What Is The Difference Between Personal and Professional Branding?

One time, a decade ago, I went to a continuing education seminar where the presenter made this claim, ‘You’re always interviewing.‘ I’ve turned this idea around in my head many times since that afternoon session with bad hotel conference room coffee and even worse interior lighting.

On the one hand, it is the sum total of who you are as a person, how you present, what you talk about, and how you ease in and out of casual conversations that leaves an IMPRESSION on all who cross your path. No doubt about that. The network of relationships does position you well (or poorly) for career advancement. Obviously.

But I also think about how uneasy I felt about the remark. Do we never get to be authentically true to ourselves, free from the glaring eye of the LinkedIn network, is there NO distance between my Saturday morning cup of coffee listening to a record on my front porch and the glass corporate office in downtown Houston? Surely there is – or there should be.

If a brand is a ‘gut feeling in the observer’ upon encountering a product or a company – then it is true in some sense – we are all ‘branded.’ Our reputations elicit visceral responses in those around us. My receding hairline, Will’s annoying laugh, Sarah’s blazingly beautiful smile, and Kevin’s outrageous wit do influence others’ perceptions. Surely this is so.

But brand development and brand strategy should be left to the marketplace. That is their domain and we move in and out of professional space. My children don’t need me to be concerned about my brand management, neither do the guys at my local bar. The business world has other expectations. Nudging viewers/listeners/shoppers by carefully crafted branding is critical to do business, win allegiance, and delight your audience. You must look right, sound great, and have the crafted answers your customers need.

The trickiest consideration is when professionals (writers, influencers, pastors, etc) attempt to build a brand with their daily persona. This is unstable terrain. When a talented person throws their identity into the marketplace (far more common now than ever before) – we risk warping the original and distorting the real person for the marketplace. It appears inauthentic, cringe-y, or just weird. It happens every day. 

The best advice we give to ‘personality brands’ is to carefully create firm barriers, clear brand guidelines, and ‘nevers‘ – those attitudes, communication points, engagements, brand alliances, platforms that we will never use in the brand position.

Sometimes, knowing what you are against is as important as knowing what you’re for; when attractive offers roll in – message and direction drift are real dangers. That is how professional athletes wind up selling localized auto insurance with low-grade commercials. It happens – but it doesn’t happen with careful guidance. That’s our job and we’ve been helping brands (personality-driven brands included) win for the last five years. It’s rewarding to work with others to see their vision and dreams pop into compelling expressions. 

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