Why I hate the use of ‘personal brands’

I’ve recently experienced the benefits of banning myself from using the word ‘brand’ in a business context after joining an experiment by Mark Earls.

As a result, I’ve been a lot more specific about what I really mean – awareness, reputation, tradition, logos, content, tone of voice etc. But at least in a business context, I can see it’s excusable to use the term sometimes, rather than listing out everything it could mean.

But ‘personal brand’ – that’s just silly.

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Because at the end of the day, a ‘personal brand’ surely means just three things? (Although I’m open to disagreements/suggestions for additions).

Awareness: Have people heard of you?

Reputation: Do people think you deliver?

Revenue: Are you able to make money from your awareness and reputation?

And I’d suspect much of the rise in ‘personal brands’ comes from people really wanting to build ‘personal revenues’ as a main source of income, or as security in case of redundancy.

But does an individual person really come up with explicit rules for their tone of voice in all communications? And is that ever sustainable? Do you really aspire to becoming Me Inc, rather than real person?

Personally, I don’t see Scobleizer or Louis Gray as brands. I see them as people who simply have particular personalities that might mean they absorb and share information at a high rate, or that might lend them to networking more, etc. They’ve built awareness and their reputations, but unless they’ve been branded like cattle, I struggle to see why we need to label them with a term that should really be retired with traditional media.

And the new breed of people chasing a personal brand appear to be missing part of the point.

Geoff Livingston has a great post which sums up a lot of the pitfalls of concentrating totally on building a personal brand.

But at the same time, I totally agree with much of what Chris Brogan recommends in Personal Branding.

Paradoxical?

  • There’s nothing wrong with building awareness and reputation by marketing yourself. But trying to build a ‘personal brand’ isn’t necessarily the right thing to do if you want to be successful in a large company. It’s better to be part of success, and then reference it.
  • Claiming a ‘personal brand’ could make you believe that you don’t need to work as hard on your latest project, because your ‘personal brand’ will save you – when you’re only as good as your latest project.
  • Personal branding actually contradicts Chris when he talks about being more than just one thing – after all successful branding normally relies on a core message.

And most importantly, the second you start thinking about yourself as a ‘personal brand’, you run a huge risk of sounding like a tool:

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Promote yourself. Use the same avatar everywhere. Build a strong reputation based on great work. Interact everywhere you can. Choose Life. Just don’t call it a ‘personal brand’ unless you’ve tattooed your personal logo on your personal forehead!

Comments

  1. i’m with you on that one.
    The whole personal brand shite is one of my pet hates.
    I moaned about it here:
    http://eaonpritchard.blogspot.com/2009/01/web20-douchebaggery-217-personal.html
    As you point out ‘you’re only as good as your latest [project].’
    Good work.

  2. i’m with you on that one.
    The whole personal brand shite is one of my pet hates.
    I moaned about it here:
    http://eaonpritchard.blogspot.com/2009/01/web20-douchebaggery-217-personal.html
    As you point out ‘you’re only as good as your latest [project].’
    Good work.

  3. agree that the concept is borderline bogus. but because there’s a crossover between the characteristics of brand and personal reputation, ie trust, one can understand why people have tried to ‘brand’ themselves.

    the weakness of the concept is at the low end. if an unemployed schmo tries to package him or herself as a personal brand people will see through it right away.

    the durability of the concept is at the high end. scoble and gray are not brands per se, but because of their cache they do share some of the characteristics of brands.

  4. agree that the concept is borderline bogus. but because there’s a crossover between the characteristics of brand and personal reputation, ie trust, one can understand why people have tried to ‘brand’ themselves.

    the weakness of the concept is at the low end. if an unemployed schmo tries to package him or herself as a personal brand people will see through it right away.

    the durability of the concept is at the high end. scoble and gray are not brands per se, but because of their cache they do share some of the characteristics of brands.

  5. The one quality everyone is trying to accrue is trust. Forget about all other qualities, trust is the foundation of everything — people buy into people long before they buy into what they do.

    Yes, I agree that personal branding does sound a bit cheap at times, but it works at conveying a meaning.

    As you know, I’m a blogger, and my blog has a far greater social footprint than my business does. I knew this would happen, so I deliberately grew the Blah, Blah! Technology blog around myself, to amass trust and then transfer that trust into everything else I do, specifically my business, Octane.

    None of this would have really worked out had I not had a plan in mind, which I’d assembled as an exercise in personal branding.

    The more I read about Scoble, the more I realize he’s an idiot who can’t hold his tongue. He wouldn’t waste his time trying to build a good reputation because his motormouth is too busy giving him a bad one. And besides, he’s so heavily insulated by how hugely connected he is, he just wouldn’t even care.

    But the irony is, whether he deliberately set out to build a personal brand or not, he’s got one, though the interpretation of which varies, depending on who you talk to.

    So good old Rob is a bad example of good personal branding, in so far as demonstrating how broad a church it can be, and how having a good reputation isn’t always a mandatory requirement.

  6. The one quality everyone is trying to accrue is trust. Forget about all other qualities, trust is the foundation of everything — people buy into people long before they buy into what they do.

