Posted on July 22, 2008
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |
Fairly recently, a commenter on this blog asked for my opinion on “personal branding.”
For those who haven’t been exposed to this cutting-edge concept, it’s really quite simple.
In 1997, business consultant and author Tom Peters wrote :
Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
The idea is easy enough to grasp: just as many successful companies owe their success to their ability to build a “brand,” so too can individuals become successful by thinking of themselves as “brands” and marketing themselves accordingly.
In his article, Peters reveals the steps involved in personal branding (differentiate yourself, communicate your values and character, build a reputation, etc.). For the most part, they don’t differ much from the things corporations try to do when attempting to build their brands.
So what do I think of “personal branding”? Not surprisingly, I think it’s bullshit.
It’s not that some “personal branding” advice isn’t useful or beneficial; it’s that much of the “personal branding” concept is little more than common sense put into a trite “package” for the sole purpose of commercialization.
Every person who wants to get ahead in the professional realm doesn’t need to buy a $29.95 book, pay $2,000 to attend a seminar or hire a “personal branding” coach for $5,000 to do the following:
- Perform your job competently.
- Seek opportunities to grow (knowledge, experience, responsibility, etc.).
- Seize the initiative and go the extra mile.
- Strive to make yourself an indispensable resource to your employer or client(s).
- Build a network.
None of the above requires a person to look at himself as the CEO of Me, Inc. These are all things that individuals with good work ethics do instinctively.
That said, if such a perspective simply served as a reminder to those lacking common sense, it probably wouldn’t be problematic.
Unfortunately, I find that the core philosophy behind the concept of “personal branding” is very problematic.
In my opinion, it is little more than an offshoot of the same flawed thinking behind , which conditioned an entire generation of children to believe “I am special” and think themselves the center of the universe.
These children, of course, have become the Gen Yers who can’t take a piss without hand-holding and who expect to receive a pat on the back everytime they perform a task correctly.
The truth of the matter is that there’s a huge difference between doing a good job, going the extra mile, making yourself indispensable, etc. and believing that you’re the CEO of Me, Inc.
The former is healthy; the latter is narcissistic.
In the dream world inhabited by Tom Peters and other promulgators of “personal branding” bullshit, everybody is a “free agent”:
I know this may sound like selfishness. But being CEO of Me Inc. requires you to act selfishly — to grow yourself, to promote yourself, to get the market to reward yourself. Of course, the other side of the selfish coin is that any company you work for ought to applaud every single one of the efforts you make to develop yourself. After all, everything you do to grow Me Inc. is gravy for them: the projects you lead, the networks you develop, the customers you delight, the braggables you create generate credit for the firm. As long as you’re learning, growing, building relationships, and delivering great results, it’s good for you and it’s great for the company.
That win-win logic holds for as long as you happen to be at that particular company. Which is precisely where the age of free agency comes into play. If you’re treating your résumé as if it’s a marketing brochure, you’ve learned the first lesson of free agency. The second lesson is one that today’s professional athletes have all learned: you’ve got to check with the market on a regular basis to have a reliable read on your brand’s value. You don’t have to be looking for a job to go on a job interview. For that matter, you don’t even have to go on an actual job interview to get useful, important feedback.
In the real world, you are probably not the Kobe Bryant or David Beckham of your industry. You’re not fielding 8-figure contract offers or 7-figure endorsement deals. While your employer or client(s) may love you, you’re almost certainly replaceable if push comes to shove.
In today’s world, opportunity, success and security are, for all practical purposes, zero sum games. You’re competing with people more intelligent, experienced, skilled and hungry than you. Thanks to globalization and a faltering economy, many of these people are eager to offer their services at a price lower than you can.
Any notion that you are the CEO of Me, Inc. belies the fact that if Me, Inc. has one customer (your employer), Me, Inc. is one customer away from $0 in annual revenues.
Most new companies fail within the first several years of their existence, which reflects the fact that not everyone is capable of being a “CEO.” This begs the question: do you really want to manage your career like you would a new company? If you do, I say: put your money where your mouth is and start your own business.
Additionally, I think it’s worth pointing out that most companies in existence today are not “brands.” For every Coca-Cola or Louis Vuitton, there are tens of thousands of Smith & Brothers Constructions. When a Smith & Brothers Construction gets a Coca-Cola-sized ego, it doesn’t take a Wharton MBA to predict the likely outcome.
At the end of the day “personal branding” is bullshit because, while it does provide a certain amount of common sense for “getting ahead,” it unwisely and naively encourages individuals to pretend that the companies they rely on for employment need them more than they need the paychecks those companies can provide.
For the vast majority of individuals, this is simply not the case.
The bottom line is that you are not a brand. If you’re an average professional, you’re probably lucky to simply have a job that pays a decent salary and provides decent benefits. Don’t lose sight of that that.Print This Post