Does Personal Branding Even Exist?

A philosophical discussion on what’s real and what’s not

Photo by Fernanda Rodríguez on Unsplash

“You have choices. You have the ability to change your mind. You can tell the truth, see others for who they are and choose to make a difference.
Selling yourself as a brand sells you too cheap.” — Seth Godin

I once wrote a satirical post on personal branding. It amused me to take the personal branding viewpoint and blast it through an extreme lens.

“You should shout louder. Gain attention. Lean in. Expose some flesh. Bend over. This is the game and we’re all players here. Once is never enough. You need to show more commitment. You need to get involved. You need to be on every platform. A hairlip away to the sweet crack of life.” — Reuben Salsa

Does Personal Branding Even Exist?

There’s no easy answer. It divides people. Everyone has an opinion either for or against. There’s no fence-sitting on this topic.

Karl Marx, that legendary socialist, once declared that the final turn of the capitalist screw would arrive when man turned himself into a commodity. How’s that for soothsaying? Here we are in the 21st century, and everybody wants to become a brand. Everybody feels the need to pitch themselves as a product that can be packaged and sold.

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Are you a tin of soup? If you are, what color would you be? Photo by Calle Macarone on Unsplash

Can you apply marketing principles you use for products to the human spirit? Does Richard Branson really look like your favorite auntie’s tin of soup? What happened to our humanity? What happened to our uniqueness?

My point of view always swayed depending on who I was talking with. I love marketing and always feel that everything and everyone can be marketed. But can they be branded? Is marketing a brand the same as selling a personal brand?

What is Branding?

It’s showing consistency across platforms. It’s taking a color and owning it. It’s adopting a typeface and having that associated strongly with your name.

“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” — Wikipedia

Can those principles apply to a person? Is a personal brand real? You may not feel branded or believe you’re a commodity…but you are. You’re selling your show. You’re selling your name. You’re selling your ideas. All of this is put together in neat little packages.

I can go to YouTube and find the same face/profile image as shown on LinkedIn or Medium. It’s brand recognition. I can then play the YouTube video and hear the same tone of voice, the same message, the same ideals. Are you just being you or are you playing up to the cameras? Projecting a better version of yourself?

“When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?” — Seth Godin

What’s the Case Against Personal Branding?

Let’s assume that those who believe in personal branding are entrepreneurs or one-person businesses.

How does personal branding help within a company brand in terms of the company’s overall message, typeface, color, marketing ploys, etc.? If someone is simply focusing on their brand or reputation, what does that do for the company’s brand? Would personal branding then be nothing more than a nod toward narcissism?

Should this person change their ways to present a version of themselves that doesn’t match who they really are in the interest of appealing to a specific audience?

People are people. Take the window-cleaner who works door-to-door in your neighborhood whose enthusiasm for windows and chit-chat make him a great ambassador for his company. His company being him. Has he branded his actions? Has he tried to be someone he isn’t? Is he projecting a better version of himself? No. He’s just being himself. It’s his reputation and integrity on the line.

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Here’s Tom. He wears blue, has a blue logo, uses blue window wash. Is he a commodity? Photo by pixpoetry on Unsplash

My dad was a pillar of kindness. He was a scholarly man who gave his time and money generously. Did he brand himself to be kinder? He was who he was. His reputation proceeded him. He wasn’t a brand.

You often hear the quote by Jeff Bezos: “It’s what people say about you when you are not in the room.” The above may be true, but at a human level, it’s less ‘Personal Brand’ and more about ‘Reputation.’

“I saw you on video. On YouTube. You’re big and can only get bigger. I don’t care if you’re only a child. Childhood is over-rated. Use that innocence. I don’t care no one loves you. Use that too. Use your tragic back story to gain an audience. Use you. You’ve got this.” — Reuben Salsa

A well-established company brand can yield far greater financial gain than ‘the company’s value’ over time. Whereas a personal brand doesn’t — ever. There’s no brand equity whatsoever.

“If you show up regularly with generosity, everything else is gonna take care of itself.” — Seth Godin

Everything you do ends up in a Google search. Let’s say you posted drunk photos of yourself on your 21st birthday, or a semi-naked photo on holiday in Ibiza. Is this harming your personal brand? Or is it your reputation?

Seth Godin had this to say on personal branding:

“You are not a brand. You’re a person. A living, breathing, autonomous individual who doesn’t seek to maximize ROI or long-term brand value.

You have choices. You have the ability to change your mind. You can tell the truth, see others for who they are and choose to make a difference.

Selling yourself as a brand sells you too cheap.”

You would have to change your personality or approach to satisfy some craven desire to fill a niche in the market.

This is one of the biggest differences between product branding and personal branding. Frequently, we’ll change a product or company to deliver its chosen positioning better. But if you started to change your personality or way of doing things to fulfill some personal branding agenda, then you’ll come across as being inauthentic.

It’s important to be different from others and to make sure your target knows who you are. Just don’t change your identity to achieve it. Revel in your differences and don’t be afraid to stand out, but make sure you do it from a place of genuineness.

You can apply marketing tactics to a personal brand, but you can never go about changing the person to fit the marketing. And it is that — the ability to adapt — that stops people from becoming brands.

You are not a brand and never will be.

Personal branding is marketing hype.

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