Developing a Style Guide for Your Personal Brand

No matter what job you work at, what company you work for, or where you go in your career, one thing that will always remain in tact is your personal brand.

I’m not sure if you are familiar with what exactly a style guide is, but if you aren’t I encourage you to check out official style guide standards of company’s such as MailChimp. They get so detailed with their style guide that they even include a special section on how to write commonly misspelled or mis-hyphenated words. A style guide can be as simple as a 1 page set of rules, or a massive 10,000 word document defining everything you do on and offline for your brand, be it corporate or personal.

In 2013 we wrote a guide to branding your personal name on the web. In this post we will focus more on creating a style guide, so you have a set of standards to stick by. So let’s dive right into things, let’s look at some of the things that make up a personal brand:

Your Actual Name

This one might seem a little bit obvious, but it isn’t always. Mine is simple, my name is Patrick Coombe. In order to maintain brand consistency I always identify myself as Patrick Coombe. Not Pat Coombe, or Patrick Michael Coombe. I’ve been on many forums over the years going by many aliases (that some of you might know me as) but over the past 2-3 years I’ve shed those names in favor of my actual name. I’ve done this for a few reasons, mainly because I’m known for my name on social media, I published a book under my name etc.

Jeremy Rivera is a good example of a name that is in the middle of the spectrum. It isn’t the most popular name by far, but there are definitely a few occurrences of his name out there. Jeremy was really smart by snagging the EMD for his name, and using it in all of his dealings on the web.

With other individuals, there are more complex scenarios when it comes to personal name branding. Take my good friend Glen Allsop, a very successful internet marketer otherwise known as “ViperChill.” This name was a personal association he gave to a chocolate bar when he was 11 years old, he also likes the Dodge Viper. That, along with the fact that he is really “chill” and you get “ViperChill.” The name just stuck, and he has rolled with it ever since 2006 when he started using it.

Whatever the case may be, it is just as important to stick to your personal name brand as it is for a company to stick to theirs. There are a few exceptions of well known name brands that have come up with shortened versions of time, but this really only happens when you’ve achieved truly baller status:

  • Chevrolet > Chevy
  • McDonalds > MccyD’s
  • CocaCola > Coke
  • countless others

One piece of advice I give to our clients, staff and vendors on a consistent basis is to make sure you use your name consistently. For instance if your name is Michael Miller, don’t use:

  • Mike Miller
  • Michael David Miller
  • Mike Miller
  • Mike “madman” Miller

…on that note, if you do have a common name such as “John Smith” or “Michael David,” my advice is to use your middle name or the less commonly used variation so you can stand out a bit more.

Just the Facts

Facts about you as a person play a vital role in your personal branding and developing a style guide. Be sure that you are consistent when it comes to your facts that you use in your bios, about us sections, and other static and dynamic areas of your website. Examples of this include:

  • “I started SEO in 2004” vs “in the early 2000’s”
  • “I live in South Florida” vs “I live in Delray Beach, FL”
  • “My first job was in a restaurant” vs “I worked for my parents at a young age.”

It may seem like it is trivial, but it could come across like you are being not up-front if you are not consistent with the facts about yourself. While it is OK to stray from the norm in longer form content, it is generally a good idea to try and keep some standards when you are doing your bio, etc.

Your Tag Line

You might have a tag line for your personal brand, you might not. I’m not going to say you have to have one, but if you do it is important to stick to it, and not stray from what you use. Again, brand consistency.

Matthew Woodward is a great example of personal branding in general, and he has a good tag line: “no nonsense SEO and affiliate marketing.” He uses this on his website and within his logo, and it does a great job of defining exactly what he does as a person.

Don’t feel pressure to come up with a tag line. In fact, I think it is better for your tagline to come about organically over time. I personally don’t have a tag line, it just isn’t something I chose to do at this point.

