What is My Brand?

book on personal brandingKaren w folded arms.smallKK at Stanford GSB fall 2013

I’m going to be on a Silicon Valley panel soon where the moderator will pose this question: What is your personal brand and how did you achieve it?

A great question. I’d like to elaborate on my answer here.

Let me apply my “Bake the cake, then ice it” metaphor to my own brand.


Think of the cake foundation as my rational value (e.g., expertise, experience):

Top Personal Branding Expert.  Recognized brand strategist and author of BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand


Think of my icing as my emotional value (e.g., personality, image):

Positive Passion. Helping individuals and companies reach their potential through branding.  More of my icing: Enthusiastic, creative, personable and caring.

You need both cake and icing to have a strong brand.  Ask yourself: “What is my cake and icing?”  To help you think through this process, fill out my brand strategy platform.

How Did I Achieve My Brand?

I can’t say that I was an overnight success.  Few people are.  My brand has evolved over time.  My cake used to be my expertise and experience as a newspaper journalist, public relations and advertising executive, strategic marketing consultant (with legendary marketing firm, Regis McKenna Inc.) and then corporate branding strategist.  I became interested in personal branding 10 years ago, and started focusing on personal branding as a business in 2009.

By 2010, I was doing executive branding workshops and coaching at a Fortune 100 company.  I rebranded from Karen Kang Consulting, my business for the past 15 years, to my current company, BrandingPays LLC, to leverage my book brand.  I created a new colorful logo and completely redid my website so it was more interactive and messaged my personal brand focus.  To provide greater value and boost my credibility, I stepped up the content and frequency of my blogging, Twitter presence, influencer relationship building and speaking engagements.

One of my corporate clients told me that my methodology was different from any other personal branding system that she had ever seen, and she urged me to write a book on it. I took her advice.  In 2013, I published my personal branding book, BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand Becoming a frequent guest expert on major TV, radio, print and online media, along with speaking engagements at leading business schools and conferences, cemented my reputation as a national leader in personal branding.

Internationally, I have been asked to keynote global brand conferences and have been voted by influencers in the Top 10 of Global Gurus in branding.

I’m humbled and amazed by my brand success.

Why?  Well, six months after launching my book, I had chest pains and underwent open-heart surgery to bypass two clogged arteries.  I took immediate steps to lower the stress in my life by curtailing speaking engagements, taking a hiatus from blogging and only doing minimal marketing of my book.

A year later in 2014, my husband was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that kills motor neurons and leads to complete paralysis.  My husband, Jon, and I took time off to travel and be with friends and family.  Luckily, he is in good spirits and living life to its fullest despite his increasing disabilities.

All of these events have made me less inclined than I might normally be in working on my brand reputation and image.  But, I’m more than OK with shifting my priorities to health and family. Life’s too short!

The good news is that by laying a strong foundation and keeping a laser focus, my brand has been able to weather the ups and downs of my personal life.

Proof Points

1) Allison Kluger and Tyra Banks recently used a BrandingPays book chapter and my templates in their personal branding course at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

2) My personal brand workshop and coaching business is as strong as ever.

3) I continue to get requests for media interviews and speaking engagements (even if I can’t always accept them).

4) Book sales hum along with little marketing.  Thank goodness for word of mouth referrals.

I worked hard to develop my brand as a personal branding expert—creating the focus and content, educating and engaging influencers, and sharing my expertise widely.  Now, I am reaping the rewards.  My mantra, as always: Branding Pays!


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