On Personal Branding

By February 19, 2014 30 Comments

You’ve probably heard the term “personal brand.” It’s fashionable these days for the experts to talk about how everyone needs one.

If you work for a large company, the experts say, having a clear personal brand will help the right people understand what you are all about (your skills, work style, strengths, and so on) so that the right opportunities for advancement come your way.

If you are an entrepreneur, the experts will say that you need to determine/craft/hone your personal brand. Otherwise, jeez, how would you know what your logo or website should look like? How would you know the style in which to market your products or services? That all has to be consistent with your brand, right?

Today, I would like to personally declare all  the”create a personal brand” stuff bullshit.

I think the experts have some amnesia about the history of branding.

The concept of a “brand” came about to make products feel more like people. Branding is, in essence, about imbuing inanimate products with a sense of animate personality. Like, “Oh, that soap is elegant and feminine – I know that because of the lavender packaging and the music in the commercial and the kind of store it’s carried in.” Or, “Oh, that soft drink is all about fun, adventure, and youthfulness.”

People don’t need brands. We already have brands. Your brand is your personality.

We lead ourselves into a weird, objectifying split from self when we try to create or deliberately present a brand. Instead, approach it from the inside out. Work at being the most expressed, consistent, unapologetic version of your authentic self. Work at letting the real you come through. Work at having the courage to say what you actually have to say. Then you’ll have a strong, coherent “brand” naturally, which is to say, people will know who you are because you will be living it.

And, because you’ll be acting from the natural, complex you, and aren’t thinking about a checklist of brand attributes you are trying to consistently present, your “brand” will have dimensionality, nuance, surprises and depth, instead of becoming a straightjacket or 1-D version of you.

So the questions to ask yourself are: What style feels most like mine and how can I let it come through more? How can I put my strengths at the center of my work more and make sure those strengths impact others? How can I more fully bring forth my quirks, my hidden sides, or my authentic personality? How can I get braver about being me?



Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • Sarah R. says:

    I so needed to read this. Spot on, Tara!

  • Kim says:

    “How can I get braver about being me?” LOVE. Thanks for the perspective, Tara.

    I’m curious, as someone who’s been watching you for a while, at what stage in your journey did you do B-School? And what difference did it make for you as a person and a business?

  • lisa says:

    Was going to skip this when I saw the title. So glad I didn’t and reaffirms my respect for the author. So true!

  • Thanks for putting this out there. I crashed through several web designers and a copy editor when they came up with copy and pictures that simply were not me. In the end I finally found someone who let me take the lead, write the copy and tell her who I was and select pictures I loved. I couldn’t agree more that what we think, know and feel and love is our brand! Yes, to clearing up the bullshit!

  • Thank you, authenticity or lack of it, comes through loud and clear. Great post!

  • Yes! Thank you for writing this. I absolutely agree and have been saying personal “branding” is stupid for years! It’s so one dimensional and says nothing about who a person really is. Better be who you are and tell your story instead.

  • Valerie says:

    Hi Tara,
    Couldn’t agree more with what you have to say. Thank you for standing up for what you believe without remaining stagnant in a changing world. Gives me hope to stay on my path which is getting clearer every day.

  • Genevieve VenJohnson says:

    I appreciate your depth of thought on this Tara, as much as your plain spokeness around it. Right on! Who are these “experts” asking us to commodify(?) ourselves to enable their poor vision? The alternative questions are helpful. You ROCK!

  • Phyllis Perry says:

    Yes, yes, yes! There is nothing attractive to me about becoming a brand. Especially since I tend to associate this with the red-hot piece of metal pressed to flesh to identify a living thing as someone’s property. If you peel back the historical layers of branding that’s where you get. Can we finally declare ourselves to be ENOUGH?

  • A says:

    Hi Tara!
    Thank you for your inspirational post today! As a young designer working for a big company but who would like to branch out into my own label, your words ring both true and reassuring. I am at my most creative when my work comes from a personal place and I have a harder time when I try to make it come from a pre-defined identity…
    Always such a pleasure and an insight to read your blog, thank you.

  • TechLady says:

    As always Tara, you are SPOT-ON. My brand is that I prefer to wear feminine blouses and dresses to business meetings as opposed to the typical “professional business suit.” People are often surprised and don’t know quite what to make of it. But since I own the company and have developed most of the client relationships myself, I CHOOSE to be authentic and different. I believe we can be just as effective and powerful being our authentic selves as trying to fit into someone else’s 1-D label.

  • I love how you just declared ”create a personal brand” stuff bullshit. LOL

    “How can I get braver about being me?” is such a beautiful question to start expressing our own unique self! (Our brand:)

    Yes, “branding experts” can help us put into a cohesive “package” that’ll look really nice (some people are actually really good at that). But a nice branding put on top fluff, a lack of depth or authenticity to start with will definitely feel empty or fake.

    Great post Tara and great questions to ponder.

  • I love the questions you’ve posed near the end of the article.

    I am printing them & posting them on my computer monitor to remind myself to consider these questions & answers before every business email I send.

  • Ruth Lipshires says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for speaking up and stepping out (and on a few toes). Kudos

  • Debra Eve says:

    Thank you, Tara! I’ve been wanting to say this for ages.

