Building a Personal Brand: Marketing Prerequisite or Faux Friendship?


There are two main types of people reading this right now. Those who have taken their eye off Instagram because they feel they could be squeezing more out of it. And those in the fetal position.

In an attempt to be authentic, I’ve got to tell you that I started writing this in the fetal position. 

Most blog posts about personal branding seem to extol how to be authentic to convert more leads and grow your business. 

“Authentic for money.”

That’s a T-shirt slogan or an album title, surely. Is it something you can use to build real relationships?

However, on deeper investigation into personal branding, I’ve learned a couple of things that have counterbalanced my initial dislike of the idea.

(I can now write the words “personal branding” without retching.)

This is what I know, what I think, and, vitally, what I’ve learned about personal branding.

What is personal branding?

Personal branding refers to the practice of an individual promoting their image, values, and abilities using marketing and publicity techniques that would normally be used for a product or service.

personal-branding-examples

Sheena. Inventor of Cut-Sleeve-Tees. Mother of three dogs. Owner of at least one stool. Possibly a punk rocker.

One of the strongest benefits of a personal brand is that it very quickly communicates:

  • What you are about
  • What you believe in
  • Your key strength(s)

While personal branding refers to a suite of marketing and publicity activities, it can frequently be summarized in one or two lines.

Neil Patel, for example, is “helping you succeed through online marketing!”

This personal branding statement is very simple and direct. Even the exclamation point serves to tell you more about him and his approach. 

Sara Blakely’s LinkedIn profile describes her in the following terms: 

“Mom of 4. Inventor of Spanx. Afraid to fly. Refuse to give up my scrunchie. Believe it’s my calling to support women.”

This profile description tells you a lot about her very quickly. And it’s about more than her products. It’s about who she is and what matters to her. 

What if I didn’t start a company?

You don’t need to be Neil Patel or Sara Blakely to create a personal brand. Almost anyone can benefit from personal branding.  

Personal branding can benefit anyone

If someone takes your picture and posts it on Facebook, that becomes part of your brand. Now, whether you monitor that kind of thing suggests to what degree your branding is controlled, intentional, and strategic.

Sociologist and social psychologist Erving Goffman studied symbolic and social interaction and the social construction of self. He considered that how people see themselves and how others see them are intrinsically linked. 

His dramaturgical framework has close ties to the concept of personal branding

Goffman coined the term “impression management,” where he argues that we act in a certain way so as to be perceived in a particular manner by others – by our “audience.” We try to do more activities that present acceptable behavior while toning down the things that may be considered less acceptable. 

We do this in a manner that mirrors the theater – actors directing themselves against an audience. He suggested, thus, that people’s actions were often theatrical, shaped by their interactions with others.

goffman-impression-management-personal-branding

The world is your stage, darling.

Our focus and concern about how others perceive us and how we want to perceive ourselves is skyrocketing, in no small part due to the growing web.

Managing personal branding is increasingly important

According to some marketing experts, personal branding is now essential. It’s certainly essential to be aware that people are actively and increasingly developing personas to market themselves.

And increasingly, employers seek information about us online beyond our resumes and references.

You may have done it yourself.

Can I trust this person with my car keys? My kids? A position in my company?

Social media can provide reassurance or concern. Even if the employer or fact-checker doesn’t make a final judgment based only on social media presence, a discord between what they read on a CV and what they see on social media can be enough to hinder someone’s advancement in their career.

Can you give me an example of personal branding?

Company founders like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson are excellent examples of personal branding. They embody the values of their brands but are also distinct from their brands. 

People who stand behind products, services, and their creative work lean on their personal branding. A search for their product or service is a search for them. 

  • Gary Vaynerchuk’s personal branding focuses on his strong identity, a “rags to riches” story, and his success through hard work and determination.
  • Bill Nye is a bow-tie-wearing, entertaining nerd — a likable brainbox with a passion for sharing science.
  • Tim Ferris – the 4-hour Work Week guy; a subversion of traditional models to achieve your financial and lifestyle goals is his thing.
  • Martha Stewart’s personal branding exudes style and sophistication. It is also characterized by uncompromising creative output in home aesthetics.
  • Billie Eilish is hard to pigeonhole and has been described as anti-brand. That’s her brand.

Branding was time-consuming enough for products, now I’ve got to do it for myself?

When someone progresses through the ranks quickly without seeming to have the requisite qualifications or experience, some people will sneer and say:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Today, those people are more likely to replace that with:

“Well, it’s not so much what you know or even who you know as much as it’s about building engagement with a created persona; and then it’s about using this persona to disseminate information strategically to a network; and don’t forget  monitoring the response to your online activities to maximize personal and professional success.”

Admittedly, it’s a bit less catchy.

why-personal-branding-is-sometimes-necessary

Doesn’t really roll off the tongue or fit on a T-shirt, does it?

But just as branding helps to position and characterize products so that potential customers think of them and purchase them, personal branding positions us and what we have to offer. 

Marketing adds value to products, services, and us, since we’re also part of the global marketplace.

Branding is increasingly important because there is so much more competition for attention today thanks to increased internet usage, the proliferation of mobile devices, and growing literacy. It’s harder than ever to create a company or product that stands out. Considering personal branding for yourself, your workforce, and/or your new hires can help your business differentiate itself from the crowd and grow.

Who’s fault is personal branding? Bring them to me.

