May 2012 finally sound the death knell for all things “personal branding.”
Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.
That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?
Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.
Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”
You know what we used to call people with “personal brands” before the term was coined? Fakes. So here is a simple bit of advice for 2012: Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS. You don’t need it.
If you really want to brand something, focus on your business, on your blog, on your product. If your product is you, I hope your name is Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga, because otherwise you aren’t thinking clearly about this. A brand is ultimately an icon. Are you an icon? No. You aren’t. And if you ever become one, you won’t need to worry about building a personal brand.
Have I seen your face pop up on billboard ads for Nike, Ford or Chanel? Are you on Wheaties boxes? Do you have your own action figure? Do designers call your agent asking if you would wear their clothes to award shows? No? Then you aren’t a product or a brand.
Let’s walk away from the professional navel-gazing industry for a minute recalibrate things just a tad. If what you’re after is improving your image and your odds of being successful in whatever your endeavor is, drop the personal branding nonsense and give these little tips some thought:
1. Talk less, do more. Let your work speak for itself. Michael Jordan didn’t spend all his time trying to build a strong personal brand. He practiced his craft. He trained. He worked his ass off to be the best basketball player he could be. It doesn’t mean you should stop blogging or granting interviews or making videos. It just means that the ratio of doing vs. talking should clearly favor the former over the latter.
2. Be relevant, not just popular. I know Klout is all the rage these days, but nobody gives a shit. No, really. What was Steve Jobs’ Klout score again?
Go solve a problem. Go cure cancer. Go create jobs for people in your community. Go fight against modern day slavery or spousal abuse or childhood homelessness. Go help Nike or Microsoft or the small bakery across the street build or do something remarkable. I guarantee that the closer you get to doing something relevant, the farther your mind will be from the latest popularity metric.
3. Reputation is more important than image. With a little work, anyone can create an online persona that exudes success and brilliance. Anyone. Image is nothing more than marketing. Here’s something you need to know: The people who will actually be in a position to help you in life understand this. You won’t fool them with superficial image design. They don’t care about it and know how to see right through it. Be what you say you are. Build a reputation for yourself. See #1.
4. Speaking of image, find a good tailor. You want to look good in person? Take whatever money you were planning on throwing at personal branding seminars or webinars and spend it on a good tailor instead. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes to look put together. Believe it or not, most of the time, H&M and Target will do just fine. The trick is in getting whatever you buy altered to fit you properly. A good tailor can make a $75 sport coat look like you spent $750 on it, so spend the $25 extra bucks on the alteration. Nobody cares how much you spent on your clothes, but they might care that you have sense enough to know how to wear them like an civilized adult.
What you should have tailored: Pants, dress shirts, jackets. Always. No exception. For men, everything you need to know about this can be found in Esquire’s Big Black Book of Style (usually released twice per year – in the spring and fall).
5. Just be yourself. If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you. Remember that thing about authenticity and transparency earlier? The more you have of the first, the more you can get away with the second. If you’re an asshole, the solution is simple: either work on that, learn to be a funny asshole, or spend less time on Facebook. If you’re a kind, pleasant, remotely interesting person though, just be that and everything will be okay.
If you’ve ever interviewed applicants for a job or held open auditions, you know the drill: Some people walk into the room and show you only what they want you to see. Others walk into the room and show you something real about themselves. Guess who stands no chance at all of getting a callback. Fakes need not apply. Trust is far too important a thing to gamble away on personal branding schemes. The more honest about who you are around people, the more they will respond to you. It’s that simple.
The worst thing you can do for your career (and your relationships) is to try and build a personal brand. It will get in the way of real success, of real connections with people, of real opportunities. It will distract you and divert your focus away from work that matters. It will warp your sense of self worth. It will flip your values upside down until what you care about the most is what you should be caring about the least.
If you really want people to know your name and take notice, go build something. Make something good happen. Create. Invent. Help. Rescue. Solve. Improve. Apply yourself to any of those endeavors and in time, you will earn some measure of respect and even perhaps notoriety or fame. That’s how it works. Jules Verne is known for his stories. Steven Spielberg is known for his films. Richard Branson is known for his success in business. Author. Film maker. Entrepreneur. Compare that to “online personality” or “social media expert.”
So here is wishing “personal branding” safe journeys and a heartfelt farewell in 2012. Thanks for visiting. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.
So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?
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Oh, I almost forgot: Social Media ROI is now available in German! Check it out.
For the English-language Social Media ROI portal, click here. To buy it directly from Amazon, click here.
For the German edition of Social Media ROI, click here.
I’m kind of psyched about that.
Dang. I didn’t even get to try to become a personal brand before it died =/
This is in line with my confusion about all of the automation going on. People who say they are building their personal brands automate a large percentage of their tweets and import tweets into Facebook and LinkedIn. Well, that’s kind of a mixed message, non? I’m very interested in branding myself and I really care about you, but uh, I can’t talk to you in real time. Eh?
Thanks for posting the obit.
Right. Because they’re trying to become brands, and brand communications are not inherently human. Their blog posts become “content.” Their twitter stream becomes a “feed.” The goal stops being human interactions and turns into pull and reach and clicks.
They can have fun trying to become internet-famous. Maybe with a little luck, they’ll be bought out by Huffpo. 😉
Wait, that’s a possibility?
Well, now I’m torn.
I really enjoyed this post Olivier. I think many critics of this post will wax poetic about the actual definition of personal branding, but I value my reputation significantly more than my brand/image and feel like no amount of manipulation can substitute for putting my head down and trying to do work that matters.
An example outside the workplace. I would never date a woman who only has ridiculous glamor shots and carefully hand picked photos of herself on her Facebook page. Give me the girl that has tons of goofy shots and doesn’t take herself too seriously every time.
Thanks for writing this. It needed to be said.
Olivier…congratulations on a brilliant brilliant blog..I couldn’t agree more with you. Especially love points 1-3. As a PR person I hate it when people assume PR is all about ‘the talk’…
The talk only matters when there’s something genuinely good that’s worth talking about. Do great things that matter and your reputation will follow…
There are definitely two schools of thought when it comes to PR. One is obtuse and superficial, and the other is a lot more interesting and effective. Cheers to everyone who falls into that second category.
Great subject Olivier, and a worthy area to take a pop at – especially in the area of manipulation and fakery.
But in online versus offline world we live in now, there IS such thing as a genuine personal brand. It’s not how you manipulate it, it’s about how you choose to amplify it. It’s just good marketing. Bang on, that reputation is the key – doing real stuff, and making in some way, a difference – at what ever level . However if we want to do more of this stuff, because we’re good at it – then we need to market this. To do this, we need to be approachable, visible and correctly connected. The way we `brand` ourself in this process is key.
On every level of business communications, the effectiveness of the individual is the key. In a public world of social driven business communications, we have to be sure to eliminate stupidity in our actions, and present ourself in the best manner. (disagree that tailoring matters…, if it isn’t really `you` to be tailored). We do it in interviews, in presentations, and in public networking spaces. That’s personal branding. How much attention we choose to give it, is another matter.
I think there are plenty of fake personal brands out there – but I feel that the genuine folk have to recognise good personal branding too.
Great comment Steve and I completely agree with you. Good personal branding is key and will live on.
Respectfully, Steve: I have a reputation and an image, but my blog is the brand. The two are intertwined, but they are not the same thing.
Just for the sake of argument though, can you give me a concise definition of either “personal branding” or a “personal brand?”
Sorry for the late reply – work, etc. Been busy here since I last came… 🙂
Ahh what IS personal brand? – No right answers here, but for me – Method of image, method of communication, method of execution of work.
The results from those actions, becomes reputation. The reputation, for me – is the consequence of great brand execution.
Olivier you have a great reputation, because of many factors. You mention tailoring yourself – well yes – maybe it’s your look. You write great stuff. I expect that you deliver great consultancy work, but I also expect that you take good care in each aspect of this process. You rarely put a foot out of line, and the consequence is that I know no-one who thinks ill of you.
Whether we like it or not, to me that is branding & image management. Taking great care in execution of professional situations.
Branding is the bit we control. Reputation is dictated by the effectiveness of our branding.
I understand what you say about `brandbuilder` being the brand. But you are the brandbuilder. If you did what you did differently, it may have different effects.
I don’t know whether you agree with my thoughts – just my take as a small business owner rather than a pure marketeer.
Steve, thanks for the kind words but I step over the line quite regularly (from the perspective of people who live on the other side of that line).
I also know quite a few people who think rather ill of me. Most social media gurus for example wouldn’t exactly invite me to their Christmas parties. A good number of people don’t like what I have to say. 😀 (And that’s okay.)
But look, everything you see here that looks, sounds or feels like branding has to do with tying things together with this blog. It’s trade dress, but I am not the brand. For me to become a brand would be to start walking that line, wearing the same clothes, always being what I want people to think I am.
What’s really depressing about all of this is that people see ME as “the brandbuilder.” That has been a tremendous failure on my part.
What happened is I accidentally created a character people know as “the brandbuilder.” It’s all based on the assumption that because the blog is called the brandbuilder blog and I am the guy behind the blog, I am the brandbuilder. That wasn’t the intent at all. The whole point was just to create a blog that people who work in brand management would want to read. THEY were supposed to find themselves in that title. It’s a blog for brand builders. I didn’t intend for them to associate it with who I am. I guess I should have added an “s” to brandbuilder: The Brandbuilders’ blog. It just doesn’t have the same flow. So… meh.
To add to the confusion, I created the twitter account (@thebrandbuilder) to be an extension of the blog, not to be my personal account. The first few months, my photo wasn’t even in the avatar. It was all Chico the chihuahua. The profile read something along the lines of “The brandbuilder blog’s Twitter extension.” It didn’t become my main twitter account until later – and only became so out of convenience. It was where all the interesting conversations were taking place. Why? Because the brandbuilder blog had a readership.
The reason it happened is simple: When I created the whole brandbuilder shtick, I never intended to ever ever EVER come out from behind the curtain. I assumed I would always be somewhat incognito. People would know Chico, the brand, the character, but Olivier Blanchard would hang waaaaaay in the background. When I started inching to the front because I couldn’t continue to be a ghost and still be effective, turns out I hadn’t built a mechanism for the brand that would allow me to do that properly. And now here we are.
Here’s the honest truth, Steve: the whole thing has been a monumental fuck-up on my part. A good fuck-up in many ways, but a fuck-up all the same. I assure you that everything you see here that looks like personal branding isn’t. I am simply the victim of the success of the blog’s branding and (ironically) of my own incompetence.
Here’s a thought: If I had been hired by Fast company to write monthly editorials (like Seth Godin), I would have never felt the need to publish the brandbuilder blog. There would be no TBB logo. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would just be Olivier Blanchard. No logo, no branding, just a name and my latest profile photo. That would be it.
Cheers, man. 🙂
Thanks for the honesty Olivier. It was a good fuck up, by the way. ;o) – one that I know about (on a smaller scale). I am CloudNine, because my twitter says so and it grew that way, and because I, for 2 years, was CloudNine solely. Just me.
