During a recent conversation, a friend started talking about a bad experience he had the other day with an overbearing and disingenuous salesperson. He felt like the salesperson’s persona — hair, smile, language, clothing, jewelry, etc. — was just an act only slightly less transparent than that of a circus clown. He described with great disgust how the salesperson was willing to “fudge the numbers” a little to close the deal.
Then my friend said something totally unexpected:
“It’s all this ‘personal branding’ stuff that just makes me sick.” [You can imagine two hands raised up with fingers making imaginary quotation marks in the air. You can also imagine some word other than "stuff"]. He continued: “This guy has probably been trained by some consultant to act this way because this is the way to make the sale.”
After listening to his passionate rant, I realized that he is not alone in his misunderstanding of personal branding. When I connect with job seekers, I discover than many are just as skeptical — albeit less vocal — about personal branding. Perhaps the term “branding” is too closely associated with the term “marketing” in a lot of minds. Whatever the reason, many people believe that personal branding is sort of like an “Extreme Makeover: Professional Edition” that turns you in to a completely different person.
Personal branding is about
- knowing your unique skills, talents, passion, and personality traits (i.e. your “brand attributes”), and
- proactively emphasizing those attributes to others
Seth Godin wrote an interesting post about personal branding today, in which he compares your personal brand to a caricature. He says:
A caricature falsely highlights various anomalies while diminishing the boring parts. So Jay Leno gets a ridiculous chin, or Jimmy Durante gets an even bigger nose (okay, he had a pretty big nose). The same is true for your brand, but even more so. The best brands are caricatures of their true selves.
I thought that summed it up pretty well. Personal branding isn’t about being something you aren’t or putting on a fake persona for someone else. It’s about promoting your “various anomalies” (the interesting things about you) and diminishing the boring parts.