Micah November 11th

When Being Me is About Being You

Lijit Halloween Lunch

Image by micahb37 via Flickr

Until I began to use Twitter and get more heavily involved in social media, I never heard the term “personal brand.” With more than 15 years in marketing (and more than 30 years in marketing myself), I certainly am aware of the concept of reputation management and branding.

Recently, there have been two concurrent discussions occurring around SEO and personal branding. One, here on this blog (SEO is dead), where the basic point is that great companies will learn how to integrate SEO principles into their organization structure, has been interesting. Not surprisingly, as it begins to make it round among SEO consultants, there is a cry of “you idiot! SEO will be here forever!”

Over on my friend Geoff Livingston’s blog, there has been a fantastic discussion around personal branding. Geoff’s point (at least as I think I read it), is that personal branding is a crutch that people use to create the visage of real value, when they are unsure of their (or their company’s) real value. Not surprisingly, as it began to make its round among Social Media experts, there is a cry of “you idiot! Personal Branding will be here forever!”

I look at those two discussions, and how the reactions are almost completely mirrored. Some great thoughts on both sides of the argument which are almost hidden by the noise created by those that see these opinions as threatening.

Most people that read this blog, or know me in real life, know that I have been seeing a therapist for the better part of 3 years on a weekly basis. Its an interesting conversation each week. A no BS conversation.

Most people that read this blog, or know me in real life, also know that I am not normal. Controversial at times, contrarian sometimes, I am unlike most people. I never really planned to be that way, or have a specific reason why, other than an intense belief in doing the right thing and being open and honest.

Yes, I believe doing the right thing and being open and honest is not normal.

This past week or so, my therapist and I have been talking about acceptance. One of the difficulties of being unique is that most people like to be around unique folks, but really only accept similar people into their “inner circles.”

Personal Branding is an attempt to show others how similar you are to them. Its about convincing others that being me is about being you. Its to allow acceptance and trust.

Chris Brogan, Laura Fitton and Aaron Brazell are people who use the concept of personal brand to allow their message to be accepted and for them to be “more similar” to a more global audience. Like actors, people often associate them with the personal brands that they have cultivated, created and articulated, rather than the people they are: funny, smart, intelligent (trying to make sure my friends dont hate me too much), real, flawed, family people, etc.

Am I saying Chris, Laura and Aaron are wrong or manipulative for what they do? Not at all. Rather they have made a specific BUSINESS decision to create two personas – their “public” ones and their “personal” ones. I understand and respect it, and it makes sense. In the case of all three, their knowledge of social media marketing allows them to produce quality content, and frankly, make a living.

Personally, I struggle with the concept of personal brand. When people say “thats part of your brand, Micah,” I bristle. Partly because I firmly believe that trying to live up to external expectations always leads to a loss of truth and “realness,” and partly because I DONT HAVE A PERSONAL BRAND. I am just Micah.

But, maybe thats it. Maybe the personal brand that I have cultivated is one of the “crazy uncle.” The guy you love to have a party because you never know what he might say–but it will be funny or wild–but isnt the guy you want to live in your house.

At the end of the day, if I want to be accepted as being similar, then building a personal brand makes sense. If I dont, then a personal brand has no value.

Why is being similar important? If I am my business (like when I owned a marketing agency), then its paramount, since people are hiring me (even if I dont do the work).

If my business is not me (like now while I am at Lijit), then being me is more important than my personal brand.

Plus being me is much more fun than being a brand, otherwise I could never post pictures of a drug test I took, or talk about horse porn in a presentation, or attempt to be the #1 douchebag or fashion icon.

Or is that my personal brand?

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  • If you being you is your 'personal brand' – well, I guess a lot of us must be weird too, because we like you for who you are.

    That said, I had a hard time with the phrase “personal brand” for the first couple of months, because I always visualized a red hot branding iron searing “property of” into someone else. (Yeah, that's a winning visual image!)

    I finally started using the phrase because I figured out that *other people* got me better when I said “yeah, that's not my brand” than when I said “no, I don't particularly engage that way online, any more than I would in the workplace” – because that second one always turned into a lengthy conversation about whether or not I should behave X way – and really? It wasn't open for discussion. I was just explaining the behavior, not opening it up for debate.

    But I get what you're saying. I think this is dead on. The phrase “personal brand” will probably go away just like any other jargon – as soon as it stops being a marketable phrase to clients. :

  • Finally a personal brand I can get behind!

  • I've always sad that if you're not selling something you don't have a brand. You can make a brand personal, but you can't make a person a brand.

    Excellent post man. Good thing there was no “personal branding ” session this time around!

