Those Murky Personal Brand Waters


As some of you know, I’ve been polling my online community to gage their feelings on personal brands.  Given my very outspoken nature against personal branding, it’s safe to assume that those who participate in active conversation with me likely skew unfavorably towards the self marketing theory.  Still, given the concept’s popularity I expected a much more polarized result than the above data.

What this chart shows are two small groups within this particular social network that feel strongly for personal branding (15%) or against it (21%).  However, if you consolidate the two middle of the road answers — depends and both — a vast majority feel ambivalent about personal branding (58%).  That’s a pretty powerful number.


What this tells me is that while people see the merits of personal branding, they also see the detriments.  Thus the uncommitted response of my fellow community members. We all want to look good and want to present ourselves in a becoming manner, but not to the point that we seem like over contrived, fake people. By its very nomenclature, the term “personal brand” creates a connotation towards the latter.

Take Aways

In the end, it’s about being smart.  Present a good face, but know that your reputation will ultimately be decided by the actions you bring to bear, not the consistency of your presentation. At best, the presentation will only get you a shot to be on the stage. Your performance is the ultimate barometer.

Also, if you’re a professional marketing yourself for either projects or career opportunities, be very wary of calling your public persona a personal brand. Whether or not you believe in the theory, many don’t and your choice of words could cost you the job, especially if it’s apples to apples. No one wants to add a team member that will put themselves ahead of the project, and that’s the worst case perception of a personal brand.

What do you think?


I am calling the remaining six percent who said none of the above “original thinkers.”



  • Extreme examples of personal brands gone wild are littered all over professional sports. We suffer those brands for the sake of the entertainment value. We don’t have that luxury in this space and thus we are subjected an inordinate amount of me-ists followed by another group of me-to’ists.

    You’re right geoff in your last paragraph in which you say…”be very wary of calling your public persona a personal brand.”..It’s almost a be careful what you wish for warning..Why? because at some point someone, somewhere is going to call your personal brand on some of the personal brand crack you been smoking…

    I shudder at the notion of the personal brand and it truly is a biproduct of this new era of transparency, we just need to avoid calling it authentic. My last point? I wretch every time I see a post by a notable personal brand guru that you and I both know..Enough already..please? There is zero business value in it.

  • Geoff,

    As one of the six percent, you probably know why I didn’t pick any of the offered. As you know, I’m steadfast against personal brands as you define them. I’m much more open to them as I define them.

    But frankly, I think most people define them like you do: if they put on a cowboy hat, they have a new brand. If they put on funny nose, they have another brand. It doesn’t work that way. Those are merely costumes.

    Thanks for this survey. I want to incorporate it soon.


  • Good post!

    I was one of the “It’s a little of both” pollers, and I do agree with most of what you said. I do think personal branding can be useful at times, especially when not labeled as such. Content/performance is king, and adding a personal brand to the mix of bad content/performance probably, or shouldn’t, change much.

  • While a brand, personal or otherwise, is a created thing, it’s not created alone, nor in a vacuum. What folks in the “create your personal brand” camp seem to forget is that they are not the ones who create it–at least not directly. Brands exist in people’s heads, and they are built over time through repeated interactions–both planned and not. All those little impressions create an overall one, as in a mosaic.

    Ultimately that means you can outline the picture you want people to see, and even contribute a fair amount of the material that gives it dimension, but you cannot control that image absolutely–because you cannot control what people think. Influence, yes. Control no. You can ontrol your actions; you can’t control others’reactions.

    As soon as you set out to “create” a personal brand, you are creating something separate and distinct from you. You’re creating a role that you then attempt to play. What troubles me most about personal branding isn’t the often-beneficial process of gaining clarity about who you are and what you stand for, it’s that it creates something that lacks the dimension (and therefore the ability to connect with multiple people in multiple ways) of a real person. More dangerously, the larger the gap between who someone IS and who they want (and then brand themselves) to be, the greater the opportunity to lose integrity.

    It’s impossible to play a role forever–the truth, as they say, will out. That’s why I see personal branding–and even organizational branding that’s divorced from the reality of the marketplace’s perceptions and/or the organization’s own structure and culture–is actually the opposite of what I see as the most essential business task building a sustainable business.

  • Interesting data and a brilliant post, Geoff.

    You make great points about your findings, especially the six percent. Yet, I most love your take aways! In particular: “Present a good face, but know that your reputation will ultimately be decided by the actions you bring to bear…[and]…be very wary of calling your public persona a personal brand.”

    For me, even as a personal brand strategist, I think this concept is out of control. Just yesterday, I had a WTF reaction when I read this: “Personal Branding is about designing a business, a reputation and visually creative marketing tactics around YOU.” Design a reputation? Really?!

    You also have some terrific comments on this post. Yet, I find that I most agree with Tamsen McMahon who brings an absolutely brilliant and on-target perspective to the conversation!

    Look forward to sharing this post with others! Thanks!

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