clown.jpgDuring 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

  1. knowing your unique skills, talents, passion, and personality traits (i.e. your “brand attributes”), and
  2. 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.