Colors

Colors is an area where a lot of people lose lots of “karma” from their brand. They’ll use yellow in one instance, red in another, and blue in yet another. Again, brand consistency. Define a color scheme and stick to it. One tool that I really like to use is Adobe Kuler. Adobe Kuler allows you to browse existing color themes, create new ones, and get suggestions on ideas for colors that match, contrast, or go together.

Color is important because it instills familiarity in your visitor. Every time they see that “Moz Blue” or “Coca Cola Red” your brand is further re-inforced. Many articles and even books have been written on color when it comes to branding, so I can’t even begin to go into this subject in this post but I will say to be sure to keep your colors consistent and remember that the colors you choose you have to live with, so choose wisely.

A really cool website to check out is “BrandColors.net” an entire website dedicated to identifying the exact color scheme of major brands throughout the world. They even list the exact hexadecimal code to use if you want to “borrow” it, just make sure you aren’t violating any international copyright laws before you do so. Kissmetrics also did a really cool infographic on how colors affect purchases, which can be really useful when trying to come up with a color scheme for the first time.

Font

Do not skim over this section. There is a reason why typesetting is taught throughout the world in colleges and universities. Your font is everything and everywhere. A bad font can completely destroy your user experience. Even choosing the wrong font size can ruin an experience. If you don’t know what you are doing, follow these simple rules so you don’t make a fool out of yourself.

It is my opinion that all brands should use a maximum of 3 fonts in all of their static media, most of the time you get away with 2: a heading font, and a body font. On the Elite Strategies website for instance we actually only use 1 font: Open Sans. We do use several variations of this font: Light, Bold, Italic, etc. We also use different weights, sizes and colors. There are a few exceptions of where you might find some other fonts such as icon fonts and a few plugins, but overall we keep it really simple. Take Joel Klettke an esteemed conversion focused copywriter based in the UK. On his blog it may appear that he uses a wide variety of font faces:

…but in fact he only uses one font face: Source Sans. He does make uses of color (his brand color of course) in his font, CAPS, bold, size, etc but sticks to his primary font face throughout his website. The result is a very well done website, that sticks to his style guidelines.

Often times when you spot a “hot mess” of a website, you’ll encounter one that uses 3-5 fonts on the same page. It is a huge mistake, and really can make your page look confusing.

Standardize your fonts. I’ll assume that most of the people reading this are using a CMS that defines this for them such as WordPress. CMS’s are great because you can use templates.

Logo

If you talk to many professionals about personal branding, a logo will be a hot spot for debate. Many people that I’ve encountered say a logo is totally unnecessary. Let’s take a look at some really “big name” personal brands in our industry:

  • Rand Fishkin – no logo
  • Jeff Bullas – no logo
  • Neil Patel – no logo
  • Gary Vaynerchuk – no logo

Those were just 4 off the top of my head I looked up quickly. Even in my research for this post, I couldn’t find a lot of information on logos for personal brands. I did find one gallery of logo designs for professional designers, which gave some great insight into some of the best designs out there.

There are many exceptions however. One of my favorite logos for a personal brand is by Kindra Hall, a professional speaker and story teller whom I met this year at Search Love Boston this past year. She keeps it really simple and to the point, but it comes across very professional and really drives home her name with a big “K.”

Some questions to ask yourself when considering doing a logo for your personal brand:

  • do you need a logo?
  • why do you want a logo?
  • is it overkill to have a logo?
  • who will design your logo?

There are a few options if you don’t want to use a logo, but still want a graphic representation. You can opt for an “avatar” of yourself which is basically an artistic illustration of yourself. You can also just choose to do your logo in a specific font. It is your call, but my advice on this is similar to my advice on everything in this guide: if you are going to do it, standardize it.

