You don’t have a personal brand

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Why is it that so many people extol the virtues of personal branding? In this VLOG Grant argues that only products need a brand, not human beings.

Why is it that so many people have managed to make a living writing about personal branding?

Personal branding is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist.

Let me explain… Branding is the process of taking an inanimate indistinguishable product or service and making it distinctive and meaningful. You can’t do that with a human being. Human beings, by the very definition, are distinctive and meaningful, there is no human being that has the same combination of looks and personality as anyone else.

You don’t need to brand a human being.

Human beings have their own characteristics already. It may be the need to help someone to bring the best out of them, but the basic personality is already there. It’s not like a blank canvas which your brand is. For example, we all know what Coca Cola is today and it evokes certain feelings and emotions, but Coca-Cola could have been anything. It could have been a drink for a genius. We don’t know because it had a blank canvas.

Similarly, we associate McDonald’s with a clown, but it could’ve been an elephant or a giraffe. They had a blank canvas. That is just not the same human beings who have innate personalities and qualities to start with.

Now you may think; hold on, it matters what people think of me in business. People have to hold me in high regard for me to get business and that’s absolutely right, but that isn’t brand, that is reputation and reputation does matter, but it is not the same things. You can do things to enhance your reputation and of course things that would diminish your reputation, but that is separate from brands. And by the way, brands also have reputations that can be good and bad.

Now this works so far, but then people say to me, what about Lady Gaga or Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey and these kinds of characters who are clearly brands, but they’re not brands, they are people with distinct qualities and talents which people want to aspire to be.

Someone might go around with a Michael Jordan t-shirt on, but not because he’s a brand, but because they aspire to be like him because they admire him. There are similarities with brands, but it is not the same thing. No one took Michael Jordan is a blank canvas and said he will be good at basketball. He already was one of the best, and so people aspire to be like him.

Now I know famous people have advisors and image consultants helping them, but that’s to bring the best out of them.
It’s not to rebrand them or brand them as something. They already have a brand and a personality. We already are authentically who we are.

So don’t let someone talk to you about personal brand. There is no such thing. You already have a personality and because you’re a human being, you want to bring the best out of that and enhance your reputation, but that is not branding. Companies and objects have brands, that’s taking something indistinguishable and giving it meaning. Human beings are human beings and we can enhance our reputation, but personal branding? It’s ridiculous.

There may be small changes to the spoken word in this transcript in order to facilitate the readability of the written English

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  1. I can see what you’re getting at, but I don’t agree. In general consumers trust people more than they trust corporations, which is why products are often named after non-existent people, eg

    Back in the 1980s a software company in the US came up with idea of calling their typing tutor program ‘Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing’ and putting a picture of Mavis on the box. It was amazingly successful, but – you’ve guessed it – Mavis Beacon didn’t exist.

    But there are also genuine examples, eg Colonel Sanders, Levi Roots, Mrs Beaton, and any number of fashion houses. Which brings me on to people who are virtually indistinguishable from their brands, like Richard Branson – and, for better or worse, Martha Stewart and Donald Trump.

    1. Author

      Hi Peter, thank you for your well thought out comments.

      Branding is ‘the process of taking an indistinguishable an inanimate product or service and giving it meaning’. Mavis Beacon is an example of brand as is Quaker Oats who used the Quaker Priest on their cereal to illicit trust. These were not ‘real’ people but invented (which is brand)

      However, ‘real’ people are not products. I believe that human beings have ‘innate meaning’ merely because they are human.People are not blank canvases that ideas can be superimposed on without taking into account their personality, value set etc.

      I would argue that people like Richard Branson, Levi Roots, Martha Stewart etc. have huge reputations (which is the human version of brand).
      However, to imply that human beings have a brand is to either misunderstand branding or objectify humanity to merely being a product. Neither one, I feel is correct. However, of course, many people will disagree and I thank you for watching the video and sharing your views.

  2. Like your distiction between ‘animate and inanimate’ and ‘brand’ and ‘reputation’ Have had this debate many times in past but never been able to answer as succintly. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Thanks Chris for your comments. I am glad that this post was useful.

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