Now I employ someone and grow, I have to distribute the effect of `brand CloudNine` carefully amongst others. CloudNine will always be synonymous with me it seems, which I don’t mind & hence why respect personal branding – but I hope I like you, can separate this with Steve Ward the individual.
I like your comments….there has to be some balance…
Is the writer of the article suggesting that You do not have to care AT ALL
about your image?
No matter what you do online ….it takes work….and most of the branding Guru’s would agree that it takes work….and creativity…
The people I talk to in the industry,have taught me alot about creativity,and YES REAL AUTHENTIC…..internet….promotion ,…marketing…products….and communication…
And many of the real Branding people I know ,would actually agree,that you do NEED to communicate and be authentic……
I make every effort on Twitter,Facebook,and Google to maintain some balance…and on that we can all agree…
Thanks for your comments,
There is room for all of us on the internet I quite agree…
If the writer is me, no. Image matters. But building a “personal brand”… that’s a whole other thing.
Thank you for your feedback. Though I thought the article was interesting, I agree with your insights.
I disagree Olivier! I firmly believe that the term ‘personal brand’ has been warped by so many that it has become a disingenuous parody of its true meaning, which is one linked to the emotional and psychological relationship we have with our followers and all those who believe in our message, along with the value that we have to offer them. “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a person, product, service, or company.” said Marty Neumeier of The Brand Gap and this still holds true. The only thing that’s expired over time is our patience for fakery and impersonal bullsh**t; the foghorn approach to marketing, if you like, that has long since passed its sell-by date. Long live the new age, Personal Brand that encompasses the joy and rewards of social media engagement.
Sarah, a brand is far more than a gut feeling. Brand development and brand management are about far more than inciting gut feelings in people. 😉
What does a person do when they stop building companies and products (that CAN have brand attributes) and shift that process to themselves? They turn themselves into a product. The minute they do that, they’ve stepped into make-believe territory.
You aren’t a brand. You’re Sarah-Jayne Gratton. That’s why I like you. The minute you become a brand, our relationship changes from “someone I like” to “someone I should buy something from”.
The other change is that the moment you become a brand, you become less than who Sarah-Jane Gratton is. You become an idealized version of who you are, and one that focuses on the “brand’s” intent. The warts and rough edges start eroding from the brand narrative that you build for yourself. Your vocabulary changes. The photos you post and don’t post start to change as well.
I’ve worked in brand management for almost my entire professional career. I say bring back the image consultants. They’re worth their weight in gold. But this personal branding crap? It’s a sham. Aside from being impractical from trade dress, tagline and messaging angles, all it does is dehumanize people and turn them into products. There’s no value in that. It’s a dead end.
Thanks for the comment nonetheless. 😉
“My name is “The Brandbuilder” Olivier Blanchard, and you should buy brand development services from me…”
Hmmm… call it what you will, but your entire presentation here has many of the elements of brand building. I should know, I have a training slide about your exquisitely crafted (Person-centered) Brand:
Archetypes you cover range from The Outlaw, i.e. general badassery (colorful language in posts, and the entire iconoclast posture of this very post) as well as the black and orange color scheme for your Twitter avatar, to The Little Trickster – irreverent, e.g. by doing entire presos on Social Media ROI done with cartoon figures, etc. etc.), to The Friend you are to many on Twitter, to The Powerbroker who is well-dressed, well-travelled, asf.
And several others thrown in for good measure. Now I am not saying that you are doing this consciously, it may be all instinctive with you, which is fine, because it works best that way.
And BTW, OF COURSE it is best to pick only those angles that you can always reliably/authentically deliver, and be cognizant of things that you will likely do naturally that could undermine an ill-fitting brand. Example: John McCain’s “maverick” thing always getting in the way of him appearing as the “Wise One” elder statesman.
So, no one has argued against authenticity, or for fakery, by any means. Precisely because properly done branding resonates with people at a gut level, means that it cannot be faked (or is VERY hard to fake) at the personal level where people’s intuitions are so finely attuned.
So no, personal branding isn’t dead, it’s alive and well, it’s only that too many people never understood what it meant in the first place. I agree that there is tons of BS out there in this regard, but as a predictor of success (when all of the right pieces of the puzzle are falling into place) I would say it is hard to beat.
Nice linkbait though… 😉
The Brandbuilder Blog is the name of (wait for it) this blog. The blog is branded, yes. The business that emerged from it bears the same name. The Twitter account I use is an extension of both of these websites: @thebrandbuilder. I am not “the brandbuilder,” and even if I were, that would not be personal branding. The irony here is that I didn’t name the blog “the Olivier Blanchard” blog. I don’t have a fancy “OB” logo. I don’t sell T-shirts with my face on it.
I’m Olivier Blanchard. That’s my name. It’s who I am. My mom gave me that name. She too will tell you it’s not a brand. When I go places, that’s how I introduce myself. Not as a brand but as a person: Me. Olivier. When I shake hands with someone or have a beer with them or help them fix their business, it’s me doing it. The person. Not a brand.
The brand development & management services I “sell” focus on actual brands, not “personal branding.” I don’t help people find their true career selves. I don’t help them build up an online profile and narrative to score their next job or sell more books. I don’t help bloggers improve their speaking profiles or boost their Klout scores. I deal with product development, marketing communications, customer service, corporate PR, internal collaboration, consumer insights, etc. Actual brand management stuff.
You can spin it any way you want, but in the end, you’re either a Branson/Spielberg/Jobs or a Palin/Lohan/Snooki: someone who builds a reputation by focusing on building something of note, or someone who builds a reputation by focusing on their “personal brand.”
Reading this fine piece above I was about to say “I feel a little wary of @name_company accounts on social media” then I realised the author and a commentor above both do that, probably for pragmatic/legacy reasons than other motives – which then sort of begs the question, when or is there a right time to beat your chest in social media, when asked, when you can name/link drop or not at all?
No idea. That’s a good question.
I don’t know. I think the truth is in the middle ground. Sure if your twitter/facebook stream is full of “inspirational one liners” and you always wear green because you thought “you know what, my personal brand is that I’m a green guru”. Then yes, you should be punched in the face.
But being just yourself isn’t enough either. It’s a corny concept but as people we wear different faces in different places. If we happen to represent our business because we are freelancers or small businesses then that is just another face we wear. It should and will affect what we say and how we say that.
Because if we don’t we might end up becoming this guy. http://www.penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html
Putting a little thought into that isn’t a bad thing although clearly you shouldn’t go overboard and become fake. I myself for instance consciously filter what I say on twitter because I know my clients are reading that too. It means I simply don’t touch certain subjects on twitter and try to refrain from swearing.
I guess for me the dividing line is not so much what you don’t say, but when you start saying things that you don’t believe.
For me the other big part is commercialism. I personally don’t have that problem because I don’t have a product to sell. I just sell myself. But it’s something I often notice. You yourself for instance have your book. The ratio at which you put that in peoples faces is pretty delicate. If you do it too much I will think you are an annoying sales person trying to sell me a book, and if you do it too little I won’t buy the book.
I don’t think you can just “wing it”, I’m not saying anyone should create a calendar to plan when to promote and when not too, but timing is everything. And every time you publish something, on a blog on twitter or facebook, you have to stop and think if its right to do so. The right content, the right context, the right words to say it.
As a side note. A book I bought about marketing for freelancers when I just started out actually suggested publishing a book, because it would give credibility to my name. It was a very thin book mind you, and beyond that bit of advice it contained very little. The book itself was a prominent feature on the authors website though, a freelance marketing expert. I found that very ironic. (Just to be clear, this isn’t a slight towards you, just something I’ve actually noticed a few years back)
You can wing it. Absolutely. For years, this blog was just “The Brandbuilder Blog.” You had to dig deep to find my name. My twitter account was originally created to be an extension of this blog. Neither my face nor my name appeared anywhere. It took a while for me to finally come out from behind the TBB brand (which was all Chico the chihuahua). I write what I feel like writing. I have no editorial calendar.
I’m Olivier Blanchard, and I don’t have a personal brand. I’m just me. Sometimes I write about Julius Caesar and sometimes I write about Social Media. Sometimes I act professional and keep the language PG, and sometimes I goof off and drop the f-bomb.
The only branding you see anywhere around here focuses on the blog. I’m just a guy. I might own and manage a brand, but I am not the brand.
yes, I also see in other comments that you make a clear distinction between ‘brand’, ‘image’ and ‘reputation’. Terms which in my mind all mean more or less the same. Which I am sure says more about my limited knowledge of the lingo then of the subject at hand.
If indeed a brand is a pure construct with no human connection. i.e. the blog design and dog image. Then yes, I will very much agree that while it is recognizable, it is simply an empty shell with no inherent value. You need a person and a personality to actually add meaning.
That is exactly the point. Your personal brand is ‘Olivier Blanchard’. No matter what you call it… You protect and cultivate that. it’s like Schrödinger’s cat (I watch to much Big Bang).
The minute you write something or about yourself you create an image of yourself, you (and I mean everybody) does that all the time. It’s like Erik said.., you shouldn’t go overboard with it.., but we all do it, all the time, online or offline.
For me ‘Personal Branding’ is consistency in my online appearance.., so there isn’t any confusing as to who I am (but I’m still me).
Love the article by the way.., a lot of food for thought…
I love that!
I can completely see your point Oliver as many people build a brand based upon something that is not there but for me…I just don’t see it being as cut and dry as the Personal Brand is dead. My online me, is still me, what I talk about in my Blog, on Twitter and other Social Media Channels…it is all me.
The only thing that I have done that is not me is I chose to use an Avatar to represent the Online me. As you stated: Be Yourself…that is the most important thing that I did when building the Online Brand that has become Krispy.
Thanks for the Post
Right. That’s not a brand. That’s just you being you – with a creative avatar. 😉
Thought provoking as always Olivier! I think the term “personal branding” is really the issue here. It’s become something which supersedes making a genuine effort for some as you mention. The very first thing anyone markets or sells in this life is themselves. Being able to do this honestly and with integrity is certainly the better way than trying to mold some kind of image which will eventually be seen through.
Funny that you mention tailors. My father was a popular public speaker and had a personal tailor all his life. I think this guy was more important to him than his doctor! Recently, dad celebrated his 80th birthday and dozens of people made the trek to the event on a very cold day and packed the hall in order to celebrate with him. My dad’s clothes always fit well, but it was the man inside who made them.
Nicely put. Thanks, Jim.
The idea of a personal brand can be confusing. Much of this confusion comes from different understandings of the word “brand.” If a brand is a collective perception of a honest portrayal of who an organization is then I’m all for this being applied to individuals.
More people should be honest about who they are and more people should respect people for being that honest. We can only hope that organizations would be that brave.
We’re starting a new blog to discuss branding for religious institutions.
Developing a branding workshop.
Generally trying to make the world a better place.
