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Lies about personal branding

There is a rampant myth about personal branding running unchecked across the Internet. It croons soothingly to the unwary and the uninitiated, assuring them that all a person needs to do to create a powerful personal brand is “be your most authentic self.”



The oft-proffered advice “just be you” is – at best – incomplete and lazy. At worst, when taken at face value, it’s downright dangerous. People who unwittingly take this advice to heart without knowing how to properly apply it, usually wind up with mash-up “brands” that frequently wander off-track, sink into the gooey mire of the ego, and – instead of becoming catalysts to build a business – confuse and alienate potential customers.

Make no mistake. Successful personal brands are no accident. They are carefully crafted works of art that are based in a person’s authentic personality, but designed around a core purpose or mission. Ultimately, that “just be you” personal brand has a much more complex and intentional structure than some would have you think.


Not all about you

It’s not that people don’t like you or appreciate your quirky personality. They do. And the fact that they like and appreciate you personally does have a positive influence on whether or not they will buy from you. However, it’s not the critical factor.

Another frequently heard and wildly misleading phrase is, “People buy from people they like.” This is true enough, but only to a point. Studies have shown that most people make decisions based on emotions rather than logic. That being true, it’s important to establish an emotional connection with customers. However, random emotional connections alone will not move someone to click “buy.” I may like your pins on Pinterest or find your tweets clever and entertaining, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to trust you with the contents of my wallet.

In most cases, being likable is a tiebreaker. It’s what tips the scales in your favor when someone is choosing between two similar options. It’s the icing on the cake that makes your offer that much more attractive. Likeability comes into play only after you’ve done something to attract positive attention. Before you can get people to like you, you have to get them to notice you. The thing that will get you noticed is less about the personal side of your brand and more about the value behind your brand.


Authentically you – but only the best bits

Your personal brand is a work of art, and – like any work of art – you need to be selective about what goes into its making. A photographer frames her pictures carefully, making deliberate choices about what is in the frame and what is outside the frame. A sculptor adds or removes material to his creation with specific purpose, slowly building the image in his mind. A writer crafts a story by linking together only the bits of narrative and dialog that will move the action forward, cutting out anything extraneous or irrelevant.

As these artists create their work, so you should create your brand – deliberately, with purpose, and always focused on the relevant elements that will move your customer to take action.


By all means, be you.

Bring your personality into play. Tell your story. Share your experience. Showcase your style and flair. Reveal the occasional personal detail. But, do so within the context of your brand. The personal aspects of your “personal brand” must fit within and complement the brand value and brand promise. They must make sense within the Big Picture of your purpose. They must help to tell your story and the stories of your customers.

Imagine your personal brand is the hero in a movie and you’re in charge of writing the script. What scenes will you use to define this character? What pieces of the backstory are important to share because they illuminate the character’s passion and motivation? How will you portray interactions with other characters and what will that tell the audience about the character’s personality and philosophy. Will you use inner monologue to let the audience peek inside the hero’s mind? Why? Does each scene build on the others, helping to form a larger story arc?


As with many things, less is often more.

Be authentic, but be selective. Branding – personal or otherwise – is about creating a connection between your audience and your message – their need and your solution. Be you, but concentrate on the pieces of your personality and experience that answer the universal customer question, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t let your personal brand become an ego-driven, runaway locomotive. Stay focused. Build a strong, solid engine that runs smoothly along the tracks, fueled by the purpose and promise that underlies your brand. Be intentional about how you weave personal elements into your brand identity and story.

Be you, but be the most relevant you. Be you in the context of your brand.


Whose personal brands do you admire most? What attracted you to them? What do you find most intimidating about creating a personal brand? What do you find most exciting?



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  1. Really great post Jamie as I’m in the process of “refining” my brand currently and your note to “be authentic, but be selective” is exactly what I needed to hear!

    • Jamie Lee

      Marvelous, Sabrina!
      You and I are on the same path, brewing up new brand “stuff.” Can’t wait to share! :)

  2. Laura

    I love the way you mirror my thoughts about my own branding. It’s not that I don’t “get it”, but it’s daunting to figure out WHAT, exactly, you want to leave in or put out. I’ve always been attracted to personal brands that promote humanitarian causes, and have a special appreciation for businesses headed by CEO’s mindful enough to adhere to ethical business practices. Especially when they incorporate “giving back” as standard (Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, etc.). As for what I find most intimidating about creating my own brand – well, I’m a rather eclectic type of person and there are several directions I am considering going in. All are viable, but which is best? This is my greatest challenge, trying to figure this part out! I want to do it RIGHT, not start impulsively and then figure it out after it turns out to be wrong! (Not that it would be the end of the world, but hey, why waste time and energy if you can figure it out in advance?)

  3. Laura

    BTW – I am copying and posting this in my TIPS file for future reference! Great advice, as usual!

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Laura!
      You bring up a great point and a concern that I think is pretty common: will I get my brand “wrong.”

