Personal Branding Tips for Entrepreneurs: Lessons from Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah

Quick, think of three entrepreneur brands. What are they?

For me, the first three who came to mind were Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey. Although Steve left us a year ago, he remains one of the strongest entrepreneur brands on the planet having risen Apple from the dead to become the largest company in market capitalization. Mark is the programming wunderkind who built Facebook, the largest social networking platform in the world. And, Oprah, even with her recent stumbles in cable TV, is a beloved rags-to-riches story: a talk-show host come philanthropist who built a media empire helping us feel better about ourselves.

What are the common threads with these three entrepreneur branding examples?

  1. Have a vision. Each of these iconic entrepreneur brands had/has a vision. For Steve, it was all about changing the world with technology embodied in awesome products. For Mark, it has evolved from connecting friends online to creating the identity platform for the world’s individuals. For Oprah, it has been about empowering people through uplifting advice, stories and lifestyle.

    As an entrepreneur, you need a well-articulated vision that connects with your target audience.
  2. Show evidence. All three have success evidence, whether it is sales, number of users or influence. My former boss, the Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna reminded me in a recent email that Steve Jobs had little credibility as late as 1998 until he started turning Apple around with the introduction of the iMac. As Regis put it: “Profitability and growth are the two best marketing programs a company or its leader can use to gain leadership.”
  3. Tell a personal story. Steve, Mark and Oprah all have compelling personal narratives that they have shared with the world. Think about the attributes that investors and customers desire in a company founder, and weave your story in a way that delivers on some key attributes.
  4. tips for entrepreneurs

  5. Brand yourself, or be branded by others. The film The Social Network branded Mark Zuckerberg as a brilliant programmer and social misfit who often seemed a jerk. Soon after the movie opened, Mark made a $100 million charitable donation to Newark public schools. He later pledged to give away half his wealth spurred by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and has used Facebook to promote social causes. He didn’t just let others brand him, he took action to change the narrative.
  6. Sometimes you need to reinvent your brand from, say, a:

    • Business manager to a market visionary
    • Bean counter to a financial whiz
    • Hacker to a technology strategist
    • Product manager to an innovation specialist

  7. Don’t be a “Me Too”. As an entrepreneur, don’t have a copycat company or a copycat personal brand. You need to find a segment that your company can dominate (e.g., iPods, iPhones, iPads) and a unique point of view that you can own (e.g., design according to Steve). Be bold: create new ways of doing things and bring value to the world in a different and better way.
  8. Focus on content not gimmicks. If you are thinking that wearing a black mock turtleneck and jeans will give you the Steve Jobs brand, think again. I’d spend less time thinking about what you wear and more time thinking about how you are crafting your strategy, your message and growing your business and ecosystem.
  9. Develop a consistent online identity. When people Google you, will the search results be how you want to be known? For entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey, it’s more about brand reputation management than building an identity.
  10. tips for entrepreneursMake sure the world can find you online. At the very least, build a great LinkedIn profile with a title and summary that concisely informs people what you are all about. Maybe your title should say “Software Entrepreneur | Big Data Analysis | Social Data Visualization” instead of “CEO, LittleCompany Inc.”

In the world of personal branding, you can’t be impersonal—especially for an entrepreneur. Be a personality who demonstrates your values in how you interact with others. Consistency is important—both what you say and how you look. Whether we are an investor or a customer, we want to identify with you.

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