Personal Branding is Bullshit
Let me rephrase: “personal brand” is a made-up term for “person.”
A company needs a brand, an identity. A company is paperwork filed with the government. A logo, a slogan, a design style, an advertising or marketing campaign — these things help create a personality for the company.
This week at SES San Francisco, several of the folks who stopped by the Raven Internet Marketing Tools booth asked, “Why a Raven?” If all teams of people had literal-to-the-industry names, we would start getting excited about the Men Who Play With Pigskins instead of the Vikings or the Colts. So why not a Raven? Ravens are the smartest of birds (this company is intelligent). Ravens are unusually social (this company cares about people). Ravens look cool on a T-shirt (this company has cool T-shirts).
A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.
That’s why “personal branding” smacks of insincerity, in the gentle way that Volvo smacks crash-test dummies during vehicle safety tests.
A recent Fortune article asserted that “successful employees working at large companies desperately need to create a ‘brand within a brand,’ a professional passport that travels with them from place to place.” Really? If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.
Fortune‘s story later quoted organizational psychologist Lucia Erwin: “If someone wants to use their personal brand to move up in their company, then they need to ensure the values align.” Delete the “personal brand” jargon, and the message is still clear: “If someone wants to move up in their company, then they need to ensure the values align.” (Okay, clear-ish. I would have said, “If you want to move up in a company, make sure you value what the company values.”)
Anyway, the difference between Arienne Holland and Random Stranger is that Arienne Holland is Arienne Holland and Random Stranger is Random Stranger. When Arienne Holland and Random Stranger meet, they’ll form opinions based on first impressions. It doesn’t matter whether that happens on Twitter, at lunch or during a five-minute product demo at a conference. Over time, as the professional relationship develops, they get to know each other.
No personal brands necessary. Just the persons.