Why You Need To Care More About Your Personal Brand

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A brand has always been about the collective emotion and attachment a group feels about a product or service. It’s the culmination of everything from the reputation and graphical representation to how the product works to how it is placed and perceived in the marketplace.

These new online social spaces have empowered individuals to promote their personal brands (and, yes, every individual does have a personal brand). That being said, a brand is not an icon that only represents one, specific, point of view. A brand like Apple has many brand attributes (from creativity and innovation to style and lifestyle) as does Starbucks (a third space after home and office, a personal indulgence, higher quality coffee, expensive, personal touch, etc…) that collectively creates many emotions that individuals are attracted to (or not).

The sad reality is that when most people discuss Personal Branding, what they’re really doing is using a nicer phrase for the words, “self promotion.”

Most people talking about “personal branding” are not using these channels to expand their network and provide value to build awareness, trust and reputation. Most people use these digital channels to simply promote themselves. A real personal brand is not about self-promotion. A strong and substantive personal brand is about using these channels to communicate who you are and your knowledge to other like-minded individuals. In doing so, you are marketing yourself by adding real value to your business, demonstrating what makes you better (or different) and, ultimately, when done well should connect you to some kind of community (or even establish you as one of the leaders). In doing so, you should be able to expand your network of influence and visibility, and then (if you’re doing things ethically) have people who are interested in who you are and what you represent connect in a mutually beneficial relationship – as all great brands do.

This will (and does) grow your business.

Were it not for Blogs, Podcasting, Twitter, etc… you would have ever been able to tap into the knowledge and insights of so many sharp and brilliant individuals (each of them with very distinct personal brands). People like Geoff Livingston, Shel Holtz, Kate Trgovac and C.C. Chapman are using these channels in this particular way. In doing so, these individuals have built tremendously powerful personal brands. The sad part is that most other people talking about Personal Branding are simply using these channels to scream out, “hey, look at me!” and are doing it for their own self-centered benefit.

Don’t believe it? Try connecting to some of the so-called A-listers from these social spaces. Now that they have used these channels to self-promote, score a book deal, get a speaking bureau to represent them or grow their business, they hardly have time to even respond to the exact people and channels who helped them get to this point in the first place.

There were high hopes that these digital channels would bring forward individuals who would nurture and build powerful personal brands (and some have), but for the most part, it is still the same old “look at me!” These new channels and tools have made it easy and cheap to publish, so most are using it for the sole purpose of self-promotion. That being said, those who do provide value are making an impact on others and, in doing so, are setting a foundation of trust, reliability, value and growing their own business all along the way… like all good brands do.

Does having a personal brand matter in times of recession when we need to be focusing on closing more deals or is it just valueless self-promotion? What’s your take?

(This Blog posting started off as a comment on The Buzz Bin Blog by Geoff Livingston in response to an amazing post he published today titled, I Don’t Care About Your Personal Brand. Thanks for the inspiration Geoff).


  1. Great post and very timely for me as I am trying to develop my personal brand at the moment. For me, putting this into context means a way for me to get across who I am. I’ve always been a mixed bag (this is a good thing) working on different projects, starting companies, advising, organising events, social media, researching, writing… so I am finding the exercise of putting together a personal website and really ‘thinking’ about what I represent extremely useful. Personal branding is probably more useful for when you work for yourself, but it is important to think about your online presence as others may prejudge you before meeting you. Ultimately it is self-promotion, but even when I had a company, most people knew it by my name and not the brand name. I think it can only be an advantage in business if you put consideration into this fact.

  2. The irony of self-promotion is that the people who pursue it to such a mercenary extent will eventually exhaust their audience.
    That’s just the natural order of things: if you try to exploit any resource without doing something to replenish it or sustain it, pretty soon you’ll deplete it. Chris Brogan’s 4th point backs this up: “The market doesn’t care about the persona, only what value the persona contributes to the larger community”.
    Bottom line: if you continue to extract value without adding it, you will open yourself to negative selection; and in a recession where value is at a premium, that kind of behaviour will put your personal brand at risk.

  3. Wow, I just got called Chris Brogan!
    In marketing — personal brands, PR, advertising, whatever — it always boils down to substantive promises vs. empty platitudes. It’s sadder in the case of personal brands because so many people want to be famous, want to be that rock star that they drink their own Kool Aid. The resulting spectacle can be disappointing.

  4. The most important brand you will ever work for is your own.
    I agree with everything you say – but part of creating a strong personal brand is promoting it.
    If some personal brands are only about self-promotion, than their net value will decrease over time as they exhaust themselves as suggested.
    Those who continue to add value will only see their stock rise.

