There’s been a bit of buzz in the blogosphere of late about “personal branding” (if you want to catch up on the kerfuffle, kicked off my occasional blogging provocateur Geoff Livingston, you can pick up the thread here and here and here and here and here).
I don’t think anyone will argue whether the bathwater of an inauthentic persona (faux personal brand) should be tossed out. But, let’s talk about the baby.
I’ve tended to view personal branding as a secondary issue. If you’re looking to project a personal brand, the primary question to you need to answer first and foremost is: What is your value-add?
You don’t have a brand worth a nickel unless you are clear in what value you have to offer. That’s true of personal branding, corporate branding, political branding, and whatever other type of branding du jour we’d like to dream up.
Look around you. Right now – in your office, your home, or even look at all the various Twitter avatars and e-mail addresses on your computer. Not a single one of those people can offer what you do. Each one has inherent value as a person, and unique value as an individual who can contribute to the greater good. And you, too, have a unique and irreplaceable value-add. Focus on the gold – what is it?
I know mine, though it has taken many years to clearly identify and articulate it. But even if you are struggling to put your own value-add into words, you still have that value, and probably those who are closest to you can tell you what it is. Here is an exercise to help you – try to find 5-8 adjectives or nouns that summarize what you do best. Ask your friends and colleagues to help (you might even want to have some fun by making it a Twitter exercise).
Now you’re much closer to figuring out your “personal brand,” because you’re understanding where you add value. And you should think about your value-add on at least 2 levels – the professional level (how do I help my employer and clients succeed and make money?), and the community level (how do I help my family/church/neighbors/network grow and succeed?). Usually, you’ll find quite a bit of overlap, because you are you in both realms, and your strengths carry over.
And that’s the point about having a personal brand. The best personal brands are those that are authentic – that is, they reflect who you truly are, in all realms. You may emphasize specific activities and outworkings in your projected identity, because we all put our capabilities and strengths to use in tangible realms of endeavor, but that projected identity – that personal brand – is coherent with who you are. If you changed jobs, locations, or responsibilities, your brand would remain quite consistent.
If you’re trying to create a persona to hide behind – a faux personal brand – you’re wasting time and energy. Toss the bathwater out the window, identify your true value-add, and embrace it. Then you can project yourself without fear, and we won’t need to waste so much digital bandwidth beating down “personal branding”!