I say build brands all you want. Churches, businesses, magazines, blogs, universities, cities… whatever. But keep people as people. Jesus wasn’t a brand, right? And yet a lot of people would love to make him into one. Why? So they can profit from it.
A lot of BS just falls away when people stop trying to turn themselves (or each other) into marketable products.
Cheers, Clayton. 🙂
Great article! On one hand I think you’re talking absolute crap and yet on the other hand, total and utter sense. And I think the conflicting view is down to the term “personal brand”. You’re right “personal branding” is a widely misunderstood term that is encouraging some people out there to “create” a brand for themselves. Most marketeers don’t even know what branding means so the average Joe is going to struggle big time. A brand is the place you occupy in other people’s minds. For a business that will mean logos, straplines, customer service experience etc.. but for people that will mean the way you speak and present yourself, what you do and what you’re great at, what you stand for… I could go on… Getting wrapped up on the corporate world definition is where people trying to “create” their brand fall down. You don’t CREATE a brand, you discover it. It’s who you are! That’s where we agree. All your points from 1-5 are spot on and I totally agree. A great personal brand is authentic and has integrity – the person walks their walk, it’s not all talk. If more people concentrated on just being great examples of themselves rather than trying to be someone else, we’d all be better off.
You say that we should dismiss anything where the idea is to drive the business agenda – again, this is corporate BS lost in translation. The reason you want a strong personal brand is to earn money! Something we all need to do last I heard. A strong personal brand will increase your chances of getting hired/promoted, having your book bought, or whatever else you’re selling.
Thanks for writing this to kick start the personal branding debate. It think the point that stands out for me is that “Personal Branding” the term needs to be buried, and we need to find a better way of articulating the art of discovering who you are and expressing it, refining it and living it authentically. And most importantly, surviving successfully, in whatever ways you define success. But I’m afraid the concept behind personal branding isn’t going anywhere especially in these turbulent times.
Right. ‘”Personal branding” as a term needs to be buried’ and ‘the reason you want a strong personal brand is to earn money!’ You nailed it right there with those two sentences. I also like what you said about discovering rather than building a brand.
It’s why I added the 5 points. I could have just left it at “personal branding is BS,” but I wanted to give people an option to jump the tracks just a little: talking less and doing more, focusing more on reputation than image… essentially shifting from the story-telling part to the story-building part. Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs because he built the world’s biggest and most beloved technology company. Oprah became Oprah because she slowly built a media empire. Lance Armstrong became Lance Armstrong because he survived cancer and won 7 consecutive Tours de France. People need to focus on DOING something rather than perfecting the marketing they hope to build around their name. That’s where the real value is, and where the benefits they are hoping to enjoy will ultimately come from.
Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Disagree. I get what you’re saying, but you’re looking at this from the angle of a marketer. Before marketing, the concept of a personal brand was synonymous with someone’s personality or character. If I were ever to say “I like the cut of your jib” – it didn’t mean i like how you marketed yourself in social media. It meant I like you as a person. How you manage your affairs. Your transparency (or as it used to be called – honesty). No, the problem here is that when you look at everything from the perspective of a marketer, your vision is out of focus. Consider things from the position of a human first. Being human has precedence over anything having to do with branding and marketing. Somehow we’ve just tried to retrofit the word branding into being human – and it should be the other way around. Personal branding is fine – as long as you don’t take it literally as a marketer. But you’re right with all of your points – especially just being yourself. That’s the only branding trait that matters. Also, in business.
I think the problem is the use of the word “brand” in this context. As you say, “I liked you as a person.” Before social media, did you call up a friend and say, “Hey, how is your brand and that of your family?” No. You said, “Hey, how are YOU?”
The phrase “personal brand” to my mind is part of that whole “Business is now person-to-person” stuff that people got REALLY carried away with round about 2007 or so. The problem is that a lot of people aren’t 100% clear on what a “brand” is in any context, so saying they are building or growing their personal brand doesn’t have a meaning other than, “Oh, yeah, I’m promoting myself, so…”
I almost wonder if the phrase “personal brand” was born out of the recognition that outright saying “I’m promoting myself” was abhorrent. If you say, “Oh, I’m growing my personal brand,” the strokey-beard guys will say, “Ah, yes, excellent.” If you say, “I’m promoting myself so I can buy meslef a new Rolls,” people will say you’re icky.
I think the shine has sort of come off though, and people are understanding “personal brand” for what it really means.
I agree about that confusion over what a brand is, Margie. I think “personal brand” is a comfort word for those of us solo business-runners who have nothing but ourselves to promote. Kind of a “poor man’s brand.” Except some of the people who use the term are rich…
Money is something that differentiates me from the “real” personal brands. Fer shizzle 🙂
Ok. Show me your personal logo and your tag line. Give me some bullets on what your value proposition is, and explain how your trade dress fits into your brand narrative. Are you trademarked in the US?
I AM looking at this from both perspectives, Jim: As a marketer, the notion of a personal brand is ludicrous for practical reasons (some of which are listed above). From a human perspective, a personal brand is dumb and even dangerous because it aims to turn people into marketable products.
You aren’t a brand, Jim, and neither am I. We’re people. We might build brands and companies and products, but you and I are not brands. Even if we became super famous and started launching product lines (Blanchard bike helmets and Mitchem outdoor grills), WE would not be brands. We would turn our names into a brand and may become the face of the company, brand or product we created, but we wouldn’t be brands.
Even Oprah isn’t a brand. Her name is. She just lends her popularity to her ventures. That’s all.
Some brands including personal brands are specifically built on the notion of being “super-human”… 😉 It’s The Titan archetype.
Great topic and great article !
But there is still one point i’d like to raise. You say “brands exist to ultimately sell something”. I believe we do too.
I mean, obviously, we don’t exist to ultimately sell something. But the aim of our professionnal life is to sell ourselves, our skills and our knowledge.
We sell our know-how and our time in return of a salary right ?
So I really agree about all the personal branding bs you talk about but interpersonal relationships are still driven by human brand elements : we are identified and remembered by our face (our logo), our physical attributes (our packaging), our clothing (our label), our way of speaking and our personality traits (our perceived values), etc.
That is why I believe we do have to brand ourselves in order to get a job and fit into the expectations of people…
Actually, building a personal brand pretty much guarantees that you won’t get that job. Most hiring managers are looking for experience, talent and credibility, not a personal brand.
Focus on doing cool stuff that’s marketable and you’ll have recruiters calling you left and right.
Focus on building a personal brand and you’ll just become another struggling blogger begging off product endorsements between adjustments to your Klout score.
People trying to sell you on the notion of building personal brands are making a living off 10%+ unemployment, Colin. How big was the topic of “personal branding” before 2005?
We all know the “fakes” when we see them. It saddens me to see grown ups trying so hard to belong, while most often, their genuine self is the only natural branding and what creates trust and friendship. I am not saying a little branding is not needed but I think the story has points that could bring many of us back to the ground.
A little marketing savvy never hurt, that’s true. But we have to keep things in perspective, yeah. 😉
Maybe a first, but I also disagree Olivier.
A great thought provoking post and I agree with all of your tips, however I believe that people can become brands and do so when they have an audience that believe in their message.
With all of the manipulation and fakes that take to brand creation in attempts to skew the world into buying from them, I feel that sometimes we assume that those everyone who are building a personal brands may be just another set of gurus in the making, preparing to rain their shower of recycled bullshit down on an easily corruptible audience. While this is true in many cases, I don’t believe people with personal brands can be labelled as fake.
When I left University having graduated in Music, I spent the best part of six months struggling to find employment simply because I wasn’t being noticed.
After assisting people and some agencies with social media, I began writing and speaking on the subject, of which my network than shared my content and others then bough into my ‘brand’. These people didn’t know Luca as an individual nor had I met any of them, however they believed in my message, just like everyone who reads your blog and follows you, believes in your message. I believe this all comes down to brand development and that can be applied to both people and businesses. Does that make us products? Maybe.
I think labels do more harm than good and that not every individual, business or situation can be labelled anymore. People just do what they do to get ahead. Opportunities are out there, more so than ever and we are no longer defined just by what we do, but also by what our audience says about us.
I do agree with you that once you start on this road you will lose some of your transparent personality and what makes you human, but this is just part and parcel of a digital world governed by website visitors and twitter followers.
The problem I see is when people try too hard to become a brand, when they have nothing to offer and vice versa; when brands try too hard to humanize their voice, again, with little to offer in value.
There’s a big difference between learning how to get people’s attention and turning yourself into a brand, Luca. 😉
I’ve worked with so many companies and helped develop, manage and even rescue brands. I am very familiar with the personal branding “industry,” and I can tell you that it is complete bullshit. People cannot be brands. Even Tiger Woods and Oprah are not brands. What they have done is created a brand around their names and notoriety, but they themselves are not brands. They’re famous people whose names appear on products.
People listened to Steve Jobs because he built a brand. He himself was not a brand. He was the man behind the brand. Ron Howard isn’t a brand. He’s a director and a producer who is well known because he is very good at what he does. Imagine Entertainment (his production company) is a brand.
We build reputations and followings, Luca. We build audiences and resumes. We build products and successes and experiences, and we do build brands for the things we do sometimes. But we – you and I – are not brands. We’re just people who do certain things well enough that people notice.
Cheers, man. 🙂
Thank you for replying, not only to me, but to everyone’s comments. There are a shed load, most quite lengthy and you have replied to all on the same day the post was published.
What a cracking response to my comment, although using Steve Jobs as an example is becoming exhausted 😉
I’ll thank you by linking back to this post in a new article I am writing; ’10 bloggers who don’t understand Personal Branding.’
Haha. Just kidding. I am waving the white flag on this debate.
Happy New Year Olivier pal.
God bless you, Olivier. That is all.
That’s all the validation this post needed right there.
“Brand,” in this sense, is reputation, which is a function of action. Thank you for the reminder to wag more in 2012, Olivier.
People build reputations for themselves, not brands. Exactly. Brands are for things.
I don’t know that you’re seeing things from the view of a marketer, but I do agree with Jim Mitchem that when I think “personal brand” I think “you” as you are whenever I see you. I’m not under the illusion that you’re the same exact person everywhere you go, but I am under the impression that when I see you, you’re just as real with me as you are when you’re the “you” you are elsewhere. I think the same of the people I work with in the office. Every one of them has a signature style of communicating and interacting that’s so “them” I can tell who I’m dealing with without looking at the From bar.
I also agree with your perception of the personal brand as a “character” we want people to believe is really us. It’s the one we unwittingly fall into when we decide to “build” one. And that’s dangerous for both brand and person.
If you’re you and you want people to see you as you are, then why do you need a personal brand? Just be you.
I look at it from both sides: as a marketer and as a human being. And you know what? From the marketer angle, it makes no sense. It isn’t possible for a human being to become a brand. From the human angle, it’s just counterproductive and even dangerous to try.
I simply could not agree with you any more. So are you saying I didn’t need to spend $3k on my logo? 😉
If it makes you feel any better, just think of your logo as your company’s logo. 😉 If the company bears your name, that’s cool too.
