Personal Branding Is Not An Option – It's Crucial To Success

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More layoffs. Giving back bonuses. Fewer work days to save the company from firing people. Doing the job of the three people that were let go in your department. Not hiring the five people you were thinking about hiring. Trying to find a job in this climate…

Whether you are an employee in a big, medium or small business, or an entrepreneur, or about to enter the workforce, never has it been more important to understand the power of having, maintaining and developing a strong personal brand. Never before has there been more ways for you to connect and build your personal brand through digital channels.

Never has a simple search on Google been able to tell us more about a person, who they are, what they do, and why they matter.

What does Google say about you?

If brands matter more than ever (and they do, just ask Apple, Starbucks and Twitter), then the ability for individuals to build a personal brand has never been more important. Maybe the idea of "branding yourself" seems ridiculous. It’s not. It’s a subject that famed management guru and author of the best-selling business book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, first tackled in 1997 for an article in Fast Company magazine titled, The Brand Called You.

"Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. … You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop… To start thinking like your own favourite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times."

Peters gave us the beginning of an insight: like big corporate brands, all of the people we connect with have some kind of similar emotions and thoughts when they think about us as people. That mental tattoo that our personas and reputations create in their mind’s eye is the essence of our personal brand.

But Peters wrote this in a world where individuals were limited by how they could spread their personal brands Рthe Internet was just taking its commercial shape in 1997. Now, in a world of Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, our personal brands are resonating 24-hours-a-day, and the content we put in there and link to says more about who we are, as individuals than any one-page resum̩ ever could.

There’s a small caution.

People working on their personal brand sometimes seem a little snake-oil salesy-like. They would state that they were working on their personal brand in a way that made it look like they were trying too hard. They were the same kind of people who manoeuvred through the local chamber of commerce event dumping business cards in any available and open hand No need to be that person.

The amazing thing about developing your personal brand online in social networks and by blogging, is that you can hone in on connecting with those that have shared values and similar interests.

One of the best places to get started is a search engine. Start looking for blogs in your industry, and start following some of the more notable people on Twitter. After you get a feel for the type of content people are publishing, you can dip you toes into the personal branding waters by leaving comments on those blogs or spaces. You can even go neck deep and start your own blog to demonstrate your own, unique, perspective.

Personal branding and the new media space creates a unique and mutually beneficial relationship. Anyone can express who they are to the world. And, if you’re not sure what you have to say that is unique and different, just remember the immortal words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Personal branding is not merely an option – it’s crucial to success.

Vancouver Sun – The importance of your personal brand.


  1. I love your comment on “snake-oil salesy-like”, it seems to ring through loud and clear when it rears its ugly head. But the beauty of twitter and other such feeds is you can just turn it off with a single click.
    As soon as I get that feeling from someone I’m following, they’re gone!

  2. Like yeah! Of course it is crucial.
    When I started Cash and Curry without the Nantha`s Kitchen logo, people would read the menu outside the resto, and then walk by.
    As soon, as I added my old name and logo to the Cash and Curry, business started picking up!

  3. The beauty of using social media for builing a personal brand is that it happens organically, one post at a time… unless you’re one of the “snake-oil sales-y like” folks. There’s nothing more credible than consistent competence and even, for some, brilliance.

  4. Great article, Mitch! It’s so true that in this economic climate, you can’t afford *not* to pay attention to this.
    As I wrote in a recent post, unless you make your accomplishments known on a regular basis, you may find yourself with a pink slip because your managers don’t realize the value you bring to your organization.
    Chances are, your boss is just as worried about job security as you are, and focuses more on justifying their own existence than on tracking your accomplishments.
    If folks are interested in some offline methods for doing this, you might find some useful tips here:

  5. Great article, Mitch. When I was hiring a PM, the first thing I did was a search on Google and Facebook. You’d be amazed at how many candidates had open Facebook profiles – including all the drunken after-work pictures and nasty wall comments about the people they currently work with.
    We work so hard to give a great first impression during our first interview, forgetting that in today’s social media world the impression may have already been made even before you walked through the door.

  6. Twitter is the one that’s going to come and bite people.
    Blogs you can massage and update, Tweets are forwarded, pass around, indexed and NEVER forgotten.
    Yet, at the same time, I wonder if it’s going to matter. It’s no big deal that Obama smoked pot – pretty much all of his generation did.
    So in 30 years will the president have a porn tape and drunken escapades from youth splashed on YouTube and Facebook?

  7. I love Ze Frank’s expression of brand: it’s the emotional aftertaste of a set of experiences. When someone interacts with you, what aftertaste do you want them to walk away with? What should they recall, and more important, how should they FEEL about you?
    I would be so bold as to say that the feeling is more important than anything else – a good, solid, positive feeling about someone is what happens in the first 5 seconds of an interview. The rest just reinforces.

  8. Good post.
    Your personal brand is everywhere. Your talent now have 140 characters, and that is called: Twitter
    “Talent=Brand. Brand=Talent”
    (Tom Peters, Re-Imagine)

  9. Thanks for sharing the Fast Company article. I remember devouring that piece early in my professional career, it has stuck with me ever since. I’m still learning.
    We have to start teaching personal branding and net literacy in schools. I believe some schools have started teaching kids how to use some of these tools correctly, we need to do more.

