Personal Branding Interview: Steve Miller

Today, I spoke with Steve Miller, who is a marketing consultant, speaker and blogger.  In this interview, Steve talks about what social media tools he uses for personal branding, his opinion on Twitter and it’s future, strategies Gen-Y should use to stand out and more.

Which social media tools do you rely on to build your personal brand?

Just social media? The primary tools I use, in order of importance, are blogging, video sharing (YouTube, Viddler, etc.), and Twitter. I am mildly active on LinkedIn and Facebook.

I am basically a strategic marketing guy. The problem is there are about six million of us out there begging to get hired. In order to separate myself from that crowd, I decided many years ago to regularly communicate with my target market via tools like newsletters, articles, speeches, audio, and video. My goal with these was to share my “voice” and my “thinking” to the exact right people as much as possible. As you say, Dan, I was building my own “personal brand.”

The advent of social media was like a gift from heaven. Here was an opportunity to go beyond the traditional one-way communication to an interactive dialogue with my market. I started my blog, Two Hat Marketing, in September 2006 as a replacement for my printed newsletter. I’ve eventually added videos and now Twitter, which gives me a great Mix. Each is different, but the combination really allows me to show off my personality and opinions.

Do you think twitter is a fad that is losing steam, or will it be bigger than facebook?

I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I just see them both as arrows in my quiver. For years, we marketers have relied on tools like direct mail, advertising, telemarketing, teleconferencing, trade shows, newsletters, and promotions to build our brands. Then the Internet hit and all of a sudden we’re given a myriad of new choices – text-based email, html-based email, websites, landing pages, blogs, webinars, podcasts, and now social media. They’re just more arrows for my quiver. As a marketer it’s my job to find out which ones (old and new) create the best combination for communicating with my prospects and clients.

Will Twitter lose steam? Probably. We saw MySpace’s growth hockey stick up a short time ago. Then Facebook came charging into the picture with a slightly different model. It blew by MySpace and became the media darling.

The media gets bored easily, so when something unique came along (Twitter) and a few well-known celebrities jumped on the bandwagon, it hit the flash point. The question went beyond, “What are doing right now,” to “How many followers can you get?” Now spamming is pretty normal.

I think we’ll see most of the easily-bored celebrities drop out soon and, I hope, we’ll figure out a way to control the spammers. But Twitter is a terrific tool. I really like the way it makes me think concisely and forces me to say something interesting or valuable. My followers tell me if I’m accomplishing that.

I don’t think Twitter is the final stop, either. Something new will come along that goes a step farther. It always does.

What strategies should Gen-Y use to build their personal brand and market themselves through twitter, facebook and other sites?

Here’s where I get to talk about on of my strategic marketing foundational concepts. I’m an advocate that the purpose of marketing is to be on the mind of the prospect when the prospect is ready to buy. This simple statement actually says a lot.  What does this have to do with personal branding? Everything.

First, you must be very clear about who your prospect is. If you’re answer is, “Everybody needs my product/service!” then my advice is don’t quit your day job. Find your niche.  Second, the reason you will be on their mind is because you’ve shared something with them that resonates. It joins the conversation going on in their mind and also clicks as being different than every other option available.

The one thing we cannot control is timing. WHEN is the prospect going to be ready to buy? We don’t know. But what we can do is be top of mind when that moment comes. I often ask my audiences, “When a lightning bolt strikes your prospect on the head and he goes, ‘Aha, I NEED that product/service!” does he think of you FIRST? Does he think of you SECOND? Does he think of you AT ALL?”

Social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook allow you to share yo

urself. You can tell stories. You can write OpEd pieces. You can talk about how you’ve solved problems for other clients. You can survey your prospects and learn what’s keeping them up a night. You can get happy clients to spread the word about what a fantastic consultant/speaker/suppliers you are.  All of these help build your brand, or even better, your myth.

Tell us what’s new, what’s next, and what’s important.

What time is it? Seems like something new comes out every day now. I’m not privy to any brand new tools at the moment, but I will share something I feel is really important.

Obviously, your readers are concerned about their personal brands. As I mentioned above, I work hard to position myself as far away from my competition as possible. It’s not enough to be a little bit different, or faster, or better. I firmly believe you’ve got to position yourself as delivering something that no one else can deliver. You’ve got to work hard to OWN a position in the prospect’s mind that stands ALONE. In addition, that position must be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to copy.

Clearly, this is difficult to do, but you must work hard to get there. I would also say that while you might be able to develop a particular product or service that is hard to copy. But the reality is, technology today is making easier and easier to copy. Most of the time, the way you separate yourself is through intangible differences. In my case, there are several obvious intangibles that make me different. For example, I have a set of Rules that all clients must comply with.

You might argue these are easy to copy. They are not. I took ownership of this type of positioning many years ago and have made them a focal point in communications with my market. If anybody tries to copy them (and some people have), the market instantly knows they stole it from me. In every case so far, my competition has eventually dropped the imitation.  I could go on with other examples, but I hope you get the point. Don’t just look for ways to make your product or service better than the competition. Look for intangible ways to be perceived in the prospects’ minds HOW and WHY you are different.

Is your work always “serious fun”? How do you achieve that?

The stock answer is, “Of course it’s always serious fun!” But that would be a lie. It’s mostly fun. You can’t get away from the crap you don’t like. All you can do is minimize it.  My philosophy is that I built this business for ME. If I’m not having fun most of the time, then what’s the point?

The rule here is: I take my clients and their problems very serious, but I don’t take myself serious. However, one of the things my clients learn about me is it’s really difficult for me to be serious for a long time. As a result, regardless of the situation or who the client is, eventually I go off track. I’m very irreverent and operate a no-spin zone.

Not everybody understands or accepts this attitude, which is fine. I only want to work with people who don’t mind someone who wants to kill their sacred cows.  This makes it fun for me and, in the end, better for my clients. You may also notice, this is an important part of my personal branding.


Steve Miller is a student, teacher, and designated thinker of curious, forward thinking, and continually restless  organizations. He operates a virtual strategic laboratory developing practical tools for applying the concepts that flow from his research and experience. (OK, he’s a consultant.)  His clients are unquestionably elite, and in his own words, “very way cool people,” including 15 of Tradeshow Week’s Top Twenty expositions and many Fortune 100 corporations.  Steve has presented over 1000 speeches, workshops, and seminars around the world. Besides his five books, he has written for, and has been featured in, over 250 publications, including Fast Company, BusinessWeek, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Sales & Marketing Management, ASAE’s Association Management, PCMA’s Convene, and TSEA’s ideas.