Interesting thought. I think personal branding happens when people think “who they are” is the basis for the value instead of “what they do.”
I think “personal brands” exist and always have–we just used to call them “reputations.” Really, that’s what all brands are.
And while I’ve used the term in the past, I won’t be sorry to see it go. I do think its use has more potential to be dehumanizing than to clarify how one’s actions affect perception.
I too disagree. Personal branding (as you call it) and honesty and transparency aren’t mutually exclusive as your article would imply. I think taking an objective look at yourself and trying to put forth the best attributes you posses can be a powerful thing. Just like we do in business we try to showcase our strengths, nothing wrong with that IMHO. Now if your article was titled R.I.P. Bullshitters, I would totally agree but I think you are mixing issues.
Well, R.I.P. bullshitters is just never going to happen, so I had to start small. Cheers, Phil.
I really hope personal branding dies a quick death. Not sure why it became ‘the thing’ because it was ridiculous. The average Joe or Joanna was never a brand and did very well for decades. Then all of a sudden we’re supposed to become Cher or Beyonce or that teenage canadian dude with the Donald Trump haircut?
Individuals have become brands because they market themselves as a ‘something’ rather than a ‘someone’. I doubt anyone looks to hire ‘The Brand Builder’. They want Olivier and the expertise you bring.
I really hope this is read by many in the blogging circles and the ‘social media experts/gurus’ stop trying to convince people to sell themselves as a commodity rather than the talented individuals they are.
Exactly. “The Brandbuilder Blog” is just the name of the blog. The Twitter account is that because initially, that account was meant to be an extension of the blog. The brand is tied to the blog and the business behind it. The brand and i are separate entities. So you’re right: When people hire me, they hire me. The Brandbuilder brand is just context, nothing more. 😉
Judging by the number of comments disagreeing with the post, I don’t think i’ll get my wish anytime soon.
Thanks, Sara. 🙂
Nice post, about 5 years too late, but nice post nonetheless
I have to say that I disagree as well.
I understand where you’re coming from and yes the idea of creating yourself as a litteral brand is not right.
A true ‘personal brand’ is merely how you represent yourself online, engage with others and build relationships. As others have commented, being genuine goes a long way, there are far too many folks in SM carrying themselves with a “Used car salesman” version of a personal brand.
When i was five years old, I didn’t have a personal brand. How I engaged with people was just how I engaged with people. Same thing at 15. Same thing at 25. If I am still doing the same thing at 40, why do I need to have a personal brand too?
And what does that entail? Now i need to focus on my Klout score and my blog;s technorati rankings? I have to buy followers and fans to boost my numbers and make myself look more popular than I really am? I have to pay someone to design a logo for me, come up with a tag line or slogan, develop a value proposition and marketing plan? Do I need an engagement strategy too and optimize my Facebook and twitter feeds?
It’s bullshit, Andrew. It’s a scam that feeds off 10%+ unemployment. Nothing more. Do great work, be smart about who notices it, and the rest will take care of itself.
Love your points on finding a good tailor. So true! You may want your readers to know about Bespokeable then, a service that connects you to master tailors from all over the world, and makes it insanely easy to collaborate and transact with them. http://bespokeable.com
This is probably the best comment here.
“The minute you become a brand, our relationship changes from ‘someone I like’ to ‘someone I should buy something from’.”
Like… a book recently translated to German for instance? I would take this post far more seriously if it were coming from someone like Spike Jones who truly walks the walk by letting his work speak for itself. The right side of this blog is so cluttered with self-congratulatory bullshit badges that it looks like a NASCAR vehicle. Like it or not, you’re a brand.
Wait… Spike, is that you?
Well written. Great argument. And I totally disagree with you.
In fact, having developed the first iteration of a Personal Branding Process for our organization, this post has affirmed and confirmed the direction we took and the foundational strategy that supports the process.
Depending on how you define it, a personal brand is not a thing you become, it’s about getting a greater understanding of who you are, what you’re most passionate about, discovering and owning your gifts and, then, using those your deeper understanding of those things to impact the world. A personal brand need not be an exercise solely based on identity shaping (as you assert), but a practice of introspection, and developing personal insight so that you consistently communicate from a place of genuine power – the only personal power that exists: the power that IS who you are.
Because of the multiple online social mediums available to communicate — and those communications can be reviewed in perpetuity on the internet — does it not make sense to take our parents advice and ‘think before we speak’ ? Like, *really* think, so that people can get a sense of our character and values.
To me, communicating from this core is the essence of the personal brand.
Taking the time to sit with some big questions, go inside and take ownership of the things that make you special so that you can make an even bigger impact is a far different concern than trying to manipulate one’s online persona; it’s conscious career creation. That’s personal branding as I would term it.
Les, that isn’t personal branding. That’s just sitting down and understanding who you are and what you want.
I agree with you Les. As a resume writer/career coach who has helped thousands, your definition of a “personal brand” corresponds with mine. The process of personal branding can be very powerful – and needs to be based on their core. This brings honesty – and consistency in dealing with people. This is not manipulation – instead this brings clarity.
This is what I always thought personal branding is.
Wow, I’m not sure how I feel about this post. There’s so much truth to it, but it seems you’ve taken a definitional stance that personal branding means I want to sell you a product. I look at it slightly differently, and define personal brand as helping people who don’t know me intimately learn who I am, what interests me, and what I stand for through social media avenues. Things like Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog, etc. online allow someone to get a sense of who I am. So in a sense, utilizing online tools to augment the real you can help me connect to people that I may have never met before and allow us to determine if there’s any relevancy together.
Funny, I wrote a blog post this AM (unpublished) on why I blog. One of the reasons I note is branding. You’ve definitely made me stop and pause to think, which is great and why I like your stuff. Keep up the good work.
“Helping people who don’t know me intimately learn who I am, what interests me, and what I stand for through social media avenues” is just good communications, Mark. It isn’t branding. 😉
Congrats on having your book translated in German. I have to say the Tailor part is critical and I think I have been slacking on that part although I was approached by an online store that can create custom fit shirts (you can also build them) at a decent price.
I also love the Michael Jordan Analogy… I have to agree doing over talking is where you loose a lot of people. I think one of the things I read on many occasions is how people are supposedly branding something but don’t have the product right. Like in many other occasions I have to say that I will be using your example of Michael Jordan and a few more with people who are obsessed with branding when their product stinks.
That’s very true about not getting the product right. Remember Microsoft’s Zune? There was nothing wrong with the branding. And for a short while, it was better than what Apple was offering with early versions of the iPod. Where’s Zune today? 😉
Air Jordans sold by the millions because he could play basketball like nobody’s business, not because his LinkedIn account and Facebook fan page were really well curated.
I have been doing a bit of soul searching. I started my blog as a way of ‘slowing down time’, as a way of tracking my progress. Blogging has helped me understand what I love to do most. However, It has also distracted me from my daily tasks. Though I must say landing on your blog has given me more ideas. After reading your article (and I will go back for a second helping), I realise I have a lot to understand and the most important message is that I should keep it real.
‘So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?’
It will be about language learning, sharing my passion and I honestly hope to make a living out of it.
Happy New Year to you Olivier
😀 I think you’re the first person to actually answer the question. Thank you.
Yes, this. Olivier, have +1000 internets for this post.
My work here is done.
I think we can work this both ways, my friend. Time to offer a $79.95 course for Erasing One’s Personal Brand. An extra $99.95 for boosting your Klout score at the same time…
You always have all the angles, Woodruff. How do you do that, man?
Opportunism is part of my Personal Br……oops.
I can’t agree more but in my 15 years of contracting and freelancing experience many times the ones that are fake are the ones interviewing you and when I was myself (as usual) I got rejected. I find that Anglosaxson countries are more fake both ways then other countries. It also depends on the industry you are working in. An accountant wont need to as fake as a art director or musician.
Also, a well branded product will eventually fail if it’s a bad product or service I matter how well it’s promoted, designed or branded.
1. If the guy interviewing me wants a fake me, he’s going to be disappointed when the real me comes to work every morning. It won’t take 6 months for the “personal brand” I used to get the job falls away and the real me surfaces. Then what? Then we have a problem. I’m usually more interested in finding the right fit (both for myself and the company) than in getting a job that will look good on my CV. So… I turn away a good deal of opportunities, and sometimes end an interview knowing I don’t need to go to work for that company. So there’s that. (Maybe it’s because i’m French, but it’s also because I’ve worked for companies that weren’t a good fit for me and i don’t ever want to do that again.)
2. Absolutely: When the product doesn’t work, no amount of good branding will ultimately make it successful.
Kinda late to the party, but I gotta say that once again Monsieur Blanchard makes one think beyond the here & now. I believe he brings up a really good point about being yourself, doing good work & good things will follow. After the agency I was a part of closed its doors, I immediately took to a variety of social media channels to ask for assistance in either job leads or getting freelance work. Immediately, I was overran with both. I picked up six freelance clients and eventually got a job in less than a month. Am I building a personal brand? I don’t think so, I think my reputation and past work shows my abilities. We always want to categorize things and I think as social media has evolved, we’ve looked for ways to categorize this new medium and its nuances. Personal branding? TomatO-TomAHto. Stop looking for the categories, the silos, whatever you want to call it and just do great work, the rest will speak for itself.
5,000+ visitors already? Wow. I usually only see 800-1,500 per day. Must have struck a cord.
Mostly useful, and happy to share this post with one caveat: #4 is somewhat lame in this context. It’s decent advice, but seemed like a belaboured attempt to slide in a brand plug for Esquire.
Looking like a civilized adult is important, and carrying one’s self well is a learned behaviour, but isn’t that also part of your personal brand? Style?
I know what you mean.
Having said that, I Esquire nails it with that spring & fall guide. It’s a relevant resource, nothing more. If GQ or Men’s Health or even CNN.com had a better one, I would have pointed to that.
Also, I don’t think that having style is anything more than having style. Does it say something about you? Yes. Is it branding? Not unless you wear a costume and that’s part of your shtick. I know a few people who wear props like lab coats and funny hats and think it makes them memorable. Well, it does. If that’s their idea of building a personal brand, that’s cool.
Don’t you think that by the time someone starts focusing on creating their personal brand instead of just being comfortable with who they are, they’re already trying too damn hard?
I agree with and like your 5 points ~ well said. However, I still think there is a place for Personal Brand. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” When you are a consultant or anyone who sells your own services ~ your name matters. People come to think of your name with a set of intrinsic values based on what they have seen, experienced, or heard about you.
I think it’s important for kids today to realize that every action they make reflects their own brand ~ their own sell-ability in the marketplace for their services ~ getting hired in any fashion.
I especially liked the point that if you are an “a**hole” then work on it or spend less time on facebook 😉 BTW: book is great. I’m teaching new media at the university level and I added your book as an optional book for my course. Thanks for all your contributions to marketing, branding, and social media!!
“… one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
I rest my case. 😉
Cheers, Angel. Thanks for the kind words.
I wouldn’t say that brands are insincere. That isn’t what I am saying at all.
