Why I Truly Loathe Personal Branding

This post needed to be published on my personal blog. It’s strictly an opinion, one that involves spiritual beliefs, and has nothing to do with marketing companies.

My professional post last week on reputation vs. personal branding sparked another wave of comments and posts about personal brands. Ironically, the people that seem to care the most to write posts are personal branders. Or is this really a surprise?

I mean we are talking about people who think about themselves nonstop to the point that they manicure an online personal representation, so why should their defense of this practice be so surprising? In fact, that’s why I truly loathe personal branding: It’s so selfish in nature.

This post was triggered by a response from Scotty Hendo stating that character was the most important part of a personal brand. Boiled down: In essence, if you don’t work on character than your personal brand will be mud (read the full post to get it). I have a question for Scotty, and that is what kind of character does someone have if they are thinking about and working on their personal brand all the time?

By my very nature I am a selfish person. I am the pot calling the kettle black. In fact, much of spiritual journey in life has been about combating my own selfishness. I’d rather not rehash my past on the Internet, but for the purposes of this post, when I was a young man in my teens and much of my twenties feeling good was more important than doing the right thing. I lacked character, shirked accountability, and hurt many others; family, friends and acquaintances — all to feel good.

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Today, I am not the man I used to be. There was a moment of clarity, one where I literally looked in a mirror and saw a man I did not like. As a result, I worked my tail off to change.

This work continues more than a decade later. I do service work throughout the week to think of others instead of myself. I do some of this without publicly stating (or tweeting) it, and without recognition… Why? Because it is simply not about me, it’s about doing the right thing. That’s why I have such a love for nonprofits in my heart.

Beyond these acts, I spend countless hours in prayer and meditation to become a better person. These spiritual acts help get my head to a point where I can at least think about others for a while everyday, perhaps acknowledge my wrongs, make amends, and continue striving forward. I will not claim sainthood or a boy scout badge. I am a flawed man (and there are many folks who would agree with that statement), but the road I travel today can be and often is a better one.

Am I selfish and egotistic still? Yes, but I recognize it as a core defect of character. Thus, when I see personal branding — in addition to the professional dangers it offers my clients — I am repelled. Even revolted. Because it is dangerous to me. It represents a major step backwards. I’d rather walk in the opposite direction and focus on something, or someone else. Like helping a friend in need, a cause, or some other random act of kindness.

To my personal branding friends, I hope that some day you will reach a level of awareness that you can see there is more to life than image. Or follower counts, or even publishing books and selling companies. In others we find solace and greatness. Through spiritual giving, we come to find a better world.

In the interim, please forgive me, but I simply cannot accept or participate in the personal branding wave for many of the professional and personal reasons stated. May your journey be a good one.

  • Trish

    This is very helpful and insightful on many levels. Thank you

  • Geoff,

    Honest, courageous, heartfelt post. The kind I like.
    ‘Personal Branding’ bothers me as well – it is devoid of any sense of ‘soul’, it puts humans into a clog in the mix of marketing – we are not brands, for god sakes. We are humans. Maybe it is the Naomi Klein in me coming out again.
    Here are #mytwocents:

    1) You are not your reputation. You are not the image you project. As Eckart Tolle would state, your self-concept is not you – there is a deeper ‘you’ underneath, which you have to nurture.

    2) From a Buddhist perspective, the more attached to your ‘image’, the more suffering is likely. The image is not you. It is a small fragment of you. And since everything is ultimately impermanent, when that image not longer validates you, suffering results. Personal Branding is not healthy for your soul, perhaps.

    3) The inherent danger of Social media is that we can all control the perception of us. We can change our Facebook profile picture. We can tweet. We can IM someone and tell them how awesome everything is. Does, therefore, SM warp our egos? Spiritual traditions far and wide talk about the notion of humility – is SM the great humility destroyer?

    4) I have been thinking of my own term to combat ‘personal branding’: self-affirmation marketing. How can I be my authentic core – personally and professionally? Offline and online? Why is being my true self a better ROI? From online perspective, real connections happen not from my “personal brand”, it is when people get beyond that – they see your real character. In my SM antics, when I think about it, I have surprisingly developed more real connections from personal remarks/thoughts, rather than anything professionally related. Is that a personal brand? No, it was just me being ‘me’. When you are ‘you’ at your core – strengths, weakness, everything – online, not only is it a powerful exercise for your soul, it makes people want to connect with you. And you want to connect with them. No bullshit. No personal brand.

    5) Lastly a quote from Abe Lincolin: Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

  • Geoff:

    Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us. I applaud you for the noble cause you’ve taken up – improving your own character.

