Just How Valuable is Personal Branding?

I’ve been wondering whether Personal Branding is a Good Thing for me to pursue, or not.

As I continued the process I wrote about yesterday, of figuring out how to answer effectively the “What do you do?” question and – by extension – how that might be something people could be interested in paying me to do for and with them, my thoughts turned to the idea of personal branding. And positively at first. As in, Yes, that’s what I should be working on, my personal brand.

But as I thought a bit more, I wondered.

Part of my wondering was because I have a somewhat negative mental/emotional association with the “branding” word/concept, going back to childhood days on my father’s family’s farm – most likely an association shared by anyone who has grown up on or spent time on a farm with cattle and horses.

Back to what people in the city, specifically marketing and advertising, mean by “branding”.

I don’t recall when I first heard the term “personal branding” or such catchy expressions as “Brand You”, but I admit to quite liking the underlying concept, or at least liking what I understood about it. That may be partly because the concept has some very articulate and persuasive evangelists who post about the subject in an interesting way, such as William Arruda, Dan Schawbel and others on the Personal Branding Blog.

So what is “personal branding”? I imagine the experts define it in various ways. The BNET Business Dictionary says it is:

the public expression and projection of an individual’s identity, personality, values, skills, and abilities.

and adds, just so we get the point:

The idea of personal branding has evolved by applying the concept of a product brand or a corporate brand to an individual person.

In itself that doesn’t tell me a lot. Dan Schawbel and others believe that there is some confusion about what the term means and on a wiki set up for the purpose they offer the following as “The Real Definition of Personal Branding“:

Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.

That seemed reasonable enough. But I can’t say it got me excited.

I was still feeling uneasy about this idea of personal branding.

Then I came across (actually I looked for and came across) a contrarian view on the subject.

Not an easy process, by the way, if you are using Google as your search resource – seems there are a lot of true believers out there.

In business, I get nervous if everyone is agreeing (I won’t say “sub-prime”).

So the contrarian view.

In his post “Personal Branding” is a Misconception, Michael H. Goldhaber argues that

the idea of personal branding — common though it is — gets things backwards

Goldhaber’s blog is about “Attention, the Attention Economy, etc”

His argument on personal branding is, as I read it, framed within a context of blogging and can be summarized (although not necessarily done justice – I recommend you read the whole, very entertaining post for that: ok, it might not be entertaining for personal branding evangelists, but should be for others) as follows:

  • A brand is superficially a proper noun, such as the name of a place or a person – John Smith, Spain – but is linguistically an ordinary noun, differing from a common noun like “cow” or “strawberry” – “in that it is supposed to refer only to a line of pretty much identical products that all are associated with a particular company” – e.g. Heinz.
  • “…regular brands — far from being something that individuals need to emulate — are actually reminders of the singular persons or personalities who originated or stand behind the branded products or services” (examples, Microsoft and Bill Gates, Apple and Steve Jobs)
  • “Why Pablo Picasso is not a brand” (you need to read the whole argument – can’t do it justice with bullet points!)
  • I think his fourth point is about being yourself as a creative, entrepreneurial person, fully, at any given moment, which (this is how I read it) can’t be encapsulated in a “brand”.
  • Be spontaneous – personal branding is “a red herring”

James Chartrand,writing at Copyblogger, talks about “personal branding prison” and argues you should be branding your business, not yourself.

Start building value into your business so that potential customers think of your business name first and your name second. Get people interested in working with your business, not you.

That brought me back to a thought I’ve been having through this whole process, basically the idea I first understood from reading Michael Gerber’s E-Myth – that one of the key ideas (the main idea?) of being in business is to build your business up to the point where you are able to sell it. What to me is a no-brainer corollary is that a business which is branded with my name is going to be, on the face of things, harder to sell than a business with a more generic or less person-specific name.

That’s my real challenge with personal branding.

For me, the jury’s out.

Comments are very welcome.

