Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is the term "personal brand" good, bad, or just a semantic issue?

This is a follow-up to this FriendFeed thread.

If you read my April Fool's post Announcement - I have signed on as a ghost twitterer for Steven Hodson, you saw that I made the following statement:

Now Hodson has a clearly distinctive personality, and he recognizes that he is, in a way, a personal brand.

This sentence is the underlying joke that underpins the entire post. Because, you see, I link to a Steven Hodson post that emphatically states the direct opposite of what I said. You probably recall his post, which was entitled, "I may be a lot of things but I am not a brand."

Hodson himself links to a post by DigiDave on the topic. DigiDave says, in part:

Being a “brand” doesn’t mean anything. What we really mean is: Live parts of your life online.

* Be findable online
* Show your personality - whatever that is (you can be
* Just be yourself.

While DigiDave was addressing journalists, his statements can apply to anyone who is representing him or herself online, whether it be the local LOLcats expert, someone like me who uses social media to augment personal and/or corporate business, or someone for whom social media is a business in and of itself.

So what's wrong with being a personal brand? It helps to see how Hodson defines the term:

The moment you try and wrap yourself as something to be marketed you insert a wall of spin and marketing between yourself and your readers. It might work well for the Google Juice and living in the long tail but in the end your readers will be able to see that wall of marketing and that isn’t what they signed up for.

And here's what DigiDave says:

Personal branding doesn’t mean slapping a logo on yourself. It just means being exactly who you are right now (yes, you… the one reading this) but doing that online.

If I can extract a theme from these two definitions, it is - don't be fake. From Hodson's definitional perspective, personal branding involves "spinning" yourself into something you're not.

But if you look at Tom Peter's 1997 piece on personal branding, it can instead be defined as accentuating who you are.

To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.

If your answer wouldn't light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or -- worst of all -- if it doesn't grab you, then you've got a big problem.

Using a personal example, some of you may know that my previous main blog was a blog that was devoted to every topic under the sun. I have recently refocused my online efforts on my four Empoprises blogs, each of which is devoted to a particular topic - for example, this blog is devoted to business. But a valid argument could be made that I am diluting myself by focusing on too many things, and perhaps I should just focus on one thing. Here's an argument for better focus:

It is hard enough keeping up with even a single blog or two but get past that point and things become increasing difficult. This happens for one very simple reason – there are only so many hours in the day and no matter how hard you try; or how good you think you are, that is something you just cannot change.

One could argue that focusing on a single topic, rather than multiple topics, is a way to accentuate the positive values of your "personal brand" - although the author of the text above, who happens to be one Steven Hodson, may not choose to use that term because of its negative connotations.

Perhaps the best way to look at this is to think of a first date. Before you go on a first date, you (hopefully) put on deodorant and comb/brush your hair and try to choose a shirt that isn't too wrinkled. These acts in and of themselves are no spin - they are just a way to accentuate the positive aspects of your personality.

The problem comes when you stash a hardcopy of pick up lines into your pocket before you go out the door. That certainly would fall into the realm of "spin," especially if the pick up lines are bad:

Did you fart? Because you blew me away.

Personal note - yesterday happened to be my twentieth wedding anniversary. (Yes, I got married on April 1. I was foolish.) My wife has had a long time to get to know me, "for better or worse." And while I'm myself around her, I still try to comb that hair and choose a neat shirt.

But perhaps I can increase my attractiveness with another of those outstanding pick up lines:

Are you an interior decorator? When I saw you the room became beautiful.

OK, perhaps not...
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