      The good news is that nothing (online, anyway) is written in stone, and personal brands evolve all the time. It’s natural – as we evolve and change, so does our brand. I’ve seen entrepreneurial types evolve into writers evolve into coaches evolve into humanitarian businesses. Just because you put yourself out there as Thing A today doesn’t mean you can’t shift gears and become Thing B later on. The trick is to find the throughline of your story and let that create continuity for your brand. In most cases, a change isn’t as wild and crazy as we might think it looks on the surface. In most cases, a shift is you getting closer to the core of who you are and what you stand for. It’s kind of like spiraling in to the center – each reinvention of yourself gets you one step closer to your truest you … and the whole journey is a fun and worthwhile adventure.

  4. “Being likeable is a tie breaker” Brilliant point Jamie.

    Not so sure on the whole personal brand thing. I have written about it in context of “you are what you do” or “everything you do defines you”. I suppose that’s personal brand in context. Being deliberate or focussed about it is likely the right way forward.

    What I have come across time and again in the architectural community (I am sure this translates to any line of business) is that the win will usually go to the “known” entity. If they know you, you have the edge and if the client likes you then you have a solid chance at the win. I wish I had some real metrics on that but I don’t. Just seen it happen over and over. Being likeable gets you much further but that’s kind of a “duh” when it comes to life, right? As long as you have the skills to back it up, I suppose.

    This is a forever intriguing topic for me mainly because i find it so difficult to put my arms around.

    Great post!

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Ralph! Always good to see you. :)

      Personal branding IS fascinating. It is the crossroads between an individual, an idea, and a product or service. I love the challenge of weaving all those things together to create a new, marketable entity.

      I am also still working out exactly where likability fits in. I tend to think of it in a framework that’s similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Before personality or likability can come into play, other, more basic needs must have been met – things like skill level, experience, service offers, price, etc. In some cases, likability can compensate for a shortcoming in another area, but I don’t believe it can make up for a lack in all other areas.

      Instead of leaning so heavily on people liking you, I prefer to build a strong platform (based on experience, skills, etc) and then put the personality on display on TOP of those other, more basic qualifications.

      It’s definitely a work-in-progress, but then so is everything.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing!

  5. Jeevan Jacob John

    Awesome post you got there, Jamie 😀

    I do agree with you, too much of personalization of our brand can be very bad, we must be selective.

    One point I would like to add is to adapt to current situations (not just with our brand, but also with our personality). We must be flexible at the same time rigid.

    Like you said, it’s not all about you (our potential customer don’t care about us when they visit us first! Once we start to build that relationship, they start to care. And like you mentioned, when looking at various options including ours, they will be more likely to pick us because they like us and because we have a great relationship with them).

    But, before building that relationship, do they actually care?

    Nope (thank you for the post, Jamie. I have never actually thought this far. This would be very helpful for new blog that I launching in December :D).

    • Jamie Lee

      I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Jeevan.

      I’m intrigued by your idea of “flexible” yet “rigid.”
      I take that to mean that you must keep a consistent “core” to your brand, but be able to adapt and evolve as you grow and as the market changes. It’s a very good point. I always tell my clients that a brand is not a static creation. It is a living, breathing entity that is constantly changing – hopefully becoming stronger with each iteration.

      Thanks, as always, for coming by.


  6. Hi Jamie,

    You make some great points. I laugh when people talk about how they show all of themselves, warts and all online.

    Maybe I am a skeptic, but very few people really bare all. They don’t tell you everything because that sort of boundary less sharing causes issues.

    It is good to be real and to be authentic and wise to know what not to say. Sometimes we need to erect fences around ourselves and keep some things outside of the public venue.

    People like to think they act based upon logic and reason but they rarely do.

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Josh! Welcome. :)

      Each person deals with privacy and sharing in his own way. I’ve seen some people who expunge any mote of personal story or opinion from their writing (BOR-ing!!) and others who try to use their personal stories in a manipulative way. There is a broad spectrum of approaches and it can be challenging to find that “just right” balance, BUT – when you do – it pays off in spades because – you’re right – people don’t act based on logic. They act based on emotion and then – after they’ve made the decision – justify with logic and reason.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. If you build a personal brand you need to have thick skin and be prepared to have an opinion.

    Write good articles that add value to your chosen niche rather stroking your own ego. Be humble, and most of all only promote product / services that you believe are good quality.

    When you put your own name behind something and it bombs then you’ve just lost creditability by association.


    • Jamie Lee

      You bring up some great things to consider, Andrew – “thick skin” and “credibility by association.” I feel a couple more posts brewing now! :)

      It takes a while for a person to come into his own voice – to gain the courage and confidence to not only have an opinion and share it, but share it with chutzpah. That is how you stand out from the crowd. That’s how you stick in your reader’s mind.

      You might like this post:

      Thanks for coming by!

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