While not the best outlet for learning about morality, decency or self-awareness, reality television actually provides an often ignored value: It is one of the best showcases for real-life examples of how to (and how not to) build a personal brand.
The concept of personal branding – the process of consciously marketing oneself to others – became popular a few years ago and has skyrocketed exponentially with the growth of social media. Today, everyone from your local real estate agent to your mother-in-law is busy building their personal brands on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn … whether they know it or not.
Reality television is, by definition, personal branding on a grand scale. Each fame-hungry contestant on Survivor, each lovesick hopeful on The Bachelor, each desperate Housewife is eagerly building their brands in the public eye, hoping that their own “unique selling point” will resonate enough to launch them into Paris Hilton-esque fame.
Some of these lucky fame-mongers hit the nail on the head, while others completely miss the mark. Here are some of the tips that can be learned from these camera-loving personalities:
1. Flaunt your assets like a Kardashian (or, create a distinctive selling point)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a current match for the personal branding prowess that is Kim Kardashian. She and her less-than-bashful sisters have built a massive brand that consists of multiple reality television shows, clothing and perfume lines, a retail store and countless endorsement deals – and it all began with her, ahem, unique assets.
The takeaway: Identify what makes you different – better – than your competitors and your colleagues, and own it. If you build your personal brand around something you are truly passionate about, you are more likely to maintain your enthusiasm and consistency.
2. Value more than the spotlight (or, stand by your personal values)
When TLC’s huge hit Jon and Kate Plus 8 suddenly became Kate Plus 8, viewership fizzled out. Why? The show, built around strong family values, broke its “brand promise” when the star couple filed for divorce after being plagued with rumors of infidelity.
The takeaway: Your personal values guide your decisions, will shape your brand and will help determine your success. Build your personal brand on values you can uphold and exemplify.
3. “G.T.L.” together (or, build your brand community)
Ever since the Jersey Shore fist-pumped onto our television screens in 2009, American vernacular has never been the same. From the popular acronym for “Gym-Tan-Laundry” to the orange glow of spray tan to the rhinestone-studded wardrobes, this MTV hit has not only successfully made celebrities out of its over-the-top stars, but has also built a strong and loyal brand community committed to personalities like Snooki and the Situation.
The takeaway: Make it easy for your fans to become your advocates and adopt your brand as their own. Give them the valuable content and engaging information they need to spread your word to others who may be interested in your brand attributes.
4. Don’t just “Watch What Happens” – make it happen! (or, increase your visibility)
Andy Cohen, the brilliant Bravo executive behind the amazingness that is The Real Housewives franchise, began his career as a producer and is now a virtuoso of all-things reality television. He’s not only a Bravo executive vice president, but also hosts his own late-night talk show “Watch What Happens Live,” writes a popular blog, has more than 450,000 Twitter followers and is listed as a producer on no less than 25 reality shows. Andy has gone from grooming reality television stars to becoming one himself, and his personal brand has become synonymous with television gold.
The takeaway: Each time you connect with a real or potential fan, you strengthen your brand. Become an expert in your field by increasing your connections. Comment on blogs, join LinkedIn discussions, create Facebook groups and connect with real people in real life (gasp!) by attending industry events, forums and workshops.
5. Play nice on camera (or, leave a positive impression)
On reality television, the villain may get the 15 minutes of fame, but he or she rarely gets the lasting love. From The Hills’ Spencer and Heidi Pratt to The Apprentice’s Omarosa to Survivor’s Richard Hatch, these reality-star bad guys made people talk … but not listen.
The takeaway: Build your brand on your positive attributes, not on someone else’s negative attributes. You can only control your own brand’s destiny, so focus on promoting your strengths, your differentiators and your vision.