Personal Branding Transcends Personal Selling

Everything, everyone is a brand. And why not? If you find yourself in a highly competitive position, your goal is to stand out from the crowd.

There was a time when it was far more preferable to conform. The 1950’s through the early 1960’s was a time when everyone wanted a piece of the new American Dream. And to achieve that dream, the culture dictated that you had to fit in. Developments of brand new two-to-three-bedroom cookie cutter houses on small plots of land popped up in the suburbs. Men went to work in factories or offices where they all dressed exactly alike in dark suits, white shirts, and ties. The notion of personal branding would have been absurd.

Now, we all want to be different. Like everyone else. The new conformity is to show off your uniqueness by choosing your own singular set of influences and affectations as if from a multi-cultural tapas bar.

We also live in a more competitive time. The march toward wealth disparity and consolidation into fewer and fewer hands keeps increasing while the middle class disappears. For the first time in our history, young people cannot expect their quality of life to be better than previous generations.

It should be no surprise that personal branding has emerged as viable strategy to get noticed and chosen in this environment. Has it gone too far? Do we really need to be “brands” more than people? Instead of discovering your “authentic self,” is it, in practice, a shallow, dehumanizing exercise that pushes us to be a “type,” someone other than who we really are? If approached from a cynical, cursory perspective, personal branding can indeed be all those things.

But I choose to think of personal branding not from a perspective of “being chosen” – by a recruiter, a company, someone on a dating site or anyone else. Rather, the considerable value of of personal branding lies in self-understanding, which in turn leads to the ability to lead a purpose driven life and take control over the “choosing” yourself.

I once had a boss, a president of a major ad agency, who asked me in my first interview about how many agencies were in my original job search. “A lot!” was my response. I just wanted to “get my foot in the door” and get my career started. Surely, it would be easy to adapt to the culture of whichever agency graced me with an offer.

He told me that I went about it all wrong. When he was looking for his first job, he thoroughly researched the advertising industry and its biggest and best agencies. He chose the one he felt was best matched to his values, personality, temperament, and other key attributes.  Plan B consisted of three other agencies – just four in total – that were also meticulously screened.

Superior matchmaking, based on his carefully thought-out criteria, won the day as his first choice came through. He stayed at this agency for 15 years, working his way up from entry level to General Manager of a major regional office before moving on to become president of the agency where he hired me.

It was a great lesson in how to approach a job interview, hammering home the importance of knowing who you are and leveraging that understanding to zero in on those in your target who are aligned with your values – that is, you “get” them and they “get” you.

That’s the real value of personal branding. It’s an understanding of what you bring to the world, knowing how you are truly different than others, and having a blueprint for living as expressed in well-defined values. Values that must be shared by any company where you’d consider working – or any person with whom you’d consider spending time.

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