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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