Don’t get me wrong: I think the thinking behind it, the advice wrapped around the idea of personal branding, is excellent. I’ve recommended, for example, Dan Schawbel’s personal branding book Me 2.0 and I’m sticking to it. Dan has a great collection of real-world suggestions in that book. But I’m beginning to think I hate the term. And maybe some of what’s behind it.
Last Friday I read Personal Branding is Bullsh*t (cowardly * by me, not her) by Arienne Holland, communications director of Raven Tools. She writes:
A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.
She also objects to a magazine article recommending personal branding for employees of large companies:
If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.
This was already on my mind before reading that because of a conversation I’d had a few weeks ago with my daughter Megan, marketing manager at Klout.com. At the time I was talking about some of Dan Schawbel’s recommendations, and Megan shared that she didn’t like the term. She explained that recently in Why I Hate the Term “Personal Branding” on her blog:
“Worse yet, there’s the idea that this is something new. Personal branding is just a new way to talk about reputation. Well, you know what? Reputation is a much better word for that.
Personal branding implies you should be fake to make it (if you disagree, do let me know). Before you tweet, interact, blog, or walk down the street you need to think if it fits with the image you want to portray. Well, you know what, if there’s only one facet to your personality you’re not an excellent brand, you’re boring.”
She’s not objecting to the things we do as personal branding, at least not if it isn’t faked; instead, she is objecting to the term we use to describe it.
There’s a lot that I like about the whole field of personal branding, particularly the emphasis on actual people and authenticity and humans communicating with humans. But I admit, I hadn’t thought of the underlying meaning of the term “brand.” It does carry a sense of artificial to it, doesn’t it? It makes us think of Mad Men, advertising, consumer opinion research, and expensive image advertising like insurance companies and such, on a very large scale.
Are you the same thing as your brand? If so, then what’s the point?