  5. Reminds me of what Dale Carnegie once said: “You can make more friends in 2 months by being interested in other people than you can in 2 years trying to gets others to be interested in you.”
    It’s been something like 3 quarters of a century since he said that and we’re still struggling with it. How sad.

  6. It’s not about being famous. It’s about controlling your digital trail and managing your reputation. Not really optional, is it? Particularly in an economic downturn. Thanks Mitch for a provocative post.

  7. @Geoff Livingston: Dude. Apologies for the naming faux pas. Multi-tasking FAIL (too many windows open) on my part – and not an indication of my indifference to your personal brand. 🙂

  8. Mitch to save the day! This whole discussion is quite interesting and I’m not surprised that you are on the side of personal branding.
    Mitch, you share some great points here to counteract Geoff’s riff. The real key, from my standpoint, is that personal branding is about serving others and as a benefit, your personal brand will thrive. This means that you need to drive results for your business, and doing so will help you further your network, reputation, etc.

  9. The “digital trail” Debbie Wall mentions is critical today. After you meet someone, whether on-line or in person, if they are an early adapter, they google your name and company. What will they find?

  10. I was just speaking with a friend yesterday about how personal brands feel very contrived to me. Do we really need them or are they best suited for people who are needing/wanting to have a high profile persona around their name (i.e. a politician, celebrity)
    This doesn’t mean people don’t need to be mindful of their reputations but the idea of creating a personal brand removes the things about humans that make us interesting (to me anyway) – our spontaneity, our mistakes, our flipflopping, our multifaceted personalities.

  11. If we agree to say that branding consists of giving personality to a product/service/etc., a person is obviously the most powerful brand.
    That power relies of course in a person’s ability to communicate, thus our intent, as marketers, to create “conversations� between brands and people. The most successful brands are the ones who are able to do so, the ones who have an army of people communicating on their behalf or conversing about them – marketers/employees/customers/influencers.
    Why should it be different for a person? Pure self-promotion is just like shouting a message, most often to the wrong people at the wrong time and place. Unfortunately, people have always done that. Not everybody is curious, genuinely interested in others and willing to contribute their knowledge.
    There will always be annoying reps disturbing parties by trying to sell their products or services while the birthday cake is being served…
    Excellent interview with Rob Walker on Monday Mitch! Good promotion of your personal brand 😉

  12. Fair point Geoff. (Disclosure – I make a living from helping people identify what their unique skills and attributes are and to communicate them more effectively = personal branding).
    But it is always intersting to note that when something rises to a level of mass consciousness – which is where I believe personal branding is approaching then the opposite opinion appears as well. Great for debate and giving people more pros and cons to make an informed choice is always a good thing.

  13. Three more points:
    1. If “personal branding” is your business model, I agree with Geoff, it’s not very authetic and does not feel real. Well, maybe it does to the people who are buying from you.
    2. I don’t know why people equate “personal brand” to “celebrity”? Eveyone has a personal brand: whether you’re an introvert or someone famous… it’s just a different kind of personal brand that will resonate with a different type of audience and community.
    3. Debbie Weil is spot on. Your personal brand “is”. It’s your digital (and non-digital) footprint. It’s everything from a job promotion to your involement in your local community to how you communicate in your day-to-day job.

  14. Just like any brand it takes time to develop a trusted name.
    The reward should be proportional to the level of effort invested in delivering upon your own personal brand promises. It’s important to stand behind particular brand attributes such as being a knowledgeable resource, an entertaining personality, reliable, connected or even a key opinion leader depending on how you would like to be positioned within in your competitive set.
    Unfortunately the web provides tools enabling people to saturate an audience with communications, ultimately leading a misinformed audience down a wrong perceptual path. Although, as has been mentioned in this post, the market can only be tricked for so long and an inflated brand will eventually reveal its true colours.

  15. Very provocative post – thanks, Mitch!
    I had a potential client say to me recently, “I feel like I know you from your blog and your Twittering. Are you really like that in real like – or is it just a ‘persona'”.
    Aside from this being a very astute question, it also caught me a bit off-guard. Making up a persona is a lot of work. 🙂 I like to think that I (or “my brand”) is consistent, no matter what channel I’m in. It was great to then meet him in person and, at the end of the conversation, have him verify that my brand is, indeed, cross-channel compliant.
    A big part of maintaining my “personal brand” is looking at what gets published as well as what doesn’t. There are varying levels of self-censoring that happen, depending on who you are. Some people have such compelling brands (personalities) that I want to know more about their lives – yet they are notoriously private. Others I know WAY too much about – and that can negatively affect my perception. Is that fair? Yes and no – we all make judgements. Tone & manner is so hard to read in a digital channel; although information IS information, independent of tone.
    I find that balance of personal & professional particularly fascinating and troubling all at the same time.
    Oh, Mario, your observation is bang on! Thank you for the reminder about Carnegie.
    Good, thought provoking stuff for a grey early morning in Vancouver. Thanks!!

