Should we challenge the popular notion of developing your "personal brand" in favor of something more personalized and human?

I've been in tech. now for about 5 years at mid-size, enterprise, and start-up companies. A concept I've come across, and advice that I've received from respected mentors, is that I should develop my "personal brand." Something about this way of phrasing it has consistently come across to me as de-humanizing in a non-trivial way.*I should clarify I am in no way saying it offended me, merely that it seems like a de-personalized way to approach something that is inherently personable. I do not find the notion of personal brand offensive; rather, I'm interested in the philosophical significance between "personal brand" vs. "professional identity."Here is my thinking: The notion of a brand is intrinsically linked to something being sold. In contrast, the notion of a professional identity appeals to something sentient and intrinsically human. I think the distinction is non-trivial because brands can be developed by corporations and people alike, whereas identities (in the truest sense of the word) can only be developed and held by persons. It's just that developing your "professional identity" doesn't sound as catchy or in line with current marketing jargon. I think professionally and culturally we would all be better off moving away from the notion of "personal brand" and alternatively focusing more on the development of one's "professional identity."Thoughts?
meganrichards's profile thumbnail
Interesting point. I agree that the concept of personal brand can suggest that it's something contrived, rather than natural. What it comes down to for me is that what each of us brings to work is really our values and habits. What we consistently do (habits) and how we do them (values). To me, that is what we become known for, no matter how we try to "brand" ourselves otherwise.
This is a great point that isn’t stressed enough in the workplace.
maggiewolff's profile thumbnail
Yes, I completely agree. If you bring your authentic self to work, if you follow your morals and values throughout your career, you don't need to build a "brand," who you are will shine through.
VictoriaGuscoff's profile thumbnail
I hear you. I think of personal brand as who you are, what you stand for and how others perceive you both personally and professionally. I believe there’s more to me than what I do for work, so I’m ok with terming this personal brand. Depending on the work environment professional identify maybe better suited.
RebeccaStevenson's profile thumbnail
As someone who has loathed the phrase "personal brand" ever since I first encountered, I'd vote in favor.
A “personal brand” is very much how the outside world sees you. And once you put yourself in a box, you have trouble getting out of it. A better avenue might be to define yourself by beliefs and values. There’s a book called Start With Why that might be helpful.
emilye's profile thumbnail
I hear you on this, but my take is that this is a bit of hairsplitting of labels that is trivial simply because of the way words work. The point of the advice is to be intentional about how people perceive you, and the path you take to get there can be your own.What is the difference in output between a personal brand and personal identity? Do you believe that a personal brand cannot be human and authentic?
urvib's profile thumbnail
I agree with emilye’s assessment that this is hairsplitting on words and it really is about the path you take. Sure there may be other words we could use but as a general rule people understand that personal brand is who the outside world perceives you to be. Btw as an executive coach I actually never use the word personal brand when I work with clients but I do help them develop their marketing portfolio because when they are looking for what’s next they are in many ways marketing who they are, what they offer and where they are going. Now when it comes to a path. There is the path that you could change yourself to be perceived as right for a journey that’s had been predetermined. (Not one I recommend!) OR You learn to articulate your identity by going through a journey of self awareness so that you can influence how people see you by not only understanding who you are but articulating that to others in words, actions etc. If you know who you are and interact with others in your true state then that personal brand is human and authentic. As an individual it’s your choice how you want to develop that personal brand as emilye mentioned. At this point to get a whole society to change a buzzword is kind of hard but many people are changing what it means to develop and articulate their brand or identity to truly match who they are instead of just following paths others have developed.
Yes. We should challenge it. I think the concept of “personal brand” is silly. It’s the expectation that you have to work extra and go above and beyond everyone else to stand out. This then falls into a spectrum of measurement of who has accomplished more, these days you see lots of tech influencers doing podcasts, publishing books, giving talks, recording videos, grow their Twitter following. And though that’s awesome if that’s what you’re into, it’s become sort of “expected” in the tech industry. That’s what I think of when “personal brand” comes into mind and realistically not all of us can do that/have the time/are comfortable with it. I understand about being intentional about who you are and your values but let’s be honest people tend to remember what you have accomplished more than say “oh this is a really nice person” vs “so and so is being featured at Pycon” which one has more weight? And which one would be considered “personal brand”? I don’t think it’s just being a nice person tbh. It should not be expected to develop a “personal brand” just be you, work hard and accomplish your dreams and who you want to be. Not bending yourself backwards so others can see you as successful because then at some point, this idea of “personal brand” just gets repetitive and loses its value. If the majority are doing the same things (giving talks, publishing books etc) how else does your “personal brand” stand out from the rest? I think at that point it doesn’t.