Examining Personal Branding

July 30, 2007

I was discussing personal branding today (okay, ranting about how the buzzwords used by personal advocates irritate me, but most buzzwords are kind of meaningless at the core, aren’t they?  They’re a good way for people to sound like they know what they are talking about without actually saying anything at all).  It’s related to one of my projects – I’m trying to figure out a way to write about branding without sounding like a corporate stooge.   

Or maybe I just hate the word “brand”.  It seems so bland and impersonal.

Oh, I understand the point and the benefits of branding and creating a personal brand.  We’re all special and unique snowflakes just like everyone else, so we have to differentiate ourselves to prospective employers, clients, customers, etc. somehow.  In which case, it is valuable to pinpoint your unique charactersistics and know exactly what you have to offer.

Maybe it’s the concept of whittling your personality down to a few sound bites that bugs me so much.  After all, people are much more complex than a shortlist of abilities and character traits.  Much of the personal branding conversation and branding advocates reminds me of productizing people, and that also irritates me.  People are not consumer goods.*

Wait, I think I’ve figured out why it is that some of the “personal branders” irk me.  I’ve noticed that many of the people who make a conscious effort to brand themselves focus so heavily on their message and their presentation that they forget they are human beings.  Yes, their “brands” are great, but the human being loses.  Packaging is important, but in the end, it’s what you actually do – what you accomplish, what you create that counts. 

Focus on being remarkable, on being an awesome, skilled person, on creating quality and adding value to the lives of others.  I think that too much focus on branding kills genuine human interaction, warmth, personality, passion and all the other wonderful things that make people completely unlike products.

I’ve read numerous posts and articles stating that web 2.0 and social media networks (insert techie buzzword of your choice here) make personal branding even more necessary than ever, that we can be all be micro-celebrities in our respective niches.  And again I’ll say yes, of course it’s important to differentiate yourself, but shouldn’t branding be more organic?  Can’t people tell when something is borne out of a marketing strategy or genuine, honest passion? 

I’d like to think that most people are pretty savvy and intuitive about such things – we know when we’re being sold something, and honestly, I feel that much of the personal branding literature focuses on creating a slick package instead of defining individuality.

*Yes, there are celebrities and others who make their living by selling a persona, who in a sense, are products.  But there’s a difference between that persona – their product – and the actual human being behind it.  Many personal branding advocates neglect to mention this part – your public image versus your private side.  In an ideal world, we could all just be ourselves and not have to worry about offending anyone, but that’s hardly reality.  After all, how others perceive us does matter, and some level of branding is helpful when it comes to presenting ourselves to others.  Let’s just not get too caught up in it.


4 Responses to “Examining Personal Branding”

  1. well, the best personal brands know that it’s not about them. It’s about their target market Community, or fans. So we speak to “WIIFM.”

    I think it was Dale Carnegie that said to the effect, “It’s better to be interestED in people, than to be interestING to people.”

    By catering to the wants & needs of our community, we brand our competency, character, and charisma. We can differentiate ourselves in all 3 areas….

    afterall, “nobody cares how much we know, until they know how much we care!”

    Our else personal brand is just a clown with an egotistical reputation.

    ~ Vikram

  2. Jacqueline Zenn said

    I like that Dale Carnegie quote a lot…but really, is such a conscious effort to brand oneself necessary? If you focus on being awesome at what you do, a good person, etc. – generally living the brand, not just creating and promoting it, won’t the effects of branding happen naturally?

    What I’m saying is that I feel more time should be spent on creating something buzz-worthy than promoting it, and that I think a lot of the personal brand advocates neglect to emphasize that.

  3. Love reading your deconstructing of personal branding. Lively thoughts and good points!

    When you say in your comment above, “I feel more time should be spent on creating something buzz-worthy than promoting it”, I fully agree!

    My first question to clients is always, “what do you want to create?” That question alone tends to stop people in their tracks.

    Have you read Peter Block’s book, The Answer to How Is Yes? You might like it based on what your write here.

    Keep creating…it freaks people out,

  4. Jacqueline Zenn said

    Thanks for the compliments Mike.

    I haven’t read that book, but it looks interesting and I’ll definitely put it on my list. Thanks for the rec!

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