The act of transforming a person into a brand invariably leads to some degree of selective editing. You turn a human being into a packaged product. So sincerity, transparency and especially authenticity take a hit.
While this applies to people, it isn’t necessarily true of objects. Brands can be perfectly sincere and authentic when applied to technology companies, shoe stores and coffee shops. No issue there. 🙂
The point of this article isn’t really to announce the death knell of the *term* “personal branding” but the *practice*.
Let me be incredibly forward: if it’s easy for you to suppress your “true self” and act – in any situation – contrary to your feelings in order to get what you want, congratulations! You’re part of a special group that comprises less than 10% of humanity: you have ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER. My point is that it takes a *ton* of energy to act in a way that doesn’t line up with how you feel on the inside – and if you can do it easily and frequently, you’re defective in the worst way.
And as someone who’s been employed for just three months after a 1 1/2 year job search, I can tell you there are people who prey – yes, PREY – on the unemployed and others selling a brand of shit that they’ve wrapped in gold to cover the smell. The real irony of that is that these job seekers – desperate for anything after a twenty vague rejection letters and five recruiters that can’t help – are often taking advice from people who have nary a clue what they’re doing. Do you want to take job and recruitment advice from someone who’s been doing it for less than two years, got shit-canned, and then made a website giving advice to job seekers? Do you want to take “personal branding” advice from a recruiter who does little more than post obnoxious tweets and hosts a “blog radio show”? I didn’t think so, but yes Virginia, there are people who do.
If you’re despondent, lost, or you’re simply in a rut: go see a therapist. Don’t waste your time in the Twitterverse or blogosphere looking for help. “Personal branding” is just a mask for the question of, “Who am I, really?” and it takes thoughtful and honest introspection to achieve the answer to that question. “Personal branding experts”, rather than work with you, just want to take you, gussy you up, and spin you to make you *look* great to someone, not *make* you great.
You’re my hero right now. That was beautiful and spot on.
By the way, congrats on the new gig. 🙂
Thank you for a great post, something very topical at this stage in my personal development and points that everybody should assess.
I had decided that 2012 would be where I continue to concentrate on doing good work to build credibility. Social Media and raising awareness of my existence will be important, again to build credibility and not to define “my brand”.
My two pennies; people need to be flexible even if offering professional services. If the offering is rigid, start a company and develop the brand of that company.
I look forward to more posts.
That’s perfect. 🙂 Thanks for that, Mike.
Can a personal brand be built on the concept of Altruistic Reciprocity (ala Steve Knox formerly with tremor) and this remain sincere? It isn’t a mathematical equation, is it? If you do A (create a personal brand) then B (you lose your humanity).
Or maybe you are saying that the concept itself is nonsensical. That what people are calling personal brands are just an amplified “Digital Super Me” (ala Alex Bogusky)?
Lastly – by saying it is dead are we overlooking the roles individuals play in shaping their companies brands? Is Scott Monty’s personality (or brand) affecting Ford’s social media? Do people look outside his ^SM tagged tweets on @Ford to learn more about him and his viewpoints?
As always, thanks for your insights, Ollie.
Best. Name. Ever.
I really like the “Digital Super Me” thing. That just about encapsulates the whole notion of the “Personal Superglobal Microbrand.” 😀
Is Scott Monty a brand? No. Scott Monty is a guy with a tremendous reputation and a personality and a clear-cut role when it comes to his relationship with Ford. He’s also a snazzy dresser and a cool guy offline. And he’s probably also a hundred other things that most people will never know about unless they become part of his inner circle of family and friends.
Is it fair to turn Scott Monty into a “brand?” No. It turns him into (once again) a character, a product, a 2-dimensional version of who and what Scott Monty is. Trying to turn him into a brand is like taking 4% of what makes Scott Monty Scott Monty and rolling with only that. Here’s a thought. He isn’t the jolly Green Giant or Capn’ Crunch. He’s a hell of a lot more complex and valuable than that.
Think about it this way: Spartacus was a symbol. Che Guevara was a symbol as well. That’s why you’ll see his mug and beret pop up on T-shirts and posters and #Occupy signs. Right? There’s name recognition and trade dress there, just as with an Apple logo or the Starbucks mark. And yet are they really brands?
So let’s take a step back here. A brand is a symbol but not every symbol is a brand. Before we can become brands, we have to be symbols. What are you and I symbols of? How are we iconic in any way? Why would anyone dream of slapping our faces on T-shirts or getting them tattooed on their shoulders (or their butts, even)?
In contrast, there’s this really cool brand in the nether regions of the South East, somewhere west of the Shire and East of Eden. The logo is a bomb and one of its call signs is #149 or some such nonsense. Who started it, nobody knows. He could be standing in a crowd of people in New York or Paris or London, and no one would have any idea who he is. And yet, show that logo and some people there will know exactly what it is. Mention Tyler’s name even in passing, and people will nod and understand and walk on.
This isn’t a test, sir.
I’m not a Calvin Klein ad. I don’t look like what a real man is supposed to look like. I’m not even Jack’s raging bile duct. I’m just Olivier Blanchard, #149, the guy behind the BrandBuilder blog, father of two, wrangler of chihuahuas, cyclist, marathoner, ironman, photographer, globe-trotter, occasional writer, drinker of skim milk, irreverent political pragmatist, possibly the worst basketball player on the planet, gap-toothed assclown, Parisian-born troublemaker, twitter sheriff, reader of awful ancient Rome adventure novels, son of Alain and grandson of Olivier (the other one), former-equestrian, sharpshooter, right-handed skier, practicing non-golfer, frustrated agnostic, croissant addict, smuggler and occasional privateer, husband to a paradigm of patience and grace, the godson of Snark, and even with that, we’ve only barely scratched the surface of who and what I am.
What are my brand attributes? What’s my trade dress? What’s my value proposition? I’m a brand as much as the sky is a brand, as much as the sea can be a brand. I’m the steak on your plate, not the package it came in. I’m everything Santa Claus, Kermit the frog and Ronald McDonald can’t be because I’m real and complicated and made up of so many unique parts and quirks that a single brand could never hold me.
We’ve just regained cabin pressure.
Your single-serving friend,
the other other other #149.
Dumbfounded. I clearly owe you a drink, good sir. Somehow your stream of conscious paragraphs at the end spoke more clearly than your well-written blog post.
And I’m okay with that. 🙂
I make more sense when I tap into the abstract. It’s the Kafka in me.
Excellent insights and information. Thank you.
This is a fantastic (and gutsy) post. We’ve all seen the fakery out there. Surely most of us know people who create hollow “personal brands”, despite having little in the way of experience to back it up. They are like empty Hot Pockets. I’m hungry.
Sure, some peoples’ brands are “authentic”, but in the long run, good work and one’s true personality will always take care of everything else.
Furthermore, way to speak the truth in regards to Klout. People spend more time concerning themselves with gaming a system than with worrying about their true standing in “real life”, for lack of a better term. Klout is nothing but a glorified game, not a true social tool.
And don’t get me started on the “social media expert” thing. To me, it’s synonymous with “haven’t actually done anything”. Show me a marketing project you worked on, or some hard technical skills…not an empty buzz title. Talk is cheap! Just because I can drive a car doesn’t make me a mechanic.
Thanks, Mike. I can’t even find anything clever to say about your comment. It already says it all. Cheer. 🙂
A. F’ing. Men. Wow Olivier. I love you. And I love this post. As someone who keeps it real and often receives criticism as a result, I couldn’t agree more. And at the end of the day, keeping it real is what has enabled me to ‘keep it.’ This post should be required reading for every social media ‘expert,’ ‘guru,’ ‘rock star’ and ‘weblebrity.’ And then everyone else who thinks that all it takes is smoke and mirrors. Standing Ovation. Capitalization not optional.
Social media gurus, rock stars, ninjas and jedi don’t want to read that. They’re too busy writing stuff like this: http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2012/6736/personal-branding-trends-for-2012-part-1?adref=nlt010412&utm_source=mpt&utm_medium=howto&utm_campaign=basic&utm_term=career&utm_content=article
Dude, I am changing sex and having your babies for this post. #thankfuckforcommonsense
Okay, but I might have to get really really drunk if this is going to work.
Hell, I seem to have double-posted my name. Maybe I’m drunk. Wait – this isn’t Social Media Examiner?
Thank you Liz for retweeting this, and all I can say, Olivier, is Hallelujah.
I’m a fan of social media and use it – as a tool. Social media about social media about social media (and using social media to turn people into brands, or more specifically the who and what people present themselves to be – it’s all so much navel gazing when it goes too far.
It’s harmless to some extent. And not, when people present themselves, their expertise, and their products/services as something other than what they are. All very easy to do these days.
And we who get caught up in all of this (promotion of people with nothing to promote but themselves) – we get what we deserve, and what a mess that can become. We would all be wise to carefully vet who and what we see and read on the net. Forgive me for dropping in a link, but I do believe it’s relevant. The distinctions between expertise, authority, credibility, credentials.
Great post. Great discussion. Thank you.
The edification of navel-gazing just about defines the essence of the thing, yes. 🙂
i suppose that’s why my social media sites sport a picture of my converse and not my face – i hate selling myself and as a music writer and photographer its about my writing and pics AND the bands i cover, rather than me. Good blog.
It’s especially hard for photographers to come out from behind the camera. I had this blog for years before I put my face and name anywhere near the front page.
All the talk of navel gazing, symbols, brands, logos, reputation… word. What a discussion, smart arguments on both sides.
“Charles Barkley is not a role model. I am not a brand.” That’s the opening line of a draft I’ve never finished on this topic. I’ve mentioned it before, Oprah IMO is not a brand. Her name, her ‘celebrity’ has been branded to sell all manner of things and earn her a gagillion dollars. It’s still a public and professional persona that’s branded, not the personal, private person.
Think Jonathan Hyland nailed it; it’s the difference between ‘appearing’ smart and social vs. actually ‘being’ smart and social, hell just being yourself. Certainly agree with your ‘more walk, less talk’ idea and #3, hell yeah. Images and ‘personal brands’ can be gamed, manufactured, manipulated, schemed; I think reputations have to be earned. FWIW.
The movement for personal branding always bothered me because I view it through the lenses of a team. What’s good for the team, usually benefits the entire team. What’s good for the individual, is well, usually just good for the individual. Personal branding is good for the individual and it distracts from a team’s goals. This isn’t just a leadership point, it’s an economics point as well. There’s a great bar scene in the movie Good Will Hunting that describes this point precisely. Forget Matt Damon’s analogy and insert whatever variable for Y desired – it’ll work the same way.
BTW, always admire the effort that goes into your comments, Olivier. Long posts and longer comments.
Thanks, Frank. I think what it all boils down to is this: have you ever met anyone who was really focused on building a personal brand who was happily employed? I haven’t. people who fall for this are either unemployed, underemployed, self-employed (perhaps by default), or looking to make a change in their careers. For the latter, the “team” dynamic you bring up is super relevant. Here’s a person who is so focused on themselves that you can’t help but wonder where that leaves his/her colleagues and team mates. And once someone goes down that road of systematic self-promotion, can they ever really be a reliable team mate?
