You won’t hear me talk about building your “personal brand,” and that is because I feel strongly that brands are best suited for products and large companies. Brands are inherently IMpersonal.
Conceptually, I didn’t have a problem with substituting “personal brand” for reputation over the past decade or so, as popularized by Tom Peters in his 1997 Fast Company article, “The Brand Called You.” These concepts dramatically changed how employees set themselves apart from the organizations they worked for, which you could call personalizing, but in a way that maintained a corporate-like veil of positioning (spin) to the public.
But this was before online marketing was essential and social media came into play.
If we venture into social media (or any online presence) with a purpose of “branding” ourselves, it’s easy to think we ought to represent ourselves in a corporate-like, sanitized (aka inauthentic) way. This is exactly the opposite of how we need to present ourselves in the social Web.
The fact is, the social Web has truly lifted and burned the corporate veil. Spin is deplored.
Authenticity is a core value in the online world (any world, actually). The online community values usefulness, authenticity, altruism, and validation by outside parties.
If you go back and understand branding’s original purpose, it is to enable premium pricing, thus higher profits. For professionals in firms of any size, excellent reputation or specialization accomplishes the same.
And sadly, of all the professional firms I know who have spent vast sums to brand themselves, very few actually leverage their brands in their pricing! But I digress...
Our focus: a corporate brand isn’t essential for professionals to charge premium prices. A reputation, however, IS.
Being a “brand” can even be harmful to professionals. Why?
Because brands are impersonal and with very few exceptions, people (even on behalf of companies) don’t want to buy personalized knowledge and advice from an impersonal entity. Therefore professionals are far better off presenting themselves in their full, unique, human-y glory, than as a corporate brand. Add to that the fact that corporate brands are generally viewed as inaccessible and, to a great degree, unaccountable, and it becomes clear it's not the way to go for relationship-oriented professionals.
Even the largest corporate brands are trying very hard to position themselves more personally.
At a recent marketing event featuring top brands, including Radio Flyer, Tropicana, Ford, Chevrolet, GM, Best Buy, Domino’s, Comcast, and Kodak, the single greatest take-away for blogger Jennifer Beese was,
It’s not about the product, it’s about the soul of the brand. It’s about people, not logos. In short, humanize your brand.
Professional firms, too, should recognize this shift and, like traditional "company" brands, stop trying so very hard to corporatize themselves. And rejoice because professionals have a tremendous advantage over corporations in doing this—the professional IS the product and good relationships are part of highest-quality service delivery. It's what customers WANT, hope for, and expect.
If you are a professional, don’t worry about a building (aka manufacturing) a "brand" for yourself.
Instead, just focus on being true to who you are as you establish and maintain your professional reputation. Seek to do the work that inspires you most, and achieve a strong reputation through excellent expectation management. Being passionate about what you do, and professional and personable while you do it are the best things you can do for your practice to thrive and grow.
This is a modified excerpt from Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms (©2010 John Wiley & Sons).