Whether you like it or not, people DO judge a book by its cover. Fact of life.
Just as you wouldn’t apologize for brushing your hair or brushing your teeth in the morning (in fact, it would be embarrassing if you didn’t!), one also shouldn’t need to apologize for wanting to present themselves or their business in the best possible light.
If you are the face of your company or the passion you wish to share with the world, making a good impression is that much more important. And it better be an effective one!
Professionals with poor brand images suffer the consequences or at best, are simply ignored. Just like companies and products. One could have the most impressive list of experiences and talents in the land; a company could provide the best services and products ever seen but with poor branding the perception will be less than the reality. And no matter how successful they may already be, they will be penalized. Perhaps in ways not readily seen, but they will be penalized nonetheless.
People can always be more successful; businesses can always have a larger following. There can always be “higher quality” clients that are more aligned with your passions; your unique talents can always be shared with more people; your beliefs can always have a greater impact.
This is important because it is part of the human condition: we want to do better. It is innate.
Is “personal branding” becoming a dirty word?
“Personal branding” is the buzz word tossed around these days for creating a palpable presence that gets noticed in a busy, distracted world. Important stuff for those who, just like any business or product, have a desire to let the world know “what they’ve got”.
Over time, popular buzz words (as in “buzz word” itself) always seem to create a backlash. It happens to media stars who rise to the top only to crash and burn later, becoming the next fallen star. Naysayers of personal branding seem to focus on those who build false images where real substance is lacking. True, there are many. But I believe there are many more who are looking for the best, most honest representation of themselves that will simply get them noticed.
It is quaint to think that a good reputation and doing good work is in itself enough to get noticed. I have been guilty of that myself only to see the “talkers” get more recognition. The same is true of those who know how to self promote, including branding and other tactics to get noticed. As a sales executive revealed to me early in my career, bullshit sells. I think those with substance also deserve a fighting chance.
When it comes to an individual whose name is the same as their business name or who’s product or passion is closely associated with them, it only makes sense to make their personal name visible and recognizable. It is the only way to get attention for whatever it is you desire the world to know and increasingly so in such a competitive, noisy world. Being good is not enough.
Rebranding personal branding
Maybe it is simply the talk about people as “brands” that gets some people’s underwear in a knot. Personally, I preferred the term “corporate identity” a lot more before everything became called “branding.” Before then, brands were things like “Tide” and “MARS Bars.” But at some point in the 90’s, it was all suddenly called “branding.” Fine.
Admittedly, the word “branding” itself can have as many negative connotations as it does positive ones. We have learned to live with the term as it is applied to big consumer companies and products. But when we apply the term to a person things tend to get muddied.
Done correctly, what we call personal and business branding should get to the essence of who and what you are, embodied in all the ways one engages with your customers, audiences and communities while encapsulated in a simple but powerful brand image that resonates with people. Nothing more, nothing less.
In fact, this process should be one of the most honest things a person and/or business will ever do. It takes self analysis and uncommon self awareness. Possibly even a gut check. Then it takes more guts to lay it all out there for all the world to see. One’s “brand” should say “this is who I am” and “this is what I stand for.” Clearly, compellingly, powerfully.
But maybe a new name is needed since the word “branding” can imply, among other things, a false image like so many of those created by legions of ad agencies, merchandisers and downright hucksters that advertise and sell products through crass commercialization and manipulation. We are in a new era of social engagement where people have a voice and reject any sign of being sold to. Perhaps “personal branding” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
If personal branding were instead called “one’s true self, encapsulated so others understand what you’re about in a quick glance” or “ your earned reputation, honestly represented and packaged in a well-defined, simple, recognizable identity,” maybe it wouldn’t be vilified the way “personal branding” is starting to be by some people. But those names suck. Perhaps personal branding itself needs a rebranding.
“Self-potential declaration.” I’m sticking with it.
So what do you think about “personal branding”? Do you think it needs a new term or is it just fine the way it is? I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.
This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation and friendly debate I had with Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder). My partner, Peggy Fitzpatrick (@PegFitzpatrick), created this Storify which captures much of that discussion and I think you will find it interesting: Personal Branding. Images courtesy of tj scenes licensed via Creative Commons and stock.xchng