Photo credit: photoflux via Flickr, Creative Commons licence

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  1. Tom Lindstrom - Home Business Tips says:

    Personal branding is in my opinion priceless, it takes years to build and can be destroyed in a couple of seconds.When you are doing something online you build your brand automatically with every comment you make and every blog post you do.I found this site to be useful in creating a brand: http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/

    Tom Lindstrom – Home Business Tipss last blog post..5 Easy Ways To Persuade Subscribers To Open Your Emails

  2. @Becky One of the nicest things you can say to a coach is that they ask excellent (even “good”) questions 🙂
    @Pam It seems to me that, in an age when otherwise perfectly rational people pay good money to buy articles of clothing which advertise, sometimes prominently, the brand of the company producing the item, we are sensible to question, as you have done, what impact “personal branding” might have on our individuality and how much it might limit the fullest expression of our individual giftedness.
    @Mary Emma For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Goldhaber article is the treatment of that issue of the links between the business and the individual – as Apple shareholders are currrently experiencing, for instance.
    @Maureen I think you are onto something important in this discussion. My concern with not teasing out that argument a bit more would be that because home based businesses are generally focused on one person (or a couple), there might be a gravitational pull to brand the individual not the business, thus – if you see the E-Myth proposition falling this way – limiting the potential for that business to be sold at an optimal price once the individual or couple want to do something else, or just kick back.

  3. When I think of Personal Branding as it relates to home business or online business…I think of it as simply a way for people to see you and get to know you. I think the term is used since part of any branding is trusting the brand and liking the brand- thus, the term branding has been used. I think it makes sense. I don’t see any limiting factors to it at all. I want to know as much as possible about someone I’m potentially going to be working with. I could however live without the image of the steer being branded….I don’t believe in that. Different topic-

    Maureens last blog post..MyInternetBusiness: A Review of MyInternetBusiness

  4. Mary Emma Allen says:

    Des, great thought provoking post. Yes, there is a difference between personal and business branding, isn’t there? And one has to think which they want to stand out.

    I heard somewhere that if you’re developing a business you might possibly sell sometime, you should consider business branding. If the business is connected solely with you, then it may be more difficult to sell. Also, the new owners might take the business in a direction you don’t want associated with your name.

    Some businesses are difficult to brand other than with your name or personal association. An author, who does write the books under his/her name, likely wouldn’t be selling that writing business. You also want name and personal recognition as an author. So consider branding (or at least developing name recognition) yourself. Other artistic pursuits fall into this category.

    Mary Emma Allens last blog post..Quilt Shopping Specials on Super Bowl Sunday

  5. Des I am with the contrarians. The term ‘personal brand’ began to peeve me some time ago, perhaps because I have always rebelled against anyone’s attempts to pigeonhole me. With personal branding it felt like I was going to be doing that to myself. Then I decided I wouldn’t, no matter how fashionable it is.

    I am in the process of re-starting my blog yet again, a blog which I think shows some of the pitfalls involved in personal branding. Initially, I spent a lot of time developing a clear focus for the blog, which was to be an academic blog about the shared nature of creativity. I called it ‘Culture is a Conversation’ based on a phrase in a book by JD Lasica. That brand ended up being a conversation stopper, which constrained me from posting most of my thoughts.

    I decided to move from that focus, and explained why at http://rosengren.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/i-gained-a-lot-from-focussing-the-blog-but/ . It would be possible to read that post either way, as a further exploration of how to arrive at a personal brand, or as a rejection of personal branding in favour of emergent practice. I favour the latter.

    Today I was editing the ‘about me’ page of my blog http://rosengren.wordpress.com/about-me/ when a tweet came past about this discussion. Here I state the limits of my self-branding:

    ‘I like the education I have had, as it gives me the ability to approach anything from a humanities, scientific or creative perspective; and to see things from the intersection of all three. Emphasising this diversity is as close as I am prepared to get to the current notion of ‘personal branding’. I mistrust anything that might make my life smaller, and I have no interest in defining any presets for my thinking. I will use whatever tools I have in whatever way my content requires.’

    To constrain myself to a ‘brand’ would risk limiting my vision to things that already exist. Then again, maybe I could just add ‘contrarian’ to that brand-like list above, because I usually end up being one 😉

    PS no gravatar yet, someone else is using my e-mail address there so I can’t sign up.

  6. Des, you ask excellent questions. You’ve got me thinking about all these branding perspectives.

    Taking some of the lessons of the E-Myth a bit further, Work the System by Sam Carpenter aims to help you make your business salable by documenting and refining the underlying systems. I did a review at http://www.smallbizsurvival.com/2009/01/review-work-system-could-change.html

    Thanks for carrying the discussion further!

    Becky McCrays last blog post..Dial2Do lets you call in emails or text messages


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