Woah woah woah. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are many benefits.

But you said —

Even if someone hadn’t come up with the idea of personal branding, it would exist. Goffman and others observed what was going on and explored it. 

Like many trends — and like getting through the news of yet another “essential” marketing technique — personal branding is nothing new.

The important thing is to acknowledge it, examine it, and decide how to make it work for us.

Why do I need personal branding?

You’re likely to benefit most from personal branding if you’re a:

  • Jobseeker
  • Freelancer
  • Founder
  • Speaker
  • Social media influencer

But anyone can benefit from personal branding. Your online presence can be strategized, crafted, monitored, and maintained to portray you in a certain way and afford you advantages.

Grow your following

Having a dedicated following makes you more than your abilities and experiences. Wherever you go, you take people with you. 

Professionally, you can engage with, market to, and sell to your fanbase, both actively or passively.

Demonstrate your ability to create a brand

It doesn’t matter too much what kind of a network you create. It might be centered around a game, hobby, professional niche, or interest, such as a boy band. The point is that you show your ability to generate a presence, a buzz, and a community. 

This skill will be valuable for any business wanting to deepen or broaden their engagement with customers.

Showcase your expertise, earn their trust

You’re in a store. 

You have the branded version of a product you need. And you have something unknown in a brown paper bag. 

Many people will go for the branded product because it’s tried and tested. 

At best, brands are synonymous with the solution they provide, such as Hoover, Scotch, or Post-It, all of which have multiple, cheaper, non-branded, generally less-trusted competitors. 

brand-building-for-trust-expertise-authority-house-brand

Finish the sentence: would you like a?

With strong personal branding, you can convince people to try you, whether as an employee, a consultant, or for your service.

Google is a big fan of Expertise, Authority, and Trust. Having shaped a personal brand, you can show off your expertise, authority, and trust in a way that’s more accessible and trustworthy than (exaggerated) grades on a piece of A4. 

Become a thought leader and grow your authority

Being a thought leader necessitates thinking about your personal brand. As a thought leader, people are not only interested in your product or service. They are also interested in your values, beliefs, ideas, and goals.

Maintaining a consistent online presence is vital to sharing your insights and knowledge with the people who can benefit from them. 

It’s not the end of the rope for you if you have trouble putting words on paper. Get the help of professional writers who’ll speak to your audience in your voice, providing them with helpful solutions and entertaining texts on your favorite topics.

Tell me the bad stuff now

Con people

Just as products can have misleading marketing, the likes of con people and politicians can use personal branding skills to present themselves in a way that influences others for nefarious ends. 

Inauthenticity

Personal branding can seriously backfire when it’s inauthentic. A cynical, numbers-first approach is the death knell of personal branding. 

Being inauthentic can include only showing the beautiful, filtered photos and never sharing the cakes that didn’t rise, the backflip that ended in a hospital visit, or the kids that wouldn’t get out of the car so you were late for the event and didn’t really feel like it anymore because you were mad as hell and stayed in to watch TV and ultimately had a pretty cool time.  

authenticity-in-personal-branding

On the subject of “inauthentic,” celebrities singing “Imagine” or making apology videos also come to mind.

Your future fans will appreciate the grounding experience of seeing bumps along the way as well as — or rather than — your arrival at a predictably epic destination. 

While personal branding can seem like a dehumanizing concept, when done right, it can reaffirm our humanity.

What IS the “right” way to do personal branding?

Authenticity. 

There’s that word again. Basically, don’t fake it. 

Being authentic means:

  • Being yourself
  • Using introspection and self-reflection to improve your self-awareness
  • (Then) expressing your true values and beliefs
  • Sharing challenges
  • Accepting (what might be construed as) mistakes
  • Being honest, without oversharing — use the balance that feels right for you
  • Not misrepresenting your beliefs to gain something
  • Not burying negatives to appear “perfect”

Tony Robbins is an example of how to adapt personal branding to remain authentic. His site claims “millions of lives changed.” Not least of all his own it would seem.

Once energetic and loud, his style is now much more subdued. Whether he changed his branding to meet the market or to match changes within himself; that’s for you to decide. 

People change and so can your personal branding. It should absolutely pivot as you develop, personally and professionally.

Take control of your personal branding

As a potentially influential person — we’re not all influencers, but we can all be influential — your actions and your words can have a profound effect on others. 

Crafting your persona for personal branding comes with responsibility. 

  • Do we want more generations of people trying to live up to physical, emotional, and financial ideals they don’t believe in, or do we want to celebrate choice and diversity
  • Will your personal branding story be about an idealized destination or the reality of your authentic journey?
  • Ask yourself: are you in the business of making money, or making a difference?

There are personal branding statements that you can copy and paste. 

Don’t.

Making things personal is key to personal branding

Excellent personal branding doesn’t just tell people what you want them to think about you. It shows them who you are. 

It helps people feel like they know you better, which is great for easing future social interaction, whether online or in-person, professional or personal.

So, basically…

Whether you’re a keen blogger, a flexible freelancer, or a future thought leader, working on your personal branding can help you laser focus on what’s meaningful to you. It can also help you facilitate a connection with your tribe.

 

Written by Dean Edwards

Dean lives in Southern France but was born in the UK, where he studied business and IT, and earned a degree in Writing. When he’s not creating content, he’s writing fiction, making music, and practicing martial arts. This is part bio and part affirmation.


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