  • Meg

    I don't have a hope of being similar. But I do have common sense about what parts of me are ripe for public consumption, and which parts should belong only to my personal relationships and private connection. That, from my perspective, is not brand construction… it's just the thing you do to not be a dumbass or a drama queen or a dip in front of the people who might want to hire you.

    There's a balance between being a cardboard cutout of yourself, and being the Smoking Gun version of yourself. Really.

    It's not insincere, any more than sparing my mother the details of my sex life is insincere. It's just thoughtful. And it's no more a function of brand management than remembering to leave the house with my panties on. It's just practical.

    The things that are intrinsic to my personality and my skills don't change because I try not to be a knob in public. Rather, that measure of sense IS a part of who I am, and it saves my ass on a regular basis.

  • This is perfect timing as I've been asked to give a talk about my “personal brand” next week. Great post (I'll most likely quote it if that's okay) and no… that's not just my 'brand' talking :-)

  • Micah, I am a huge proponent of a work/life balance. The business decision to essentially create a brand or a business persona is one that I think helps maintain sanity, balance and focus. As marketers, we need to keep focused on our goals of telling real stories, but also realizing that it's a job.

    Our jobs contribute to the definition of our ethos, but they are not the sole component. Is it possible to be “real” and do a job effectively? Absolutely. Appreciate your openness here.

  • the crazy uncle brand? Perhaps we need a crazy uncle meetup? A facebook page? a twitter account?

  • If it doesnt get you in trouble, you are more than welcome to quote anything…although, I cant believe any of it would be useful…LOL.

  • i never indicated that its insincere, just measured and built. I would surprised if one assumes they “have” a personal brand, that they also “built” a personal brand. Certainly, we all dont allow all of our personal quirks to be displayed publicly.

    But the construction of how people “view” you, with the intent to create apparent value, is absolutely personal branding…

  • I guess it depends, if you are providing a service, having a bit of a personal brand isn't a bad thing. I look at people like Brian Solis etc.

    In your case, I for one was very intrigued to meet you in person after following your Tweets etc. Being unique and “personal branding” are different in my opinion. The ordinary must market themselves to be marketable for employers etc. But those that are unique, have a difference of opinion, or wear a pink hat in public attract interest without worrying about the brand that they are pushing. I love it when people resist the temptation to put themselves into a category, it brings interest and if the halo effect means more attention to your company, than cool. But being the number 1 douchebag is pretty damn funny.

  • Read all these comments and face it, you're already a brand =) AND.. it's not the lame crazy uncle you suggest. It's the avuncular mentor brand ;)

  • My take away is be yourself! Besides you don't have to remember to be someone else when you do that. I, too, writhe in pain when people discuss my personal brand, and I reposted on the topic today, including a few paras on why my “personal brand” is non existent.

  • “Brand You” and the idea of personal branding was coined by Tom Peters way before it became a social media buzzword. He wrote about it in 1997. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou

  • Damn, he threw me under the bus. :-)

    You see two personas and that makes me bristle! Why? Because I am the same person on or offline. What you are seeing is actually me exposing less of me online than offline. That's not two personalities. That's seeing me, or seeing me partially obscured.

    Minor difference.

  • I've been struggling with this bad taste in my mouth when I say personal brand because it just doesn't set well with me.

    I am not a brand.

    I am a person.

    chel, chelpixie, Michelle, pixie. I answer to all of these because they are all me.

    Putting a fancy web 2.0 word on it. Meh.

  • Trendsetter

    U have a strong personal brand and a grandiose Hollywood act, the only difference is U put effort into creating a negative one – “Douchebag.” Troll. Flamebaiter. Hostile strength.

    Recent industry trends suggest that professional “douchebags” will be unemployed or irrelevant within 3 months.

  • Instead of defending “personal branding” like I do every single day of my life, I'd rather just comment that many of the people you named (brogan, pistacio, etc) didn't purposely create “personal brands.” The reality is that everyone has a brand and they were doing what they loved and it ended up building an audience and therefore building a business.

  • Thats not true. You talk about your personal brand, and you are
    different (although not completely) in business situations. Its not a
    bad thing, certainly for you it has worked, but you do have two
    different personas.

  • I dont know if I agree. Those with personal brands carefully built
    them. Perhaps not by changing things, but by excluding pieces of their
    actual personalities that they feel dont help them achieve their
    business goals.

    We all do this to some degree (I swear less for example), but Chris,
    Laura (its interesting you refer to her by her twitter name), and
    Aaron have become trapped by their decisions around personal brand and
    have to select how they act online/offline depending on the group.

