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Why Personal Branding Doesn’t Really Work

Let me just say this up front: I think personal branding is a sham. The idea that you can have one thing that consistently defines you in all contexts of your life is ridiculous.

It’s impossible to have one marketable brand that you can apply to every community you belong to. You can be “that guy” in specific circles — the rugby guy to your sports friends, or the photoshop guy to your tech friends — but the only thing you can be across group lines is yourself.

So if you have any depth of character whatsoever, you can’t honestly say that only one thing defines you.

You may love playing poker, but unless you’re a professional, what you do for a living also defines you. You may be Catholic, but if you blog about food, you’ve got more than one brand.

Since out of everyone in the world, the person I know the best is myself, take a look at how I could be defined:

  • web guy
  • tech/gadgets guy
  • writer/blogger/journalist
  • jewish guy
  • orioles/ravens fan
  • husband/dad/son/brother/uncle
  • wordpress guru
  • podcaster/video talent
  • music lover
  • tv/movies/entertainment fan
  • and probably more. For sure more.

(Marci Alboher explains this best with her slash mentality; we are not just one thing, we are bloggers/speakers/consultants/ …)

So, the question becomes: how you combine all of the things that make you up into one brand?

You can’t. Except to say that you are your brand.

Jason Unger is my brand. But that doesn’t define me in a “personal branding” sense, which would rather me be the “wordpress guy” or the “lover of 24.” It simply says that I am the sum of my parts. Which is true.

While it is also true that I am a “wordpress guy” and “lover of 24,” these stereotypes don’t matter out of context.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t connect. In fact, it’s when the your multiple brands collide that you have the opportunity to benefit.

And when that happens, your branding simply becomes your name. Not your area of expertise or passion. You.

So don’t try and define yourself by one brand that doesn’t fit all of your contexts. The only universal personal brand is your name.

9 Comments

  1. Jason, your brand doesn’t have to be isolated or confined. Your brand is your authentic self and by letting people know more about your other hobbies and/or experiences, it might make them more interested in you as a person.

  2. junger (Author)

    Thanks for the comment, Dan. But what’s the purpose of having a brand if you aren’t targeting it to your audience?

    Or, in other words – when you meet girls at bars or introduce yourself to your neighbors, do you say you’re “the leading personal branding expert for Gen-Y”?

  3. It’s a case by case basis. If you’ve branded yourself right, then they will already know what you do and you can let them do the talking anyways.

  4. junger (Author)

    You expect girls you meet at bars to know who you are before you introduce yourself? Wow.

    But thanks for the comments. I think you made my point.

  5. Very interesting post Jason!

    As I was reading it, I thought to myself, “I’ve been here before, or maybe I’m still here…”

    Personal Branding is tough, and it’s almost as though we need a nifty tagline or self-proclaimed title beyond just our name as we build a reputation.

    A nice, thought-provoking post. Nice job man.

  6. Kat

    I disagree with you. I believe you’re having difficulties because you haven’t defined your personal brand “properly” in a way that is meaningful to you. Everyone defines their own brand in a different way. Some people can say “I’m the Java programming expert” but others will be less product specific.

    The main part of my personal brand is that I’m honest, I care and I can be depended on. I’m the same whether you apply this to friends, work or whatever.

    An example is when you apply this to a business and look at Virgin (http://www.virgin.com/about-us/). They do lots of things that are covered all under the one brand, but they still have an image/brand.

  7. junger (Author)

    Kat – great comment. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    You’re absolutely right — being honest, caring and dependable are all things that apply to every context of your life. But I would call those character traits, not brand definitions.

    According to Dan’s definition of personal branding — “how we market ourselves to others” — there’s no purpose to telling people you’re honest or caring, since they’ll need to experience it before they believe you.

    Branding is about using marketing to make people believe certain things about you. Going around and telling people you’re honest and dependable might actually hurt your brand.

    PS – Virgin is a great example of a business in a number of realms that has one consistent brand.

  8. Kat

    “they’ll need to experience it before they believe you”
    – you could say the same thing to someone claiming to be a Java Expert. How do you know they are? To prove it they can show previous work or qualifications etc. To prove you’re honest and caring you can demonstrate the good trust and relationships you’ve had with others customers, the repeat business, the positive feedback,… in fact it’s those customers who will be telling people about your brand, how much they trust you etc.

    But I do agree with you. I would be very wary about someone who was preaching they were honest and trustworthy (note – I don’t do that 😉 ). If you are those things, people will find out for themselves, they don’t need to be told it. But you yourself should make sure that you keep to the brand when you carry out work.
    E.g. a mistake occurs, your honest/caring branding means that you take responsibility, apologise and explain to the customer what’s happened and how you fix it and what measures you’re putting in place to prevent it happening again… rather than denying/hiding/blaming others for the mistake and coming across in a less positive/trustworthy manner.

    Also, if you were looking to work with a Java expert, there are so many, who do you want to work with? Now that’s a personal preference. It may be the best qualified, the quickest, the cheapest … or the one that’s flexible/honest/cares about what they do and the customer. (All these could be part of your personal brand, e.g. “I’m the cheapest Java expert there is”)

    So I guess it looks like I’m adding another level to personal branding 😉

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