You are a Person — and a Brand

I recently read an article by Andy Welfie on Medium entitled You are Not a Brand — You are a Person. At first, I didn’t think much of it, because it seemed as though it was yet another cynical asshole trying to diminish the modern world of advertising because (as he sees it) it’s just a fad. However, upon reading the article, I realized that even though his message was flawed, there were some very valid points. His assertion that there is no such thing as personal branding was way off, in my opinion, but his points about not dehumanizing yourself at the expense of your personal brand, were spot on. The keyword in the phrase personal branding is personal. The word itself is human by nature, so I’m not sure how you could cultivate a personal brand without humanizing yourself. You are a person — and a brand, and in this article I’ll discuss why.

Don’t dehumanize yourself, people. Don’t self-censor because what you want to say doesn’t jive with whatever you decided your brand is supposed to be about. You’re selling yourself short.

Above is a quote from the aforementioned article. Here the author is telling you not to censor yourself because what you want to say isn’t “on brand” or in-line with your branding strategy. Here’s my question… Who the hell told you to do that? Seriously, a personal brand is all about you, your thoughts, your dreams, and (above all else) your opinions. That’s what makes personal branding so powerful. Have you ever watched one of Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote speeches? The dude drops F-bombs every other word in some cases. Who he is, is what makes his personal brand so attractive to his followers.

I consider myself to be a brand, but I’m not shy about being who I want to be on Facebook or Twitter. I rant on things, I drop the occasional expletive, and I oftentimes share photos of my dog. Does that mean that I’m not going along with my branding strategy? Hell no! That IS my branding strategy. The problem here, sir, is that you are assuming that the traditional method(s) and best practices for corporate branding also applies to personal branding. It does not. Personal branding is a strategy in and of itself, and one that you can mold and shape however you want. That’s the beauty of it.

It’s a Different World

Society today is very different from society that existed 5 or 10 years ago. Today everything is more personal, nothing is off limits, and privacy is an illusion. By doing business and promoting yourself online, you choose to do that. The humanization of business is more prevalent today than it’s ever been before. Brands interact with customers on a personal level now, just like you and I would have conversations on the street. The days of dictating a message from your ivory tower are over, my friend, because social media has leveled the playing field for all parties involved.

It’s Ok to be Imperfect

This is the biggest mistake you can make in your personal branding strategy, in my opinion. As the author of that post suggests, you are a person, first and foremost. That means you’re allowed to be flawed and you’re allowed to go off-script occasionally. Brands and businesses who do nothing but trumpet the company line tend to come off as being rigid and unapproachable. As an online personality, you should be approachable and accessible to your followers while at the same time maintaining your personality. If you disagree with someone, it’s ok to say so. If someone pisses you off, it’s ok to rant. And yes, it’s always ok to share photos of your pets, what you had for dinner, or a selfie in front of the Las Vegas sign. Just have fun with it and let your passion and personality shine through in your posts, because that’s what people want to see.

Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving. This doesn’t mean self-promotion — that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and / or a voice that others can depend upon. For example, when I write a blog or an article — I am extremely mindful that my community of readers expects a specific “experience of thought” from me. [Link]

This is a quote from Glenn Llopis’s Forbes.com article, Personal Branding is a Leadership Requirement, not a Self-Promotion Campaign, which is referenced in the post on Medium. Welfie disagrees with this statement, and so do I, but apparently for very different reasons than he does.  In this quote the author indicates that you should be a role model, mentor, and / or voice that others can depend on, and I totally agree with that statement. People are following you for a reason, so whatever that reason is, you should consider it your responsibility to deliver on that unspoken promise. That’s not to say that you have to “tow the line” 24/7. Welfie makes the following comment:

You are a human being. You aren’t consistent. Personally, I often hate something until I like it. (Case in point: Ke$ha.) Sometimes, I like something until I hate it. (Facebook.) Sometimes these likes and dislikes change on a daily basis.

Again, yes you are a human, and no you’re not consistent, and that’s OK. As a personal brand, people expect you to change your opinions as you become more educated on certain things. For instance, I was very skeptical of Adobe Creative Cloud when it was first talked about, but now it’s something I use on a daily basis. I’ve been a staunch supporter of Apple and its iOS product line(s), but recently wrote a post about how I’m considering a move to Android for my next mobile device. Does that hurt my brand? No, it doesn’t. In fact, I’d argue that it strengthens my brand because I’m not simply following some template that I’ve laid out for myself. I’m making educated decisions based on facts and hands-on experience, and then delivering my conclusions to my audience… Nothing wrong with that!

Conclusion

Ok, let’s sum this whole thing up, shall we… Yes, you are a brand, but a different kind of brand. You’re allowed to be yourself, and allowed to make mistakes, because that’s what people want from you in the first place. Corporate branding strategies are an endangered species, and this new wave of branding practices is only going to continue to grow and become a part of our everyday lives. Like I always say, the opportunity is there, but only for those who take the time to understand and use the tools we’ve been given in the ways they were intended. Judging by his article, I’m not sure Mr. Welfie gets that, and I’m sure many throughout corporate America don’t either. Hopefully now, you do. Thanks for reading!

Justin Seeley is a graphic designer, author, and online content creator. His work can be seen on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, CreativeLIVE, and Pluralsight. Justin loves helping both individuals and businesses reach their professional goals through education, creative services, and social content strategy.

1 comments On You are a Person — and a Brand

  • I would add that “You are a person–and a brand…but only if you provide value and receive it in return.”

    In other words, creating a personal brand without also being a personal business begs the question, “Why bother?”

    A brand is an identity that a business (not a person) uses to establish its market presence. Otherwise, it’s simply a personal reputation.

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