Monday, May 27, 2013

What Taylor Swift can teach you about building your personal brand

"I can see you, all the way in the back."

That is something Taylor Swift - the multi-million dollar singer/songwriter -  frequently says at  the beginning of her concerts.                

The first time I saw her in concert I was one of those people sitting way up in the back. And when she said that, I sat up a little straighter. I smiled a little brighter. All of a sudden, I wasn't just some spec in a big stadium. 

Of course, in reality, I was. But that didn't matter; she makes people feel as if she is performing for just for them, no matter where they are sitting. 

I saw her for the second time last month in Orlando, FL. This time I was surprised by the opportunity to buy tickets on the floor, in the pit (from signing up on her website a year before). This time, she actually looked at me as we high-fived. 

Both concerts left me with a feeling of happiness, and the feeling that I was actually important to this mega star. I'm not, of course - but again, that doesn't actually matter.

What matters is she made me, and every single person in that 16,000+ stadium, feel that way. 

Making people feel important is the most vital thing you can do in your quest to do something awesome with your life. In my opinion, no musician does this better than Taylor Swift.

(note: The best book on how to make people feel important is the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.) 

But personal branding isn't just for superstars. Having a successful personal brand is the only kind of job security there will be in this new economy.

(note: for more on how to build your personal brand check out the upcoming free ebook How to Get a Job Without a Resume.)

Taylor Swift's career provides a perfect example of three things you can do to develop a personal brand that stands out, helps you reach your career dreams, draws incredible opportunities to you, makes people love you, and maybe...just maybe...fills stadiums. ;)

1) Be vulnerable
Taylor Swift says her songs are her diary. 

Her ability to be vulnerable and put her feelings into words is what makes her such a tremendous song writer who's captured the interest of millions.

The simplicity and honesty are what her fans love, and her lines strike a deep chord with those who love her music: like "We're happy free confused and lonely at the same time/ It's miserable and magical" or "You called me up again just to break me like a promise/ so casually cruel in the name of being honest." 

Both of these lines were written based on Taylor Swift's life. Yet each one makes me think of a specific moment in my life. These lines bring out a million different moments and memories for every listener.  

You also have a life people can relate to. The feelings, experiences, and stories you've lived resonate with people more than you know. 

Yet despite our hyper-over-sharing world of social media, we rarely share our actual feelings. 

When you do, people listen. People perk up. They look for similarities. And more often that not, they'll find them. 

The human experience is shockingly connected. We understand emotion and we are grateful when other people make sense of what feels like a confusing and lonely experience in our own mind.

How can you be more vulnerable in creating your personal brand? 

I'm not talking about crying in an interview or anything, but as you think about what you want to do with your life, consider your background, your strengths, and your experiences. 

How can you share them in a way that people will relate? What have you learned in your life so far that you can share to help other people who have experienced the same thing?

2) Appreciate your band
You can't go to a Taylor Swift concert without noticing the band, the dancers, and the back-up singers.

They make up one of the most incredible stage shows I've ever seen. Taylor interacts with them throughout the show and makes sure to thank and honor them.

In almost every interview I've seen or read about her she mentions her, band. And when you watch them during the show, it's easy to see why - they're ridiculously talented.

Who is your 'band' when it comes to your personal brand? The advisors, mentors, and partners you seek out to learn from and grow with you. No one succeeds alone. Taylor Swift seems to get this. 

Do you have a team of people dancing with you, singing with you, and helping you achieve your dreams? 

You'd be surprised at how much people will be honored and overjoyed to do this for you. How do you do it? Make them feel important. Ask them for their help. And appreciate them constantly.

3) Live it every time
Taylor Swift and her team perform the same show, night after night, for almost a year. 

But I can guarantee that if you ever see a show you won't feel like you're watching a puppet going through the motions - you'll feel like these people are doing this show for the first time, just for you. 

How does she do this? While I can't say for sure since I've never talked to her, my guess (derived from seeing the show twice and from my own performance experience as a speaker) is that she lives it every time.

When I speak to colleges, I always share the moment when I fell to my knees and sobbed when I found out I won the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. I swear even as I typed that my eyes just watered, as they do every time I give the speech, without fail. 

Do I do it for dramatic effect? Well, yes. But not by forcing myself to cry. I do it by sharing and reliving the moment: I imagine myself as that young girl in community college, without a lot hope, without a lot of belief that she could really do anything she wanted with her life, and it makes me cry every time. It was one of the most significant moments in my life. 

And I believe every time Taylor Swift stands on a stage and looks out into the crowd, she is living that moment. She is present. You just can't fake that. 

And people can feel it. 
People will be able to tell the same about you, too. While building your personal brand online is a big piece of the puzzle, your online presence will mean nothing if you can't translate it into your in-person interactions. 

When you're with people, soak up the moment. Keep your cell in your pocket. 

If you're ever giving a speech, relive the moments - see them, smell them, feel them.  

And finally, make the people in the back feel important. 

At many concerts, Taylor has her people seek out the most dedicated, dressed up fans who are sitting all the way in the back and invites them to a private backstage party where they get to meet and spend time with her. 

Does she have to do any of this to be a famous singer/songwriter? No. Many musicians don't bother. 

But she gets people; it's easy to tell she is genuinely a people-person, and I think it's one of the keys to her mega stardom. It's the key to yours too. 

The most important question you can answer when it comes to your personal brand is: How can you use your talents and aspirations to see people in the back, bring them into your story, and make them feel like your success is their success?

You will be amazed at how you will make them feel and what kind of impact you can make in your world. Your personal brand doesn't have to fill stadiums; it just has to make that one person in the back feel special. 

If you learn how to do that, it will feel like the stadiums are full, with people chanting your name, smiling to see you.

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