Have you ever heard the expression “Culture is like an onion”?

Geert Hofstede, a social psychologist created this explanation of culture. In his view culture is a system that can be peeled, layer by layer, in order to reveal the inner, true content. Imagine the whole onion as ‘culture’ and as you peel on, you see different levels which influence culture in any society. At the core of the cultural onion are values – those things that people hold dear to them.

Layers of a Personal Brand

To me this is a great visual as well when we think about personal branding. The core of any personal brand are the values that define who we are, our authenticity. All strong brands whether they are products, places, or people are based in what is true, genuine and authentic to them.  This is ultimately what attracts us to a brand. Hofstede said that the inner-layer of the cultural onion is invisible and manifested through three other layers – symbols, icons and rituals – or the things others can more easily see, hear, or feel.

In personal branding we would call these visible layers your brand environment, or the visual vocabulary of your brand. This includes your appearance, your surroundings, your brand identity system (logo, colors, business card, tagline, etc.), and your network or the people you choice to surround yourself with.

When Your Personal Brand Stinks!

When the outer layers of your personal brand supports your core values, then you are delivering on your unique promise of value. Likewise, when you use words, symbols, or actions that are not authentic to who you are, then you are portraying a false ‘image’.  When a brand stops being authentic we feel that brand is not honoring its values and brand loyalty is lost. This is when your personal brand  will ‘stink’ like a rotten onion.

The recent crash and burn of the Lance Armstrong brand, reminds me of this. Perhaps the best comment I have read about Lance’s collapse is from Sarah Banet-Weiser in her article Why Livestrong Will Die,

“Armstrong’s betrayal was not just about an athlete’s bad choices; it was a betrayal of authenticity, and authenticity is the cornerstone of any brand.”

Betrayal is the optimum word here. We feel betrayed when a brand abuses our trust. And like a stinky onion it makes us cry!

4 Tips to Have a ‘Sweet’ Personal Brand

Not all onions stink! If you want to make sure your personal brand is sweet and does not make others cry, then follow these 4 tips. They will ensure the outer layers of your personal brand support your inner authentic core.

  • Get Feedback: The 360˚Reach Personal Brand Assessment enables you to gather data that defines the core of your brand. The process begins with a self-assessment and is followed by requesting feedback from others so you can compare how you view yourself with how you are currently perceived. The results will enable you to identify areas that you want to accentuate and areas you want to diminish as you develop your brand.
  • Focus on Strengths: Capitalize on your strengths rather than improve your weaknesses. Save time by taking what your are strong at and make it superb instead of wasting time on your weaknesses. When you focus on your strengths, you demonstrate passion and drive. When you focus on your weaknesses, you show frustration and stagnation. In addition to 360Reach, use StrengthsFinder 2.0. This is a great tool as it identifies how you can move forward with what you are good at by finding ways to work around your weaknesses.
  • Tell Your Story, not Someone Else’s: Michael Margolis, founder of Get Storied, says, “Your story is your brand. You have to get others to believe and identify with your story. When you can do that — the need to persuade, convince, or sell disappears.” We all have a unique story to tell and our story is what makes us authentic. Of course others can relate to our story because it may be similar, but it is never exactly the same. Each story is unique.
  • Be Real Online (and Offline): In an interview last year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said “The social web can’t exist until you are your real self online.” Just like in the real world, being yourself online takes courage. It takes the willingness to be transparent. Use social media to portray the real you. Avoid nicknames and avatars and use your real name and a professional head-shot. Share bite-sized chunks about yourself but not your life history. Don’t just brag and boast. Listen and engage others as well.


Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer” and is one of only 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world. He is introducing a leading global personal branding methodology to companies and careerists in Japan and adapting it for the Japanese culture. In a culture where fitting-in is the norm, his mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. His background spans over 21 years in intercultural consulting, international outreach, and global communication coaching.