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Defining Your Personal Brand with an Awesome Avatar

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What two super hero insignias are probably the most notable and remembered? Quick…Answer! I believe them to be none other than Superman and Batman. Would you agree? If you said some other combination of superheroes that is fine and dandy. Somewhere in your brain you have stored images of awesome superheroes, that you associate with their trademarked insignia/logo. You might be asking yourself, “Ok, so what does that have to do with anything?” The answer, my friends, is simple: “Everything!” These superheroes are defining their personal brand of crime fighting, life-saving, and all over badassness with their avatar. It resembles who they are and what they are about. It’s time to think like a comic book creator.

Now let’s take this a step further and find out why this exercise is so important when it comes to building your personal brand. If you are actively involved in a web community, social networking site, or use an IM client/ micro-blogging service to communicate, then you have undoubtedly seen and most likely use an avatar to represent either your real name (Bob Smithers) or web handle (4four1ones – shameless plug, i know..) No, Bob Smithers is not my real name :) If you are building a personal brand, you must understand that selecting an avatar that is recognizable, and brandable is of key importance, as is standardizing your avatar on all sites that you actively participate. You want people to be intrigued enough by your avatar to either read your posts, follow you, or research who you are in more detail, right? It’s how you build a community of fans. Before we go any further in this discussion let’s make sure everyone is on the same page…

Defining The Basics: What is an Avatar? Why Are Avatars Used?
An avatar is a graphical representation of yourself or your personal brand. Your avatar could be the image of a cartoon illustration of yourself,

abstract art,

a sports team logo,

your favorite food,

a simple photo of yourself,

your initials…ad infinitum. The possibilities are endless. If Superman and Batman were members of the community, it is safe to say that their avatars would probably be a red “S” and a black “Bat”, respectively. Why would they use those particular images to represent themselves? The answer is easy: recognition, associations, branding, and standardization. We will define those next.

I. Exploring Avatar Recognition

Aside from our super hero example, there are many different ways to stylize your avatar to represent you
or your personal brand. Here are some great examples for you to review.

To explain avatar recognition further, let’s take a closer look at some of these great avatars. I think we should start with a personal web friend of mine, Chris Pirillo.

Chris Pirillo, noted tech guru, famed content creator of, and founder of,Gnomedex, and Gnomepal has two different avatars that come to mind. Let’s first take a look at his Twitter, FriendFeed, and other social networks – “standardized” avatar. Chris has selected a vector drawing/cartoon representation of himself in order to be recognized among the masses of avatars that reside in groupings on such sites as Look at the screengrab below and notice that Chris’ avatar stands out. My eye can’t help but look at it. The Blubrry avatar next to Chris’ isn’t bad either. They both just “pop”. In an avatar world full of busy backgrounds, sometimes a simple white background can really help you stand out in a crowd. Something for you to think about when designing your avatar

This is his avatar for LockergnomeGnomedex, and Gnomepal, his web properties.

Did you notice that his web property avatar is on his MacBookPro? He is building personal brand awareness – 24/7 on his live stream at, let’s say it together,

While both of his avatars are cartoon illustrations, they are distinct, instantly recognizable, and frankly, look like him! They also serve two different purposes. His white and blue illustration is his stadardized avatar that he uses across all social network/2.0 sites. He keeps his avatar the same in order to raise awareness of his personal brand and also to help people build mental connections when they see that unique avatar all over the web. It makes his personal brand instantly recognizable. Had chris used all kinds of different avatars on all the sites he actively participates on, his brand might become diluted. So quick rule of thumb: To build an instantly recognizable avatar to help strengthen your personal brand – keep it the same across all sites – standardize it! Should you decide to change it, you must endure the task of changing it across all networks. A pain in the rear, I know, but you really should. You will be glad that you did. I am still having to go through and change mine.

Someone who might use an image of Homer Simpson as their avatar might find that their avatar does not hold the same power as an avatar with a unique design. It’s all about standing out from the crowd. Building a personal brand on an unaltered, branded cartoon may prove to be difficult. What would be the reasons for this? It is possible that a duplicate avatar of Homer Simpson may be found within the same community you are actively involved in, or on other networks. You will have to fight harder to make that avatar represent your personal brand. Furthermore, most people associate Homer Simpson with The Simpsons, FOX television, and Duff Beer…but not YOU. If you want to brand yourself with a famed cartoon character you need to consider altering the image with your name, or in some other creative way that personalizes it to your brand. This is not easy to do and I suggest that you think carefully before doing so. Catch my drift? Always try to create your own – it just makes things easier. Not to mention possible legal issues – oops. If you want recognition, make your avatar memorable and unique.

II. Exploring Avatar Associations & Branding

Determining what type of avatar you should create for your personal brand depends upon several factors. First, you must define your personality: Are you a gamer, a techie, a web 2.0 junky, an music lover, a sports fan, a movie fan, etc.? Who are you? What is your niche on the internet – blogger, vlogger, streamer, video game guru, marketing maven, content producer, web consultant, etc? Have you even defined a niche for yourself? Will your avatar match the feel of your blog or website? Are you marketing? What are you marketing? Do you want your avatar to evoke feelings of laughter, curiosity, or something different? That’s alot of questions, isn’t it? Once you have defined your personality and answered these other questions, you must begin to recognize what associations are related to your subject matter. This will help you in determining what is appropriate and recognizable as it relates to your avatar. If you decide to not use a photo or illustration of yourself, and you have opted to modify an existing image/illustration, do so carefully – make it your brand by personalizing it. Look at the image below and you will see what I mean.