  16. Is it just me? Am I too old? Admittedly I am not a Digital Native – actually my grandchildren are. I do have a problem with the concept itself of Personal Branding.
    I am a person – I’m not a brand. My business is a brand. I am a multi-faceted human being. I am a father, a friend, a student, a birdwatcher, a photographer, an amateur microscopist, a comic book collector, a businessman, a cook, a hiker, etc. As a person I don’t want to be confined to being one specific Brand.
    As a social being I certainly have developed a business reputation as well as a personal one, both online and offline. Is Personal Branding just a new name for good old Reputation Management? I have had several businesses – they are all brands and they all exist independently of me. They are not me. I am not them.
    When I am having a conversation with others, I am a person listening / talking / communicating with other human beings. I am not a brand interacting with another brand.
    Am I the only one feeling uneasy about this?
    Note to myself: every morning look in the mirror and repeat 3 times: I am not a Brand, I am a Whole Person.

  17. Gilles,
    Of course Personal Branding is “just a new name for good old Reputation Management”. We are playing on words here. At least that’s what I think. Brands are managing their reputation just as much as people are branding themselves.
    By the way, I find very interesting that we “meet” on Six pixels of separation…as we are only separated by one degree: I used to work with your son and business partner François.

  18. Gilles – it might just be semantics. Overall, ask yourself this: how do the majority of people who are connected to you feel or think about when your name is mentioned? That is your personal brand. It’s everything from the way you dress and smell to your professional expertise and your hobbies.
    If you think that your personal brand is not refelcted by your several businesses and hobbies, I would argue that it does (and is). When someone says, “hey, do you know Gilles Arbour?” the response might be, “you mean the guy that ran that business five years ago?”
    I know people don’t like to think of themselves as brands because they think that brands cold are solely manufactured by corporations. This is not the case. Both people and companies are brands. And some brands are all about the celebrity and some brands are all about the humility.
    And yes, your reputation plays a huge role is how your brand is perceived in the marketplace, your community and even within your family.

  19. Reposting about this I considered the arguments and I agree that it doesn’t feel real if a brand is constructed.
    One of the more unique things that stands out to me about brands since Election Day is that Obama didn’t brand himself as a Hope Candidate or Change Candidate. His supporters did because they believed that’s what he stood for. Granted now there’s change.gov that means they are playing on that brand.
    He also really puts to victory on the shoulders of the people that created that brand. It’s going to be an interesting case study for years to come.

  20. Great to see this extended thread from Rohit’s blog.
    It’s a lot like the word “marketing” — one word made so dirty because of bad acts associated with it. But a word in itself is not bad.
    Some words are such minefields for discussion because different people have vastly different perceptions of what they mean (and indeed, they mean all these things and more): “lawyer” and “techno music” are a couple others.

  21. Great post Mitch! I am an MBA grad student in PA and currently in a Marketing Management class. I shared your post with our Prof who forwarded it to the class. Great stuff!
    I actually saw your Personal Branding speech at Podcamp Boston 2 and thought it was amazing. Do you have it online/text/slideshow/video anywhere as I think it would add to our discussions?
    Thanks and keep up the good work keeping me thinking.

  22. After reading on commenting on Geoff’s blog, I had to come here and see the latter.
    My stand point on it is that personal branding isnt for everyone, ill keep saying that. And for everyone who thinks that personal branding is a hoax or just some get rich scheme, why are you commenting online? Welcome to the web 2.0, everyone has a voice and wants to be heard, and sometimes will do anything to be known. By putting your two cents in on blogs and articles, or even your own website, you are creating a “personal brand” whether you like it or not that will eventually create a reputation, if you keep true to it.
    Ironic maybe, hypocritical, it’s not your fault. Personal branding is the new buzz word, much like “entrepreneur” was a few years ago. So instead of people gasping “OMG they’re an entrepreneur,” it’s now “Wow, that person has really branded themselves.”
    Regardless of what you want to call it (personal branding, reputation management or self promotion) by engaging with the online community of millions, you are creating SOMETHING around your name, that you will be known for.

  23. I’ll come out and admit i’m no where near a veteran at this stuff …
    From my perspective I’d say that if all your doing is focusing on your ‘personal brand’ then you are missing the point and need to make some adjustments.
    You must have something to offer people … what you offer is directly tied to your ‘personal brand’ … so if what you are offering is not something people want, need, etc… then your ‘personal brand’ will not be very good … or maybe better stated … your ‘personal brand’ will not bring any value to people.
    Who really cares about someones ‘personal brand’ if there’s no value add for those that your targeting.


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