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    I took a week vacation, where I was barely online (it costs 59 cents per minute to use the cruise ship internet service) and I thought really hard about all the criticism that personal branding has received in 2009.  I’ve heard rants from people who think personal branding is selfish and others from people who view personal branding as being not authentic. I don’t get discouraged or upset by any of these opinions because people fear what they don’t understand (a line I got from The Dark Night movie) and since it’s the “hot buzz word,” people are getting annoyed hearing it all of the time.

    I dedicated this post to people who disagree with personal branding, but care enough about it to voice their opinions online.

    If you’re a personal branding expert or enthusiast, you may use this post to help others understand what the concept is all about.

    What the critics say about personal branding (and my responses)

    Rather than hide the criticisms over the past year, I’d like to shed light on some of the one’s that have caught my eye. The blue italicized sentences after each remark are my interpretations of personal branding.

    • “Personal branding makes you afraid.”
      If you’re confident about your brand then you’re proud instead of afraid.
    • “Could another term downplay the marketing connotation that risks reducing human beings to commodities?” Human beings start off as commodities and by way of personal branding, they can stand for something, achieve greatness and become visible to their audience.
    • “I’m just saying all this ballyhoo about ‘branding’ is nothing more than simple, basic marketing.”
      Most people don’t have marketing backgrounds (marketing isn’t taught to non-marketing majors) and the internet has forced us to all become marketers of our own brands using social media tools that are free and allow us to connect to our audience, employers, etc.
    • “Personal branding is like religious evangelism: if you don’t buy into it, you’re going to hell.”
      If you don’t buy into someones personal brand, then you have the authority to unsubscribe to their blog, unfollow them on Twitter, etc.  The world is opt-in, so you get to select your own religion.
    • “Personal branding is often an ego-based image based on communications.”
      When personal branding becomes ego-based, the ego is usually deflated by an audience that can move elsewhere fairly easily.  Everyone in the world has an ego and it’s how they behave that accounts for their brand (and how they’re perceived).

    As you can see, this is opinion based and the disagreement is the result of a misunderstanding of the concept.

    The idea behind the concept

    If you disagree with the concept of personal branding, then you might agree with the idea behind the concept, which is marketing yourself to stand out from the crowd.  No one can deny that the world population is growing exponentially and that with that larger pool of people comes massive competition.  The competition puts us under great pressure to stand out and be known amongst the people vying for the same opportunities as us.

    Here is another way how you can look at it:

    • Problem: competition
    • Goal: standing out
    • Solution: personal branding (you can replace this with self-marketing if that makes you feel more comfortable)

    The idea wasn’t formed when people starting blogging or when Tom Peters wrote about it in Fast Company on August 1st, 1997.  Personal branding has been around forever!  How did you ever find out about Christopher Columbus if you weren’t born during that age?  You read textbooks about him and watched the history channel on TV.  Same with the dinosaurs as well.  The tyrannosaurus rex is a brand and you describe the creature as ferocious and it’s branded as “the king of the dino’s.”  Everything has always been branded/described/labeled, but it wasn’t until social media took off before people start seeing themselves as a brand.

    Why is there a lot of buzz about personal branding now?

    There’s no question that social media is the fuel that is making personal branding a common term used in our language now. The reason why it’s happening is because all types of brands have the same privileges now and branding has been taken down to a personal level.  For instance, the fact that Britney Spears, Oprah, Comcast, a small pizza place in Chicago, a local dry cleaners in my town and everyone else can have a profile, a website and a blog now, makes it obviously and apparent that branding is everything.  The issue isn’t branding though because that already exists as long as you let it.  The main concern is making a brand and a reputation.

    5 Questions you should ask to people who disagree with personal branding

    1. Do you know how you’re being perceived by the people that surround your life?
    2. Have you ever been called something over and over again but dismissed it?
    3. Are you pursuing your dream or someone else’s dream?
    4. If I Google your name or search for it on Facebook, what will I get?  Are you proud of it?
    5. Has any kind of visibility, online or offline, generated leads, love interest or opportunities for you?

    Your turn

    Do you agree with personal branding?  Do your friends?


    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Marketing, Misc, Personal Branding
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    20 comments on “Disagree With Personal Branding? Read This!
    1. avatar

      How can you argue the need for a strong personal brand? It’s silly. why does the world know the coke swirl or the nike swoosh or the addidas leaf or mc d’s golden arches

      thats corp branding at it’s best, so why wouldnt you want that with your own brand? I try to keep my blog and all social sites the same look or color scheme so no matter where people go, they will know that’s JP’s page.

      That’s not eggo, thats common sense,

    2. avatar

      Tom Peters felt he had to answer to the critics too:

      The problem I see with brand”ing” (personal, business, product, etc.) today is there are far too many preaching and writing about brand…citizen journalist who have never manager a brand. That is what has made the concept a buzz word online. Some people think brand is new! LOL. Managing a brand and brand marketing are different but on the same team. Even this post and comment so far focuses on the brand marketing without full evaluation of a brand and brand value.

