Monday, May 19, 2008

Does Your Personal Brand Taste Like Burned Toast?

A lot of people are promoting their personal or career brand these days as a way to make themselves more memorable and more successful. There's one problem, however. Some of these personal branding strategies make us a) want to run and hide or b) smack the person across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

More than a decade ago Tom Peters' call for "You, Inc.," resonated with many people. Articles and books were written about it and businesses sprung up to help others develop career or personal brands. It's become one of the hottest things going, and a lot of people have made money off the whole idea of "me."

Now, don't get me wrong -- I think career and personal branding is a smart move, especially in this tough economy. Anything you can do to get others positively talking about you and your brand, the better.

You'll note, please, the emphasis on positive.

The problem is that some personal brands are starting to put a foul taste in people's mouths. Sort of like burned toast.

I mean, I can eat burned toast if I have to. If I have time, I'll scrape off the really brown parts. But as I become busier and more stressed, I'm not really inclined to put up with burned toast. I'd rather pitch it in the trash (I know, I know, at $12 a loaf this is a terrible thing to do) and get new, better toast. Something I'll enjoy and not have to put up with that lingering bad taste in my mouth.

That's what you've got to remember: Your personal brand has got to be palatable. Too much self promotion, too little focus on bringing something valuable to the table, and you could find yourself getting discarded.

So, in an effort to get things back on track, here are some tips:

* Don't always hit "send." Seriously, folks, I don't need to know about every burp in your life. Just because you attended the National Association of Acid Refluxers, I don't need to know you met some other folks and ate the all-you-can-barf buffet. Please stop sending me so many "branding" updates that I now send you straight to the spam file.

* Think of your momma. If you're hanging out with some real questionable characters either at work or online, you need to reconsider. You know who these people are: they spend most of their day doing things they're not paid to do and are probably illegal in 12 states; they don't have anything good to say about anyone or anything; and they get nervous when "America's Most Wanted" comes on the air. Think of it this way: Would your mother be pleased that you're associating with these people?

* Look in a mirror. Have a heart-to-heart talk with "Me, Inc." Have you become "Idiot, Inc.?" Have you become so focused on establishing a brand that you've lost sight of who you are? Starbuck's founder Howard Schultz is being portrayed as more intense, more anxious, than in the past. While this may be a natural evolution for him as he struggles to bring the company back to its head honcho position, it might be time for him to do a gut check and ask himself if this is really true to his personal brand.

And speaking of looking in the mirror: Your personal appearance is one of the first things that mark your personal brand. If you've been nominated for "What Not to Wear" by several people and have been featured in the "What was he/she thinking?" category for any publication, then you need a makeover, pronto. Remember: If you can wear it to sleep in, to mow the back 40 in or to go clubbing in, it's never appropriate for making business contacts.

If you've got some more personal or career branding insights, please share!

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Susan Cartier Liebel said...

This is an excellent article. People do get so caught up in their mission, they also think they are the only one's on the planet with blatant self-promotion, lack of generosity, good humor and kindness.

If you study Gen Y, they have no tolerance for this and they will be our customers for the majority of our working and profiting lives.

Anita said...

Terrific point about GenY. They've grown up with a lot of self-promotion (celebrities, YouTube, MySpace), so are probably pretty adept at spotting fakes. They've also consistently expressed an interest in making the world a better place, so they have no tolerance for those who just want to "get" and never "give." Thanks for posting!

Miriam Salpeter said...

There is a fine line between sharing too much and sharing enough to make a connection and between strong branding and excessive self-promotion. (Maybe sometimes the line isn't so fine...) As there seems to be this movement toward connecting on every aspect of our lives (eg, Twitter, Facebook, even Linkedin added a "what are you doing" section), self-restraint is key. I would love to identify someone prominent who is managing their brand well...Any ideas?

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

I'm not sure how "prominent" you're talking about, but what about someone like Bono? He not only has a successful career, but he's tied that to "feel good" aspects such as his humanitarian works. He uses a lot of self promotion, but makes people feel right about supporting and promoting him, whether it's his music or his charity work.
I'm open for any other ideas...anyone else want to offer an example?

Walter Akana said...

Hi Anita!

Great post! Susan and Miriam both make excellent points and your follow-up comment on Bono is on target. The real difference between a fresh and vibrant brand and a one that’s like burnt toast is promotion of the value you deliver. In the end, Bono and other great brands (consider Ophra, Madonna, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus) deliver huge value – and remain fresh. Many people miss this! As Dan Schwabel has pointed out (pink shirt references aside): “Personal branding is not about you, it’s about everyone else” ( Promotion is fine, but make sure you communicate value!

Anita said...

I think "staying fresh" is what causes a problem for many people. They don't put in the effort, and so they become bothersome and annoying, instead of exciting and valuable.
Thanks for posting...great perspective!

Erika said...

Good points, Anita! I agree that personal branding is a good practice but it's also a double-edged sword.

One mistake I see people make with their personal brand is that they allow it to become uni-dimensional and essentially pigeon-hole themselves. I think that especially in this economy it's more important than ever to have a well-rounded personal brand.

Companies are looking for people who can wear many hats and if you've made it clear you're a one-hat kind of guy/gal, you've effectively sold yourself short.

Anita said...

You're absolutely right about being able to step in wherever and whenever an employer needs you to. Being a "one-hit wonder" never works out, does it?
Thanks for posting a comment.