Does having a personal brand mean you’re less authentic?

Saw this on Harvard Business Review this morning:

What can a personal brand do for your career, and what’s the best way to start building one?

Here’s the thing: I hate it when people talk about personal brand.  Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity.  One of the fabulous things I’ve enjoyed about my career is collaborating with so many leaders across different industries and countries, and without exception the successful ones have been comfortable in their own skin.

Interesting discussion: almost every LinkedIn dialogue will talk about “establishing a personal brand” — people believe it’s absolutely necessary for hiring, for one thing — and yet, think more deeply about what “branding” means. It should be about storytelling, but often it’s about packaging together some more or less artificial — a list of traits or characteristics that you believe the end user (the customer, the hiring manager) is searching for. Very rarely, I’d argue, are people in the “branding” field about total authenticity — they’re about, typically, hitting what works to sell the brand in question, or establish it as a leader in some set space. (That’s not necessarily a criticism, either; that’s what they should do.)

When I was in the throes of depression about my own job search last winter, I went and met with this guy at the University of Minnesota to talk about options in marketing, branding, etc. I wasn’t looking for a job. I was looking for another name, or a context, or an idea of something that was happening that maybe I could position myself for, etc. Instead he kept telling me I have a “low hum energy” and “probably wouldn’t fit in with branding.” (I don’t necessarily disagree.) His broader point, though, was that “branding” people are Type-A, high-energy champions and advocates. They get out there and they sell that story, even if they don’t completely believe it themselves, because they know the polish matters more than the base level. (He said something like that.) This is all a mess and why we need more introverts in the marketing space, but beyond even that … think about it.

“Branding” doesn’t necessarily imply “authenticity.” It implies “creating an image and playing to the systems in place in doing that.”

So if you talk a lot about “personal branding,” are you, by default, saying that you’re creating an inauthentic persona for yourself that you think others want to see in order to hire and advance you?

What do you think?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Well said. I’m in the process of working out what my personal brand is on two businesses, and thankfully the clear message from who I am working with is about figuring out “who I am and who I want to serve” in those fields. But, its so easy to not do the work of figuring yourself out, and just take on a fake mask of what’s working for others.

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