Nov 12 2008
Since last Thursday’s post, “I Don’t Care About Your Personal Brand,” there have been many conversations about why personal brands are or are not valid marketing models (image by Nirav Mehta). There have been some threads that unite to form general arguments for the personal brand, which deserve some discussion. Why? Because they fail to serve social media communicators who work with actual companies.
1) Self-centeredness: I’ve heard self awareness and self fulfillment as reasons to cultivate personal brands. Why don’t we just call this category self-centered since it’s the personal brand using excuses about self worth to cultivate a personal brand.
How does ego-centric branding help a corporation? Why would deploying self-centered brands positively help them affect change, stop contrived messaging and engage in real conversations?
Like the personal brand, companies have been too self-centered, and not market centric. This is the heart of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Any social media consultant needs to read this book, otherwise they will not understand the underpinnings of the social web.
Companies need to stop BS, and start conversing in real dialogue, as opposed to employing rock stars who may or may not offer value in conversations about larger products/solutions and market needs. Social media requires a human voice, not a rock star personal brand. Just a real person with a real voice reaching out in a genuine conversation.
2) Personal brands work for consultants: True. It works for the person. That’s great if you are an author or an independent “Army of One.”
See, the problem is an individual consultant’s model – personal branding – is being sold to companies, and it doesn’t work on a large scale. It does not work for corporate communications – my primary focus. Companies by their very definition are more than one person.
If you are Microsoft do you really want another Robert Scoble to come and go? Further, personal brands and rock stars undermine teams and the kind of collaborative cultures necessary for corporate success.
It’s about we, not me. This is a universal facet of all successful life relationships — personal or business. Look how $200 million worth of all-stars have benefited the New York Yankees. Zero rings since 2000.
3) Social Media: But it’s social media! Really? I don’t think there’s anything social about a contrived personal brand. I think being genuine and allowing your personality to come through in a conversation is social. Social media implies more than one (as does communications) in a conversation, and conversations offer genuine dialogue between people, not personal brands.
Personal branding is all about the individual. So when we communicate personal brands in social media spaces we’re messaging at people, rather than engaging with them. That makes for a pretty bad conversation, IMO. See Cluetrain again, and spare me the personal brand BS.
If you are over-cultivating an intentional personal brand, it’s contrived for business (or vanity) and does not equate to a real conversation. Conversations become a notch in your belt towards achieving your self-image rather than a meaningful, sincere two way conversation.
4) Personal branding is about building value: Really? Maybe. The way I was taught branding is that a brand is a promise about a service to the marketplace that’s communicated through visual and verbal communications, as well as the actual product/service experiences.
Building value is about selling stuff to people. Trust me, I do it everyday when I send emails to prospects that contain links to valuable articles related to their business.
So is personal branding promising to deliver something to the market, or is it salesmanship? If that persona is a consultant or an author then I would say a personal brand. But if not, I might argue the latter — it’s selling in the classic Jeffrey Gitomer sense.
And if building value is really branding an individual vis a vis thought leadership, how does that personal brand translate to a company’s brand and value proposition? It doesn’t do so very naturally, and I don’t see it as a smart social communications strategy for a company.
5) You need personality online: Yes! This is true. That’s why we recommend Rohit Bharagava‘s book to clients who struggle with this. But there’s a difference between being yourself, and manifesting contrived “Flair” online. Sooner or later BS like this gets called out, or loses attention from the community.
The most successful individuals with thousands of followers on Twitter (the home of the personal brand) are those that just let it hang out in a natural way. They don’t monitor Qwitter for optimal following, etc. Instead, they do what they do, and share what they want. There’s no real formal strategy.
6) But you yourself are a personal brand: Am I? Umm, until someone else besides me gets Now Is Gone tattooed on their body, I’m not buying it. It’s gotta take more than a couple thousand friends and followers to become a brand. That bar is way too low. No, I’m just another mouthy blogger. Search Technorati, you’ll find we’re a dime a dozen (image by Shashi Bellamkonda).
No one comes to this company because I ride a Ducati. Or because I am particularly vocal on Twitter and on marketing issues like this one. In fact, one could argue that while my personality online rings through and I am genuine, that these aspects of my personality turn away some business opportunities. Clients come to us because of a proven, award-winning track record of social media successes.
Further, Geoff Livingston, the individual, is not Livingston Communications. There is more than a handful of people operating under this masthead, all with their own personal brand identities. In reality, promising me as Livingston Communications would be bad branding because it would be a lie. I can’t do all or even most of the work. That’s why we are a company, and one that hopes to add ownership partners in 2009.
I made this same point to personal brander Dan Schawbel. For the record, if you are an individual seeking to build a good consulting brand, I do think Dan’s blog offers great value..
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