    Yes, I agree that personal branding does sound a bit cheap at times, but it works at conveying a meaning.

    As you know, I’m a blogger, and my blog has a far greater social footprint than my business does. I knew this would happen, so I deliberately grew the Blah, Blah! Technology blog around myself, to amass trust and then transfer that trust into everything else I do, specifically my business, Octane.

    None of this would have really worked out had I not had a plan in mind, which I’d assembled as an exercise in personal branding.

    The more I read about Scoble, the more I realize he’s an idiot who can’t hold his tongue. He wouldn’t waste his time trying to build a good reputation because his motormouth is too busy giving him a bad one. And besides, he’s so heavily insulated by how hugely connected he is, he just wouldn’t even care.

    But the irony is, whether he deliberately set out to build a personal brand or not, he’s got one, though the interpretation of which varies, depending on who you talk to.

    So good old Rob is a bad example of good personal branding, in so far as demonstrating how broad a church it can be, and how having a good reputation isn’t always a mandatory requirement.

  7. Great post dan! It’s a classic case of over-structuring your social interactions. I don’t think it’s bad to have an awareness of how to build reputation and your network, but when personal branding becomes a process you do rather than just a perspective you have, then you are completely right about the risk of sounding like a tool.

  8. Great post dan! It’s a classic case of over-structuring your social interactions. I don’t think it’s bad to have an awareness of how to build reputation and your network, but when personal branding becomes a process you do rather than just a perspective you have, then you are completely right about the risk of sounding like a tool.

  9. I agree, totally agree. We are Dan or Eaon or Wayne or Andrew. Not brands. But the term does serve a purpose. We used to talk about reputation management, which everyone understands. But in those days, we didn’t have facebook accounts and we didn’t google job applicants either. Now the term personal branding is being thrown around without much thought – and along the way being seen as blatant self promotion, packaging or style over substance.

    Couldn’t be further from the truth really. Doing an exercise in PB is really about developing a level of self awareness, which so many just don’t have.

    Its all about finding the substance before the styling. And Wayne has hit the nail on the head. Trust is everything. So once you have figured out what it is about you that others find compelling ie. they want more of it, and it is absolutely authentic, then you need to deliver consistently. We trust consistency. Even if its awful, consistently. We know what we are getting. And its almost impossible to deliver consistently if its not real, if its pure packaging.

    Andrew is right – PB is the prep that should happen in the background not a process that one follows. Its all about show not tell. Or in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

    Eaon I loved your blog post – made me LOL and agree that we should just be ourselves – I would add something to that – first you need to know yourself and many people don’t. They just have no idea. Not everyone has your self confidence! So PB helps many to know themselves better. They can then be themselves, only better. And the result – I have never seen anyone walk away with anything less than a solid, self reliance in their own capabilities and a greater self confidence. Oh, and never heard anyone refer to themselves as a personal brand. The odds are that it will happen and I’ll hate it.

  10. I agree, totally agree. We are Dan or Eaon or Wayne or Andrew. Not brands. But the term does serve a purpose. We used to talk about reputation management, which everyone understands. But in those days, we didn’t have facebook accounts and we didn’t google job applicants either. Now the term personal branding is being thrown around without much thought – and along the way being seen as blatant self promotion, packaging or style over substance.

    Couldn’t be further from the truth really. Doing an exercise in PB is really about developing a level of self awareness, which so many just don’t have.

    Its all about finding the substance before the styling. And Wayne has hit the nail on the head. Trust is everything. So once you have figured out what it is about you that others find compelling ie. they want more of it, and it is absolutely authentic, then you need to deliver consistently. We trust consistency. Even if its awful, consistently. We know what we are getting. And its almost impossible to deliver consistently if its not real, if its pure packaging.

    Andrew is right – PB is the prep that should happen in the background not a process that one follows. Its all about show not tell. Or in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

    Eaon I loved your blog post – made me LOL and agree that we should just be ourselves – I would add something to that – first you need to know yourself and many people don’t. They just have no idea. Not everyone has your self confidence! So PB helps many to know themselves better. They can then be themselves, only better. And the result – I have never seen anyone walk away with anything less than a solid, self reliance in their own capabilities and a greater self confidence. Oh, and never heard anyone refer to themselves as a personal brand. The odds are that it will happen and I’ll hate it.

  11. I agree. My pet hate of the moment is the term ‘brandividuals’ which I’m starting to see more. The blurring of professional and personal is tricky, but I think a lot of it is just about being sensible, and spurious terms like this don’t help…

  12. I agree. My pet hate of the moment is the term ‘brandividuals’ which I’m starting to see more. The blurring of professional and personal is tricky, but I think a lot of it is just about being sensible, and spurious terms like this don’t help…

  13. I love Dan’s original post. This is also one of the things that gets my goat.

    In my experience, what makes it worse is that it’s usually the sort of nonsense spouted by so called “veterans” of marketing

  14. I love Dan’s original post. This is also one of the things that gets my goat.

    In my experience, what makes it worse is that it’s usually the sort of nonsense spouted by so called “veterans” of marketing

  15. Great to have so many interesting comments and debate happening…

    I totally agree with Simon, Andrew, Wayne and Louise that elements of what we see businesses doing to marketing themselves, manage reputations, spread awareness etc are all things that can equally apply to individuals – especially in an age where individuals are using online tools to be able to become businesses in their own right in growing numbers.

