Unveiling the Case Against Personal Branding

Unveiling the Case Against Personal Branding

Almost a year ago, BBC published an article called “The case against personal branding”, featuring quotes from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I remember reading it, but I didn’t give too much thought about it.

A few weeks ago, while doing a research on personal branding, I stumbled upon some other articles describing the whole concept as a pointless effort. Although I had no intention of opening the whole discussion around the topic, something happened. All of these posts had one thing in common – they stated that “being yourself” has been replaced with “build your brand”. The very second I realized that I knew I must write a blog post.

Personal branding

Main points against personal branding

Why there are people who get an instant migraine when someone mentions the personal branding concept? By cross-referencing all the materials against personal branding I found, I dug out some of the most popular reasons (read: myths) in favor of anti-personal branding attitude.

  • The term itself sounds very egocentric

I couldn’t agree more. Personal branding, as a term, does sound a bit pretentious. “Hey, look at me, I’m a brand!” But be honest – can you think of a word or a phrase which could replace it and still be easily recognized by other people? Didn’t think so. The concept of personal branding is what’s important, not the term per se.

  • Why do you care what other people think?

“Why Do You Care What Other People Think” is the name of a book written by one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, Mr. Richard Feynman. His first wife, Arline, inspired the book’s title – it’s taken from a question she often asked him when he seemed preoccupied with his colleagues’ opinions about his work. So, even this brilliant man cared a little bit (about what other people think).

The fact is that we all tend not to care (too much). It’s just that, when it comes to work, things are pretty different. You have to care. Your boss thinks you did a great job? That made your day! A recruiter is absolutely blown away with that personal website of yours? Congratulations, you’ve got a job! A coworker said your hair looks amazing today? You put on the biggest smile.

We all care. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will care about your job reputation. Your bosses and coworkers may not know you too well, but they know your work ethics which reflects a part of your personality. You family and close friends know you better than anyone and their opinion matters to you. Again, we all care enough to represent ourselves the best we can.

personal branding being unique

  • Be yourself instead of building your brand

Why on Earth can’t you do both? Building a personal brand does not mean leaving the true self laying in bed, while the fake you is trying to create a brand. As Mark Schaefer, an internationally-acclaimed college educator, author, strategy consultant, and keynote speaker at #SparkMe 2018 wrote in this great article:

A brand is simply the idea that somebody has about you (or a product) from their accumulated experiences. Those experiences, increasingly, are formed from the online impressions we get of you through content, photos, and videos.”

Seth Godin is a brand in the world of content marketing. Does it mean that because of it he is not himself? I don’t think so. He, like every one of us, probably has a favorite movie, daily routines, maybe likes having a breakfast on the couch etc. The whole point of having a personal brand is that it should reflect the real you. You don’t have to stop attending concerts, singing karaoke, or dying your hair purple. It’s about becoming authentic in who you are and unique about how you share your story.

  • We are not business or brands. We are humans.

Sheryl Sandberg said:

“Crest has a brand. Perrier has a brand. People are not that simple. When we are packaged, we’re ineffective and inauthentic. What we each have is a voice, which can be complex, contradictory and sometimes wrong. Don’t package yourself.”

I couldn’t agree less. As Mark Schaefer brilliantly noticed, Ms. Sandberg has a brand, even if she’s not aware of it:

“I think it’s really smart that Ms. Sandberg has packaged herself. Her buttoned-up, elegant persona will help her sell books and command respect as a leader on Wall Street where image certainly matters.”

The conclusion is pretty simple – even if you choose not having a personal brand, you’ll still have it.

We’re not brands but humans. True story. Nowadays, more and more companies are leaning towards me selling proposition and handling over the power to consumers. In other words, brands are trying to be as human as possible. People with skin and flesh are standing behind every company, and we as consumers are thrilled to get to know that “other side”. So, when creating a personal brand, you don’t stop being human – you’re unveiling yourself to the world. And I can’t think of one reason why that could be wrong.

  • We create a distorted view of ourselves which we then actively promote

Yes, the trap of creating a distorted view of ourselves is always present. By falling into it, we can easily become unable to see ourselves the same as people who know us well can.

This argument has two sides: the blind one and the fake one. The unconscious blindness is often present when we try to describe ourselves to the world. Have you heard about Johari window? It is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others, and it’s a perfect tool to use in order to get rid of the blindness.  

personal brandin

The blind side you can deal with, it’s the fake one which could be a problem. Here’s a universal truth – you can’t create a fake YOU and expect to live a long, happy life. It’s unsustainable, unhealthy, and just pathetic. Mark Schaefer wrote:

“I don’t appeal to everybody either. I have people disagree with me all the time. And that’s because I’m human, not a tube of toothpaste. Part of having a successful brand is being OK with the fact that you may not be universally beloved.”

  • Having a personal brand is unsustainable – you can’t be perfect all the time

No one’s perfect. Every superhero has a personal brand and even they are far from perfection (and they’re fictional!). Once and for all – having a personal brand does not mean you need to become someone else – flawless, perfect, and therefore non-existent. It means you should be the best version of you and allow yourself to take a break and smell the roses every now and then.

If you decide to jump on the personal brand roller coaster, make sure it’ll be a hell of a ride. Start it with a personal, different and legend… wait for it… dary domain name – .ME! Learn how to use .ME to make your personal brand awesoME. And don’t forget – always be faithful to yourself and it’ll pay off. I’ll leave you with Mark Schaefer’s wise words:

“The only sustainable advantage we have as individuals is to be known in our industry. Either you’re known or you’re not. And if you’re known you will have a business advantage over those who aren’t. It’s just that simple.”



Anja Drobnjak

Anja is a Content Manager at <a href="http://alicorn.me">Alicorn</a>. Systematically approaching everything, from blog editorial to favorite sci-fi novel discussions. Passionate about her job, books, and dragons. Google Analytics enthusiast.

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