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Sam BrennerAugust 14, 20136 min read

Marketers and Musicians: The Parallels of Personal Branding

Sam Brenner Live at The Beachland Tavern (Sept. 2011)HubSpot co-founders Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh) and Brian Halligan (@bhalligan) are not all too different from Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel. Shah and Halligan transformed the inbound marketing world with HubSpot, much like Simon & Garfunkel transformed the folk-rock genre with their “Bridge over Troubled Water” album. Plus, I heard Halligan knows how to play guitar. 

Crush It! author and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) is to personal branding what Eminem is to hip hop music. No explanation needed there. Just think of words like magnetic, genius and shock value.

Bestselling author, strategist and keynote speaker, David Meerman Scott (@dmscott), is marketing's equivalent to artist, composer and producer, Trent Reznor. Both are known in their respective fields for being innovative triple threats who are always willing to shake up the paradigm.

When it comes to personal branding, marketing professionals and musicians are incredibly similar.

Today’s marketing hybrids produce premium content like songs, publish ebooks and “regular” books just like musicians push out albums and indie records, adapt to an ever-changing industry and use technology just like a musician to digitally connect with fans. Even industry thought leaders hit the road to promote their New York Times Bestsellers, just the same as touring artists with hit singles. 

No matter your industry, the quality of your personal brand could be the difference between a lasting career and a flash in the pan. Creating a strong personal brand enhances your professional image, generates buzz, and helps you connect and network with purpose to better position yourself as an industry thought leader.

I’ve experienced the parallels of marketing and music first-hand. Before joining PR 20/20, I spent more than two years of my young life as a professional singer/songwriter. I’ve shared stages with big-name acts like Lifehouse, The Verve Pipe and Lee DeWyze (American Idol). I’ve toured regionally and played over 150 shows in 15 different states. I dove off the stage every other night, and Neil Young once referred to me as his ‘protege.’

That last nugget of a sentence isn’t exactly true; I just wish it was.

4 Personal Branding Lessons from an Independent Singer/Songwriter 

I’ve learned a great deal about personal branding in a relatively short amount of time. Here are a few observations from my musical journey that translate to the inbound marketing world:

1. Define and develop the product. 

I have been playing guitar since I was 12, but it became clear to me early on that to succeed at a professional level, I would have to define my musical go-to-market strategy. 

By the time I started to take my personal branding seriously, I realized that my songwriting was just one facet of my entire product offering. The product is me. Appearances, blogs, records, live performances, photographs, videos, social media accounts—they are all aspects of the “Sam Brenner” product. 

Marketers should be active in building their brands by reading industry books, participating in networking events, researching emerging technologies, continually engaging in social media outlets, and consistently creating relevant, forward-thinking content. 

Treat yourself like a unique product, and you’ll start to see personal branding differently too. Have a purpose in whatever you do. For example, instead of just showing up to a networking event, make it a goal to meet three new people and find out more about what they do. Instead of posting on social media just because you haven’t in a while, try posting a new piece with intentional call-to-actions like “share your thoughts” or “love to hear what you think.”

2. Word of mouth isn’t dead; it’s just changed.

Marketers and musicians both heavily rely on technology to help communicate, network and promote personal brands. The days of handing out 100 copies of your demo and hoping that a record executive wanders into a club to catch your show are over. 

Nowadays, the quickest method to spreading the word to a large group of people is through social media. Marketers can’t just write an amazing blog post or a comprehensive ebook and hope it gets seen by the desired audience. Musicians can’t just rely on friends and family to help promote an album or a new YouTube video. We need to help ourselves.

Consider Google’s Zero Moment of Truth Handbook (ZMOT). People who are inundated with news and updates are more likely to see and trust information more if they personally know the source. If those people are talking about your brand, it can spur others’ interest, therefore creating buzz. Understanding how people find content and how they are influenced by content is imperative. We have to embody a brand worth talking about, create our own buzz, and foster relationships with core networks who will help spread the word. Start putting yourself out there and actively promoting your brand, because these days word of mouth starts with YOU.

3. Get social through social media.

When it comes to Twitter, I tweet often and always have my fans (aka buyers) in mind. When I post on my Facebook Fan Page, I make sure it is relevant, music-related content. From time to time, I also like to promote other artists’ music to help connect and network within the industry. The extra effort on social media never hurts and will always be healthier for your brand than being inactive and passive. 

Keep in mind that until very recently, I had no representation, no label backing me and limited startup funds. With few resources and a very basic knowledge of brand marketing, I was able to consistently grow my brand and its reach through grassroots social media efforts.

4. Never stop improving.

No matter how skilled you become at marketing your personal brand, never lose sight of what is most important: the quality of the brand. For me and my music, I have an unwavering desire to improve. I’m never completely satisfied artistically because I believe there is always room for enhancement. I listen to all kinds of music any chance I get, actively write, practice guitar, sing wherever it’s socially acceptable and always look for new ways to reinvent myself.  

For example, six months ago, I added a vocal and guitar loop pedal into my live show to enhance my solo performances and differentiate myself from other acoustic singer/songwriters. We’ve all walked into bars and coffeehouses and seen our fair share of guys and girls strumming away at “Wonderwall.” I did it and I’m not ashamed of it. But I want to be different. I want to stand out. 

Point being that if you ever feel like you are plateauing, figure out a way to change the game, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and rejuvenate your personal brand.

As a musician, having a strong personal brand has been a profound way for me to connect to my art and my audience. As a marketer, I’m learning that having a strong personal brand is essential to growing in my career. There are no perfect methods here but hopefully these observations help you build a personal brand worth singing about.

Sam Brenner is a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Sam on Twitter @sambrenner2020

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Sam Brenner

Sam Brenner is a consultant at PR 20/20. He joined the agency in July 2013, with experience in technology sales and marketing his own music. Sam is a 2009 graduate of John Carroll’s communications department, and has been a proud Clevelander since 2005. Full bio.