    3. avatar

      Anyone with any doubts about personal branding should read the Disposable Worker in Business Week : http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_03/b4163032935448.htm, and other predictions about traditional employment opportunities being eroded in forthcoming years. There will be a general trend to temporary and self employment where there will be clear need for individuals to have a personal brand. We will all need to become a new breed of entrepreneur with personal marketing and branding strategies, simply to stand out in a very crowded market place. Excellent post.

    4. avatar

      Anyone reading this already has a personal brand. You elude to this in your posed questions. Coworkers, friends, family, business partners all have an idea of what you’re about. The difference for most people is a matter of: clarification, authenticity, ownership and sharing it with the online community.

      Nobody is saying to be dishonest about who you are and what mattres to you (at least nobody I’m listening to). Just be conscious about it and brave enough to share it. Instant brand!

    5. avatar

      Which would you rather have? Selling a product for a fair, profitable win-win price or for the cheapest price? Get recruited for the job of your dreams or simply settle for what comes your way?

      Personal branding has always been out there, but few people understood they had to develop it, nurture it, care for it. Those who understand and embrace this will be the CEO’s of their own brand.

      Thanks for sharing, Dan!

    6. avatar

      Great post Dan. So true, we can’t afford to ignore the power of the brand in this day and age, when attention spans are getting shorter by the day. We’re in the time of the soundbite, and we need to have a strong profile to be able to deal with it.

    7. avatar
      Gib Wallis says:

      I want to respond to just two of your points here.

      First, you went on vacation but your online presence isn’t dependent on your internet connection. You could schedule Tweets and blog posts while you’re away from the internet.

      Second, you make a circular argument here:

      “Could another term downplay the marketing connotation that risks reducing human beings to commodities?” Human beings start off as commodities and by way of personal branding, they can stand for something, achieve greatness and become visible to their audience.

      Human beings do not start off as commodities. They start off as babies.

      And yes, there are other terms that could download the marketing. But you’re a marketing guy, so the term doesn’t bother you and plays to your strengths but doesn’t speak to the commodification of personhood.

      Other terms could be: reputation management, personal public relations, networking, putting yourself out there, communicating your vision and a host of other alternatives.

      I think personal branding is ok, but yeah, it’s kind of icky to use the same terms for oneself that one uses for widgets and cake mix, but I think personal branding sounds better than “selling yourself” which was used for years and is even worse.

    8. avatar

      I hope you don’t mind, Dan, that I share my “complications of Personal Brand Simplified” post. Kind of a story that might add to your points from mine as an executive recruiter and product guy:

    9. avatar

      Great post (and I’m a pre-Gen Xer, but just barely). I think that this is a very important explanation for the job seekers of all generation in this economy. Building the brand is a great way for a person to remember and re-discover things that will make them more marketable. You nailed it here. Thank you.

    10. avatar

      The process of creating a personal brand (or whatever we choose to call it) begins with answering the questions What am I creating that other people will value? What problems am I focusing my skills on solving?

      This makes some people uncomfortable.

      Are they offended about the notion that a person is a commodity…or more offended about the fact that if we don’t earn, we don’t eat?

      Create a personal brand. Or don’t. But understand that personal branding is not about selfishness…it’s about contribution, and being proud that you stand for something, solve a problem you think is important enough to fix, and make a living helping other people get more of what THEY want.

    11. avatar

      Isn’t your everyday life your brand? Everyday you meet different people how walk, talk and comport yourself is telling the other person what you believe about yourself. I work everyday on improving my flaws and updating my skills to ensure my brand is what I want to say.

    12. avatar

      I’m mystified. Disagree if you like, but you still have a reputation. Reputation is just one part of a personal brand. You’re known as “the reliable one,” “the guy who can get it done at the last minute,” “CEO material” or “the office gossip.”

      Personal branding faces the reality and allows you to do something about it. You can decide what you want to achieve and what you want to be known for so you can begin shaping that identity – from the inside out – over time. It’s empowering.

    13. avatar
      Marcella says:

      I think your responses to the quoted statements reveal your biases. Human beings start off as commodities… Really? The internet has forced us all to become marketers. I respectfully disagree. The internet hasn’t forced anyone to do anything. It is a mechanism of the social fabric in which we agree to participate. As you correctly noted it is an opt-in world. Opting in and forcing an action or belief are contrary influences pulling in opposite directions. I don’t believe anyone will stop being sensitive to imposed structures of meaning that do not ring true to their own feelings of identity. Opting in should be about feeling good not just going along to get along.

    1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Disagree With Personal Branding? Read This!"
    1. […] for young people in particular. But I have never been fond of the term “personal branding.” Dan himself theorized why people feel this way: “Could another term downplay the marketing connotation that risks reducing human beings to […]

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