    My answer to your question you’ve posed to me is here:
    http://rallythecause.com/2009/07/19/the-unified-model-of-personal-branding/#comment-26

    I want you to know that your thoughts, ideas, and opinions are always welcome on my site – professional and personal. Please join us for the discussion. I think you’ll find that you and I share certain sentiments.

    Scott Henderson
    On twitter: @scottyhendo

  • Geoff,

    Beautifully, eloquently said. I strongly identify with all that you said here, and honestly hadn’t thought about what all of the above means in light of the concept of personal branding. Thanks.

    Beth

  • That’s some pretty hard core stuff, Eddie. I am going to have to re-read that in the morning!

  • Great thoughts here, Geoff, I echo same…

    Admittedly, I’ve never thought about our blog as ‘personal branding’ because I don’t do speaking, ads, SEO, monetization from same, etc., so I was intrigued to find it cited as an example of same on WhyHireMe.com since we’re a nonprofit (under-funded to date)

    That said, ultimately, we’ve always felt there’s a ‘market’ for the message, in ‘if you build it they will come’ Field of Dreams mode, and judging by our Shaping Youth stats, that tends to bear witness to same…

    Soooooo…I guess my notion is that sometimes ‘personal branding’ is a means to an end, whether you’re ‘meaning to’ force an action or not. (I’m hoping we can ‘use’ our NP ‘personal brand’ leverage to find some CSR support, since I’m getting quite fatigued by indie contributions and home equity sustainability! ;-)

    Personal branding MAY have its purpose in gaining traction via resources, links, and information that others don’t have the time or inclination to give…

    I dunno…depends on motivation, content, and variables all over the board. As a nonprofit struggling for traction, I must say, ‘personal branding’ is what we’re hangin’ our hat on these days. (unfortunately, great cred doesn’t pay the bills!)

  • Sorry Geoff,
    Once I start ranting, I don’t stop.

  • Great perspective, Geoff, and a wonderful post to read first thing in the morning to help frame the day!
    There’s a world of difference between “Look how great I am” and “How may I be of service?” And while the first “brand message” may catch our eye online, it’s the second that truly resonates, helps build real relationships, and makes the world a better place.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Celeste Ribbins

    I see your point, but I look at personal branding from a slightly different point of view. We all have a personal “brand” whether we developed it or let it develop on its own. It’s how people see us based on our interests, career path, and actions (or inactions). I see value in personal branding in a couple different ways:

    1. For people who find themselves in a dying industry and need to switch careers. For example, if someone has been a radio announcer for 20 years, isn’t ready to retire, and feels himself getting squeezed out, he needs to rebrand himself and play up his other skills.

    2. For people who realize that the way others perceive them isn’t how they’d like to be seen (or isn’t an accurate view of who they really are), they need to take a more active role in their image.

    Are these things self-focused? Of course. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, I don’t believe so. In my experience, people don’t want to be thought less than what they are–or even differently from who they are–and work to present themeselves in the way they wish to be seen. Whether that is through a full-scale self-branding campaign or simple, subtle changes in their behaviors, including their interaction with others, yields similar results.

    It’s good that you started the dialogue. Thanks for keeping it open.

  • OOOh, Catherine, that’s a perfect analogy! Thanks for that! “How may I be of service?” is exactly the right tonality for those striving to lead change. Geoff, again, you rock…(just saw your 120 comments on the ‘main blog’ seems you really hit a chord!)

  • Dude, Jeff… this is so good. Thank you for sharing your heart. Your honesty resonated with me and I am reminded of how you took time to show me your list at SOBcon. (Some days are better than others)

    I have a big presentation coming up, so I can’t write much, but I could talk on this for hours! Geez! I’ve thought of this my whole life, in some form…

    You rock, Dude. Tell your Sweetie she’s doing a great job of taking care of you. Hugs to the kiddos!

  • Mel Webster

    Geoff — one of the best takes I have read re: the dangers of personal branding. Nice job.

  • Perhaps for many people, it is a marketing ploy they use to market themselves, but for some people it is more of a description of themselves that tells people who they really are.

    I think you are more annoyed at the people who use it as a marketing ploy, where the description is less what they really are, but who they want to appear as.

    I don’t have a problem with personal brands when they accurately describe the person using it.

  • Jim Ishikawa

    Hey Geoff,

    Thanks for your sharing. It sounds like you had a wonderful spiritual awakening along the way. I find great hope in the notion of applying core values even as we pursue the business of unique visitors, page views, and average stays.