Which is more important: The content, or the person?

By Mark Schaefer

I lectured before a university class the other day and a student asked a great question: “When creating a personal brand, which is more important, the content, or the person creating the content?” Curiously, the answer to this may depend on where you are on your personal branding journey. Let’s dive into this today.

The human-content balance

In my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I highlight the process of consistent content creation as the key to building a personal brand. However, in my book the The Content Code (the student had read both!) I remarked that some people and organizations transcend the content. They become beloved and “known” for who they are. Both statements are true.

At the beginning of your personal branding journey, content (generally written, audio, or video) is the fuel to help you become discovered and known. But I feel strongly there must be some compelling human element to that content. To stand out today you must be original, and to be original you have no choice but to bring your own story into the picture. So as you begin your personal branding journey (or any branding journey for that matter) the focus has to be on the content, because you’re unknown.

The hands that made them

I was talking to a young woman who is a leader in the “maker movement” that is sweeping the U.S. She was talking about a certain line of crafts that she loved. I asked her why she loved the product so much. She told me how she got to meet the craftsperson one time, a bigger-than-life personality who inspires others. “I guess it’s not just about the crafts,” she said. “I love the hands that made them.” This certainly applies to content creation too.

As time goes on, I do believe it is possible for a person’s content to become a habit. There are blogs I have read for years and I will probably always read for years because I love the person behind it. That person has become part of the fabric of my life … no matter what content they produce. In The Content Code, I describe common traits of people who have become “heroic brands” who transcend content, SEO and social media. Their content gets seen and shared because of who they are:

– Honest: This was the number one trait. People are loyal to a person because they know they will never be let down.
– Congruity: The person is the same, whether you meet them in person, see them in a video, or watch them on a stage.
– Consistency: A person is prepared to do the work and stick it out.
– Originality: A heroic brand is not afraid to show who they are and what they stand for.
– Networker: People who made it to the top aren’t afraid to get help along the way.
– Servant leader: Standing out on the web begins by elevating others.

The difference is YOU

Since my book KNOWN came out, I’ve heard many, many success stories from people who are following the path in the book. In fact, it has surprised me how rapidly they are seeing progress. On average, it took the successful people featured in my book an average of 30 months for their brand to really “tip.” My theory is that there was a lot of stumbling around because there was no “roadmap.” With my book, the learning curve seems to be condensed. One of the other things I’m learning is that often, the point of differentiation isn’t the type of video you create, or how often you produce a podcast, it’s … you. Don’t overlook the fact that you may very well have a niche of one. There is nobody else like you. Nobody has your heritage, your experiences, your life. That’s interesting.

Sometimes people over-think the niche they need to fill to become the heroic brand. Maybe it’s right in front of you.