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A Fine Line:’Personal Brand’ Vs. Personal Achievement

If St. Patrick was standing on the streets of Dublin, Ireland or New York amidst the recent Paddy’s day celebrations, what would he have thought of his personal brand?  Something tells me that legions of inebriated people running loose on the streets as giant garish floats pass by would not necessarily resonate with his visions of personal achievement.  This got me thinking generally about the term ‘personal brand’ and how it has been thrown around for the past number of years.

I recently read Gary Vaynerchuck‘s best-selling book ‘Crush It‘ .  In it he talks about the era of personal brand and that you must fight to be known for something amongst the noise.  He describes that thousands and potentially millions of dollars can be made by ‘cashing in on your passion’.  A prime example he uses is Perez Hilton and how he has ‘crushed it’ through his celebrity gossip blog and encourages the readers that they too can do this.  As a Vaynerchuck fan it pains me to say this – I hate how some people have interpreted this.

What is your personal brand’s value?

Here’s why – what actual value are some people, so-called masters of the personal brand, bringing to the table?  Rather than creating a great service or product; excelling through innovation and questioning the status quo and societal assumptions; or indeed just creating a business that doesn’t involve ‘me’, people should ask themselves “What can I do using my talents to improve an industry, evolve a product or create a market through a profitable (or non-profit) and sustainable company.”  That to me is ‘crushing it’.

Here’s the question: if personal brand is so important, how many of us are actually evaluating what our name is associated with? Equally, have you identified what you want your name to be associated with? Kids do – when I grow up I want to be a _____’.

I think we can all name dozens of people that are everywhere on the web etc. without knowing what they actually contribute.  This is their absolute entitlement – but one has to ask: are you more worried about how well-known you are or for what reason you have a reputation albeit large or small.

I love Vaynerchuck himself as he hustled to build up a wine company to a multi-million dollar business and leveraged this to impart information to budding entrepreneurs thus inflating his personal brand – great!  Much like the master of personal brand, Bono, has a serious backing of unbelievable achievement.  Take others like Eric Ries or Seth Godin – there are thousands of people out there cashing in on their personal brand while making massive contributions to their discipline using all the talents and channels available.

The Big Question:

My view is pretty simple– I feel ‘personal brand’ has become objectified as an achievement in itself regardless of  what backs it and that we’re being pushed to believe that how well known we are is an achievement in itself, not why.  A prime example would be footballer George Best vs. socialite son Calum Best.

Do you agree that over focusing on personal brand itself can cover achievement? Do you think we have lost sight of why we spend time following, focusing on and engaging with big names?

Image: “Who am I – a philosophical question posted on bulletin board/Shutterstock

ME: Marketing Manager, SaaS; co-founder of; Social Media Junkie; MSc in Strategic Management; Opinions my own and they may offend (not intentionally of course).

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  • Great post, this definitely needs to be considered more. 

    For me, celebrity culture is a disease that now infests our society, with potentially serious consequences. The internet has allowed this disease to spread faster and wider than it would otherwise. 

    I place mush of the blame for this on a leadership void that now exists, particularly with respect to political leadership or more accurately lack of. Politicians consistently abuse the people that put them there. In other words, they don’t value their leadership – and now either do large sections of our societies. 

    In fact, the only difference between Perez Hilton and many politicians is at least he’s honest about his motivations. 

    Power for the sake of power, influence for the sake of influence? Not good! Surely the ultimate goal of every short human life is to attempt to leave the place a little bit better off? We need as a society to find ways to remind ourselves because we obviously find this so easy to forget.

  • Great post Connor! It’s interesting to see how people ‘brand’ themselves online and how others simply ‘follow their nose’. If they could track all the information they’ve shared – would they realise it was them and could they see what value they gave? I’m guessing that in most cases the answer is no.

    I have plenty of online heros – Mari Smith is one because her posts are so inviting, social-savvy, with clear depictions and on trend.

    After interviewing Gene Marks and following his tweets and blogs, I love his bold, honest viewpoints and how he can apply his knowledge to any situation. He isn’t being selective with his choices, he’s simply following on from a thought.

    The best big name brand online for me in Ann Summers (you must follow!). Their emails and FB page are consistantly cheeky and humourous. Their copy is clever and witty – they know how to engage an audience and are not afraid to ask questions that deliver controversal responses. Everything feeds into their brand concept.

  • Connor Keppel

    Agreed Niall.  I think leading by example is the key and all should be related to achievements and proven capability. Thanks for reading! 

  • Thanks for reading Lorna and good to hear your conscious of your brand (as well as great at building it by the sounds of it). 

  • Thanks for reading Christina – I certainly will follow it even if it’s through my girlfriend’s account ha ha

  • beatricewhelan

    Hi Connor, really throught provoking post. I was thinking about personal brand a few days ago myself. Working in a larger organisation I often think about personal brand vs corporate brand. Sometimes a personal brand can ‘achieve’ more, such as getting more shares of a Tweet, as people connect with and trust people more than companies. Businesses are faced with the challenge of allowing their management or employees to use their personal brand more. What happens if the personal brand becomes bigger than the business brand? What happens if the personal brand moves onto another company? If people focus on their personal brand and their brand becomes damaged, will this affect their reputation? These are all questions that businesses using blogging and social media have to think about.

  • Smallbiztrends

    Hi Connor —  It does seem like too many people are developing personal brand without reference to defining what they stand for or understanding whether there’s a business there.  

    That said, there are a lot of people who make money from speaking engagements, books, and being paid spokespersons or ambassadors for big brands, and similar stuff.  Some of them make big money — and it always surprises me how of them there are because I meet them at conferences and the like.  While it may seem like they don’t offer anything, in effect they are walking talking cottage industries.  

    I find that kind of business model doesn’t scale up well if you want to grow your business. You mostly have to remain a one-man band (or a small band of a few).

    – Anita

  • I agree completely Anita.  Some of them I think are confusing a quick buck for a sustainable business that generates revenue through a genuinely brilliant offering. The reason I also think many don’t scale up well is that many just create another link in the chain influencing people to believe they are an essential component for what that person is trying to achieve, when in actual fact people should be looking to become more efficient by cutting people from the mix. Thanks for reading Anita. 

  • Your comment is a standalone post in itself Beatrice.  Thanks reading and great comment. Connor

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