Big Little Things

Personal branding is nonsense

Someone once said that “personal branding is the new holy grail of marketing.”

From wikipedia:

Creating a personal branding statement starts by first identifying your target market and then pinpointing the most important benefit they want from a person in your position. Then you must create reasons why people should believe you will deliver on your benefit promise.

And if possible, you should create a unique difference between you and your competition. Creating a personal brand identity helps you become known as the one to call in your industry.

My target market? My unique difference? My ass. Personal branding misses the point: people are not brands and they’re not companies. They are, uh, people. And there’s all this gooey, messy, intuitive, emotional, vibe-type stuff that humans innately get. Sure, we want to be perceived a certain way by other people, but that perception is allowed to change. In fact, it’s supposed to change.

We are unpredictable, and inconsistent—even to our closest friends—and we like that, because we see ourselves in each other. We learn how to be better people (yes, that includes career stuff) by allowing ourselves to change as we wish, by watching our fellow humans fall down and get up, and by admantly refusing to define ourselves in 15 words or less.

From Fast Company:

To start thinking like your own favorite 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.

If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.

Please. Does anyone out there actually have a “favorite brand manager”? Would you admit it if you did? Personal branding reduces humans to a sales pitch. It diminishes all the unexpected delight that comes from not worrying about your place in the world, but instead simply occupying it to see how it will change you, and the community around you.

Humans thrive in communities (um, duh). But creating a perception of yourself as a human in competition with other humans does the opposite of creating community. It creates animosity. If you’re really worried about getting people to like you and remember you and want to talk to you, all you’ve got to do is be nice and be thoughtful about how you’re being nice. Seriously, that’s it. You don’t have to brand yourself as a corporation might, you simply have to be human.

7 Responses to “Personal branding is nonsense”

  1. Richard Oliver Says:

    All I can say is yes,yes,yes

    Great post

  2. Mike Says:

    Brilliant. This post rocks! Now if only more people thought this way….

  3. Brandi Says:

    Frickin amazing, oh my god. You need to go to college or something.

    What you said:

    “It diminishes all the unexpected delight that comes from not worrying about your place in the world, but instead simply occupying it to see how it will change you, and the community around you.”

    What Christopher Lasch said in “The Culture of Narcissism”:

    “The political man of an earlier age knew how to take rather than desire (Sennett’s definition of psychological maturity) and judged politics, as he judged reality in general, to see ‘what’s in it for him, rather than if it is him.”

    ————

    What you said:

    “Humans thrive in communities (um, duh). But creating a perception of yourself as a human in competition with other humans does the opposite of creating community. It creates animosity.”

    What Christopher Lasch said in “The Culture of Narcissism”:

    “Experiences of inner emptiness, loneliness, and inauthenticity are by no means unreal…They arise from the warlike conditions that pervade American society…”

    Warlike conditions like excess competition and personal branding.

  4. Vikram Rajan Says:

    Hmm, well, if we can be reduced to a one-liner… true that, we’re pretty superficial, boring, or the one-line is a run-on.

    What about self-employed professionals are are actually competing out there to make a buck against the big corporations? Shouldn’t they develop a reputation in the marketplace that is based on their competency, character, and charisma?

    Many lawyers, accountants, financial planners, real estate professionals, and even a few health professionals are proud that they are consciously trying to be consistent with their marketing efforts and image building.

    I play many different roles… and they are separate (but equal). So I have role models I look up that are radically different… be they Robert Kiyosaki or Abbie Hoffman… and I am a collage of who I choose to influence me.

    It’s annoying that the phrase “personal brand” has become a new buzzword for what we’ve always called a “reputation.” But when it’s used to market a practice and to point out our uniqueness… it can be productive and fun.

    After all, isn’t “rebellious troublemaker” a neat personal brand catchphrase?

  5. minus five Says:

    why have i not read your blog by now. excellent post. i couldn’t have worded it better myself.

  6. Not quite logic. Says:

    Rather than endeavor towards clarity and specificity, I entirely agree that the marketplace wants to hear all about your feelings — your rebellious and insightful feelings.

    I do applaud you for taking on these small to medium-sized issues with at least small to medium-sized thoughts. However, perhaps you have some alternate perspectives on this topic aside from poking holes in obviously flawed thoughts? New strategies? More effective approach? Or perhaps you could apply your typing skills towards romance novels where heaps of wasted words are at least billable?

    Ahem…My point is, it can be really easy to cough heavy handed critiques into the web and present ourselves as authoritative when we’ve not actually advanced any aspect of the discussion. Dig deeper.

    Failed strategies like “Personal Branding” are advanced to serve a need, to add concrete structure to what is typically not a concrete realm of discussion. If we are to attack the structure of discussion without offering better frameworks of thought, we are not actually addressing the issue and we make readers want to head-butt us until we are sleepy and silent. No?

  7. jason lynes Says:

    @notquitelogic, you missed the last thought (too busy with your own heap of words?): “all you’ve got to do is be nice and be thoughtful about how you’re being nice. Seriously, that’s it. You don’t have to brand yourself as a corporation might, you simply have to be human.”

    just be a human. be a freakin human. our names dont need icons, or trademarks, or color schemes, or 1-800 numbers. ive always struggled with this idea of personal branding, and i just realized its because of how quickly we change. unpredictable, and inconsistent. love that. my personal logo, my target audience, my purpose in life changes daily, if not hourly. sure, we all have agendas and goals and aspirations, but we don’t need to corporatize that last incorporatizeable entity: ourselves.

    loved this post.

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