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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