Me, myself and marketing

Me, myself and marketing

A friend of mine, who works in the media, is someone I've always considered ambitious and driven, as far as career is concerned. She'll go the whole mile: whether it's working really long hours, or jumping onto the social media bandwagon (albeit a little reluctantly, initially) when it first peaked a few years ago. Gorgeous clicks from her travels, published writings, or pithy, witty observations - all go up on her social media channels everyday, making her very visible - or "searchable", as she likes to term it.
Visibility seems to be the name of the game, if you're looking to get ahead today. It's no longer enough to be really good at what you do - you now have to be seen if you want to be heard. It's like what business author and speaker Tom Peters noted in a fairly old - but still very spot-on - article for Fast Company in 1997: "We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You." Because whether you like it or not, people are looking you up. So why don't you just present yourself?
Going for a job interview? Be rest assured you were Googled before you got that call. Looking forward to a first date? You're kidding yourself if you think he/she hasn't already checked out every Facebook post, tweet, YouTube video and high school picture available of you online. (Heck, you probably did a digital screen test of your own too). And yet, if it's one thing people hate, it's listening to other people talk about themselves. Welcome to the art of marketing yourself - without ticking people off.
In the case of the aforementioned friend, everything she shares online is an "extension" of her offline connections with people. "Often, deciding to share something about travel, food or fitness - my areas of interest - helps me connect with like-minded people, be it for socialising or work," she explains. There's also no concern about 'going overboard' with the posts. "I like seeing pretty, interesting things on social media and I imagine that people who choose to follow me on various platforms believe I provide them with such content; otherwise, they wouldn't opt to 'like' or follow me." As a result, she adds, many of her posts often end in enriching, constructive discussions.
There's another advantage to this subtle personal branding: credibility. "I don't digress from my themes," she says. "Most of my posts are about fitness, food and adventure. In a way, the consistency helps me create trust with the people I approach for my content. I'm very 'searchable' - and that automatically extends a sort of credibility. I've had several people tell me they've checked out my profiles on Instagram or Twitter - and that's why they're comfortable talking to me."

PERSONAL BRANDERS: (left to right) Author Dedra L Stevenson and mental resilience expert John Dabrowski
American-born Emirati author Dedra L Stevenson is no stranger to self-promotion herself, having first started in 2007 with the self-publication of her first book, The Hakima's Tale. It's an all-too-necessary facet of life, she says - especially if you're still trying to make it big in a cutthroat industry like the world of publishing. And if at all you think you can do without it - forget it. "Gone are the days when you could be a reclusive writer, sitting behind drawn shades, letting someone else do the work for you," she states. "Times have changed now. You have to make yourself stand out."
In almost 10 years of navigating the constantly-evolving branding game, Dedra - who started her own publishing imprint Blue Jinni Media in 2012 - has arrived at one conclusion: there is no magic formula. "A lot of it is trial and error, and depends on the audience and content you're marketing," she says. At 50, she's on every possible social media site - including Snapchat ("I get more attention there now than on Facebook sometimes!") - but still occasionally feels like she's not "hitting it" as much as she should. "It's so hard to figure out the formula - what you should be doing more or less of - but you just keep on."
Visibility isn't necessarily all about tweeting or having a good website or even getting 'influencers' (how I dislike that term) to give you good reviews. Networking at social events and taking on speaking engagements can also up your credibility, because people appreciate being able to put a friendly face to a name. When she's not marketing her books online (the latest of which is a horror fiction called The Skinwalker: Resurrection), Dedra can be found at monthly ARTE markets at Times Square Center Dubai or speaking at middle and high schools across the country. It's a relentless process, she admits, and it can take a long time to see real results. "You have to love the process, and think about it all the time - even when you're on vacation! If you're doing it to get rich, you're probably not going to get there anytime soon. It's got to be a labour of love."
The only drawback of being in so many places is learning to strike a balance. "Being on so many channels all the time can make you feel like you have your phone in your hand all the time - which doesn't bode too well when you have a family. I have to purposefully put my phone down sometimes and remind myself that all of this stuff will still be there when I get back."
The jury has long been out on optimal social media posting strategies. After all, how often is too often? Many experts posit that 10-15 tweets a day is a must. Others say that's just annoying. In the case of British mental resilience expert John Dabrowski, however, the former strategy has proved to be right on the money. The motivational speaker, who has about 3,400 followers on Twitter, says that if he misses a post for even a day, he notices a loss of about 30 followers - very quickly. The former basketball star likes to see it as a game that he has to win now. "I've reframed it to be a challenge, not a chore," he says. All the more so because he knows what it took to get to where he is today - and how much of it was the result of consistent personal branding.
"Three years ago, I was working as a decorator and painter with a single client. I had no money, and plenty of debts," says John, who eventually went on to start JD MindCoach, and slowly but steadily began to get invitations to speak all over the world. He was 59 at the time.
Now 62, he says a huge part of that success lay is his dedication to consistency. "To give an example: I promised myself I would send out a weekly newsletter every weekend as a way to build a more personal relationship with my followers. The newsletter goes out to about 1,700 people and takes about 4-5 hours to create. I do it on my own personal time - but I've never missed one to date... And people respond to it, so I know I'm doing something right!"
One thing he will advise against is overdoing email campaigns and telephone follow-ups. "Those should be handled wisely or they could easily backfire. You don't want to try them too often and have your contact go, 'Not this guy again!'"
Most importantly, John says, a lot of times, it will feel like your efforts are going nowhere, but that's when you have to keep at it - because you just don't know who you could reach. Like the old friend he met for the first time in five years who already knew John was doing well for himself now - his brand-building efforts had somehow reached his old pal too. Or the out-of-the-blue email he'd receive from acquaintances who'd been following him and who remembered him when their company needed a speaker in his area of expertise. The effort can feel like you're working one of those old-fashioned pumps that takes 10 minutes of pumping before water comes gushing through the pipe from 100 feet under, he says. "You can't see the water or smell it, but you have to believe it's coming. If you stop, the water will slip back down  to the ground and you'll have to start all over... I kept pumping - and it paid off."

How to build your brand
STEP 1: Find something you are passionate about
STEP 2: Find a niche - and make it your area of expertise
STEP 3: Be consistent in following a strategy - it may not work for a year (or even more), but don't give up and all will fall into place.
- John Dabrowski

The fine art of self-marketing
1. No spamming. Don't put out too many posts about your content in a day.
2. Mix up your content. You can then follow up with posts that are related to your content, but not necessarily about your content. For example, if I put out a post about my new book, The Skinwalker, my next post might be a Wikipedia link on what a skinwalker is. People can stop and read if they want, or continue scrolling if they don't.
3. Have a sense of humour. People are always more attracted to those who are positive, witty and friendly. Give them a laugh every now and then, and your followers will always look forward to what you have to say.
4. Put things in perspective. Compare the cost of your content with something people relate to. For example, I tell people that a cup of coffee in a nice cafe is Dh25, so buying my book Desert Magnolia is like buying coffee twice - plus you'd be supporting local art. Perspective!
- Dedra L Stevenson
karen@khaleejtimes.com




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