The paradox of personal branding

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My work is going through an entire push for associates to develop their personal brand.



That sounds to be the far side of awful. Perhaps you can convince them that your personal brand includes drinking alcohol and smoking pot at your desk, and defecating ONLY in the elevators on the left side of the building.


My personal brand involves not giving a shit what my personal brand is.


Isn’t that what pen names are for?

The idea of personal branding has always been kind of disturbing to me. Branding began when corporate entities wanted to be seen more like people. They stopped marketing products and started marketing vague qualities. Nike barely even advertises shoes anymore, they just advertise the Nike brand. And when we see that brand we’ve been conditioned to think about things like fitness, determination, the drive to win, self-improvement, etc., all of which is calculated to make us consider Nike as being like a person with those qualities.

So when people started talking about having a personal brand, I thought, “isn’t that just a personality? The set of qualities that other people tend to associate with you as a person? Haven’t we been doing that already since the dawn of language?” Calling it a personal brand just means that corporations, in their quest to become more like people, have successfully redefined how actual people relate to each other.

The simulacrum has usurped the reality.


I think anyone who actively tries to cultivate a personal brand is not someone I want to have around me.


When people with a personal brand raise children, are they engaging in product development?


My pen name was Mad-Dog.

Since reinventing my personal brand, I’ve left most of that life behind, and grown my hair out over my scalp tattoos of “88” in various, modernist fonts.


If you have to talk about your personal brand, you’re doing it wrong.

If it is dependent on your personal tweets/communications, then it’s way too much work.

Do interesting things, live an interesting life, and you will be the subject of attention; your only hope is to have some effect on what people say about you.

Yes, this is easier the more freedom/flexibility/privilege you have – but never underestimate the power of creativity and the leverage of focused attention to have far-reaching effects with next to nothing.

My Twitter account is private – I choose my followers.

I update my blog every decade, whether it needs it or not.

Much easier: go to places with lots of bloggers and do interesting/valuable things but more importantly - engage, listen, empathize, support those who are doing good things – especially seek and and support those who are underrepresented, isolated, discourage, oppressed, and ignored.

I got validation last night on the “dress for success” aspect of my personal branding when a security guard at a San Francisco tech reception profiled me as a homeless person who had wandered in (I had a paid ticket and had showed it at the door).

I know that some people react negatively to my persona, and I find that useful as a filter for who not to invest my time in connecting with.


Better article with more depth than I expected, it parallels a lot of what I said here.

My personal brand in a particular sector was one of ubiquity – people perceived me as being everywhere (within a very narrow universe).

As I get older, I more try to use my elder wisdom to be in just the one right place to be.

Having a personal brand tied to accessorizing makes it easier to choose when to step into ‘that’ character, vs. “always on”


The trouble with that approach to filtering people is that you have no way of checking whether they’re reacting negatively to you because they’re uptight or because you’re behaving like an asshole. As long as you’re play-acting, why not dress and act like a normal person, and filter people by how positively they react to a person not trying to prompt their negativity?

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I hate personal branding so much.


But then you have to manage more than one brand and risk diluting your efforts.

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You’ve probably never heard of my personal brand…


My personal brand is effortless.

Never comb hair, wear tweed, be nice, and rattle off nonsense. I’m never the most interesting person, but I’ll tell you a story that will make you laugh (facts not included).


Anti-‘wanting to brand’, but naturally individualistic. Which is usually more a problem, then not. Very focused on both individuality and paradoxically a singularity sort of mindset (in regards to friends). Privacy oriented, yet I like to share, and being individualistic this raises multiple problems: people can try and approach unique people from stereotypes, we all do this. It takes effort to get to know how people are different. But, it can also take effort to understand how people are human, just as they are.

I guess that someone who relies on publicity to make a living (artists, journalists, musicians etc) will sometimes have to consider the way that their actions will be perceived by the wider world.
Most of us don’t have enough of an audience to worry though.

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Very true. I do cringe when I look back on some of my (mostly) long-ago interactions with some people and imagine how the me of today would react to the me of then.

So sometimes I do dress up and perform differently, as we all do for certain scenarios. I do clean up well, when necessary. The trick is to not make it necessary ALL the time.


Isn’t that your signature phrase?


True. From reading the comments here, I’m starting to wonder if it’s the specific terminology and not the actual practice that we all find objectionable. “Personal branding” isn’t really all that different from “getting yourself out there” or “selling yourself” as in a job interview. It’s just that now, as you say, we’re expected to do it all the time, and through a hundred various online media at once. It all just seems so overwhelming.

I joined Twitter recently and it’s weird. Like a billion people all screaming into the same echo chamber. I don’t know how to get followers and I’m kind of afraid to try.