Branding Lessons from Great Sharks for LinkedIn’s Open Waters

What can sharks and other first-movers teach us about personal branding and engagement on LinkedIn?

I recently listened to an interview with Kevin Harrington and Mark Timm on the EntreLeadership podcast. Kevin is known as the modern infomercial inventor and one of the original sharks on Shark Tank.

In the early days of cable television, he saw an opportunity to fill 6 hours of empty time on the Discovery Channel. These low-cost shows pitched everything from Ginsu knives, Jack LaLanne Juicers, George Foreman Grills, and much, much more. He saw an opening and attacked. His estimated net worth today is $450 million.

As a frame of reference, John Hendricks founded the Discovery Channel on June 17, 1985. That year there were over 6,000 cable systems that served a total of 41.5 million households. His net worth today is $800 million.

Amazon, eBay, PayPal, and others were far from a sure thing in the 2000s. The market celebrated these brands for “planting their flags” during the early days of the Internet. Search the founders of those companies, and let us know how well they fared financially.

These cases show the value of being early, filling space, and testing new ideas. Were these entrepreneurs lucky? Not in the sense that they bought a winning lottery ticket or found the golden ticket in a chocolate bar. Indeed, good timing often separates winners and losers, but the winners often create luck by seizing an opportunity.

What does that have to do with LinkedIn?

LinkedIn: Content-deficient platform with over 1 billion eyeballs

Roughly 700 million people were active on LinkedIn in 2020, making it the second most popular platform for B2B marketers.

There are more eyeballs on LinkedIn today than there were on cable television in total when Hendricks launched the Discovery Channel. Do you know how many people were on the Internet in May of 2004 when Amazon and the others were figuring it out? 757 million, to be exact.

LinkedIn is also the most trusted digital platform. Based on what happened in the Presidential campaign, do you think Facebook or Twitter have overtaken them in that category? Hardly.

HubSpot found that LinkedIn traffic generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate, almost three times higher than both Twitter and Facebook.

The problem is there’s not enough content for all the people on the platform, which is the same opening that Harrington seized to build his infomercial empire on the Discovery Channel in the 1980s.

Are You a Lurker or a Creator?

If you believe the Disruptive Advertising agency’s perspective, there are three categories of LinkedIn users: Lurkers, Contributors, and Creators.

  • Lurkers are the majority (90%) of users who scroll without engaging.
  • Contributors make up about 9% of users who share articles with or without commentary and engage with their social circles.
  • Creators comprise about one percent of LinkedIn users. They typically have the largest number of followers and are recognized as thought leaders.

Is Personal Branding the new Influencer Marketing?

Personal branding will continue to be a buzzword in 2021, especially as Gary Vaynerchuk launches VaynerTalent that provides talent consultants for top-shelf personal branding strategy and support. For roughly $25,000 a month, they provide strategy, content production (video, copywriting, etc.), distribution, growth hacking, insights, and more.

For six years, LinkedIn has published an annual list of the top voices on the platform. These are people who are leading conversations in various areas of business, science, technology, education. Take a look at the 2020 list, but I want to zoom in on the technology arena and artificial intelligence in particular.

Rana el Kaliouby is the top voice in AI and Data Science. She is CEO & Co-Founder at Affectiva, and author of “Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology.” She has 46,648 followers as of this writing. Having a million followers is pointless unless they are the right followers, and my guess is these are the right connections for her. How do you value her first-mover position when you consider the one, three, five-year growth estimates in the global AI market.

IDC forecasts worldwide revenues for the artificial intelligence (AI) market, including software, hardware, and services, to reach $156.5 billion in 2020, an increase of 12.3% over 2019. The firm estimates the market will surpass $300 billion in 2024 with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.1%.

If the rising tide lifts all boats, then Rana’s boat is particularly well-positioned.

$25K Per Month, D.I.Y. or In-Between?

Gary V. is like the Energizer Bunny of personal branding and promotion. The man is a machine with or without the $300k, but the professional support doesn’t hurt. He’s like Stormfront from “The Boys,” cranking out videos, memes, infographics, and animation to drive engagement, sentiment, and opinions.

Let’s be honest. $300k a year is a very healthy budget for a company to hire a top public relations firm. It’s far less than $5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad, but it’s the entire marketing budget for a company with 2.5 million in revenue (assuming marketing budget is 12 percent of revenue).

The reality is that most people will choose the Do It Yourself route, and that’s completely understandable. There are plenty of online resources that can help you plan and build your personal brand on LinkedIn.

Do a quick search for personal branding tips, and you’ll find a lot of resources. Do the same with #personalbrand or #personalbranding on LinkedIn and enter a world of professionals who are handing out advice, tips, and encouragement like candy on Halloween (before COVID).

Better Odds than Mega Millions or Powerball

The odds of winning the Mega Millions currently stand at 1 in 302,575,350.

The chances are slim that the payoff from building a personal brand is worth a $450 or $800 million fortune, like Kevin Harrington or John Hendrix. Will you be the next Gary V? Anything is possible.

It’s far more likely that you could carve out a strong niche like Rana el Kaliouby.

Does that lead to a better job with more money?

Does that create consulting opportunities outside of your day job?

Could you write a book, launch a lucrative mastermind group, or get paid $5,000–10,000 as a speaker in your field of work or study?

It happens every day.

Join me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.



Writer. Musician. Marketer. Grow brands for technologists, developers, engineers and companies with thought leadership content, digital engagement & tech.

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David Fontaine

Writer. Musician. Marketer. Grow brands for technologists, developers, engineers and companies with thought leadership content, digital engagement & tech.