OK, so it’s dead. My business partner have argued about this for years….no one really wants to BE a brand…they just want what the brand has… mind share.
Where do you start? How do you start building your brand? Just need some help understanding how to create that image that people want to be a part of or buy from.
Stop being fake. You said a mouthful with that one statement. Actually the entire post was excellent, but the not being fake resonated with me. So many hide behind FB and Twitter personas and when you meet them in person, they are the total opposite.
My goals for this year are to finish my ebook and focus on writing more on my blog. Less time on social media and more time creating what I set out to create via my company, Jem of the South.
I spent a full summer of university writing a paper on People as Brands. Sidney J. Levy helped me on it. We are brands. http://davidhowse.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/what-is-a-brand-a-philosophical-definition-are-people-brands/
Are you saying we can change ourselves…what we think, say, and do…in order to get desired results from people? That simple citizens (not celebs) should be self-promoting PR engines?
What is the purpose of a brand? I think it is to affect people. To give them symbols and ideals they resonate with so they buy your product.
All marketing is psychology. We are trying to change peoples’ behaviors so they choose our product/service over our competitors.
To create a personal brand that influences others into a purchase/hiring decision is flat out chicanery. Be true to one’s self. Really. That’s good enough.
I really think this boils down to semantics. Personal Branding can be simplified into Personality.
Okay, look at it this way:
Alexander of Macedonia
Joe the Plumber
Any politician in an election year
Any contestant on The Apprentice
Any contestant on Millionaire Island
One group focuses on actually doing cool shit. The other group focuses on building their personal brands. Both make money, so in that sense, personal branding isn’t a complete waste of time. But by the same token, neither is masturbation.
It all boils down to what kind of person you want to be and what kind of mark you want to make. Group 1 or group 2. The gunmetal Aston Martin DB9 or the dayglo Lambo with your name stenciled on the hood. Letting your work promote you or spending all day promoting yourself. That’s the choice. And yes, this is a test, sir.
I choose the path of least ambition. Just let me make enough to go home, love my wife, and provide for my child.
And yes, I actually told my current employer those exact words during the interview. It turns out she was a “family first” person too and we’ve been golden ever since.
I’ll take the 10 year old Honda, thank you very much.
Sidney J. Levy, the world’s leading qualitative marketing research might disagree.
And I would also disagree. The paper to whgich this url links is pretty dense but it makes a case that the title Person is the brand that seperates us from animals.
My goodness, this is good. The comments are fascinating as well – all 120+ of them. First of all, I agree 110% and love the 5 tips, especially the tailor. A little known fact about me: I appear to have long legs, when in fact it’s a long torso and rather short legs. The result? My pants always must be hemmed, and inevitably altered at the waist because of odd cuts, etc. The point? I always feel better, walk taller and stand straighter in clothes that fit. Drives me batty to see professional women, or any woman for that matter, in ill fitting clothes, particularly if their pants are cleaning the sidewalk as they stroll along. Thank you.
Now, for the fakery and online shenanigans that count for ‘personal branding’ among the social media gurus, strategists, and online rain-makers. For some time now I’ve marveled at how someone can change their online ‘brand’ or persona overnight and suddenly become an expert in ‘branding’ or heaven forbid, ‘content marketing’ and with each new blog post and cup of Kool-aid offered, build their ‘community’ and bask in the glory of their new found greatness. Great. Does that community, or the expert for that matter, actually *do* anything? Do they work? Or, do they blog and build each other up all day, pushing newsletter sign-ups, e-books and the next new class on how to do whatever it is they do? I’d guess no.
This form of personal branding is on the rise and it reminds me more and more of used car salesmen. It’s simply not real. It’s not earned. It’s not based on real experiences. It’s preying on people who are looking for answers in the blogosphere and when given the opportunity for hope in their lives, will gladly take it.
Early on in my blogging path, I spent inordinate amounts of time online, blogging based on some perceived expectation of content and calendar, tweeting my arse off, and killing myself to talk to other marketers and PR people. I did this so effectively that I drove that Klout score right up and my business right down. I had a big wake up call and since then, spend less time online, blog when I want to, use social media as part of my marketing strategy that supports my business goals and thankfully, have plenty of happy clients and work on the books.
Yes, indeed. RIP to the personal brand. Long live hard work, demonstrated experience and results.
Goals for this year? Stay focused on doing good work for my clients, have more fun with my kids (they’re pretty stinking awesome) and my husband (he’s pretty awesome, too), and never take myself too seriously. cheers, Olivier!
Cheers, Erica. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I really like Deanna Zandt’s take on social media: be a Muppet.
* Be authentic.
* Seek out people who aren’t necessarily just like you and don’t always agree with you (expand your horizons).
* Be open to new ideas.
* Dream big.
Oh, just go watch her give the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VH8mTvJScU
Thanks. I will. 🙂
Olivier, as always, well written, and straight to the point!
Our agency worked in personal branding for 12 months or so in 2008 and early 2009; and we moved on pretty quickly. What we grappled with was this need to be authentic v having an image. In the end, we became more of a personal improvement and coaching business…this was not where our passions lie, so we exited left.
However, I do believe there is room for much of what the personal branding movement espoused; work out what your core is, work out the best way to communicate it authentically etc…maybe branding was just the wrong word 😉
Bring on May 2012?
Right. Clarity, focus and good comms with a nice healthy dose of realz. I like it. Thanks. 🙂
Thanks for the post Oliver! I agree with you and with Jonathan.
It’s not the term *Personal Branding* what’s dying, but rather the malpractice of faking or creating a “brand” that intends to deceive folks about who you are.
In my mind and persona branding / career orientation coaching practice I make a very strong point that *Personal Branding* is about uncovering and aligning your highest passions and interest with your greatest strengths and put them to work for other people.
It’s not about building and promoting a brand about you but rather about leaving your mark in someone else’s life.
Thanks for sharing and have an awesome 2012.
Interesting… but quite true. Sometimes its just hard for some people to separate themselves from their actual brand or product and instead market themselves in place of the product. While personal branding can be quite useful especially for those with businesses, I can imagine that it gets tiring, since you eventually become a brand.
I think Steve may have a point. If the person can only brand themselves in a genuine way, they may achieve a balance in between, possibly a balance in personal branding and branding that can serve beneficial for their future.
I doubt that Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Steven Spielberg ever wasted a minute thinking about their personal brands. They were too busy building companies. Now politicians on the other hand spend a lot of time building personal brands.
I guess it boils down to what you’re after. 😉
For your next post, can you please cover the concept that corporations are not persons, with the rights of persons, because they can outlive everyone else, or never die? That would also clarify a few things for me!
Sent from my (nicely designed but not sexy) iPad.
1. I can’t argue with the US Supreme Court, no matter how I want to. 😀
2. A redesign is in order.
Yes, YES, YEEES and again YEEEEES, Olivier like your points from 1 – 6, specially point 2.
I need to agree with you, Personal Branding is scam, if you suck as a person you will suck as brand as well. No matter how good logo, tag line or graphical your personal brand will be or is, sooner or later you will show your true colours.
Let’s get real, online presence has nothing to do with personal branding, is a bullshit, you want to know how to behave online, well dont say something that you wouldn’t say it in a microphone infront of full stadium. Plain and simple, period.
Here you got your personal branding for your online presence.
For me Personal Branding books / courses are equal to Dr. Phil show, it is for retarded people.
Klout is not far behind it IMO of course. All that nonsense with scores and influence needs to stop. Show me who you really are and i might engage with you, but dont run to me and try to engage with me coz algorithm say so.
I pay you much respect Olivier for this post!
Down with labels that distract people from creating something.
Go out an do … buzz words and labels are developed and imposed in order to give people a new service offering, a new topic to talk to death, and an excuse to elevate their status to make others feel that they are lacking that special something.
Be you, and then sing it LOUD and PROUD …
A brand is simply a metaphor for the concept it creates in someone’s mind. its a meme .
BECAUSE… drum roll, Markets are conversations! Cluetrain.com anyone. Sheesh.
We recognize each other by the sound, tone, inflection of voice, businesses do not have conversations, they are new and improved, etc.
like MACCA’s what do you think / feel about McDonalds?, ok, thats built through a whole lotta time money and marketing crap at the end of the day people are not talking about the BRAND. They are talking about their HUMAN experiences. You are a person, and well, the way people feel about it – is psychologically pretty much the same way they associate how you make them feel. (the whole Conceptual thing,) People however are more interesting,
so I love the whole #5) Be yourself.
and remember we see each other not as THEY ARE, but as WE ARE.
These points are great Olivier but how can you write a post saying “Personal Branding” is dead without first defining what you think personal branding is?
Without defining what you are talking about, I really could be guessing all day about what you are rallying against. Best I can see is you equate personal branding to being fake. Not sure anyone think being fake is a good idea.
Good question, Jason. Here’s the problem, and it’s twofold:
1. I haven’t heard a single definition of “personal branding” that either a) made any sense, b) could legitimately be applied to a human being or c) wasn’t actually something else (like good communications, clarity of focus, etc.) repackaged to fit into a “personal branding” service offering. Not one definition I have come across anywhere manages to effectively combine principles of brand development & management with the realities of being a human being (in or out of the workforce).
2. No two people I have run into who extolled the virtues of personal branding (whether they make a living off it or not) have agreed on what personal branding actually is. No two definitions are the same. I hear about identity, image, grooming, publishing, feed curation… Guess what: Those things aren’t personal branding. They’re identity, image, grooming, publishing and feed curation.
I don’t have a personal brand, Jason. I’m Olivier Blanchard. “The Brandbuilder” is the blog. You don’t have a personal brand. You’re Jason Keath. “Social Fresh” is the brand. Steve Jobs had Apple (company). Loic Lemeur has Le Web (conference) and Seesmic (company). Richard Branson has Virgin (empire). Louise Ciccone has Madonna (stage name). Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has Lady Gaga (fictional character). Remember what I wrote at the top of the post about characters and cultural vessels: James Dean, Marilyn Monroe real-life characters created to fit a narrative for the studios and fill a cultural need. Turning people into brands doesn’t work. We can’t cope. We can’t pull it off.
Once you get up in the high ether of celebrities, lines get blurred. I’ll give you that. Tiger Woods may have a logo so it’s easy to think of him as a brand, but the brand is still ultimately Nike. He just lends his name and image to a product line to give it context. Same with lance Armstrong. The brand is Nike. It’s Livestrong. It isn’t Lance Armstrong though. Michael Jordan: Same thing. Ultimately, those are just long term endorsement. They become part of the brand narrative. The athletes themselves though are not the brand.
