Personal Branding- an Argument Over Semantics?


Personal branding seems to set some people off. Witness Geoff Livingston’s post on how he loathes personal branding ( Ironically (perhaps), he is a great example of a well-rounded personal brand.
Also of note: Scott Henderson’s very detailed Unified Model of Personal Branding (
and Dan Schawbel’s

I like "personal brand," though I agree the term is a bit clinical, hence my title referring to a possible semantic argument. Why do I like it?

– It’s OK to be selfish- as long as that’s not all there is to it. Much selflessness is not on public display to match personal brand, however.

– People need to network. Even if it’s not in your personality to put yourself out, it’s good career practice to stand out a little. In some ways, personal brand is the new business card.

– There is a fine line between self-confidence and egomania. Some people don’t walk it so well. I can see how that sets people off.

I’ve typed "personal brand" so much I’m sick of it too. But we each should have one.

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  1. Geoff,

    your comment highlights my contention that we may be arguing semantics. I contend that a “personal brand” is- or should be- or can be- the representation of “you.” In fact, in the audio version I suggest “you” as an alternate term.

    If you say intentional cultivation is a part of the “personal branding” definition, and if that cultivation or manicuring means you are altering who you are to put on a false front for public consumption, then I agree with you. I guess I’m a bit more liberal as to what the term means.

  2. If we take the definition of brand as a collection of experiences and associations connected with a product or service, it’s very easy to apply this to a person.

    But like you say – it’s semantics. It’s a new term to describe an old concept – your personal image. What others think about you IS important, be that cultivated or not.

    For some people, thinking of themselves as a “brand” can help guide some professional decisions. For others, it’s simply smart networking or image management.

  3. Doug,
    I have had many discussions with @thebrandbuilder on this very topic. He feels there is such a thing as a personal brand, and makes compelling arguments. However, I still disagree for a very simple reason:
    To me a brand survives and transcends a personality. Ivory is a brand that will far outlive any spokesperson, CMO, CEO and so on. Michael Jordan’s celebrity status makes him appealing to promote brands (IE Hanes), and his name has been used to promote Nike sneakers (Air Jordan’s BTW – are they still made). The person is an icon, not a brand, IMHO…

  4. I think some people just don’t properly appreciate the value of semantics! That’s what I think!

    We use the term “personal branding” to think about it from a brand management point of view.. The language we use, in any instance, has to do with certain underlying fundamental questions being asked.. challenges wrestled with.

    On the issue of manicuring..

    Take your bio.. the bio you give at church to tell folks what a horrible sinner you were, till you found Jesus.. or like the bio you give at your AA meetings.. is a very different bio then you’d likely put in your press kit when you have something new you’re trying to hawk.. or the one you’d give if you were trying to get into a college or…

    And God forbid you ever got into Zen or something.. and the Zen master says “show me the face you had before you were born” which.. is to say how true are all the stories we tell our selves about our selves anyway? And so.. “who the hell are you anyway?” And thus we get to the issues of the mystery of being.

    I think one of the complexities here is psychological.. and I think this is really the cruxt of the matter. At the center of the conscious self sits I.. is that the I we are referring to and banding? More deeply…. there is a whole self.. which includes unconscious stuff.. When Buddha sat at the center of the universe to receive enlightenment.. he was sitting at the true center of the self.

    The problem is that so many folks are thinking “personal banding” is this ego thing.. but I think that’s only when you do your personal branding from the perspective of your conscious self..

    What I would ask is what does this sorta psychology stuff mean for banding.. I mean when we think of conventional brands.. how many of them have a dark side that remains unincorporated in the brands image? If you don’t wrestle with your shadow side, you become a vehicle for that shadow side… and I’d imagine this is probably a big challenge a lot of brands face? And then how do the issues of transparency and authenticity interact with the collective psychology of a brand / business / organization?

    I think all of this is sorta implicit in the notion of personal brands.. that what personal branding is about is empowering individuals.. we are still at early stages in this.. so there’s a certain amount of immaturity to it still.. it represents a shift in social power structures.. that is implicit in the “everything is miscellaneous” idea.. in the organizational principles of knowledge.. which includes language.. and thus semantics..

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