Personal Branding By Any Other Name Would . . .

by Meg Guiseppi on August 16, 2010

As branding has mainstreamed, more and more misinformed dissenting voices scream out across Twitter, blogs, and other social media warning us not to fall for it.

In their rush to deride and dismiss branding, they’re confusing the whole concept of branding – digging deep to identify one’s ROI value and differentiating points, and then creating brand messaging and a communications plan designed to resonate with one’s target audience – with the way some people promote and exploit their brands.

Some object to the implication that personal branding is like cattle branding –”People aren’t cattle!”, or they confuse it with product branding – “People are not inanimate products!”

Some think branding is pigeonholing – “I don’t want to be known for only one thing!” – “A personal brand is too limiting!” – “How can I have one brand my whole life?”

Some say personal branding is contrived, self-promotion – people throw together uncharacteristic, lofty statements about themselves that they can never live up to, and spread the word about themselves incessantly. This is certainly true of some people who haven’t done the necessary work and don’t get what branding is really all about.

Walter Akana, a colleague and fellow Reach Personal Branding Strategist, wrote in an excellent recent post:

“Why do people insist on creating this artificial entity that is labeled ‘my brand’ and then proceed to promote it endlessly? And that’s not to mention suffering the endless “me” messages.”

I concurred in my post 14 Reasons I Won’t Follow You On Twitter with my #7 turnoff :

“[I won’t follow you if …] Your tweets consistently pound me with self-promoting blog posts and information. If you have to talk about yourself all the time, you’re probably not that great.”

Would the confusion and disdain cease, and the concept be more readily embraced if it had a different name?

Jason Alba, another colleague and fellow Reach Personal Branding Strategist commented in his recent provocative post:

“I use that term because it’s the most acceptable term, and I think it’s here to stick. I don’t care as much about the term, though, as the concept behind it.

You are known for something. Some people have a personal brand that is ‘on purpose’. That is, they strategically work on it and know how to define it, and help others understand what it is based on what they’ve thought about.”

Although it’s unlikely “personal (or career) branding” will go by another name, what if it was described as a “value proposition message” or “value promise” or your “ROI value differentiation”? Would any of these terms, or something else compelling, draw more people to the concept?

No question that the branding process is a critical first-step in building a career and job search marketing campaign.

In job search, especially at the c-suite and senior executive level, branding is required, not optional.

  • Defining their brand helps job seekers understand what sets them apart.
  • Knowing their brand helps them communicate their value prop, ROI, and good fit qualities better, network better, and interview better.
  • Knowing a job candidate’s brand generates interest from hiring authorities and helps them assess good fit better.

Some of the objections to branding are fueled by the heavily followed, self-professed “personal branding experts” who entice with blog posts on how to make more money, or sell more products, or become a celebrity with personal branding. They mispeak the true value of branding.

When “experts” constantly bombard us with wrong-thinking ideas and self-promotion, it’s no wonder people get the wrong message.

What do you think? Does the problem lie in the name “personal branding” or the misinformation and misunderstandings surrounding it?

Related posts:

What Personal Branding is NOT

10 Steps to an Authentic, Magnetic Personal Brand

The True Measure of Your Executive Brand

Executive Branding: Personal vs Career Branding

10 Things to Love About Your Executive Personal Brand

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg Guiseppi August 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Jennifer,

Whether or not you choose to call it branding, it sounds like that’s just what you’re doing. If you’re helping your clients define and differentiate their unique set of strengths, skills, drivers, and personal attributes, and designing communications aligned with their target employers needs, then you’re helping them brand themselves. Doesn’t really matter what you call it.

I know that, since I’ve developed my branding process, I’m providing better materials and services than before, and my clients are better prepared than before for networking, interviewing, and the job search in general.

I agree there are way too many companies in the careers industry who say they brand people, but don’t really know what branding is. They’re taking advantage of job seekers who also don’t know what branding really is, and are understandably confused and overwhelmed by navigating today’s job search 2.0.

Thanks again for the good conversation!

Best,
Meg

2 Meg Guiseppi August 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Jennifer,

Whether or not you choose to call it branding, it sounds like that’s just what you’re doing. If you’re helping your clients define and differentiate their unique set of strengths, skills, drivers, and personal attributes, and designing communications aligned with their target employers needs, then you’re helping them brand themselves. Doesn’t really matter what you call it.

