The other night while I was sufficiently bored but not sufficiently beered at a Twins game I noticed a puff of steam rising from the good seats along the third base line. Another puff of steam followed and then shouting, "Hot dogs!"
The Hot Dog Guy had arrived, and he was doing his best to make sure I saw him. It was a cold and damp night, and the stadium lights were on in full force. His steamy goods provided the perfect attention-grabber. As The Hot Dog Guy sold his hot dogs, he'd announce the toppings he applied: "Here's another one with ketchup!" Of course, being originally from south of The Land Of Ketchup And Miracle Whip, I naturally had to react: "You don't put ketchup on hot dogs!" I shouted. "We do here in Minnesota!" replied The Hot Dog Guy to cheers from the crowd.
That was fun. More to the point, though, that was stellar branding. Here are five lessons from The Hot Dog Guy that you can use to brand yourself in your career.
Find Your Niche
You can't have a brand without a niche. You can find your niche by determining your attitude, aptitude, and interest toward the topic. Your niche should be something you're passionate about, something you're good at, and something you're not going to get tired of talking about and representing.
The Hot Dog Guy at Target Field has one niche: Hot dogs. He's not hawking beer or popcorn or peanuts and Cracker Jack. He's got his red and white striped shirt, his aluminum hot dog steamer box, and his wieners, and that's that.
When you're building your brand, do the same. What's the thing you're good at, passionate about, and could see yourself doing long-term. Let that be your niche.
Have a Calling Card
The Hot Dog Guy has his signature uniform. All the other vendors at Target Field have bright yellow vests on. But The Hot Dog Guy is in red and white stripes. That's his calling card. You know he's coming, because nobody else is dressed like Waldo.
To get the most out of your personal brand, you need to have a calling card, too. It's just something to set yourself apart from the crowd. Your calling card could be a personal logo, a unique résumé format, a signature outfit or style, or even a memorable mission statement. What can you do to stand out?
The Hot Dog Guy puffs steam, shouts out hot dog toppings, and cheerfully interacts with the crowd (even those who aren't buying from him). Everyone knows he's there.
It's really easy to draw attention to yourself in today's world. Networking events abound. Connect with everyone you meet on LinkedIn (you're on LinkedIn, right?). Share valuable content with your LinkedIn connections. Try to share something every day! The more value you bring to people's lives, the more attention you'll get from people who matter. Do you have a talent for writing or speaking? Try starting a blog or a podcast. If you're serious about building your brand, creating your own content is key. You could even apply to become an Examiner in your niche!
Know Your Audience
The Hot Dog Guy knows his audience, and he uses his knowledge as leverage. When The Hot Dog Guy shouted out, "Here's another one with ketchup!" I instinctively shouted back, "You don't put ketchup on hot dogs!" It wasn't anything I planned on, but The Hot Dog Guy knew how to strike a nerve. Ketchup on hot dogs is (believe it or not) a pretty controversial topic in some quarters. And The Hot Dog Guy's response to me was equally leveraging: "We do here in Minnesota!" He knew he was in Minnesota surrounded by Minnesota natives who love putting ketchup on stuff. They cheered for him.
Who's your audience? If your audience is parents, for instance, you have to use vastly different tactics to get their attention and draw them in than if you audience is corporate executives. Your personal brand should not only be niched topically, but it should also reach a niche audience. Bonus points if you say something controversial to spark up a conversation.
Anybody can write a boilerplate résumé, give boilerplate answers in an interview, write the same thing as everyone else, wear the same thing as everyone else, and just be a robot in general. But that's for the popcorn guys. The Hot Dog Guy has fun! He is the one shouting, carrying on, posing for selfies, and genuinely having a good time with his job.
You, too, should have fun with your brand. If your brand doesn't involve something you enjoy you've picked the wrong brand. Think of something else. If you have fun, people will buy in to your message and your product, whether it's hot dogs or yourself.