  • Here's a perspective:

    “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” by Erving Goffman opens with an illustration why everybody is consciously or subconsciously adjusting their presentation to others, based upon context. It's the one book I saved from psych 101. I'll type in a paragraph:

    “When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information about him already possessed. They will be interested in his general socio-economic status, his conception of self, his attitude toward them, his competence, his trustworthiness, etc. Although some of this information seems to be sought almost as an end in itself, there are usually quite practical reasons for acquiring it. Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him. Informed in these ways, the others will know how best to act in order to call forth a desired response from him.”

    Malcolm Gladwell in Blink points out how we can do all these things in an instant. And even if we ignore that person, we are behaving in a way to elicit a desired response (don't bother me, ignorable person you).

    Is everybody “branding”? Or is it just life? When I lived in New York, for example, I walked fast, avoided eye contact, always moved with purpose, etc. This generated the desired response from others, which was to leave me alone — very important on the streets. When I'm working out, I wear sweats, but when I go to the office or meet with clients, I dress professionally. They're all “me” but all convey very different impressions. In the business context, I would call this “branding” but it's not something so different from the rest of life, just an area that can have profound effects financially and in career.

  • buuuullllll ssshhhhhhhiiiiiiiittttttt

    fuck off

  • My take away is be yourself! Besides you don't have to remember to be someone else when you do that. I, too, writhe in pain when people discuss my personal brand, and I reposted on the topic today, including a few paras on why my “personal brand” is non existent.

  • “Brand You” and the idea of personal branding was coined by Tom Peters way before it became a social media buzzword. He wrote about it in 1997. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou

  • Damn, he threw me under the bus. :-)

    You see two personas and that makes me bristle! Why? Because I am the same person on or offline. What you are seeing is actually me exposing less of me online than offline. That's not two personalities. That's seeing me, or seeing me partially obscured.

    Minor difference.

  • I've been struggling with this bad taste in my mouth when I say personal brand because it just doesn't set well with me.

    I am not a brand.

    I am a person.

    chel, chelpixie, Michelle, pixie. I answer to all of these because they are all me.

    Putting a fancy web 2.0 word on it. Meh.

  • Trendsetter

    U have a strong personal brand and a grandiose Hollywood act, the only difference is U put effort into creating a negative one – “Douchebag.” Troll. Flamebaiter. Hostile strength.

    Recent industry trends suggest that professional “douchebags” will be unemployed or irrelevant within 3 months.

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  • Instead of defending “personal branding” like I do every single day of my life, I'd rather just comment that many of the people you named (brogan, pistacio, etc) didn't purposely create “personal brands.” The reality is that everyone has a brand and they were doing what they loved and it ended up building an audience and therefore building a business.

  • Thats not true. You talk about your personal brand, and you are
    different (although not completely) in business situations. Its not a
    bad thing, certainly for you it has worked, but you do have two
    different personas.

  • I dont know if I agree. Those with personal brands carefully built
    them. Perhaps not by changing things, but by excluding pieces of their
    actual personalities that they feel dont help them achieve their
    business goals.

    We all do this to some degree (I swear less for example), but Chris,
    Laura (its interesting you refer to her by her twitter name), and
    Aaron have become trapped by their decisions around personal brand and
    have to select how they act online/offline depending on the group.

  • Here's a perspective:

    “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” by Erving Goffman opens with an illustration why everybody is consciously or subconsciously adjusting their presentation to others, based upon context. It's the one book I saved from psych 101. I'll type in a paragraph:

    “When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information about him already possessed. They will be interested in his general socio-economic status, his conception of self, his attitude toward them, his competence, his trustworthiness, etc. Although some of this information seems to be sought almost as an end in itself, there are usually quite practical reasons for acquiring it. Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him. Informed in these ways, the others will know how best to act in order to call forth a desired response from him.”

    Malcolm Gladwell in Blink points out how we can do all these things in an instant. And even if we ignore that person, we are behaving in a way to elicit a desired response (don't bother me, ignorable person you).

    Is everybody “branding”? Or is it just life? When I lived in New York, for example, I walked fast, avoided eye contact, always moved with purpose, etc. This generated the desired response from others, which was to leave me alone — very important on the streets. When I'm working out, I wear sweats, but when I go to the office or meet with clients, I dress professionally. They're all “me” but all convey very different impressions. In the business context, I would call this “branding” but it's not something so different from the rest of life, just an area that can have profound effects financially and in career.

