There’s been a great deal of conversation online in recent months about the importance — or not — of the “personal brand.” While I admit to finding the concept of a personal brand, and all the posturing, positioning and posing that seems to go along with it, a bit noxious, I hadn’t found the exact words to express my opinion.
Until yesterday when I was asked to share my thoughts on the subject during an interview with the website Radical Parenting.
Rather than think of it as building a personal brand, I suggested that what we should really focus on is our personal reputation.
Brands are created. Reputations are earned.
Reputation embraces your ethics. Proponents of the personal brand will argue that it does as well. Maybe so, but the link is far less clear. Brand is a construct. There’s something inherently artificial in a brand. The notion of an artificial construct having ethics is a great plotline for a science fiction novel, but it just doesn’t work for me out here in the real world.
Moreover, the company doesn’t own the brand. It may think it does, but the brand is a shared construct. It is the combination of the image or story the company sets out to convey and how it is actually perceived by the customer. It shares its brand with its customer. On some level, then, the notion of a personal brand is an oxymoron.
My reputation, on the other hand? I earned it. I own it.
Bottom line, it’s not what you say. It’s what you do that matters.
Words to live by. I do.
Great Post. I agree with what you DO that matters. What you say can be taken either positively/negatively depending on the other person’s pre-perceived notions. I too have been deliberating about this notion of self branding and also believe that building up a stellar reputation is more important.
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Kami Huyse says
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Adam Zand says
Great post! Reputation is a great extension/expansion of the branding discussion. It’s really the foundation for judging people and companies following our interactions with them.
James Wester says
Good post, but I wonder if you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
If you look at the links on the google search page you provide through the “personal branding” link, many echo your point that a person’s brand should be about his/her reputation or accomplishments. (cf “A ‘personal brand’ is in many ways synonymous with your reputation.” or “Creating your personal brand may not happen overnight and it may be a work in progress throughout your career as you develop more strengths”) So not everyone trafficking in personal brand advice is necessarily full of poo.
Don’t get me wrong: I too am highly annoyed by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who loudly proclaim their expert status through tweets, blogs and facebook pages with little to prove their worth beyond their own proclamations. Social media seems to attract these folks because of its relative newness. That being said, how else do people promote their reputations than through what can only be described as a personal brand? I too have a blog, Twitter account and facebook page. Sure I can show where my work has resulted in real value to my employers or clients, but is a CV really a good way to create a first impression? Do we just call it something else to avoid the taint that “personal branding” has developed? Even if we call it something else (how about “reputational footprint?”), it still requires some amount of work that is akin to branding, right?
Again, good thoughtful post.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right:
“What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.”
Andrea Weckerle says
Certainly a brand is a shared construct, and more focus should be placed on personal reputation. But even then, reputation is created by a combination of factors, some of them external – not all of which are going to be factually accurate or even what the person in question actually agrees with. It is this external and influenced-by-others vs. internal and created-by-oneself dichotomy that is challenging. Perhaps this quote by Lois McMaster Bujold starts to get at the issue: “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”
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Susan Getgood says
Thanks for all the comments. When it comes right down to it, I just don’t get why we need the concept of “personal brand” at all. What unmet need did it fill?
I’ll probably be hung in effigy somewhere for what I am about to say, but “personal brand” always struck me as new age mumbo jumbo designed to sell books to people with more money than sense.