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October 29, 2009
Can We Stop Talking About Personal Branding?

“Personal Branding” is a term that gets bandied about at every cocktail party despite not having any real discernible meaning. We know the purpose of branding products: to sell them to their market. What exactly does it mean to have a personal brand, though? Further, is a personal brand actually going to help people with their lives, or just their careers?  

I say that personal branding, whatever it is today, is a trend that has its merits and is not a complete step toward wholesale change in the way you are perceived. The new fame is more complete, achievable, and effective. (Read on for more.)

Much like anything else these days, a whole host of experts are quick to tell you what a personal brand is and why you need personal branding.

Author Martin Lindstrom suggested a few things regarding the quest for a solid personal brand under the guise of explaining how to be indispensable at the workplace.

Martin advised that while at work, people “take two everyday tasks and combine them in an extraordinary way. For example, let’s say you’re a cashier in a big-box store and you enjoy sitting in its fast-food emporium during your breaks. Is there anything you've observed that might be valuable for management to know about—for instance, that customers wish there were more prepackaged sandwiches and salads? Let management know.”

“Create a distinctive mark or "signature" that other people can’t get out of their minds,” he says, “It can be a logo, a symbol, or a saying you affix to the end of your personal e-mails. Once again, combine two elements that have nothing to do with each other—flying monkeys, for example.”

Flying monkeys are going to help me do what, exactly?

Notice that the author of Buyology didn’t exactly say what these things are supposed to accomplish – just that they will help you brand yourself as indispensable. Eh? These superficial moves aren’t exactly changing the world or creating any real benefit for anyone involved. They are more like stunts.

Personal Brander Dan Schawbel – author of the newish book Me 2.0 –wishes to be Gen-Y’s personal branding expert. His very popular blog advises people on creating a new brand attitude (brand new attitude's bastard cousin).

Dan is a smart-as-whip guy who spends time defining personal branding as “how we market ourselves to others.” I think this definition is apt. It is similar to faming, an idea of mine that I’ve been wandering the country talking about, better known as a way to get a leg up on the competition and become the go-to person in all facets of your life. It is also “pragmatic notoriety.” This ensures folks see the best in you at all times. PB is a bit more on the business side of things, whereas Fame is an actual organic adventure. [Oh, this is not the kind of fame that balloonists go after either…]

More telling than semantics of the definition of personal branding are what Dan Schawbel calls the “benefits”. These would be the whys of personal branding. Here are benefits, according to Dan:

Promotions: Anyone who is ambitious and works at a company will want to move up. By building your personal brand, you become the best choice for a promotion.

Happiness: By aligning who you are with what you do and appending goals to it, you can turn “work” into a “hobby.” Get paid to do what you would count as a hobby.

Compensation: Personal brands command premium prices. Just like Apple and Gillette can charge more for products you can get for less, you can do the same.

Business: People want to purchase from other people who they know, like, trust. When you make those people happy that they chose you, by giving them great results, they will refer you to even more people.

Perks: Strong brands get perks. I get free books from authors and other bloggers get free products, such as limited edition Pepsi cans. Celebrities, like Halley Berry don’t have to pay for anything because of who they are.

Notice what all the benefits have in common? They are all (but for happiness) essentially saying make more money. Yeah we are all here to make money, but if a raise is the only thing you are looking for, all this effort may be overkill.

The biggest difference between personal branding and this thing called faming is that the personal one exists solely for capitalistic purposes like getting into a good school, getting the right internship, getting a better job, getting customers. Basically it purports to help you get more cash.

Conversely, faming exists to help you live a fuller and more consistent life from which things like getting the internship and getting the job come into being. Faming doesn’t turn itself off when the workday ends. This helps you get more life and the money may follow, if you so choose.

The other component of personal branding seems to be the pursuit of making its practitioner a “mini-celebrity.” Ah the celebrated life—dimming isn’t it? This is problematic today for many reasons. As writer Michael Wolff pointed out on Newser.com: Celebrities simply do not exist any more.

All those antiquated notions of celebrity are far gone and inconclusive.

“We tend to think that we live in a celebrity-driven culture,” wrote Michael Wolff, “But, it’s actually a nobody-driven culture: vaguely familiar faces carrying their coffee.”

This is it. Personal branding misses the boat because there are no true rock stars anymore. The recent passing of Jackson and others have indicated to all of us that there are simply no actual talents who radiate incandescence to because of their trade. There will never be one more Jackson, just a ton more Wentzes. Celebrities are media creations, and inconsequential ones at that.

In the 1970s and '80s when Michael was at the top of his form, we only got the images that were given to us. If Epic wanted to show us Michael at home, that's what we got.

In order to be an icon, you have to be a mystery. Mystery is king. Mystery is queen. Alas, there are no more mysteries! Jackson’s passing definitely marks the end of an era. His celebrity was classic. It was about the authentic look: the pose, the attitude, the dress, the mystique. Who is left now? No one.

Fame acknowledges that the world has changed. Fame doesn’t mean “self-promotion.” You need to alert people that there is a ton of substance between your ears, and that you aren’t one of the drones carrying coffee just because everyone else carries coffee.

And with that, I introduce How To Fame – www.howtofame.com/details  as a guide to making more money, getting a better job, or becoming another slightly famous face. It’s about living your best life, and showing others what you truly are – you.

It’s about something that you know you’ve got to do but just don’t know how.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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