215: The Statistical Importance of Building Your Personal Brand with AJ Vaden


“People are following people more than companies more than ever before.”
AJ Vaden

Hey guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (previously NION Radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

Today, I’ve got an extra special guest for you to discuss critical elements that help us build our identity alchemy by focusing on building a solid personal brand. To do that these days, it’s essential to establish trust with your audience. 

I met both AJ Vaden and her husband Rory through our mutual friend, Lewis Howes, who many of you might know from this podcast. Here’s a taste of some of her wisdom:

“60% of Americans said the number one most important thing that dictates who I purchase from is testimonials. What do other people have to say [about] working with you? That is the cheapest, fastest thing you could do to grow your business. Testimonials are by far the most important thing.”
AJ Vaden

I wanted to have AJ on the show to speak more about the strategies for building a personal brand. If you are interested in doing a personal brand photoshoot with me as I did with Rory and AJ, you can visit here to get more information and submit a form to see if we’re a good fit. 

But right now, let’s jump straight in!

Who Is AJ Vaden?

AJ Vaden started a company called a Brand Builders Group with her husband, Rory Vaden, and is an international speaker, million-dollar producer, and co-host of The Influential Personal Brand podcast. As a personal brand strategist, she challenges and inspires people to reinvent themselves as part of building and monetizing their personal brand. AJ has personally worked with thousands of individuals to help them focus their expertise, expand their reach, build their reputation, and brand the one thing no one else has — their name.

Over the last ten years, she has been a part of the founding, launching, and building of a very successful 8-figure coaching business, a multi-million-dollar consulting business, and a 7-figure speaking business. Along with her company, Brand Builders Group, AJ was featured in a 3-page spread in Success Magazine on the impacts of personal branding and recently being named one of the Top 5 Personal Branding Speakers of 2019. 

Her client roster includes working with top-level executives from organizations such as Bridgestone, Verizon Cellular Sales, Home Franchise Concepts, and DirecTV as well as working with well-known speakers, best-selling authors, entrepreneurs, and online influencers such as mega podcast host Lewis Howes and original “shark,” creator of the infomercial and serial entrepreneur, Kevin Harrington.

AJ has taken 25 years of setbacks, successes, and tragedies and distilled them into simple yet powerful lessons that will help anyone become better than ever.

What People Care About

Brand Builders Group recently conducted a study in the United States using a third party, The Center for Generational Kinetics, which is free to download here. From their six months of gathering research, AJ shares the number one thing people highlighted as important when evaluating a personal image and brand.

“The number one thing is: It’s all about the authenticity of the human connection. One of the biggest things that we’ve learned and what we buy into is that people don’t care much about what you sell and what you do — they care more about who you are. We’ve been doing these own studies with our own set of audiences, and we will post something about our study, a podcast, or some piece of original content, and it gets a third of the engagement of posting a video playing tee-ball with my two boys.”
AJ Vaden

I wasn’t expecting to hear that. It’s interesting, too, that AJ has tested the research and seen the effect of posting personal things above a more formal piece of content and getting more engagement.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is so much of the visual component of this is capturing who you are as a person. Capturing your personality in your genuine nature of how you do things, not sitting behind a desk in a suit and a blazer. It’s the genuine nature of who you are in everyday life [that] people want to see and capture.”
AJ Vaden

AJ paid me a wonderful compliment. Our interview happened because she and Rory hired me to take photos for their brand. My work is about bringing out people’s personalities — not the static poses and headshots, but capturing those live moments. It’s great to hear from AJ that that kind of content is what people want to see when evaluating personal brands.

Let’s hear some more information that the research unearthed. 

The Data Behind Personal Branding

After six months of intensive research across America, some interesting data points stuck out while going through this process.

“Two-thirds — [or, more specifically,] 67% [of] Americans say that they would be more willing to spend money on services from an individual who has an established personal brand versus a company. That’s the biggest ‘aha’ moment, and this is a trend that we’re already seeing. People are saying, ‘I would rather hire someone who has an established personal brand versus a professional who just works at a big company.’”
AJ Vaden

That insight alone explains the importance for everyone to build a personal brand. I am curious because “influencers” have become almost synonymous with a personal brand, but influence can teeter off. I wonder where the line lies in having too many ads and promotions versus authentic approval.