  • in a very real sense, i don't even know what you all are talking about. i'm just over here dancing around in a slightly erratic manner, genuinely mystified by the ripple effects it is triggering. and trying to make myself useful.

    others can – and will – project upon it what they feel a need to project, and make the arguments with it (such as this post) that they feel a need to make. and what anyone makes of it says more about them than it does about me.

    i yam what i yam. i'm just this girl. no, really. really.

  • Is it personal? Is it a brand? Is it you? What is in a name?

    It seems that we all have different “faces”/facets; even the Beatles sang about it in “Eleanor Rigby”. But, underneath, it is the same person.

    Surely, we put on different behaviours and fronts depending on the role that we are taking at the time? As you point out, this is appropriate behaviour and, yes, in a sense it is about “fitting in” or being “similar”; it is also about being effective in that role.

    Is this something new, or specific to online interaction? I don't think so. For centuries, some people have specific occupations where they are either “on duty” or “off duty”, and their behaviour differs accordingly. Even if their roles are less delineated, many people's behaviour differs between the environments of the home, the office, and the pub.

    Most people would be fairly horrified if they were boarding a scheduled flight and noticed the aircraft captain in his jeans with a beer in his hand and talking to an air traffic controller without conforming to normal aviation phraseology. But in a couple of hours time, that might be exactly what he will be doing!

    The same applies to most (all?) professionals: doctors, police officers, fire fighters, and many others. But is applies no less to people in any other job. It is called “doing your job”!

    Now, let's forget all that. Let's go to the pub! Actually: let's set up a “pub forum”, …

  • For your pilot example, whats more concerning the beer or the jeans?
    Personally, I could care less about the jeans. Also, thats not
    branding. Thats wearing a uniform.

  • just go out and do something great for others – teach, learn, listen, build, create, lead, heal, help.

    thinking about your personal brand… waste of time

  • Laura, you are certainly who you are. But I would argue that you carefully select what you will say or do (maybe not always, but certainly sometimes) based on if its a business situation or a personal situation.

    Again, I use you as an example only because you (and by your own admission) went from zero to sixty extremely fast with Twitter. You are an amazing person, and its all well deserved, but you have a personal brand that you protect, project and craft. That personal brand, to some degree, helps shape how people view you. Do you not agree?

    Perhaps, I also have a personal brand, only I dont call it that. Perhaps my personal brand and my personal persona are closer than yours because I have less to protect (no kids, I am not a woman, I am not a consultant, etc.). Who knows.

  • jim

    being without a job for sometime makes this concept easier for me to digest. going into interviews with a monkey suit on and trying to please the interviewer with what they want to hear just isn't me. i would like to go into these situations being my true self, but that's probably not a good idea if i'm really looking to land the job. you have to bullshit yourself sometimes (and i did see you do a good amount of bullshitting in the past- you were damn good at it too). to me, there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

    i think we should all strive to be in situations where we can be unique, ourselves, and provide value at the same time. then, after some time you develop a reputation (like geoff says)- and then this personal branding thing will seem pointless.

    i'm happy for you that you landed in a spot where it's working for you… it definitely makes your professional life more fun, huh?

  • Al I know is that you are a voice of honesty to who you are. That came out very clearly at the Thin Air SUmmit. (I enjoyed meeting you there, even though it was briefly.)

  • Chris Kauza

    “Yes, I believe doing the right thing and being open and honest is not normal.”

    I disagree.

    Doing the right thing, being open & honest – these things are normal. Letting one's insecurities prevent this – not normal. It is, however, pervasive; and in my book, “pervasive” does not equal “normal”.

    Is it hard? Sometimes. Does it impact your personal brand? I guess…I think one's personal brand isn't really in their control, much like their reputation. Only thing I can control are my character & my actions. And those things can sometimes serve to reinforce a reputation or personal brand.

    Don't believe me? Contrast hotmealer with Pistachio, above…you haven't changed who or how you are to either of these people. You put yourself out there & look what came back. Is it good or bad? Did it change or reinforce your “personal brand” with either of them? Are you going to change who you are or how you behave with either of them or w/others?

    That's your call…

  • Tiko

    I stopped reading comments on the internet, but i'm guessing not many agree with you point – if they even got the point. Or am i wrong? But i agree with you. If you try to hard building personal brand, you can quickly lose your authenticity – especially if your goal is to appeal to a large audience. I think that majority of people that talk a lot about pesonal branding don't have a clue about what they're talking about. I think that the most important thing is to be true to yourself and if you do that you'll have a strong brand, But that doesn't necessarily mean you will appeal to people.
    Read two posts of you and you earned my respect – so you must be doing something right.

  • Thanks. I appreciate the words.

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