A Hassidic Jew came to me with a personal branding question.
As he was becoming more active branding himself online, he was considering the use of video. An expert in an industry that has nothing to do with Judaism or religion, he was hesitating because he wasn't sure how people would react when they saw what he looked like in his hat, sidelocks and beard. What to do?
His question could apply for any visible minorities but is particularly relevant when the audience doesn't yet include people from the concerned minority group. If we dig a little deeper though, this is less a question about using video and more a question about letting people know who you really are.
There are 2 ways to answer this question.
1) Build your brand while exposing yourself gradually
Make your visible minority-hood a non-issue. Earn so much respect for your ideas that people won't care what you look like or where you're from.
Get your audience used to your writing first. Even though podcasts and videos are almost everywhere these days and are only going to become more pervasive, there are still many people who have stuck with text alone for a long time as they grew their brand.
The danger of only using text for a prolonged period of time is that depending on how you start using multimedia, people might be turned off less by racism and more by the simple fact that they feel deceived, as if you weren't being completely honest with them over the time they've known you. If you're reading this and deciding to go the multimedia route, be very careful how you manage the transition so that you don't appear to have been hiding all this time. Also, prepare how to respond if people make that accusation.
Next, get people used to your voice either by podcasting and/or using video without actually appearing in it at first, such as with screencasts or by conducting interviews off-camera. This is important because your voice will later act as a bridge in helping people immediately recognize you on video even if they're unfamiliar with the person they're seeing for the first time.
Since you don't want to appear as if you're hiding, star in your videos as soon as possible but only after you know that people have gotten used to your voice. From then on, just be yourself. Depending on the size of your audience, you will often lose some viewers for the wrong reasons but then again, if they had known more about you from the beginning, they might never have connected with you in the first place. You're better off without people like that in your network, so don't consider it a real loss.
2) Leverage your visible appearance to standout
Personal branding success involves being a standout for the right reasons. Being a visible minority in a crowd means that by default, you will stand out. After that, it's up to you to convince everyone that you're there for those right reasons. This is the personal branding advantage of visible minorities.
Put in context, my questioner could become known as THE Hassidic Jew in his field, e.g. the Hassidic judoka, the Hassidic plumber, etc.
The branding paradox in breaking a “glass ceiling” of being first minority member to enter a field or group is that other minority members will be able to follow, potentially weakening your brand. If your entire brand is based on your appearance, how will you manage once there are brand competitors with a similar appearance? That's why your brand needs to be more than one-dimensional; you also have to be bringing real value to your community.
That said, “first to market” is very meaningful. If you are the one to break that glass ceiling, that fact can reinforce your brand so much that you will always stand out, but again, it will only be successful if you have other dimensions to your brand.
In this branding scenario, audio and video are just branding tools to use on equal level with any others as part of your personal branding strategy.
How to choose which strategy is right for you
If you've already been building your brand without showing that you're part of a visible minority in your field, you're better off using the first strategy to avoid what your audience or network might perceive as a negative surprise.
The second strategy is only really an option for someone starting out in a field, but that also could mean someone who wants to undertake a major rebranding.
Ultimately, choose the strategy that you feel more comfortable with or that will be more successful for you.
I originally published this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.