  10. I wonder if this is going to be the next big thing?
    With the democratisation of the web everyone can develop their online brand to further their goals; whether this is e-commerce or corporate advancement. I’ve noticed how people with good online brands tend to rise quicker up the corp ladder.
    What is missing I think are the tools to bring all this together holistically, ie. bringing together your comments and blogs with your community tools with your sales tools (eg amazon marketplace).

  11. A google search of my name will bring up an online bibliography from my university days that is not telling of the current me except for my cheekiness (which thankfully hasn’t disappeared like I wish this link would). But it’s more provocative than all of the other, more professional links to my name, and so receives more hits and so has a rather high page ranking putting it first in the listings and therefore guaranteeing my online personality for infinity.
    Living your life online takes courage, a sense of humour, and a generous amount of PR saavy and self-protection.
    If you’re developing a personal brand you’re already beyond being totally authentic. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’d say it’s necessary to have a fabricated self to protect the “real” you.

  12. Funny this just came up, as I posted something very similar on my blog last night called The Brand You Can’t Not Pay Attention To.
    My main point, ultimately, is that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of their “brand” because it’s objective. But if you realize it’s your reputation, just to the Nth degree in our ultra-connected world, I think you get the emotional connection, the subjectivity of it.

  13. I think the most important thing is to “just be yourself”…people who brand themselves in the image of someone else will come off fake and in fact hurt their brand. Go out there and meet people like you.

  14. I am a PR student attempting to craft a personal brand. I realized that developing my brand was initially so difficult because I couldn’t understand why it was so important.
    Thinking about my personal brand as an online resume has helped me to focus my efforts. In this media obsessed culture, I am going to be represented online whether I like it or not. I might as well take control of what is out there so that I can retain some level of control over the situation.
    This Mashable article is helpful and outlines why certain social media sites are key to branding. Still, I struggle with not wanting to be pigeonholed. If I am unsure of exactly who my audience is, is it worthwhile to continue my efforts?

  15. Agreed. A quick Google search of my name brought up things that I didn’t think would be included on the top 10 search results.
    Taking control of your online identity across several mediums seems to be of growing importance. Representing yourself online with your friends, your hobbies and in a professional manner naturally create multiple identities of different aspects of your life in the internet. In the office you may be perceived as the ‘tech guru’ but with your friends you might be the Shawn White of snowboarding.
    How do you balance your online identity? In real life I don’t snowboard in a tie and dress pants an inversely don’t show up to meetings in my neon toque and over-sided snow pants!
    Online you only really have one outfit for every occasion.

  16. I understand the trend towards making a personal brand. Creating an online identity is crucial to career success because of the proliferation of social media. This is a relatively new concept to me but a vital one as a PR student.
    I am a bit apprehensive about defining my online identity. I‘m a man of varied interests and I feel defining my identity for opportunities now may limit me from opportunities I may want to pursue in the future. Ultimately, I feel constricted. And I’d like to think my character isn’t so simple that it can be summarized in 15 words.
    I’m also worried my particular brand could alienate audiences I may want to work with. I’m curious to know what people have to say about my concerns.

  17. This is true that branding is crucial for the success of any business, thats why every company spend a huge amount on the branding advertisements. But at the same time, as in the e-world, you need to be recognised on internet to get success.

  18. Branding is crucial to your business. Just read the best book by far BRANDING 101 by Donald Trump and Don Sexton. Once you start reading this book you will not be able to put it down. It is a very practical guide to branding yourself. Presently I am co-branding myself. I have teamed up with other business owners where I frequent and it is working. We drive business to each other. So, please buy the book and profit from it.

  19. Sing it, brother! When I help clients develop their personal brand I specifically address the snake-oily issue. Your brand is only as good as the skills and personality you’re marketing, so it’s imperative that you focus on your own personal development as a component of the process. And as you point out, it doesn’t hurt to remember that networking events aren’t about dumping your card on as many people as possible – in fact, it helps to remember that every interaction you have with people is networking. Take your brand online, and then get out into the world and do what it is you love and do best.

  20. Patrick,
    Your character won’t be summarized in 15 words – it’s the sum total of what you do and how you do it (which emanates from “why” – see “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek).
    As well, ‘branding’ yourself doesn’t limit future opportunities. I would suggest that you consider that branding does just the opposite – especially for people who on the surface seem to be doing a lot of very different things. Branding can help you sort out how your seemingly disparate interests and activities are really part and parcel of a bigger picture. This is because branding helps you identify (among other things) your skills and values. Focussing on these underlying characteristics rather than on a more superficial listing of jobs you’ve done can help you move among many jobs.
    For instance, I have a friend who graduated with a BA in History and was stymied because he didn’t know what that qualified him to do. When we looked at the skills he has (critical thinking and analysis, ability to use a library and conduct research, writing….) the potential for finding or creating work he loves opened significantly.
    Like I tell high school students when I’m working with them – don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up, choose something to write about NOW. It doesn’t matter what their blogs are about (paintballing, skateboarding…) because potential employers are looking for character traits – and they see these in how you write and present your material, not so much in the topic. As long as the topic allows your passion to shine, you’re golden!

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