Our recent book, The Visible ExpertSM, explored the many ways that high-visibility experts' personal brands boosted the profile and ultimately the success of their firms. The research behind The Visible Expert drew on a study of more than a thousand professional services purchasers - as well as the experiences of some of the best-known experts in the professional services world.
In this post, we'll take a look at some personal branding examples from industries including finance, architecture, and marketing. Which tools and techniques have high-visibility experts used to take their reputations to the next level? We'll look at four techniques our research has found to be most powerful for personal branding, and show how real experts used those platforms to get ahead.
Ready? Let's get started.
1) Content Marketing - Blogs, Articles, and More
One of the most effective ways for a professional to share their specific expertise with the marketplace is through educational content: blogs, magazine articles, videos, and other forms of content designed to teach audiences useful skills and lessons related to their industries.
Alan Weiss, Ph.D. is a preeminent Visible Expert in the consulting field, and throughout his career he has made masterful use of content marketing to build his personal brand. Today, his practice serves Fortune 1000 clients such as The New York Times Corporation, Mercedes Benz, GE, Hewlett-Packard, and Merck. Weiss acts as a consultant to consultants, and is widely respected as an author and a speaker.
How did he build his profile to its current status? While consultants are often wary of sharing their knowledge or intellectual property, Weiss took a different approach. Not only did he embrace the idea of sharing his expertise, he shared it across many different channels.
"You never know what will appeal to different people, so spread it out," he tells us. "Try using video, blogs, real books, white papers, and webinars." By creating content that helps his audience better contextualize and understand their problems, Weiss creates a lead generation framework in which clients seek out his highly visible expertise.
Jay Baer, president of the digital marketing consulting firm Convince and Convert, helps high-profile clients like Salesforce and Oracle employ similar content marketing strategies. And he practices what he preaches. Baer is an active blogger and social media presence; he delivers webinars and co-hosts the podcast Social Pros. He points out that content marketing efforts tend to be mutually reinforcing.
"The things I do on social media," Baer says, "drive traffic to the blog. Once you're on the blog, you might subscribe to our newsletter. Or you might book me for speaking or download a webinar." When used strategically, content marketing can act as a complex machine that raises an expert's profile and attracts an ever-increasing audience.
2) Writing an authoritative book
Our research revealed a powerful secret to building one's personal brand: if you want to grow your visibility more quickly, write a book. Indeed, experts who wrote authoritative books on their industries tended to rise in prominence more quickly than others.
Jay Baer's second book, the New York Times bestseller Youtility, helped secure his status as an industry all-star. The book was "very impactful," he says, helping to create new speaking and business opportunities. Baer's book not only established his authority and credibility in the digital marketing space, but staked out new ground and helped guide the industry forward. This kind of leadership helps set Visible Experts apart from the rest of the pack.
Alan Weiss generated similar benefits with his major book, Million Dollar Consulting - the book that launched him to even greater fame in the consulting industry. Sarah Susanka, a widely-respected architect specializing in the residential market, launched her reputation into the stratosphere with the release of her book, The Not So Big House. Previously known primarily in Minnesota, Susanka's book carried her reputation around the world, landing her interviews with Oprah, Diane Rehm, and Charlie Rose.
"The book caused a huge shift in my life," she says. "I thought there would be an audience for it, but I didn't realize how big. It was incredible to watch how, within 3 months of publication, I went from being known only in Minnesota to being known internationally."
3) Speaking engagements
For rising Visible Experts, speaking engagements can be invaluable, placing them center stage in front of an audience of industry leaders and influencers.
Ted Sarenski, financial planning and wealth management expert at Blue Ocean Strategic Capital, learned this lesson quickly.
"In the early 2000s," he says, "I was on the executive planning committee for AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). They started a conference on financial planning and they needed someone to speak on social security, and I said I'd do it. I read the social security manual cover to cover and threw myself into doing a great presentation. That first year there were 500 attendees at the whole conference, and I had 250 of them in my workshop."
Today, Sarenski's workshops draw even larger audiences. The last conference saw over 1,100 attendees. Speaking on social security has become a specialty for Sarenski, delivering both press attention and additional speaking requests.
Jay Baer has likewise invested a great deal of energy in speaking engagements. In fact, he averages about 60 speaking events a year - in addition to dozens of webinars. By speaking for key industry audiences, Baer has not only built his visibility and spread his ideas, but forged direct connections with decision-makers around the world. Speaking engagements take time and energy, but by choosing the right engagements an expert can put themselves in front of focused, highly relevant figures in the marketplace.
4) Specialization in a niche
As we've discussed our various personal branding examples, you may have noticed a trend: all of the Visible Experts we've mentioned are, to one degree or another, specialists. That isn't a coincidence: our research shows that the fastest-rising experts tend to specialize in a niche. Our research also shows that specialization is a top trait buyers value most.
It's not hard to understand why specialization is so powerful. It differentiates you from competitors, helps you focus and define your audience, and makes it easier to attain visibility as an authority in your particular area - as long as you have the expertise.
Sarah Susanka built her reputation by specializing in the residential market. "There were very few large successful residential architecture firms doing single-family work. This struck me as strange," she says, "because I knew that most people were fascinated by house design. There had to be a way to make services available and reasonably priced to reach them." This recognition of an unfilled niche was the genesis of her firm - and ultimately, her career as an author, speaker, and Visible Expert.
Ted Sarenski also identified a niche full of opportunity. In the wake of his accounting firm's merger in 1997, Sarenski created a focused investment management division, which was a swift and tremendous success. "By 2007," says Sarenski, "65% of the division's business was coming internally from my division, and 35% from the other 11 partners." Within a year, Sarenski bought out his partners and formed Blue Ocean Strategic Capital.
The personal branding examples above illustrate some trends that are consistent throughout the marketplace. When rising experts specialize in a niche and share their knowledge through a variety of channels - particularly books, speaking engagements, and other forms of educational content - they give themselves a strong foundation on which to build their personal brand. By sharing useful expertise with the marketplace, experts can take the steps necessary to make themselves visible...and eventually to become superstars in their fields.
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