    I think Andrew is right about having it as a perspective, rather than a formal process and something that you shout about – for instance, I’ve always used the same logo/avatar across all social networking sites despite the fact that hiding behind a crash helmet is a pain when meeting people in real life for the first time – but having started to use it, I was conscious that I should use the same image because people would associate it with me wherever they saw it.

    In the same manner, I always try to make sure I’m polite and civil, even when I strongly disagree, because that’s what I try to be like offline, and because it’s the best way to end up with meaningful interaction rather than a flame war – by the same token, I’d like to have a reputation as someone who is capable of intelligent debate and being helpful where ever possible.

    But all of this comes from aspiring to be a position where people might hear about good work I’ve done, or recommend me, without needing to dress it up in terms like Me.Inc or Personal Branding.

    There is an area of celebrity where branding/marketing type crossover definitely happens, and that’s with the real superstars who have a value in attaching their name to a product (e.g. Michael Jordan, Air Jordans, the Jordan motorcycle racing team etc).

    But even then, I’d probably separate brand ‘Jordan’, from Michael Jordan. Whether others do the same or not, I don’t know.

    Probably the trickiest example, rather than Scoble or Louis, would be Gary Vaynerchuk and Winelibrary TV etc. But I’d suspect he’d talk about ‘Owning IT!’, rather than ‘personal branding’…

  16. Great to have so many interesting comments and debate happening…

    I totally agree with Simon, Andrew, Wayne and Louise that elements of what we see businesses doing to marketing themselves, manage reputations, spread awareness etc are all things that can equally apply to individuals – especially in an age where individuals are using online tools to be able to become businesses in their own right in growing numbers.

    I think Andrew is right about having it as a perspective, rather than a formal process and something that you shout about – for instance, I’ve always used the same logo/avatar across all social networking sites despite the fact that hiding behind a crash helmet is a pain when meeting people in real life for the first time – but having started to use it, I was conscious that I should use the same image because people would associate it with me wherever they saw it.

    In the same manner, I always try to make sure I’m polite and civil, even when I strongly disagree, because that’s what I try to be like offline, and because it’s the best way to end up with meaningful interaction rather than a flame war – by the same token, I’d like to have a reputation as someone who is capable of intelligent debate and being helpful where ever possible.

    But all of this comes from aspiring to be a position where people might hear about good work I’ve done, or recommend me, without needing to dress it up in terms like Me.Inc or Personal Branding.

    There is an area of celebrity where branding/marketing type crossover definitely happens, and that’s with the real superstars who have a value in attaching their name to a product (e.g. Michael Jordan, Air Jordans, the Jordan motorcycle racing team etc).

    But even then, I’d probably separate brand ‘Jordan’, from Michael Jordan. Whether others do the same or not, I don’t know.

    Probably the trickiest example, rather than Scoble or Louis, would be Gary Vaynerchuk and Winelibrary TV etc. But I’d suspect he’d talk about ‘Owning IT!’, rather than ‘personal branding’…

  17. Isn’t a personal brand giving into the marketing beast a little too much?

    We all agree marketing is important for business reasons, and i think Dan’s post argues that revenues are probably central to a personal brand, however, I don’t think people need this, I think perhaps certain aspects of a “desperate to succeed” lifestlye coupled with the mega-lo-maniac way an ego shoots off to constantly “make myself better” and “understood” has created a pathway through which everyday people trying to succeed have created their own badges.

    It’s difficult to get a reputation in an overcrowded cyberspace (which is a bizarre concept considering the endless room for filling with more re-hashed philosophy and re-hashed business opportunities) so defining what makes one different is what personal brand marketing has developed from. On one hand you would shoot a marketeer and on another you might well give them a good shake of the hand on creating something that is understood.

    If anyone knows what my point is please let me know!!!! :))

  18. Isn’t a personal brand giving into the marketing beast a little too much?

    We all agree marketing is important for business reasons, and i think Dan’s post argues that revenues are probably central to a personal brand, however, I don’t think people need this, I think perhaps certain aspects of a “desperate to succeed” lifestlye coupled with the mega-lo-maniac way an ego shoots off to constantly “make myself better” and “understood” has created a pathway through which everyday people trying to succeed have created their own badges.

    It’s difficult to get a reputation in an overcrowded cyberspace (which is a bizarre concept considering the endless room for filling with more re-hashed philosophy and re-hashed business opportunities) so defining what makes one different is what personal brand marketing has developed from. On one hand you would shoot a marketeer and on another you might well give them a good shake of the hand on creating something that is understood.

    If anyone knows what my point is please let me know!!!! :))

Trackbacks

  1. […] don’t mean this in terms of people using buzzwords like ‘personal brands‘ – that’s for marketing and aspiring marketing people to make it sound more glamourous […]