2.062009

brand you?

Personal branding seems to have re-emerged as a hot topic.  The concept introduced by Tom Peters over 10 years ago is now back on everyone’s radar screens — or at least mine.  Several friends and colleagues have recently asked for my POV on personal branding; last week I read a stimulating post by Jonathan Salem Baskin on the topic; and it’s being named as one of the top 5 digital trends to watch by the digital arm of PR-giant Edelman.

Perhaps personal branding is getting all this attention because of our nation’s unfortunate situation of experiencing the highest number of lay-offs since 1974 and so all of those job hunters are seeking a competitive edge.  Or perhaps it’s because our new President seems to enjoy one of the most, if not the most, influential personal brands of our time.

Whatever the reason, it makes me nervous.  There’s the danger that if personal branding is misunderstood or misused, branding itself will become misunderstood or misused.  There’s certainly a lot of misinformation about it on the social media circuit lately.

Self-described “leading personal branding expert” Dan Schwabel states, “Personal branding, by definition, is the process by which we market ourselves to others. As a brand, we can leverage the same strategies that make these celebrities or corporate brands appeal to others. We can build brand equity just like them.” He then goes on to list 10 ways to create your brand, ranging from having a business card to selecting a wardrobe.

Question everything you do, every tool you use, every article of clothing you wear. Are they consistent with your brand? Do you have a WAP phone but use a printed calendar or a handwritten to-do list? Do you carry a briefcase?advises William Aruda, “the Personal Branding Guru.”

I fear this kind of talk about branding — personal or not — trivializes the importance and role of brands as drivers of business growth.  It reinforces the incorrect but already commonly held view that brand-building is about what you communicate instead of what you do — and it emphasizes the expressive and marketing value of a brand, while overlooking its more fundamental business value.

Here’s my view:

A brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define:
–  a product or service’s value that is delivered to its customers, and
–  the way of doing business that is the basis of a company’s relationships with stakeholders

Translated to the realm of individuals, the definition would read something like:

A brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define:
–  the value that a person delivers to his/her customers
(business partners, bosses, hiring managers, family members, community, etc.) , and
–  the way that person operates that is the basis of his/her relationships with them (it seems like customers and stakeholders are the same for individuals)

So brand-building, whether for individuals or brands, depends on increasing the value you deliver and how you do it.  Your brand is not the perception you want to create; its the reality of who you are.  It’s not the way to get noticed; it’s what you do on a daily basis.  It’s not about being different for the sake of being different; it’s about delivering unique value to your customers by being the only person who does what you do the way you do it.

I’ll soon follow up this post with another about what makes a strong personal brand but if you want to jump start your personal branding efforts now, the aforementioned post by JSB provides some great thoughtstarters for ways to build your brand.

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  • i agree completely with you Denise…

    Personal Branding is a lot more than the color of your business card or the look of your blackberry. It’s not about me, it’s about THEM. Personal Branding is what they are going to say about you when you turn your computer off…

    In addition, I do not like the term’ guru’ to be used nowadays. I call Drucker and Levitt gurus for God’s sake! In today’s digital world, where new talents emerge every day and people have a great deal of megaphones to express their feelings, the term ‘guru’ seems pretentious, myope and irrelevant.

    I must tell you that maybe i’m too passionate. I shouldn’t care about the constant vulgarization of Marketing (as an ideology not a tool box) and Branding, but i do. (I believe Marketing and Branding are sides of the same coin)

    Do you think the horror show will stop one day? We haven’t studied so much for this…

    Genius article. I’m glad someone took a stand.

    Gabriel Rossi- Brazil

  • Amen! And around and around it goes: http://tinyurl.com/d7zoyl

  • This is an excellent post, and one that mirrors my own thoughts on the topic of personal branding. I have always been wary of it as a category because it smacks more of smoke and mirrors than an accurate representation of one’s character. Most [self-proclaimed] personal branding ‘experts’ spend a great deal of time talking about the image that a person portrays outwardly, paying little attention to the internal qualities that comprise that ‘brand’ — or even them as a person.

    It’s a process that seems disconnected from inherent human qualities, and as a result, comes off very artificial. To me, it’s more of an external facade or persona, expressing what you want people to see, or how you’d like to be viewed instead of who you actually are, or the values you represent.

    Perhaps I am old school, but one’s ‘personal brand’ is developed through a consistent delivery on a core set of values/traits, just as a product’s brand is built by consistent delivery on a mission/brand promise.

    If a person conducts him or herself with honesty and principles on a regular basis, for example, they build a reputation of character and integrity. They don’t wear a sign that says, “I’m honest” or print “you can trust me” on the back of brightly colored business cards. Trust is earned. Reputation is built. Neither are manufactured out of thin air.

    It is my increasing concern that ‘personal branding’ is more about the latter, creating the perception of certain qualities without actually embodying those qualities. And iit’s how we’ve ended up in a space overridden with self-proclaimed, ‘experts,’ ‘mavens’ and ‘gurus’ with little to no credibility or substance to back it up.

    At the end of the day, we, as brand strategists, can seek to portray ourselves, or our products, any way that we’d like, but unless we actually deliver on those publicized attributes, all they really are is a series of empty, well crafted words on a page.

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  • Rachel

    IT is true there are misconceptions about personal branding. But I think you said it right when you said “Your brand is not the perception you want to create; it’s the reality of who you are. It’s not the way to get noticed; it’s what you do on a daily basis. It’s not about being different for the sake of being different; it’s about delivering unique value to your customers by being the only person who does what you do the way you do it.” That is personal branding and the other things “the fluff” add to it. I have found personavita.com helpful because you can build your brand based on who you are and what you do, by showcasing what you have accomplished in the workforce but also personally.