Martha Stewart and Oprah: Same thing. They aren’t brands. They’ve enjoyed fame and decided to create brands that leverage that fame. It’s hard to tell where Martha Stewart ends and Martha Stewart Co. begins, but when you work in the brand management world, those lines don’t stay blurred very long. Martha Stewart is a person. Her company and the character she plays (as herself) on her shows are completely different entities. Now scale that back down to people who are not famous, and you see how this becomes completely ridiculous. Celebrities are thrust into that no-man’s-land of human brands. Me, you, your neighbor, not so much.
If people want to attract the attention of recruiters and hope to make a name for themselves, they can do what you did: You created something people find valuable, you promote it, manage it, nurture it and help it grow. You built a brand: “Social Fresh.” Before it’s all said and done, you’ll probably have a few more under your belt. People will know you through your work and your successes. That’s how and why people took notice of you. That’s the context of your notoriety. Its vehicle.
Now imagine if all this time you had focused on building the Jason Keath personal brand instead. Where would you be? I’ll tell you: You would be the guy who speaks for free at local social media conferences to try to get exposure for his personal brand. It’s a vicious self-serving cycle of navel gazing and empty expectations. An impractical, utterly pointless and ultimately a destructive force in far too many desperate people’s lives.
The concept of “personal branding” probably goes back centuries. Over the years, social media has only made it easier to reach the masses. And because a large percentage of them are stupid and/or gullible (this also goes back centuries), those people who don’t have anything better to do than spend 8-10 hours a day on twitter/facebook can end up generating a massive following which, in turn, makes them a perceived expert of sorts, which gets them invited to speak at social media conferences, which then allows them to write a book about marketing(!) which then has them fielding offers from dipshit corporate executives to endorse their products.
It’s not the “personal brander” that sucks eggs, it’s the system that allows it. And as long as there are sheep there will always be someone who’s willing to disguise themselves as a shepherd.
Growing up in the Bronx, a badass “personal brand” could be created by someone who kicked the asses of a few neighborhood softies, committed some petty crimes, and who got “put down” in the right crew. This allowed you to talk a lot of shit. Eventually, that person is confronted by a real badass and he doesn’t have his homeboys around to back him up. Oh, that’s when we find out how hard he really is (it’s usually a rather humbling experience).
If you wanna play pretend, that’s cool with me. Just don’t let your “personal brand” get you into something your hands can’t get you out of…
Just my two cents.
Ah, the skins we wear. 😀
149 comments and none of them about me??!! My personal brand is not working! 😉
Not Spike = Totally Hilarious. 😀
You need a gimmick, like a Hitler moustache or a weird little dog.
Enjoyed your article Olivier. There is a huge paradox: indeed a person ≠ a brand, period. And as with a cow, which is cattle, which does not mean cattle is cow… Being an authentic individual human being in all you say and do may well establish a ‘profile’ that may well be called/percieved a ‘brand’. But I believe you refer to the opposite direction where you deliberately create a profile/brand for that very purpose… That way you-as-a-person will become a product of your brand instead of the other way round. So, the paradox is that the less you are concerning yourself with ‘building a personal brand’ and just be-and-do-who-you-are, the better chance a profile of your authentic self may emerge that some may percieve as your ‘brand’, regarding which you will not have to concern yourself… 😉
Holy F*#k, this. Exactly. I wish I had those words.
That actually makes sense. I’ll walk with you for a bit.
But doesn’t that invalidate the process of “personal branding”? Doesn’t it suggest that any deliberate effort to build or create a “personal brand” is counterproductive for the reasons I outlined in the post? RE: Deliberate “personal brand-building” leading to becoming either a vessel for a cultural archetype, a character or a product. Authenticity flies out the window.
Hence: R.I.P. personal branding (not R.I.P. accidental personal brands).
Olivier, I respect you and you have some good arguments, but at the end of the post you’re promoting your book three different times! By promoting yourself, you’re promoting your brand and this post, with all the comments and retweets, is growing your brand. The fact is that I, and others, have a different perspective on personal branding. We believe that your brand needs to be authentic and transparent and that it needs to have substance. Also, everyone already has a personal brand, just few people manage it. You don’t need to be Lady Gaga to be known and respected. You can have authority over a given subject or skill instead, which is what the internet has enabled us to do more easily.
I’m obviously bias though because personal branding is my field. I’d be happy to discuss this more with you sometime. Again, you have some strong arguments based on your definition of what personal branding is. My definition is different than yours, of course.
See Dan, no.
Promoting my book has NOTHING to do with “personal branding.” I wrote a book. I am promoting it. The only thing that just happened there was me promoting my book. Not a single aspect of that was “personal branding.”
I am not “growing my brand” by attracting comments and retweets. In fact, I had no idea this post was going to get the response it did. I expected 30 comments at the most and very little interest. I just wanted to write about the topic and move on. There was no “growing my brand intent” behind it. Moreover, the only thing growing as a result of the activity around this post is the readership of this blog. Note the focus here: readership of this blog. That has nothing to do with “growing my brand.” It has to do with more people reading my blog. Maybe. It’s the content and the discussions that draws them here, not me or whatever my “personal brand” is supposed to be.
I hear what you’re saying, Dan. I could argue that side of the coin too. I just don’t see it that way. My reputation isn’t crafted. I have no trade dress, no jingle, no slogan. The blog is branded, sure. The twitter account I use as an extension of this blog is also. See my avatar? The orange and the TBB tag tie it visually to this blog. But me? Nah. I’m the guy behind the brandbuilder blog.
But here’s what’s also important: I am also a thousand other things beyond what my “personal brand” would have to be about. Brands have focus. They have purpose. They have some kind of cohesive narrative. Me on the other hand, not so much. On any given day I might be an asshole or your best friend. I can be 100% focused on politics one day, brand management or social business the next, and triathlon or food the day after that. I’m a writer, a photographer, a news junkie, a chihuahua owner, a closet beach bum, an endurance sports fanatic, a husband, a dad, a guy who is as passionate about innovation and technology as he is about history and figuring out how things work. I am a million contradictions and strange habits rolled into a bag of meat and bone. To brand myself would be to put aside the majority of that beautiful chaos and turn myself into something clear and focused and predictable. Something you can put on a shelf and point to and say “ah yeah. I get it.”
Sorry, Dan. If I were a mid-career manager looking to enhance my profile to score my next job, sure. I might find value in creating an idealized and function-specific version of me that I can smoothly present to hiring managers. I get it. But once that selling process is over, then what? You either go on playing that part or you go back to being yourself. Me, I don’t want to jump through those hoops.
I know a lot of people believe in the ABC (Always Be Closing) philosophy of life, but don’t live there. I sell products, sure, I sell time, I sell process and analysis and insight, I even sell what might pass for expertise, but I am not a product or a brand. I can’t be adequately labeled or branded – not just because I want to be free of labels but – because I’ve worked with the mechanics and processes of brand management almost my entire career and they just don’t work with human beings who actually value who they are, warts and all.
Cheers, man. 🙂
>> “unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something”
When the thing that’s being sold is an idea rather than a product, then this statement is not necessarily a negative.
Brands are useful and often necessary for effectively spreading ideas (think ‘TED’) — not only for extracting dollars.
Many people who — often altruistically — wish to spread an idea or two will benefit from being a brand (think ‘Seth Godin’) as well as a person,
I hear you Thomas, but:
1. When in the last 5 years (when this personal branding “movement” started taking off) has anyone focused on creating a personal brand so they could sell an idea? Aren’t people who work on their personal brands really more focused on selling themselves to potential employers, clients or subscribers? Think about it.
2.You don’t need to create a personal brand to sell people on the notion that they should save electricity or eat less fat or be nicer to old ladies. At our level – the level where all of this personal branding nonsense is taking place – the idea just needs to have value and be clearly articulated. That’s all you need. Efforts to build a personal brand would just get in the way.
Okay, Now let’s add some scale to this. Real scale. For BIG ideas and BIG movements, yes, you sometimes need symbols. Human symbols like Jesus or Gandhi or Hitler. Note that I mentioned this exception (vessels for cultural archetypes) early in the post.
Here’s how it works:
First, if you want to sell an idea, first you package the idea.
Let’s look at the Nazis for a second, because it’s an example where lines can easily get blurred between branding, ideas, and personal branding: Hitler may have been the front man for the political movement but the brand was Nazism. It was the swastika, the flags and the uniforms, the projection of power, the blond-haired, blue-eyed supermodel-looking farmers, the tailored uniforms, the SS badges and the skull & bones, the eagle symbol of the old Roman legions, even the architecture. The propaganda and the party’s trade dress followed a specific narrative that was meticulously crafted. The messaging was basically ‘a German Germany, Aryans are the chosen people, we’re going to rule over everyone and rid the world of lesser races.’ Every element of truly branding an idea and the movement behind it are there.
You build the idea first, then package it. Then, if you want the idea to lead to political change, you need to put a face on it because you need a voice, a leader. People need to have a leader. An Alpha. Not just something to follow but someone. Enter the role of “personal branding.”
The Adolph Hitler that the public saw was crafted as carefully as the rest of the narrative and trade dress that made Nazism a success. For all intents and purposes Hitler played a character based on himself that produced the movement’s desired effect. Can we look at this as an example of personal branding? Yes. The moustache, the perfectly diagonal lock of hair, the clothes, the way he stood and addressed crowds, how he used his voice and his eyes, right down to the fist-shaking and the rhythm of his discourse. All of it was created, crafted, designed. Adolph Hitler the man made himself into Adolph Hitler the character.
This is why even today, anyone who slaps on a Hitler moustache or takes on any of the brand attributes we associate with Hitler is going to immediately remind people of Hitler.
Now let’s step away from that and apply it to the average person. And for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they aren’t trying to just build up their image and reach just to get a job or sell webinars. Let’s imagine that they truly are doing it to sell an idea. The only way that happens is if they are willing to give up who they are and become a symbol. A character. Some examples: Big Brother. Jane Fonda. V (for Vendetta). Tyler Durden (Project Mayhem/Fight Club). Che.
You CAN turn yourself into a “brand” in order to sell an idea. It’s essentially the process of becoming an icon, of becoming the face of the movement that drives the idea. But what it forces you to become in the process is a character.
Building a personal brand = creating a character. For the average person trying to “be real” and “authentic,” that poses a fundamental problem, doesn’t it? 😉
PS: Seth Godin does apply certain elements of branding to his image, but he doesn’t sell ideas. He presents ideas (the way Malcolm Gladwell presents ideas) and some are good while others aren’t. “Advertising is dead” wasn’t exactly his brightest moment, for instance. There isn’t really a central idea behind Seth. He’s a charismatic guy with a very unique (iconic) look that he either cultivated over the years or just accidentally arrived at by virtue of being bald and having a pretty recognizable mug and physique. he doesn’t sell ideas though. He sells products. Books, Squidoo, Domino… he uses his fame, reputation and the context of his image to attract people to his products, but I wouldn’t say that Seth deliberately built a “personal brand.” He was too busy writing, thinking and working.
Godin is like Spielberg and Jobs in a way: Iconic because of his success. What we perceive as his personal brand was born out of the success of his ventures and his willingness to put himself in the public eye.
