ClubTalks: Tyler Oakley on Personal Branding

Tyler Oakley is a bonafide internet celebrity. His YouTube channel boasts more than 8 million followers who check in twice a week to see Tyler share stories, discuss cultural trends, and promote the products and media that he consumes and loves. Videos often include guest interviews, backstage tours, interaction with fans, and conversations about important social-action causes. He’s also got a book, “Binge,” and a production deal with Ellen DeGeneres, and recently competed (and was a finalist) on CBS’s “Amazing Race.” Tyler’s a busy guy.

Pat Sandora-Nastyn, a brand manager at Block Club and YouTube star in his own right, caught up with Tyler to talk about his career and the idea of personal branding. Read what Tyler has to say in this month’s ClubTalks.

PAT: Branding is all about crafting your message, your values, your mission and your image to present your business to current and future customers. Personal branding takes that one step further to include your own personality and character. As someone whose business and persona overlap, what drives how you present yourself and your content to the world?

TYLER: I would say authenticity. My career started as personal branding and I think it still is personal branding but a lot of people interpret it as more of a professional brand because the lines are blurred. As a person whose brand is themselves, it’s even easier just because I’m pitching me.

At the end of the day, no matter if you’re a corporation or an individual, it’s all about authenticity and connecting commonalities. I feel like even if you’re some restaurant, you’re able to relate to humans and relate to consumers.

PAT: In terms of authenticity, where is the line between curating an aspirational version of yourself for the public and just being phony?

TYLER: I think it depends on what you want to do. I mean there are people who are characters online. I think of Miranda Sings; obviously that’s a character, but the audience is in on it. If the creator and consumer are on the same page about what’s happening, then that works. If you’re trying to be something and the audience isn’t able to be in on that disconnect, then I think that’s the problem. People connect when you’re honest about your ups and downs. I feel like if you act like you’re perfect it’s not relatable and nobody’s like that.

PAT: You probably get approached by a lot of brands for partnerships. How do you determine who’s a fit for you and who’s not?

TYLER: I like to work with brands or companies that are not trying to use me as a billboard but are trying to connect with me and offer something of value to not just me, but to my audience. The audience sees right through it because they know when something’s branded. They know when something is a sponsorship. I try to be up-front and honest about every brand that’s acting as a sponsor for me.

Again, the №1 criteria is if they understand and trust me as a creator. When they try to give me a full script and I have to do this and I have to include this and a takeover of a video, it’s not as organic and it’s not coming from the voice of somebody that the audience has built a level of trust with over the years. It’s a commercial in the middle of something.

PAT: Right? If they want someone to deliver a canned set of lines they should hire an actor for the job. If they want someone to communicate their message in a relatable way to a loyal audience it has to come from the creator’s unique point of view. Trust is key.

TYLER: Yeah, so when you work with an influencer, there has to be trust. The creator has to understand the brand’s objectives, and the brand has to understand the creator’s relationship with their audience.

PAT: I know you’ve said many times that YouTube is something that you’re going to keep doing until you don’t enjoy it anymore. But beyond YouTube you’ve written a New York Times Bestseller, released a documentary, launched apodcast, went on tour and most recently inked a development deal with Ellen DeGeneres. What is the compass that drives you from project to project or platform to platform? How do you figure out where to go next?

TYLER: Well, it’s really difficult because a lot of what online creators are doing is kind of unprecedented. I mean, sure, there are examples you can look at but it’s so few and far between compared to traditional media. When I think about what my friends are doing or what I’m doing, a lot of people are blazing new trails and new paths to success and redefining what it means to be a part of the entertainment industry.

As far as my personal compass goes, I just try to trust my gut. I have a really great team of people I’ve been working with from the start who really understand my long-term goals and we work to figure out the best path to reaching those goals, and to understand that it’s not a rush. I’m not in a hurry and I try to not settle for anything less than I would feel proud of in 10 years.

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