marketing
I took a course on content marketing last year, and included a bonus session on personal branding. This was usually the last hour, and I kept it open ended.
I always started the session with this story: A friend of mine had reached out to me a few years ago. He was older, having spent more than 10 years at an IT services company, one of the big behemoths that transformed Bangalore and Chennai. It turned out that he was at a salary that was ridiculously low for someone with over a decade of experience, and now he was now being laid off.
What should he do, he asked me.
I was at a loss. He had no transferable skills to SaaS or startups, his CV was bland, and he had no real record of his accomplishments, no reputation, no mentor to call upon.
This meant that his options were bleak in a new world of work, and younger people were way more skilled, and asked for less. He had applied and interviewed everywhere, but to no avail.
It was dawning on him that he had simply grown obsolete.
It’s a terrifying prospect, and I tell this story for exactly that reason: To shake up the cohort. So they understand what’s at stake for them: Their very future.
Isn’t that a bit defeatist, Sai, you may ask. Just doing your job well and trusting your employer should be enough, no?
What happened to him, and what’s happening around us should give you the answer to that question.
Last week, The Ken carried a story on what they called the Unhireables, folks who rapidly grew their salaries in the tech boom, but who were also not wanted now because they were 'too costly to retain, and too costly to be hired'.
Here’s someone who’s been laid off and looking for a job: "..the market was flooded with people. Just in a few hours of a job opening there are some 2,000-3,000 applicants. It’s hard to stand out.."
Terrifying, as I said.
How can you be safe, then? You can’t trust your employer, and you can’t trust the market. You can’t even trust the salary you have demanded (and received) until now.
How do you build a moat for your job, your career?
I don’t know the answer to this question. But I know one answer to this question.
Building a personal brand.
What kind of personal brand?
I’m not talking about a bunch of random followers on social media built by putting up pictures, engagement farming, and shitposting.
What I’m talking about is a reputation for good work that follows you and carries you along in your career, sets you apart from others in your field, makes you successful, and makes sure you will never struggle for a job, ever.
How do you build a personal brand that does all of this?
My submission is that content is the answer.
Not a lot of folks know the story of how I was hired at Freshdesk in 2011.
In college, I had started to write a personal blog that I enjoyed, and rather took to. It was about events happening on campus and my interests at the time, like cricket. Despite being a collection of ramblings with no real theme, some of them became popular on campus, were even passed around. I realised I could write, and to my immense surprise, that people wanted to read what I wrote.
Two years after, I came across an ad for a content marketer position at Freshdesk, a startup based in Chennai that I had never heard of. I decided to apply, and submitted my blog as part of the application. Upon reviewing it, Girish (he later told me) saw potential in my writing. I had demonstrated I could tell stories. He offered me the job.
Why am I telling this story now?
Because we are talking about personal branding, and the easiest way to demonstrate ability and competence is content. What I had written was nowhere near what was actually expected of me at work. But as a rookie, it made me stand apart.
At Wingify I had a colleague, Taruna Manchanda, a product manager. She was a driven individual and brilliant at what she did. She later moved to Swiggy, and worked on a few features we probably use everyday. One of these was Swiggy POP, and Taruna wrote a spectacular piece about the process of creating that feature, the research, the coordination, and the execution.
The essay was immediately picked up everywhere in the product community. Because she had done something that wasn’t common. The work of a product manager can at times be under-appreciated, difficult to explain and quantify. She had managed to do just that, and put herself on the map. She had demonstrated ability and competence. She followed that essay up with podcast appearances and talks and more writing. She continues posting on Linkedin, doing the important work of translating product management for the world. Fitting, because her next job was at LinkedIn.
My friend Rohit Srivastav is one of the marketers I go to when I need to discuss something. A fellow brand marketer, he does not write a newsletter or blog. But he has built up a following on LinkedIn by sharing, consistently, common-sense takes on whatever the marketing world is talking about at that time.
And we all know that sometimes the marketing world talks nonsense. He pokes fun at that, explains things, helps marketers keep things simple.
In a way, this has made him the marketer’s marketer, and his strong brand and reputation now precede him.
With my story, you can see how even a single piece of content can make you stand apart, even get you a job.
With Rohit and Taruna, you can see how sharing their experience and unique viewpoints, plus being consistent, has given them a public profile and reach. They will never be in a position to look for a job unless they want to. They’ve made sure opportunities will keep coming to them.
That’s the power of the personal brand, and that’s the power of content.
Please also remember that I’m not suggesting that all of you start writing on LinkedIn or start a newsletter or some such thing. The reason I also talk about Taruna here is that she did not do any of that. She wrote one great piece and followed it with several other things. You don’t have to do all of it. Doing something is enough.
And finally, your personal brand is not just your asset alone. Increasingly, organisations and startups understand the distribution that a personal brand brings. Especially in early stage startups, if you have a relevant audience, you are as valuable to them as a carefully managed and cultivated social media account.
This is exactly the reason why SocialPilot sponsors this newsletter.
So the argument that a personal brand is not my real job also doesn’t stand. Sure, it is not your real job, but it is part of your job.
So get out there, and build your personal brand. Use content to do it. It will be the parachute for your career, and also its accelerant.
A reminder that The CMO Journal is brought to you by SocialPilot, a social media management tool packed with an array of features. They also have a great podcast that I also listen to, called The Art of Social Media, with guests like Mark Schaefer, Rand Fishkin, and Joe Pulizzi. If you are a social media marketer, go give them a listen.
And finally, if you haven’t yet subscribed to The CMO Journal, this is the best time to. There’s a roundup of the Content Brand Series on its way, plus something new that I’m super-excited about.
So, subscribe, share, and recommend if you find the newsletter useful.
Also, no AI is involved in this newsletter’s writing. :)
This was Part 5, and the final edition of Content Brand, a series on using content to kickstart and ace your startup’s marketing.
I will publish a stand-alone essay pulling these 5 parts together and with different case studies, but please read the other parts too.