The paradox of personal branding (Part 2)


An examination of the substance and value of personal branding wisdom.

In The Paradox of Personal Branding (Part 1) I wrote why this is an important issue for everyone. This article warns about personal branding experts who sell false promises while ignoring what you really need to do about your personal brand.


In Michelangelo's time, no one suggested his Sistine Chapel frescoes could be equaled by someone with the same scaffold. Personal branders suggest the Internet world is different.

The World Wide Web has transformed how people communicate and manage information. But, that is not enough for some people.

A few Internet evangelists and philosophers want us to believe that innovation changes who we are, not just what we do and how we do it. As an example, the enticing ideas pitched by prophets of the personal branding movement offer little real value. Here is how they do it.

The first tactic is renaming an obvious concept. To me, personal branding is clearly about managing your reputation. Why not include it under the Reputation Management umbrella? Because, in the world of digital marketing, the maze of new ideas buries clarity and logic.

According to Wikipedia, reputation management:

“. . . was originally coined as a public relations term, but advancement in computing, the Internet and social media made it primarily an issue of search results.”

Don’t enroll in the Hester Prynne Personal Branding Academy

Okay? If guiding how others view and think about you can no longer be called reputation management, personal branding works for me. Hester Prynne offers a literary precedent.

The new name helps both well-intentioned gurus and self-serving companies claim that Internet technology changes everything, including human nature. Irrepressible innovation maven Tom Peters first lathered up this horse with a 1997 Fast Company article The Brand Called You in which he wrote:

“All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

Peters was the first Web kahuna to surf this wave of faulty logic, presuming that anyone can be Steven Spielberg now that digital creative tools and distribution channels are available to all. A parade of personal branding authorities echoed his mantra:

“Stand out from your peers,” William Arruda

“Personal branding makes who you are,” Colin Wright

“We can leverage the same strategies that make these celebrities or corporate brands appeal to others. We can build brand equity just like them,” Dan Schawbel

It syncs nicely with the American dream that anyone can do anything with unlimited desire and elbow grease. In truth, this view of personal branding is a big balloon tempting people with pins, if not pin heads. Their theories deflate because:

  1. Properly building a personal brand is a full time job. Celebrities, CEOs,

    It would seem that people who read the book 'Personal Branding for Dummies' already have a brand.

    musicians and other famous people who build a brand either have teams of professionals or are so obsessed with becoming famous they sacrifice friends and family. It is exhausting work and even those with million-dollar budgets miss more than they hit.
  2. How will the boss like your personal brand? Before “defining yourself,” “promoting your achievements,” “making sure people value your brand,” or “dressing like a CEO,” you may want to consider how the-people-you-meet-on-the-way-up think about your efforts to stand out from the crowd. Celebrities and products brand themselves to compete in the marketplace. If you are part of a team, you may just be branding yourself as a narcissist.
  3. If you’ve never been in the spotlight before, you may not like it. Gurus and experts make personal branding sound great because their personalities crave attention. But, most people are not comfortable promoting themselves and/or really do not want to. The empowerment we feel communicating via the web is a lot like singing in the shower. But, in reality more people are in the audience than on the stage?
  4. Is everyone unique? Do you really want to promote your uniqueness? Chris Perry, “Brand and Marketing Generator” says, “Everyone has a unique personal brand (a.k.a. your unique and differentiating value), and you communicate (it) in everything you do.” This is just not true. Most people want to copy, share, conform and blend into groups. We prefer to hide or deflect our differences. In organizations, the most highly valued personal brand identity is Team Player, because people know the downside of uniqueness is usually greater than the upside.
  5. How likely are you to control your destiny? Susan Chritton, author of Personal Branding for Dummies (If want the book, don’t you already have a brand?) says, “Everyone should have a mission statement — an expression that clarifies what you are all about and what you want to do in life.” Why? In truth, people are “all about” being loved, having friends and family, enjoying sports and entertainment, having faith and values, etc. Writing mission statements is for self-doubting, dissatisfied people, who sometimes do become quite successful. But, does everyone want to be like that?

If everyone stands out from the crowd . . .


According to the experts, your personal brand is just like the suit that turns Tony Stark into Iron Man.

In most ways, these personal branding promises mirror the paths to success promoted by Dale Carnegie, Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar. Sensibly, those oracles acknowledge that only a few out of the millions who buy their books will push themselves to the top.

Conversely, the personal branders unflinchingly embrace the oxymoron “everyone can stand out from the crowd.” Their hype seems to require an Internet utopia where everyone quarterbacks a winning Super Bowl team or wins an Academy Award. Ah, the paradox of personal branding.

Tn the final rant, I’ll tell you what exactly how to manage your personal brand.

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