Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. The term is thought to have been first used and discussed in a 1997 article by Tom Peters.
Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group or organization. Personal branding often involves the application of one's name to various products. For example, the celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump uses his last name extensively on his buildings and on the products he endorses (e.g. Trump Steaks).
Personal branding, self-positioning and all individual branding by whatever name, was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This relates specifically to Chapter 6, Organized Planning, Planning the Sale of Services, where Hill states, “It should be encouraging to know that practically all the great fortunes began in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of IDEAS.” The idea surfaced later in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. More specifically in "Chapter 23. Positioning Yourself and Your Career - You can benefit by using positioning strategy to advance your own career. Key principle: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride". It was later popularized by Tom Peters.
Branding has reached a new level of imperative because of the rise of the Internet. The growth of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the ability to affect the real world. Because Individuals want to portray themselves a certain way to their social circle, they may work to maintain a certain image on their social media sites. As a result, social media enables the creation of an online identity that may not be completely true to the real self. (See: online identity)
Today, added emphasis is placed on personal branding, especially in the online world. Employers are now increasingly using social media tools in order to vet applicants before offering them interviews. Such techniques range from searching the applicants Facebook or Twitter feed to conducting large background checks using search engines and other tools.
Amongst job-seekers, this is leading to a shift away from the practice of submitting a resume as part of their job application process to providing potential employers with access to a number of personal brand assets. Such assets are likely to include a resume, links to a carefully managed LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, evidence of articles which disseminate original ideas on industry blogs and evidence of having an online following. Such efforts give job-seekers better odds of being noticed by potential employers.
Social media can be “roughly defined as ‘a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content’”. Social media extends beyond just Facebook and Twitter and into the professional world as well. There are general professional profiles like LinkedIn and company or industry-specific networks. Because of these professional networks, self-branding is useful in finding a job or improving one’s professional standing.
Building a brand and an online presence through internal corporate networks allows for individuals to network with their colleagues, not only socially but professionally as well. This kind of interaction allows for employees to build up their personal brand relative to other employees, as well as spur innovation within the company, because more people can learn from more people
Some social media sites, like Twitter, can have a flattened, all-encompassing audience that can be composed of professional and personal contacts, which then can be seen as a more “’professional’ environment with potential professional costs”. Because of its explicitly public nature, Twitter becomes a double-sided platform that can be utilized in different ways depending on the amount of censorship a user decides on.
Personal branding focuses on “self-packaging,” where “success is not determined by individuals’ internal sets of skills, motivations, and interests but, rather, by how effectively they are…branded”; it is more about self-promotion rather than true self-expression. The difference between the two is that self-promotion is deliberately intentional in all aspects because the individual is purposely shaping their image or persona, while self-expression can even be a byproduct of promotion.
Aside from professional aspirations, personal branding can also be used on personal-level social networks to flare popularity. The online self is used as a marketing and promotional tool to brand an individual as a type of person; success on the virtual platforms then becomes "online social value [that could transform] to real rewards in the offline world."
Personal branding offers promises of increased success in the business world. Thousands of self-help books, programs, personal coaches, and articles exist to help individuals learn to self-brand. These strategies emphasize authenticity but framed as becoming “’more of who you are’ as well as who 'you were meant to be.'
The other side of these ‘strategies for success’ is that this is very subtle self-commodification. Because personal branding is basically pointing out, and in some cases, glorifying, certain positive characteristics of an individual, it is not unlike traditional branding of products and companies. This puts individuals in the place of products, in which their efforts to appear more human are subverted.
This possibility is exploited by celebrities and politicians, as “marketing individual personalities as products” is an effective way to gain millions of fans not just online but in real life as well. For celebrities of all types, online personas are their brands. Public relations for Justin Bieber and Barack Obama alike can easily control the “brand” and maximize exposure and profitability.
On the other hand, personal branding may afford potential employers the opportunity to more accurately judge a candidate's abilities and cultural suitability, since blogs, profiles, websites, etc., are pieces of work that can be evaluated.
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