Being a personal branding book author and speaker, I get a little protective of the term. I always want to roll my eyes at people who claim “I’m not a brand, I’m a person,” or at people like Olivier Blanchard, who call people with personal brands fake, saying the personal brand is an artifice.
Personal branding is really just the fancy 21st century word for “reputation.” It’s how people perceive you.
Do you do what you say you do? More importantly, do other people say you do what you do? Are you a kind and helpful person? Do other people say so? Then your personal brand — your reputation, if you must — is that you’re kind and helpful. Do people think you’re an arrogant jerk? Then your personal brand is that you’re an arrogant jerk.
We call it personal branding for two reasons:
A brand is an emotional response on the part of the people who see it.
It’s much more than just a company’s logo and a tagline. It’s how you feel when you see that logo and tagline.
Think of your feelings toward McDonald’s, the Chicago Cubs, and even BP Oil. Love them or hate them, that is what you feel, and that’s how you react when you see symbols of that corporate brand. You won’t eat at that place, you’ll remain a fan for life, or you refuse to buy gas from that company. That’s your emotional response.
Basically, what other people feel, and how they react, when they hear your name and see your face is your personal brand. Does your face make people happy? Or does the mere mention of your name make people make gagging noises? That’s their emotional response, which makes it your personal brand. (Again, we can still call it your reputation.)
A brand is what people say it is.
The control of marketing has been seized from the professionals by real people. It’s no longer in the hands of the trained marketers to say whether a product or company is good. We now trust the say-so of people, often friends, but sometimes strangers.
Think about the last time you bought a piece of electronic equipment or a book, or even visited a new restaurant. Did you check the reviews or ask friends what they thought of it? Or were you persuaded by the marketing copy, the photos, and the search engine placement?
Like most of us who are plugged into this Web 2.0 world, you took the unsolicited and unmoderated recommendations of friends (and even strangers) over the hard work of the trained professionals. And that equipment, book, or restaurant was as good or as bad as your friends said it was.
In other words, the marketing message of a particular company or product has been seized by the people who will react to it, share it, spread it, buy into it, boycott it, or denigrate it.
People control the brand now. The marketers may be able to control the information, but people control the reputation.
How does this affect your personal brand?
This is true of people and their perceptions of us: right or wrong, we have become the sum of what people think of us. Their “reviews” of us come in the form of responses to our tweets, comments on our blog posts, even things they say about us when we’re not around.
In many cases, the thing we’re selling is us. We’re selling ourselves when we apply for a job. Or when we’re pitching a project. Or getting a speaking gig. Or selling a book. People are buying us, and if they don’t like who we are, based on our reputation, we won’t get the “sale.”
A personal brand is not an act, it’s not a character, it’s not a fake you. It’s the real you that wants to be seen and respected by other people. It’s the person you want to be, not the person you want people to think you are. That’s fakery — acting like a jerk to people in private while trying to be sunshine and light in public.
Being true to your personal brand means that you’ll act the same way in public as you do when no one is looking, or at least no one with a decent Klout score. If you’re kind (or a jerk) in public, you’ll be kind (or a jerk) in private. That’s the real personal brand.
It comes down to this. I don’t care what you call it: call it a personal brand, call it your reputation, call it your image. But whatever you call it, be true to it. Don’t fake it, and don’t try to pass as something you’re not.
Just know that most of the people around you are going to call it “personal branding,” whether you like the term or not. Fighting this battle is about as fruitless as people not wanting to call blogging “blogging” anymore, or think that “social media” just needs to be called “media.” It’s all just tilting at windmills while everyone else is actually doing the thing, regardless of what people call it.