Your Headshot

Mr. Dan Shure a very well respected online marketer from Massachusetts stated “your headshot is like the logo of your personal brand.” I really could not have said that better than myself. He also wrote up a great guest post about taking a headshot with an iPhone. Very well done, in fact his post does a great job of summing it all up. I do have a few

Don’t skimp on the headshot. I represent quite a few personal brands and many people will give excuses for not getting a headshot done:

  • I hate the way I look
  • I just changed my hair color
  • I want to wait until XYZ
  • I can’t afford a professional headshot

There are also many different types of “head” shots. You can go with the traditional from the shoulder up or from the waist up. You can choose a neutral background, blurred background or something specific like an “at work” background with your desk in the background. A headshot can convey many different feelings, from friendly, to professional, to confident. Examples include:

Here is my advice on headshots: if you are trying to identify yourself as a “personal brand” then you must have one. People are going to Google you. Do not let Google decide what image shows up when doing a search for your name. Always be in control of your search engine results page.

One last word on headshot: so you already have a professional headshot right? When was the last time you updated your headshot? 3 years? 5? 10? You should definitely have a new headshot taken at least every 2 years, especially if your goal is to personally brand yourself online.

This is probably some advice I need to take myself, as I haven’t gotten a new headshot in years, so yea I gotta get on that 🙂

Grammar, Voice, Tone, Yadda Yadda

Many people overlook this section, but it is really important especially if you are a blogger. It is even more important if you do video blogging, podcasting, or other types of media where you speak out loud.

Personally, I like to keep my articles casual and conversational. I like to keep things really casual, I might even intentionally use some incorrect grammar to drive home a point that I’m trying to make. I try not to make spelling mistakes although I have been known to make errors from time to time.

Now, don’t take this too far. Don’t start using so much slang and improper grammar that it comes across unprofessional. Unless of course your target audience goes for that. There are so many different options. Back in the early 90’s on BB’s and other dial-up communities and before blogging people would talk in “31337 speak” or “leet speak.” It was totally acceptable amongst that crowd of teenage hacker geniuses. If you came in there speaking proper you would be really out of place.

In short: know your audience. Blog / write / speak the way that your audience does.

Social Media

It is imperative that your style standards are used in your social media. When it comes to a personal brand, this is how a lot of people find you in the first place, so often times it is their first impression of you.

I’m going to use Matthew Woodward again because he’s done such a great job of his personal branding. If you look at his Twitter page, even the color of his hyperlinks etc match his main brand colors on his website:

This was very intentional on his part, and really helps you actually “feel” his brand whenever you visit one of his properties. Matthew really takes this to an extreme with his hot pink and light blue colors, so you don’t have to go crazy like he does but it is important that you standardize your look and feel across all social channels. At the very least if you don’t want to heed this advice: keep it neutral.

Using Kindra Hall again as an example from above, she takes a much more neutral, yet consistent approach. She uses her logo in all of her social media profiles, but keeps all of her colors and other details somewhat muted.

The fine details

There are many other aspects of personal branding that could be attended to if you chose to do so. For instance, URL shorteners can be branded according to your personal brand. Take my good friend and former Elite Strategies SEO professional Luiz Centenaro. Luiz uses the URL shortner http://centena.ro to shorten all of his URL’s on social media.

 

This fine detail adds a lot of validity to his personal brand and is really a nice touch that a lot of people can appreciate.

Another fine detail that a lot of people implement is a favicon. For me a favicon is really mandatory but how far you choose to take it is up to you. Paul Shapiro an old bloke of mine uses his headshot as his favicon.

 

The great thing about favicon’s is that they are visible even when the tab isn’t active. So for instance if you navigate away from your page you can still see Paul’s beautiful bearded face:

There are many details you can attend to as time goes on and your personal brand evolves. There are people that casually work on their brand and others that pay attention to every last detail, right down to the permalink / URL structure.

I will end with this piece of advice, which is something I’ve echoed several times within this post: keep it standardized and consistent. If you are going to experiment, don’t do it on a live property or website, do it on your own computer.

Thanks everyone for reading! You can hit me up on Twitter for more questions, I am also an avid SEO blogger on our company website. Thanks!