The paradox of personal branding (Part 1)


A call to action for people who think they can avoid being “branded” in the digital age,


Prolific author Tom Peters has produced important, truthful business literature, but his 1997 Fast Company article,'The Brand Called You,' is pure hype.

This article is for all wage earners and business people who have ignored or scoffed at personal branding. You need to know its full meaning even though you may not want to Build a Personal Brand, Not Just a Career (Forbes), create The Brand Called You (Tom Peters, Fast Company) or Rock Your Personal Brand (American Express Open Forum).

Personal branding is more than a yellow brick road to both self actualization and career success. Indeed, most reasonable adults are likely to be put off by the idea that everyone needs to be promoted in ways like Nike, Coca-Cola or Apple.

Who needs a brand? Or a reputation?

Your personal brand is (as it has always been) your reputation*, how people think about you and look at you. Today, as throughout history, the relevance of your reputation (to you, because it really does not matter to anyone else) depends solely on how the opinions of others influence your happiness.


If this man is a 'Suit' can he also have his own brand?

The biggest difference today is that everything we do is recorded, stored, backed up, searchable and indestructible. Everything goes on our permanent records. A person used to be able to keep up distinct reputations within different groups. Or, someone could move to a different city or country and start from scratch. No more; we are all branded whether we like it or not.

The paradox is acute because:

  • Most people have no interest in “defining themselves,” “standing out from their peers,” or “deciding what their brand stands for.” That is just human nature. Unfortunately, no one is anonymous anymore. You have to understand your personal brand and its implications.
  • The people who are eager to have a personal brand may not realize that overt exaltation of “ME” may hurt their careers more than help.
  • Everyone must first address the uncontrollable, undesirable potential of their personal brands before deciding whether they melt in the mouth or in the hand.

It’s okay to Google and Bing yourself

How many people actually Google their own names once a month to see how the old brand is doing? Paradoxically, the busy, successful people who need to mind their brands are least likely to bother. They may be surprised and (hopefully not) shocked.

Your personal online brand is something you already have, whether you want it our not, unless you are a paranoid who has concentrated on avoiding it. Part 2 of this article may help you decide what to do about it.

* Peters revealed how to create a true masterpiece of bullshit by producing his classical 3,815-word Fast Company article without actually using the word “reputation” one time.

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