What is Personal Branding?

Personal Branding. Urgh. What a cliché. What a con. Who on earth cares? Well, according to  a quick google search, enough to cause people to write 8,950,000 results for the question ‘What is personal branding?’.

If I’m honest, I think the whole ‘personal branding’ thing is a bit of a fad – you could call it acting with authenticity, mindfulness, focus – any one of a range of verbs which basically mean acting in a way which is consistent with the image you want to present. Of course, branding experts argue that this isn’t it – it’s actually more about acting in a way which encourages people to see you the way you want, but I’d argue they’re actually one and the same.

A big change has come around through the rise of the internet and social media. Previously, people likely only saw you in a single context; work or home. Even then, you could separate things out further – the Big Boss might only see you at the Christmas party and yearly review, whereas your family saw you every weekend at the pub.

Fast forward to today, and people are more visible than ever before – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Mobile – they all form part of the rich tapestry of how others interact with you.

Personal Branding is about consistency

The challenge for most people is getting away from the mindset of believing ‘I can do what I want in situation X, because I’ll only ever see these people once’ and into the mindset of asking ‘do these actions represent my best possible self?’

The content you post on your Facebook page – the angry text you send to a friend you’ve fallen out with – the person you stop to help on the bus; they can all come back to haunt you (or support you!) quicker than ever before. You are visible, accessible and so must be reliable. If I’m friends with you because you treat me well, but I find out that you regularly harass suppliers in the office, I’m not likely to stick around long. Likewise, if I do business with you on a Monday, but find out you shoplift on a Friday, I’ll be quick to terminate our business arrangements.

Of course, none of this really matters to you if you just don’t care. Maybe you wanted to send that angry text, because it sends a strong message. Maybe what I see as ‘harassing’ suppliers is just your way of getting a good deal for your company. Maybe that shoplifting incident was you taking the fall for a friend who had lost their job and was trying to feed their family.

Plenty of branding gurus try to tell people that ‘perfecting’ your persona is the right way to go. In my opinion, this is a little paternalistic; there’s a ‘right’ way to present yourself, you’re just not doing it yet. I once had somebody ask if I’d ever Googled my name.

Yes, I have, and no, I really didn’t care what came up.

But how could I not care? Have I not heard ‘that’ story?

Three guys walk into a bar…

They walked into a bar to get a job of course!

Kevin, George and Fred were all tired of not having money in their pocket, so they all applied at a local bar for a job. Once they’d all interviewed, the owner of the bar opened his laptop and googled them. Kevin’s first five results were his Facebook (full of pictures of him drunk), article from the local paper about him stealing a goat and three blog posts ranting about his incompetent colleagues.

George was completely anonymous – all media accounts were set to private and there was a hoard of articles about other people with the same name.

Fred was far more positive – articles about his qualifications and a long list of comments about what a great barman he was.

Obviously, we should all want to be Fred in this situation. Right? Actually, no – I would argue that this story gives a false representation of what personal branding is all about. Sure, Kevin and George could set about creating new profiles and trying to expunge the negative content from the first page of Google, but surely it would be far more productive (and authentic) to just be who they are both online and offline.


The words ‘Personal Branding’ leave a sour taste in my mouth – they seem to imply that you’re putting on a false veneer to hide some distasteful views and actions. Instead of thinking of personal branding in this way, try viewing it as a reminder to be authentic to who you are. Instead of doing things ‘just because’, do them with purpose. Don’t make excuses for poor behaviour, just do the right thing.