I know that, since I’ve developed my branding process, I’m providing better materials and services than before, and my clients are better prepared than before for networking, interviewing, and the job search in general.

I agree there are way too many companies in the careers industry who say they brand people, but don’t really know what branding is. They’re taking advantage of job seekers who also don’t know what branding really is, and are understandably confused and overwhelmed by navigating today’s job search 2.0.

Thanks again for the good conversation!

Best,
Meg

3 Jennifer Anthony August 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Hi Meg,

I would consider what you’re doing more like a professional service. I would lump it into the category of full career services such as career counseling and career/interview coaching. Just going on what you have explained to me, your process seems to be a helpful process that some people simply need to go through.

I don’t think everyone needs this type of service — nor is it my thing — so when people need this type of service, I send them out as referrals. I know that if I write a resume package for someone without direction or knowing who they are and what they have to offer, I am setting them up for failure.

I can only work with people who know what they want, know what they need to do to get there, but just need the career marketing materials to back them up. That’s what I meant by how this evolves naturally in the resume writing process (it does for me anyway). A “deep insight” happens naturally with our one on one conversations while I get to know them and ask them the right questions. It isn’t a predefined curriculum or method and it isn’t a forced thing. The whole idea of coaching someone through the process feels awkward to me. I do not have a Master’s in social work or psychology so I feel unqualified for that.

Anyway, I don’t want to name specific companies, but there are definitely some “experts” who are capitalizing on these branding packages and selling it like it’s the best thing on the planet. I am seeing this increasingly with new, inexperienced writers who are trying to jump on the bandwagon of what’s hot right now. I also see this with the big outplacement firms. But when you dig deeper, all they are really doing is setting up a LinkedIn profile and calling it branding. They can spin it however they want to and call it whatever fancy term they want, but it’s really just a time saving service that they are trying to sell as some extravagant package deal while they mark up their rates significantly (and I do believe we should charge properly so I hope you don’t take it that way).

I am definitely not implying we should be complacent with our services. I’ve only been in this profession “officially” for a little more than seven years, and I have changed and refined what I offer and how I approach my projects probably 20 times already. Jumping on trends for the sake of profit is reckless and kind of shady — and just not for me.

4 Jennifer Anthony August 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Hi Meg,

I would consider what you’re doing more like a professional service. I would lump it into the category of full career services such as career counseling and career/interview coaching. Just going on what you have explained to me, your process seems to be a helpful process that some people simply need to go through.

I don’t think everyone needs this type of service — nor is it my thing — so when people need this type of service, I send them out as referrals. I know that if I write a resume package for someone without direction or knowing who they are and what they have to offer, I am setting them up for failure.

I can only work with people who know what they want, know what they need to do to get there, but just need the career marketing materials to back them up. That’s what I meant by how this evolves naturally in the resume writing process (it does for me anyway). A “deep insight” happens naturally with our one on one conversations while I get to know them and ask them the right questions. It isn’t a predefined curriculum or method and it isn’t a forced thing. The whole idea of coaching someone through the process feels awkward to me. I do not have a Master’s in social work or psychology so I feel unqualified for that.

Anyway, I don’t want to name specific companies, but there are definitely some “experts” who are capitalizing on these branding packages and selling it like it’s the best thing on the planet. I am seeing this increasingly with new, inexperienced writers who are trying to jump on the bandwagon of what’s hot right now. I also see this with the big outplacement firms. But when you dig deeper, all they are really doing is setting up a LinkedIn profile and calling it branding. They can spin it however they want to and call it whatever fancy term they want, but it’s really just a time saving service that they are trying to sell as some extravagant package deal while they mark up their rates significantly (and I do believe we should charge properly so I hope you don’t take it that way).

I am definitely not implying we should be complacent with our services. I’ve only been in this profession “officially” for a little more than seven years, and I have changed and refined what I offer and how I approach my projects probably 20 times already. Jumping on trends for the sake of profit is reckless and kind of shady — and just not for me.

5 Meg Guiseppi August 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Thanks for weighing in, Jennifer, and for your kind words about me.

Perhaps I misunderstand, but by saying, “If you are a good resume writer or career coach, this is automatic”, you seem to be saying branding is okay as long as it’s not a designated process clients need to work through with their provider.

I find that my clients and I gain much deeper insight into their unique ROI value as we collaborate through the process.

Like many trained resume writing veterans (since about 1990 for me), I was using a kind of personal branding process with clients before it had a name — well before Tom Peters coined the phrase in 1997.

