Personal Branding Is Important, Like It or Not

In a recent conversation with some Internet pros about different aspects of personal branding, one thing really struck me: we all fell into one of two opinion groups. One group thought personal branding is natural and necessary, while the other group felt that personal branding is icky. I'm convinced the reason those in the second group feel that way is down to the use of the word "brand." It's the baggage associated with that word that gives "personal branding" a bad name. So let's not call it that. Instead, let's call it "image" and talk about what it is and what it isn't (or what it shouldn't be).

But first, some basics. You are being Googled. If you haven't done so lately, do a vanity search and try to objectively assess the impression people will get when they see the results. Who's Googling you? Potential partners (of the love and work variety), clients, investors…all kinds of people are doing a quick background check on you. As a professional, what you want to accomplish with your image is credibility. You want those search results to show that you know what you're doing. This is true whether you're an artist, a dog groomer, a developer or a wedding planner.

What It Is

Image is unavoidable. If you have an online presence, people are making assumptions and forming opinions about you. They're putting you into categories. It's what people do. The conclusion they reach constitutes your image, whether you like it or not.

Maybe you don't care. Not caring is certainly an option. But if you're a professional, and I'm assuming you are if you're reading this, you should probably care.

Image is like a shirt. Every morning you get up and pick out clothes that will be appropriate for what you're going to do and who you're going to see that day. So you just have to decide if the "online you" that you present is a guy in flip-flops with two days of stubble, or a well-groomed guy in a smart suit, or something in between. And you can have an "off-duty online you" and a "professional online you," no problem! It doesn't hurt someone's image to seem like a well-rounded, multifaceted person.

What It Isn't (Or Shouldn't Be)

Image shouldn't be artificial. A lot of people seem to have that ickiness reaction because they perceive that a personal brand is something like a fake facade. But the general consensus is that you have to be genuine in this day and age. So, just be yourself. Or, more accurately, your image should reflect the parts of your self that you want to show the world. If your image is a fabrication, people will figure it out eventually, so honesty is the best policy.

A Definition of Branding

Wikipedia offers this definition of branding:

People engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique.

Clearly, the image you project online serves a similar purpose. As a professional, you want to have some control over people's opinion of who you are and what you do. And you want them to get the impression that you and what you do are in some way special. You can accomplish this without artifice, so what's the problem?

Image Is a Societal and Business Reality

These days, with more and more big companies putting on a human face, and more and more people parlaying their personalities into companies (think Gary Vaynerchuk), the line between business branding and personal branding is becoming blurred. For these reasons, it's especially important for people who run a one-man-show or a little shop, which many of us do, to consider the issue of personal branding seriously.