What Jeff Bezos' Smart Take on Personal Branding Can Teach You About the Importance of Thought Leadership

Our lives are now deeply digital, with everything from grocery orders to networking to entertainment being fulfilled through a screen. Belly-to-belly time remains the gold standard when it comes to networking, but for many of us our online presence is what shapes the first impression. As Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Personal branding bolsters any business that involves transactions or agreements between people — which is most businesses. But what is a personal brand, anyway? Who decided that thoughts determine leadership? And why do some personal brands grow like wildfire, whereas other experts at a similar caliber tread water for years?

I own a small business, and the majority of our inquiries and eventual clients come in through my personal branding efforts. Aspiring entrepreneurs often forget that people ultimately buy from people, so whether you like it or not, you are a brand. And when I say brand, I’m not talking about logo colors or matchy-matchy quote boxes on Instagram. 

I’m talking about thought leadership: Asserting your perspectives, declaring what you stand for and showing off your smarts. So here’s a question: What does your online footprint currently say about you?

Do you have a digital handshake?

Your personal brand has now become what Jenna Kutcher calls your “digital handshake.” It says to the world “Hey, this is me, nice to meet you.” It has a lot of potential for visibility. Consider the following statistics on consumer behavior and personal technology:

  • People ‘Google it’ three times a day or more, according to a survey from Moz.

  • 80% of Gen-Z consumers conduct company research — checking out company websites and social media pages — before purchasing, according to a survey from Amplify.

  • Additionally, a study from Forrester found that over 51% of Gen-Zers researched a company’s views on corporate social responsibility before purchasing.

And with how long people spend on their devices these days, why wouldn’t you develop a strong digital handshake? According to Statista, daily social media usage worldwide is now over 145 minutes per day, and Gen Z alone spends over eight hours a day online. (I also spend eight-plus hours a day online, so that makes me as youthful and exuberant as Gen Z… right?)

Successful entrepreneurs learn how to wield their digital handshake well. Even as your career evolves and pivots over time, developing a reputation for excellence will thicken and strengthen your network in ways that will pay off down the road.

Why thought leadership will always outdo a fancy logo

This is the part where I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers, and I’m fine with it: Thought leadership is what drives a personal brand. 

Perfect social media templates and manicured Facebook group banners will only do so much. Eventually, there will come a time in which you need to draw your line in the sand, make bold claims and present evidence to back them up. Even the phrase “thought leader” is becoming overused; think of this strategy as “leading through thought” instead. The main goal of thought leadership content is to establish yourself as an expert and become a go-to resource in your field. 

Example: My personal brand focuses on longer-form written content. My distribution vehicles are articles and my email list. These days, I really don’t do a lot of social media and find that “being everywhere” is massively overrated. If people want to follow me, they know that my email list is where it’s at, and this focus on one platform helps me show up at my best and not get stuck in a content repurposing death spiral.

This form of content allows me to assert my stance and go deep on topics I know well or that matter to me, which include online business, writing and the LGBTQ economy. Writing and email are in my sweet spot. Let’s just say that TikTok and Instagram Reels are not my sweet spot. So although they might be a “golden opportunity,” trying to compete on them would be a waste of my time. Choosing a platform that lets you show up consistently and authentically is critical for building traction around your thought leadership.

Three hot tips for establishing thought leadership

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant says that “Creating knowledge for the purpose of sharing it is thought leadership.” That sounds great… but creating knowledge sounds hard. So here are a few actionable hot tips to help you get a running start.

  • Sharpen your perspectives. You are not the internet, so stop trying to be everything for everyone. Crisp, pointy perspectives slice through noise and compel your readers, which is why writing is a skill all entrepreneurs should develop.

  • Gather your audience. Real talk: If you’re not building an email list, you’re stunting your business’ potential, and I will die on this hill before I change my mind. Email is one of the only distribution techniques that truly lets you own the connection to your audience, and if someone actually signs up for your list in this day and age, they really want to hear from you.

  • Then choose one other platform in addition to email to start. Spreading your thought leadership far and wide requires mastery of a distribution platform. Instead of trying to show everywhere and being mediocre, choose one or two platforms at most for content marketing. Then learn those platforms and what content gets visibility on them like the back of your hand.

Your ability to form a personal brand that works without you being in the room is vital to your success. By pivoting your strategy towards thought leadership content, you too can develop a strong digital handshake that will serve you well in the post-pandemic world.

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