What I’m doing now to help my clients with what we call “personal (or career) brand development” is a much better process — for them and for me. Now we all have at our disposal, through organizations like Reach Personal Branding, proven methods and refined processes to help people gain this deep insight, which I know is critical for them to differentiate themselves in this job market.

If a new process helps people that much more, even though it may cost them more, it certainly warrants consideration.

I’m kind of surprised that you’d say “I still say it’s just a way for people to charge their customers more money — by adding “branding” packages.”

I feel that part of our jobs as professionals is not to be complacent in the services we provide. The same old things may not work as well anymore.

We must continuously seek out opportunities for professional development and stay on top of the latest, best job search strategies, so that we can offer our clients the best. Branding is one of those strategies. It may still be somewhat cutting edge. All the more reason it helps job seekers stand out.

And that’s it for my Monday rant, too ;-)

Thanks for your provocative comment.

Best,
Meg

6 Meg Guiseppi August 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Thanks for weighing in, Jennifer, and for your kind words about me.

Perhaps I misunderstand, but by saying, “If you are a good resume writer or career coach, this is automatic”, you seem to be saying branding is okay as long as it’s not a designated process clients need to work through with their provider.

I find that my clients and I gain much deeper insight into their unique ROI value as we collaborate through the process.

Like many trained resume writing veterans (since about 1990 for me), I was using a kind of personal branding process with clients before it had a name — well before Tom Peters coined the phrase in 1997.

What I’m doing now to help my clients with what we call “personal (or career) brand development” is a much better process — for them and for me. Now we all have at our disposal, through organizations like Reach Personal Branding, proven methods and refined processes to help people gain this deep insight, which I know is critical for them to differentiate themselves in this job market.

If a new process helps people that much more, even though it may cost them more, it certainly warrants consideration.

I’m kind of surprised that you’d say “I still say it’s just a way for people to charge their customers more money — by adding “branding” packages.”

I feel that part of our jobs as professionals is not to be complacent in the services we provide. The same old things may not work as well anymore.

We must continuously seek out opportunities for professional development and stay on top of the latest, best job search strategies, so that we can offer our clients the best. Branding is one of those strategies. It may still be somewhat cutting edge. All the more reason it helps job seekers stand out.

And that’s it for my Monday rant, too ;-)

Thanks for your provocative comment.

Best,
Meg

7 Meg Guiseppi August 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Very sound advice, Haneef.

Consumers are always wise to research people they’re considering working with.

Actually, they should first find out what it means to BE an expert in that area – level of expertise, years of experience, qualifications, education, etc. Having “expert” status doesn’t always mean someone truly knows what they’re doing.

Thanks for commenting!
Meg

8 Jennifer Anthony August 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I meant to add that you are one of the people I have featured on my blog at some point. You rock lady! :)

9 Jennifer Anthony August 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

LOL I think I was the one who made the cattle reference. I’m sorry but that is the image that comes to mind.

Part of the problem — I think — is the word. In my dream world, we would find another term to get rid of that cattle image. But I’m just one person and my plan of world domination has not yet come to fruition. ;)

The bigger problem (in my opinion) is unscrupulous people selling these services as a “cure all” for a jobseeker who can’t seem to find a job. Those are the “branding experts” I have a problem with. I still say it’s just a way for people to charge their customers more money — by adding “branding” packages.

If you are a good resume writer or career coach, this is automatic. The jobseeker will know what sets them apart and they will communicate their ROI naturally without force.

I have featured a few articles from other career experts that mention branding, but I avoid hype like one should avoid a VD. I hate hype and fads. I like stuff that is time tested and proven to work. The articles I have featured come from people who have been in this business for a while and I respect.

Meh…that’s all for my Monday rant. Thank you for continuing to post topics that make us all stop and think for a minute. :)

10 Haneef N. Nelson August 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I think that problem lies with so many self-proclaimed “experts” that don’t have a proven track record in the area of “Personal Branding” as well as the lack of integrity of people who don’t realize that having a personal brand is more about projecting to those that don’t know you who you already are not what you want the world to see that has nothing to do with who you are (at least that’s my opinion).

As Jason Alba said, everyone is known for something be it intentionally or unintentionally. Anyone that is seeking an “experts” advice on Personal Branding should make sure that they do their homework on the “expert” they are looking to work with to find out if they truly are what they say they are.

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