“What do Americans consider a personal brand? This is important because ‘Influencer’ was an option [in our research, as well as] ‘content creator,’ ‘podcast host,’ ‘speaker,’ [and] ‘author,’ and at the end of the day, none of those things are what Americans said that they defined as somebody who has a personal brand.”
AJ Vaden

AJ makes a significant point here. Most people assume they cannot have a personal brand unless they are somehow instafamous or online celebrities. Instead, the research showed an overwhelming percentage of people who said a personal brand is someone recognizable.

The next question they asked was, ‘What does create the most emphasis on who you decide to follow and engage with to trust and buy from online?’ The answers were split between the older generations, baby boomers and Gen X, and the younger generations, millennials and Gen Z.

“The older generation said the most important thing to them was the relevancy of content and had very little to do with personality, whereas the younger generation said it was personality-driven content. They’re both looking for relevant content, but one was very information-driven [and] one was personality-driven. [Interestingly, both groups agreed on] the least important thing: the number of followers someone has online. That does not even come into the equation of who to engage with [or] follow. We took it a step further and said, ‘Then what do you want from the people you follow?’ They said, ‘We’ll tell you what we don’t want — someone who promotes products and services. What we do want is someone who promotes content and ideas.’”
AJ Vaden

That is a powerful distinction to remember. The more you hustle products and services and ads and promotions, the less trustworthy you become to your audience. The more you promote content and ideas — the more trustworthy you become.

Some of you may work within a corporation and wonder if a personal brand is essential for you. AJ has the answer for us.

Personal Brand Within a Company

It’s easy to think that a personal brand doesn’t apply to someone within a company, but the research revealed some astounding insights. 

“More than 50% of employees said they think their company should pay for them to build their personal brands and treat them as brand ambassadors. Who better to talk about the company than the people committing 60% of their lives working for them [than] this company? Who better to be a brand ambassador than the hundreds or thousands of employees in the company? The owner of a company is still trying to wrap their minds around it, and employees [know they] are your biggest opportunity to be brand ambassadors and advocates for the products and services.”
AJ Vaden

As an employer, one of the things worth exploring is that 67% of the people who took this study said that they are more likely to apply for a job, take a job, stay with you, invest in your company, and recommend other people to work for you if they know you.

“Many owners and founders delegate that part out. They say, ‘The reason I want to work for companies is because I believe in the mission and the values of the person who runs the company.’ A lot of that has to do with the amount of corruption going on. I had a conversation with somebody who does a ton of HR work on a very large global perspective. She [commented], ‘For decades, the United States has been talking about the labor war, the talent, and hiring. Well, the war is over. And guess what? The labor has won.’”
AJ Vaden

The employees have won in the marketplace because it’s no longer a game of employers dictating everything like salaries, money, or income. It makes sense to me, and all the more reason company owners need to double down on building their personal brands.

“In this world of personal branding, which so many people associate [with] podcasting, speaking, authorship world, we asked, ‘What do you think are the most credible titles for someone in the marketplace that you consider trustworthy? This was mind-blowing because I was confident that it would be New York Times best-selling author. I was completely wrong. The three most credible titles were Owner, Founder, and CEO. The least credible titles were host, trainer, and thought leader.”
AJ Vaden

I’m blown away by the results showing that whether you have a blog, a book, a bestselling book, or even a New York Times bestselling book — they all carry the same percentage value in terms of potential clients spending money with you.

With such interesting data coming out of the study, let’s look at one more surprising fact before finishing off.

Where to Start to Inspire Customers

Incredibly, 60% of Americans said the number one most important thing that dictates who they purchase from is testimonials.

“What do other people have to say working with you? Think about that for a second. That is the cheapest, fastest thing you could do to grow your business. We could get off the phone right now, and you could probably get ten testimonials by the end of the day. [In] three years you might have a book, and [yet potential clients say], ‘No, testimonials are by far the most important thing.’ Second, [Do] you get paid to speak or consult? And third, [Do] you have a really nice website?”
AJ Vaden

AJ has given us three simple critical elements to consider as we create our personal brands and businesses. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but we have a start. 

