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October 14, 2008

Personal Brand vs. Reputation

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The always-controversial Loren Feldman posted a video last week of a speech he gave at a recent MediaBistro event. In classic Loren fashion, he took the subject of the speech and turned it on its head, resulting in a fascinating take on personal branding.

His main message: There’s no such thing as a personal brand. “The minute that you start to think about yourself as a brand you’re going to lose a little bit of your humanity” — the very humanity that appeals to your audience. I have to agree.

Loren says of the term personal branding, “You’re a human being. You have a reputation. You have a persona. You have a body. You are not a brand.”

At this point, it sounds to me like an argument over semantics. If you are unsettled with the term “personal brand” then let’s just go with “reputation”, as Loren suggests. Indeed, the concept people are referring to when they talk about a personal brand is about the same as reputation. It’s the associations that people make when they think of your personal and professional actions and ethics. You are what you do and what you say, and on the Internet, neither time nor distance can separate you from your history. So let’s agree to talk about reputation, and not personal brands.

Later Loren says, “My reputation precedes me. I’m one of the biggest [jerks] on the Internet, obviously. But I make probably the most kick-[butt] videos on the Internet also. And that’s what my brand is about.”

Wait a second. I thought he decided not to use the term “brand” in relation to a person. Okay, don’t get confused — I’m sure he meant to say “reputation”. However, it gets a bit more muddled when he starts to talk about Julia Allison, one of the other presenters on the stage:

“Julia’s personal brand — to just use Julia [as an example] — Julia’s a persona. She’s an entertainer of sorts — journalist, videographer, photo journalist — whatever she does, she does. It’s the Julia show, and that’s a very specific personal brand that works for Julia. It’s probably not going to work for you. Most of you out here don’t have the chops to be a personal brand.”

So some people can pull off a personal brand?

Call it what you will, personal brand or reputation. I think they mean the same thing. I’m inclined to call it personal brand since it’s a term that’s gained traction in the industry. People know what you’re talking about when you say “personal brand” — it rolls reputation, standing, reliability and quality into one.

Whatever you want to call it, I agree with Loren when he explains the danger of relying too heavily on one’s own personal brand. There are many individuals on the Web and only a few will be recognized by others. You can either spend a lot of time trying to be one of the recognized few, or you can just excel at what you love to do. If you choose the latter, you’ll see that recognition as a natural result of people connecting with your humanity when they see the passion behind your work.

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3 responses to “Personal Brand vs. Reputation”

  1. Matt Soreco writes:

    I kind of see it as you have a reputation, and you “brand” to promote your reputation.

  2. Dan Schawbel writes:

    Virginia, great catch right there. Personal branding is how we market ourselves to others to establish the best reputation possible. There isn’t a question if someone has a brand or not, but rather if they are properly managing it and building it up to it’s potential.

  3. Margaret Meloni writes:

    Whether you call it brand or reputation or image, you are known for certain behaviors and skills and charecteristics. If you own that and work toward you are managing your reputation or brand or image (semantics, I agree). If you don’t own it, others will just define it for you.



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