Here is a great example of how to alter and image and make it your own. Kosso used a stock image of a chimp but put glasses on his face and added his name . Had Kosso just used a chimp it would not have been as personal, and would have been diluted by other chimp avatars out there. Not really sure how many chimp avatars there are out there, but you get my point.

Here is Mark Delfs and Dr. Soos of Tuesday Night Tech. They both decided to use images of themselves, but what is important to note here, is that their photos were taken with purpose. These are not merely snapshots like other personal image avatars you may see on the web. Mark had his background blacked out and a key light on his face to add drama and emphasis. And, well, Dr. Soos is just being himself and decided to take an extreme close-up shot. How can you forget a face like that? They have branded their LIVE podcast stream on the ustream network, as well as countless other social networking sites with these two images. The important thing to note here is that these images capture the essence of their personalities perfectly. If you are going to use an image of yourself, do something different. Regular old snapshots get lost in the masses.

4four1ones (me) and Wirelesspacket of (another shameless plug) used personal images taken with purpose, altered our backgrounds, and added our blog logo at the bottom. These were the two concepts that we came up with when we re-skinned our blog. Wireless will be adding the sunburst effect to his image soon. I personally like how Wireless did something creative and placed a crumpled up piece of paper in his hand. It’s just different and that again is what you need to do to stand out.

Does it get any better than the logo from Mahalo? If you are on Twitter, and by now you should be, then you have probably seen this avatar. This avatar represents Jason Calacanis and his beloved Mahalo human powered search engine. I absolutely love this avatar. It is classic, well composed and very very recognizable. It is also consistent with the look and feel of the Mahalo website. This one is a 5 star for me. Think about what object could represent you…

Talk about thinking outside of the box and knowing how to grab your attention. Scott Beale, of The Laughing Squid, has quite possibly one of the best avatars I have ever seen. Every time I see this original work of art, I can’t help but look at it. Scott has truly understands the importance of having a memorable and instantly recognizable avatar. What’s great about The Laughing Squid avatar is that it matches the exact look and feel of the website and this design can be found throughout the web, on every social network that Scott is involved with. This is what builds your personal brand. I suggest you study this example several times. Awesome job!

Sometimes its the simple things that get you noticed. Clean designs featuring initials or letters can pull alot of attention. Check out the avatar of CC Chapman. This smooth, sleek avatar can be seen throughout the hallways of twitter. I can remember when I saw this avatar for the first time and its purpose was served: I was intrigued and compelled to click and find out more about the person behind the avatar.

Here are some more examples of initials used in avatars for personal branding. Aj Vaynerchuk and, each with their own unique look. You will find that these two avatars in particular follow the design of their respective blogs and you get a sense of who the people are behind the blogs by the font face and blending options used to evoke viewer emotion.

Sex appeal always works to intrigue people to find out more about you. Nuff said.

Here is an example of someone I found on Twitter that used abstract art in his avatar. While it is not the most interesting avatar on the block, it certainly is different and intrigued me enough to want to find out more about Ben.

Ask a Ninja why he designed his avatar in this manner and he might chunk a ninja dagger at your head. Just know that this avatar works and rawks. Bright red background, and an image of the elusive Ask A Ninja. I’m sold.

I would love to show more examples of great avatars but I really need to move to the final thoughts of this blog post. Just take a look around you will be able to spot good ones.

III. Final Thoughts & Summary

Brainstorm. Thoughts. Closeup side view portrait young man solving science problem, thinking hard, isolated on grey wall background. Human face expressions, emotions, body language, life perception

In today’s webspace it is important to stand out from the crowd when you are building your personal brand. Your avatar is one way to instantly impact and raise the curiosity of a new follower.

Ask Yourself These Avatar Creation Questions:
1. Is your avatar memorable and recognizable? (think about superman and batman)
2. Does your avatar stand out when mixed in with the masses? (consider your background colors!)
3. Have you defined your personal brand through your avatar design?
4. What associations would your audience make when looking at your avatar?
5. Are you standardized across all networks/tools/IM Clients to provide impact?
6. Did you read this entire article or did you skip to the summary here

Design Tips for Your Avatar:
1. When using a stock image – personalize it and make it yours.
2. Sometimes simplicity wins the game in avatar recognition (solid color background with initials).
3. When using a unique vector drawing or cartoon of yourself make sure it resembles you and your brand.
4. Bold colors rawk when used with the right components.
5. Consider having your avatar match your blog or website – it builds your personal brand identity
6. Make sure people can understand what your avatar is when they look at it.
7. If you take a photo of yourself, try and do something original: flip your picture sideways..why not.
8. If you were a super hero, what would your avatar look like?

Free Tools for Designing Your Avatar:
1. Gimp – a free image editor
2. BitStrips – build your own cartoon avatar
3. FSTutorials – free avatar design tutorials

Thank you for your time and your readership. I hope you enjoyed this post. I would love to hear your feedback and any other information that we can append to this posting.

Stay tuned for the follow up post to this one here and only here at

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