Personal branding is about marketing and marketing is about positioning and promotion. As someone who loves the art and science of marketing, I’ve seen how effective the right mix of tools can get people to buy. But, does marketing/branding work when you’re talking about people?
As Seth Godin says, all marketers are liars. And, while this type of approach might work for an athlete, it’s rare that a squeaky-clean branded image of a person is remotely close to who they really are. Branding a human being like you would a product or company is an inauthentic and an incredibly sad and cynical way of looking at how you approach people. It might be worth it when you’re a billionaire and making your living on a false impression of who you are, but for the rest of us normals it looks inauthentic.
The most obvious recent example is Tiger Woods. Pre-Thanksgiving ’09, Tiger Woods was the representation of mental toughness and success. Companies closely aligned with his personal brand and based their entire brands on this one man (see Accenture). What happened? He wrecked his car, a harem of women came forward telling the world about their sexual exploits with the guy, his wife almost divorced him, Accenture treated him like kryptonite and he hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since.
When I was younger, my now hall-of-fame uncle pulled me aside and gave me some advice. He asked if I had ever heard him talk about his basketball career/talent. I thought about it for a bit and realized that I hadn’t. He said, “Exactly. Other people talk about it. Be good enough that other people talk about you. When you talk about how good you are, you sound like an asshole and people start rooting for your failure. Don’t be an asshole.”
My uncle was talking about reputation. What’s the difference between personal branding and reputation? Think of this vacuum from Hoover. Hoover has a well-known, positive brand. Yay marketing! But wait, the reviews (reputation) say that this vacuum [ahem] sucks. It doesn’t matter how much Hoover says about itself, those people who gave the vacuum a one or two are going to think their products are crap. The spin doesn’t matter.
Do you want people to respect you, see you as competent, know you for your integrity and develop the type of relationships that are going to help you further your career? Then worry about your reputation, not your brand. Do great work. Help people connect with each other unselfishly. If you’re involved in social media, provide genuine value to others in the best way you know how. Work hard for your clients. Let others talk about how good you are. Mostly, stop being a self-promotion machine. It makes you look like an asshole and it undermines your ultimate goal.