In case you’re feeling a bit lost about what you’d be getting testimonials for, AJ gives us the starting point: figure out what problem you solve in the world.

“What do you solve [for your audience]? The second thing is, what is the unique way that you solve that? How do you view it differently than anyone else because of who you are? I hear this from people we work with, ‘I can’t talk about shame because Brene Brown talks about shame,’ or, ‘I can’t talk about greatness because Lewis Howes talks about that.’ Of course, you can, because you don’t have the same life experiences and stories. Third, figure out very intimately and specifically: What person are you doing this for?”
AJ Vaden

If you can only reach one person by having a clear view of:

  1. Who is the person?
  2. What do they fear? 
  3. What do they want? 
  4. What do they believe in? 
  5. What’s holding them back? 
  6. What questions do they have? 
  7. What are their limiting beliefs? 

By getting acquainted with the person you want to serve plus the first three things about building your personal brand, you better know what problem you solve to become an ambassador of that problem. 

The Formula for Identity Alchemy

AJ shared so much wisdom, and I think she’s given us essential elements of the formula for Identity Alchemy.

The world has changed dramatically, and building a powerful personal brand is crucial for being a creative entrepreneur. Who we are is as important as what we do. 

I certainly believe that building a personal brand and creating Identity Alchemy go hand in hand. 

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Identity Alchemy as the process of deconstructing who you don’t want to be in order to realize who you want to become. 

Through it, you’ll be able to identify your shadows or the things you don’t want to be true about you and shed them slowly. I believe that the deconstruction process of life and your inner world is such a huge piece of understanding who you are so that you can curate who you want to become. In general, I noticed for myself that the more inner work that I do — the deeper shadow work that I do to understand myself — the better life becomes towards the path of wholeness.”

If you loved this episode, make sure to connect with AJ on social media. I love how she chooses to use each platform. On Instagram, follow her to see who she is as a person — she posts about being a mom, woman, and wife. On LinkedIn, follow her to learn from her as she shares data, insights, and content. On Pinterest, follow AJ to learn about her as an entrepreneur.

Of course, you can also find AJ on the Brand Builders website here, where you can find their process, free resources, the Influential Personal Brand Podcast, and so much more.

And by the way, don’t forget to check out my website too. There, you can find a quick ten-question quiz designed and get some of my best free content to help you out on your creative journey.

Thank you so much for joining me today, guys. I hope you enjoyed this episode — if you did, please screenshot it and post it on Instagram and tag AJ, @aj_vaden, and me, @nickonken, . And if you’ve got time, leave me a review on Apple Podcasts — I’d love to hear your feedback.

I’ll catch you guys next time — now go live the creative lives you were meant for.

Nick Onken

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!


“People don’t care much about what you sell or what you do; they care about who you are.”
AJ Vaden

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How did the Brand Builders Group get its start [3:51]
  • What are the course offerings from the Brand Builders Group [5:54]
  • Why is visual branding important [8:59]
  • What important statistics did Brand Builders Group glean from brand research [11:45]
  • How to create authentic product content [17:34]
  • Why it’s important to build a personal brand within a company [26:03]
  • Which surprising factors affect your return on investment [29:51]
  • Why Victoria’s Secret is switching up their branding [34:45]
  • Fun facts about building a personal brand [44:52]
  • Why are companies losing credibility in the marketplace [47:05]
  • For which profession is personal brand most important [48:04]
  • What is the correlation between trust and personal branding [50:27]

AJ’s 3 Tips for Building Your Personal Brand:

  1. Figure out what problem you solve in the world
  2. What is the unique way that you solve the problem
  3. Figure out what person you are doing this for

Links Mentioned:

Connect with AJ Vaden on Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Brand Builders Group

A FREE email series to create a personal visual brand authentic to who you are.

  • Accelerate your personal brand growth through the Identity Alchemy Method
  • Discover the authentic stories you want to share with your audience
  • Build your personal brand vision and crystallize it with a photoshoot
  • Learn how to ideate and create storytelling visual assets to enhance and up-level your personal brand
  • .. PLUS! You’ll get access my brand building book recs and favorite resources

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