  • Thulisile says:

    Thank you for putting it so simply.

  • I love every word of this. So true, so simple and sometimes so scary! Thank you!

  • Carmen says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for saying this. It’s amazing how this branding craze has permeated every career/industry and even the personal sphere. With Facebook and other social media what ‘brand’ you are selling has even extended to what kind of friend, lover, person etc. you are. It’s exhausting. I love your suggestion that we dig deeper and try to express more of our authentic selves every day and let what we’re about shine through rather than worry about crafting it. It really hit me when you described how back in the day soap companies were trying to make Soap appear more like people and now we’re trying to package ourselves like a bar of soap. This really hit home. Thank you Tara!

  • janice says:

    Hi Tara,
    After three years away, I’ve been spring cleaning my blog, deciding whether to blog again or condense my old posts into a memory scrapbook. I found your comments while I was going through old posts clicking comment links to see whose blogs are still live.I’m thrilled to see you’re still blogging, and thriving happily in all sorts of ways! Your writing is even more powerful and beautiful than it was back then!

    The synchronicity of your post made me smile; I’ve just been rereading an old post of mine that ended with these words:

    ‘Be brave, be vulnerable.

    Be brave enough to explore the depths, to find a way out and shine a light for others to find theirs. Don’t be scared to live, to hold out your heart in both hands like a trembling bird and say “Here I am, love me as I am or leave me.” Be more afraid to die with your song still in you, to cheat your loved ones, your readers and the world of the greatest gift you have to give. You.’

    There was a distinct pattern in my blog,a clash between being bravely, vulnerably authentic and my resistance to those unwritten blogging/marketing codes that made me feel queasy and hypocritical. My best pieces were my most authentic and got comments from people I resonated with. Those were my happiest blogging memories – thank you!

  • maggie says:

    Two great organizations I do believe in and highly in support of these issues…one is absolutely entrepreneurs..women in the business and global issues concerning women. There isn’t anything we can’t do, highly qualified. But yes personal branding is an acceptual requirement that promotes personal peace of ones’ self qualifications of self positive promotion. Thankyou for reminding us of this important factor that we might be too busy to notice what’s most important at times.

  • Grace says:

    My gosh how this post resonated with me. One of the things I make a concerted effort to do is be me in everything I do, in my blog posts and in my products and from your words I see that I already had a brand. This makes so much more sense to me now. Thanks so much for your insight.

  • Sarah Neville says:

    Hi Tara,

    I loved this post. I have always LOATHED the concept of ‘personal brand’, and you have articulated exactly why. Thank you for this clear reminder to bring authenticity to my work and that it will speak more clearly than some superimposed branding nonsense.

  • I hate to be the voice of dissension here, but there seems to be huge misconception as to what personal branding actually is. Yes, we all already have personal brands or reputations. However, as I have seen over and over again with many of my clients, there is often confusion and uncertainty as to how one actually does want to show up in the world. And further, how one then communicates what makes them unique and the value they can provide in their written and verbal communications AND in the visual representation of their brand which can be a huge obstacle to achieving the results they are looking for. The process of personal branding is not slapping on a shiny, fake veneer, but rather a process to illuminate and accentuate the authentic attributes that make the individual feel most excited about themselves and their business and presenting them in the most optimized and MARKETABLE way.

  • Jodi Goldman says:

    As a personal presentation specialist I totally agree with this. In my sessions I always ask people “have you heard of personal branding? Well you are already a brand. Everyone is. It’s what people think of you – that’s it. So the best thing is to just make sure you are living your values and being true to your best self”.

    What I do is help people present themselves (or their brand *cringe*) in the best way, by making it all easy.

  • Philippa says:

    Hear, hear! I’ve found when I’m completely myself, people respond to me much better than when I’m trying to be something I’m not, and I’m more comfortable, too.

  • Heidi says:

    What you’ve just told people to do is exactly what personal branding is all about. It’s about finding the real you and being that all the time. It’s not about creating something and then “trying” to recreate it in every interaction you have with others but to be truthful and honest with yourself as to who you are.

    You’ve perfectly described personal branding Tara without realising it!

  • Kelly Brito says:

    Perfect post! You just nailed all that I wanted to say but could never put into words. Really awesome read. Thanks! 🙂

  • […] really want to quote this entire article about personal branding. I love Tara’s perspective – her view is that your personality is really the most […]

  • Tyson says:

    I’m guessing my original comment was considered too confrontational so I’ll try to restrain myself.

    @Heather and Heidi:
    Tara has it exactly right. What is considered to be the social self, both the self others think of us and the self we think others think of us, is not the same as personal branding. Or rather, it’s a really bad idea psychologically to refer to that self as such.

    Words are powerful and when we refer to ourselves as products, whether we are being intentionally false or not, we are fairly likely to negatively alter the image we have of ourselves and the image others have of us. For example, I would respect my favorite author less if they referred to themselves as a personal brand even though I buy everything they write. For me, it comes off as inauthentic no matter what because I have worked in retail and learned first hand marketing and sales tactics and I am also a psychology major who loved her social psychology. It’s amazing how powerful the social situation is on people and that includes “advertising” yourself.

    So right on, Tara! Be yourself or selves. Brand and market and sell your work, your creations, but not your “self”.

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