Are you really a brand? Do you need to be?
Listen to any digital marketing consultant type these days and they’ll tell you that you won’t be able to get a job in 3-5 years if you don’t build your personal brand. Mark Schaefer’s new book Known is a step-by-step guide to doing so. (It’s worth the read. Great ideas in there.)
But just how many personal brands can the world take? And with all the social media talking heads promoting the concept, how much credibility do personal brands really have anyway?
Why I’m Asking
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have your own website, masterful control of your social networks, rank well for keywords around the type of work you do (or want to do) and the like. It’s not hurtful to have a consistent reputation and image when people go looking for you online.
But at what point to employers say, “They’re too focused on them and not the work. I’ll pass?”
In my experience in the digital marketing world, there are two kinds of people: Personal brands and people who get shit done. The personal brand types write and speak and seem to know a lot. But few have case studies and projects to share to show their knowledge translates to business value.
What good is making a name for yourself if you can’t show that the name is more than a hood ornament? You can sell me something that looks like a Porsche, but if it runs like a Yugo, I’m going to be pissed.
It Goes For Me Too
Part of the reason I ask these questions is I’ve encountered them in my own experience. I’ve always toed a weird line between the talking head, influencer type and the practitioner who does good work. I’ve been accused of both – good or bad – and have both gained and lost as a result.
Recently, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that no matter what my outputs, some clients and even colleagues will never see me as more than a speaker/writer/talking head – The Personal Brand. Never mind my case studies, happy clients, awards or output they demanded and received.
At the end of the day, the Personal Brand only goes so far. I can land a client or two, score a contract or two, but none of them last and provide for my family if I can’t back up the hype with the production. And sometimes, even the hype itself means people expect more than you’re able to produce. It makes me pause to wonder if the hype is actually worth it at all.
Might one be better off just selling themselves on their ability to get shit done and steer clear of the Personal Brand? In many instances, I’d say so.
What Does It Mean For You?
The good news is that personal branding isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You don’t have to be a speaking/writing/pied-piper-of-your-industry to have a strong personal brand. Share your professional wisdom and perspective frequently on a social network or two. Guest post on a blog now and then. Be a podcast guest and share your insights from time to time.
You don’t have to have a website and a color scheme and a wardrobe and speak at all the big conferences. You don’t need a podcast or a vlog or a book.
At the end of the day you just need proof points out there that show your next client or employer than you’re really good at what you do. And that doesn’t require the Personal Brand all these talking heads try to sell you.