Compare that to Jersey Shore’s Snooki, former actress Lindsay Lohan or any politician in an election year. This second group, in contrast, is more focused on building personal brands than on building something that will make them famous or iconic or even relevant over time.)
Which group has more value, relevance and credibility? Which group is composed of people being themselves and earning fame and which group is composed of people trying really hard to be noticed by playing a part? For the latter, how’s that working out? Which group would you rather be in?
I’m glad you brought up that angle. Always a great discussion.
Mmmm – over a third of the posts and 50% of the content coming from you Oliver and it’s not about the personal brand at all???!!! Where’s the authenticity in that? :-O
Good post and I do agree. However, to me personal branding is not about being something you are not, it rather is about understanding what you are, what you are good at and ensuring that the messages you give or transmit, show that.
Sometimes, people don’t effectively communicate what they really are. As an example, I manage a team of network security professionals. Once of the team members is an excellent security architect who started just over a year ago. What I noticed was that most of the people that worked with him did not feel he had the skill of a security architect, rather his skill was that of an security operations person. We have since fixed that, and it is not improving his architectural skills or knowledge, it had everything to do with how he communicated his brand.
People that communicate a personal brand that indicate something they are not are phony and I don’t want to work with them, for them, or have them work for me. Leveraging your brand to communicate your strengths and personality is what personal branding is all about to me.
This is definitely one of the best posts I have read about Personal Branding. I was too confused and the term Personal Branding did attract me. I thought making a personal brand makes alot of difference in this Social media craze. But to look the other side of the coin, it really doesnt make a difference. The real thing is, Work.
Thanks once again!
What a delightfully important topic for 2012. Many of us are venturing out on our own, or are part of a small organization, and personal branding sounds alluring. Thanks for reminding all of us that authenticity and always doing your best is still the most important aspect of what we bring to the relationship.
Whew! What a relief! I’m new to the blogging world and I’ve reading a lot about personal branding and marketing strategies, etc. and I have felt uncomfortable with much of it. It seemed to me that in order to “drive more traffic” to my blog or Facebook page I had to use tactics to manipulate people into opting in. None of that felt right to me and I have struggled with implementing them. Yes, I want more traffic…not because I want to sell something to anyone. I simply want to encourage and inspire people. I want to make a difference.
So, I have been not sure how to get more traffic without sacrificing my integrity. I just keep telling myself that if I keep focusing on providing helpful content and don’t give up no matter what the statistics say, that I will grow more followers who find my blog helpful. I just need to be patient and stay focused on what i am committed to and let what happens happen.
This was so helpful for me. It brought clarity to my confusion on the matter of branding and also brought peace to my heart. It is OK for me not to give in to the pressure that if I don’t do it the way the probloggers say then my blog will fail.
Have a wonderful day!
Hey Oliver! I enjoyed your post. When I think of personal branding I think of doing what you love to do (being authentic) and sharing your passion and its value with the world. If someone chooses to brand themselves around their passion and what they want to be known for, is that a bad thing? I believe personal branding or creating a personal brand can bring value to the community when done around a passion and a want to help others. Would you agree that there are cases of personal branding that shouldn’t see their way to the door this year?
Fair enough, but…
1. the mechanics of turning yourself into a brand are still what they are: Not applicable to human beings unless they are willing to become products, vessels or characters. Turning into a brand means you distill the whole of who you are into a few marketable attributes. You can be authentically you or you can be a brand. You can’t really be both. Brands don’t have moods. Brands don’t have tantrums. Brands don’t have good days and bad days. Brands don’t change jobs or careers. Brands don’t get sick. Brands don’t get epiphanies and go a sabbaticals for a year to travel the world. What brands do have are specific attributes, trade dress, tag lines, product lines, and value propositions. Being a brand means being on message, being “on brand” 24/7. That isn’t compatible with being you. Sorry. It’s a nice notion but it just isn’t going to happen.
2. I would argue that if people become icons (and by default brands), it isn’t because they worked on building a brand. It’s become they focused on building something they were passionate about. While they were doing that, they weren’t building a personal brand. Actively pursuing the development of a “personal brand” is basically the pursuit of self-promotion. Genuine or not, you need to seriously ask yourself what the real driver of a daily focus on self-promotion really is.
Building a personal brand is a lot like someone working on building personal fame without necessarily doing anything to actually earn it. Richard Branson may be perceived as having a personal brand, but I can tell you he never wasted one minute of his life building a personal brand. He was too busy building Virgin and being Richard Branson. I’m also pretty sure that if you asked him to comment on the image people have of him vs. who he actually is, he would probably joke that Richard Branson “the brand” is not at all Richard Branson the man. One is a business superhero. The other is a guy as plagued with flaws and doubt and small regrets as he is blessed with success and fame.
Do the work and the accolades will follow. But my advice, for what it’s worth: Don’t focus on the accolades. They’re nice but they aren’t the end game. The end game is doing something in your life you can be utterly proud of. because in the end, when it all falls away and you’re looking at the end of the line, none of that superficial ego bullshit will matter to you. 😉
Olivier, I recently found your website and have really learned from you. Just an observation-your readers and blog responders are so talented. I’m so impressed with the open dialogue of your responders and super impressed with your energy to answer everyone with such an open mind. It speaks highly of you, your blog posts, and the intelligence of the people empowered to join in the conversation.
Thanks, man. I’m lucky to have the smartest readers on the interwebs. I can’t believe they keep coming back. 😀
I’m not sure I necessarily agree with this post. If someone brands themselves genuinely to begin with, then there shouldn’t be any problems.
Tip # 1 is very true. As they say actions speak louder than words. It’s words that really establish perception, it is actions.
Branding is not just a visual, it is everything about a person- Personality, mannerisms, what makes that person so interesting. It’s a collection of attributes. Like in business a brand is formed, it cannot be made. People build an overall impression of a person through the collective mentioned above, which is that what people call “The Brand” Visit any Starbucks and experience “The Brand” first hand Donald Trump or Richard Branson have become somewhat of “A Brand”
I just wrote an article about how fake personal branding can get you in dangerous waters, and why it’s good to stay with the truth:
First blogpost there, would appreciate your opinion 🙂
I ran across your post and felt I must comment. I hope I have misunderstood your premise. If you are simply encouraging people to be authentic, then I agree.
Too many people mistake Personal Branding to be creating a website and logo to promote nothing but the fact that they were born. They don’t market any accomplishments, services or product.
Often, what they do promote is untrue or inflated, like their egos.
However, to say that personal branding has no merit, is concerning.
Oprah and Lady GaGa do not have dibbs on personal branding, in fact the are examples of people who have embraced their brand.
We all have a brand image that lives in the hearts and lives of those we encounter each and everyday, however most never nurture it or leverage it to advance their careers or better enrich the lives of those around us.
It’s true reputation is critical. It’s true you must be authentic, but your image and your reputation don’t exist separate from each other in a vacuum. They go hand-in-hand.
It is discouraging to here someone condem personal branding to death, when so many can benefit from going through the process of discovering their strengths and defining what they are about -their brand.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water because some people abuse the process. If we do that, you should close up shop because I can list way too many “marketers” who have abuse the process “selling” their products.
My advice, discover your brand. Embrace. Use it to enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
Brent, thanks for the comment. Here’s the problem – you present the problem thus:
“It is discouraging to here someone condem personal branding to death, when so many can benefit from going through the process of discovering their strengths and defining what they are about -their brand.”
Truth is that there is a HUGE difference between analysis (“the process of discovering their strengths and defining what they are about”) and branding, which isn’t an act of discovery as much as it is the act of creating a structured identity, consistent narrative and market-friendly skin (trade dress) in order to turn a human being into a product.
Analysis vs. fabrication, Brent. That’s the heart of the problem. I am 100% in favor of analysis and empowerment. What I see out there isn’t that at all. It starts off with the analysis, but then it takes a wrong turn further down the road and turns into something… very different.
You’ve basically said “don’t market, just build a great product”. Rare is a product (or person) who becomes a household name without marketing.
Look, I don’t mind if you disagree, but your comment does two things:
1. It proves my point: “Rare is a product (or person) who becomes a household name without marketing.” That’s precisely what I said: by turning a human being into a brand, you turn them into a product. Now read your sentence again. You lead with product, then add “person” in parentheses. Exactly. “Presonal branding” turns people into products.
2. It puts words in my mouth. I’ve worked in marketing my entire professional life. Do you really think for one second that I would say “don’t market, just build a great product?” No. You have to do both. The product has to be great AND you have to market it properly. Not sure where you got “don’t market, just build a great product.” Certainly not from me.
PS: Another Freudian slip: “don’t market, just build a great product.” People are people, Michael, not products. You’re talking about building products again. They’re people.
There are way too many success stories around personal branding to totally discredit the concept.
I think branding can fit in a number of buckets and interpretations, depending on the end goal. Branding can be as simple as bringing your finest attributes as a person forward through a platform that reaches a multitude of people just like yourself. Connect those attributes to specific talent or body of knowledge and you become somewhat of an authority to people are interested in your personality, what you can do or what you know.
I don’t think its about building a facade that everyone will stop and admire, but has nothing behind it. Neither do I think its complete commercialization. In a world were we are inundated from every possible angle by things that aren’t real, people are in search of authenticity and analog experiences that they can actually relate to on a human level. What better way to have that connection than with another human.
The short of what I’m saying is that, personal branding, as I understand it…is putting one’s best qualities (and flaws) out there in a way that many can observe, absorb and bought into. How that is done is totally proprietary to the person.
I think you need to bring personal branding into the 21st century and realise it is no longer about “power dressing” and trying to be who you “should” be. Personal branding today is about learning how to connect and communicate with others. It is about understanding that in our workplace we have 5 generations working together so it is important to develop skills so that you can build relationships will all.
Don’t kid yourself most people can spot a fake personal brand. A successful personal brand is based on authenticity, credibility and likeability. So personal branding has not died it has just developed and had a makeover.
Hey there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know
a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.
Great message! I love this blog. Most people who are currently devoted or enslaved to their brand are going to be on the defense, but this is not a complicated message. It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical issue. If you are selling something or you’re (sadly) in the business yourself, be careful not to over-brand yourself because it makes you unhireable (who wants to work with a narcissist for long?)
For example, I am a journalism student. Before I had any portfolio pieces I wanted to put out to the general public, my professor expected me to 1. Write multiple news articles and 2. Put it on a blog (hence why I have a WordPress account) as well as Twitter. My point is that we shouldn’t brand ourselves before we have something focused to put out there. I wish I had not been pressured into creating a professional image of myself before I was sure of my beat or topic of passion. Keep in mind, I didn’t do any of this for recognition or money…it was for a grade. Even academia is obsessed with branding.
*are going to be on the defense. Is it possible to edit my comment?
This post helped me with deciding to quit personal branding.
Personal branding was starting to feel like American politics and mainstream media.
Great article and i totally agree in what you said about talking less and doing more, its amazing how many people “talk” about their brand but how they do things differ.
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