November 30


Personal Branding: The Perfect Storm

By Sara Canaday

November 30, 2009

career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership development, leadership skills, management, professional development

Personal branding is not a new concept, and yet you cannot pick up an entrepreneurial or business magazine without stumbling across it.  Why all this recent popularity?  What has happened to put personal branding on everyone’s lips?

The Perfect Storm for Personal Branding

  • Extreme competition for limited attention spans: Those who can convey their value in an instant have more opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills.
  • A company of one: We no longer identify ourselves with the company we work for.  Careers are now transient and the idea of working for a single company for more than five years is foreign to current generations.
  • Getting personal: No longer content with topical statements from PR companies and publicists, the media wants to know the personal side of stories, the personas behind the companies, the wizard behind the curtain.
  • Social media: Now we have a platform for getting personal.  From product reviews to public snafus, from blogs-turned-movies to social media gurus, we all have an opportunity to tell our stories — and to get real-time updates on the stories of everyone around us.  This is the factor that elevated the concept of marketing yourself as a “product” to new levels.

Though I’m glad for the recent popularity of all things personal branding, I have been working in this arena for more than eight years.  In the physical world, I used the term “business image” to help professionals market themselves.  Some labeled it image management, professional presence or image consulting.

sara canaday personal brandingRegardless of what you call it, the concept of personal branding remains the same.  Initially, I hesitated to use words like “business image” and “personal branding.”  Why? Because those terms, like their predecessors, came with detractors who saw personal branding as nothing more than shameless self-promotion. (Remember that most baby-boomers were taught not to “toot your own horn.”)  And worse yet, there were individuals who used personal branding principles in inauthentic, phony ways — claiming to be someone or something they were not.

Perhaps an even more compelling reason to steer clear of these terms is our society’s consistent under-valuation of image, emotional intelligence and social fluency as “soft skills” — a phrase that seems to indicate that these skill sets are somehow less critical or necessary than technical skills.  Ironic, considering that research shows that self-awareness (insight into how one is perceived by others) is the cornerstone for self-management and social awareness — imperatives for both professional and personal success.

Add to that the fact that there are those out there who want to capitalize on the popularity of the concept with no real understanding of how to help others in this arena.  They tell clients to come up with a “personal branding statement.”  (How does distilling your skills, attributes and characteristics down to a few short sentences create a lasting and viable brand?)  Or, they try to make the process seem much more complex than it is, in an attempt to justify charging an exorbitant amount for their services.  While neither approach is good, there are some true professionals who really do “get it.”

Personal branding is here to stay, so why not use the process to our advantage? It is impossible to make a neutral statement with your brand.  And if you don’t work to manage others’ perceptions of you, then they will be happy to “brand” you themselves based on all sorts of assumptions.

But if you are willing to see that your personal brand is one significant way to “up” your chances — to showcase who you are, what you know and, most importantly, what you can do — personal branding will provide an avenue to distinguishing yourself in an era where others’ skill sets and credentials are nearly identical.  Ultimately, it is a way for you to either get clarity around your value and how you would like to be perceived, or to leverage an already-clear value, approach and reputation.

Recognizing this perfect storm for what it is will help put you on the path to successful personal branding…or whatever you prefer to call it.


Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

  • One of the concepts that resonate through most good resume books is that you need to create your personal brand. Of course, after reading this I also read “7 Habits”. Your Personal Brand needs to be based on fact, what you really are.

  • I appreciate this perspective. Perhaps because like you, I have seen the different personal brand dialog now vs. before personal brand”ing” become a commodity of services around self promotion tips…no strategy.
    My view is from an executive recruiter involved in launching and sustaining brands. When evaluating a brand, we would endure all the marketing of what a company/division/product stands for as the people would position for funding, business acquisition and recruiting outside talent. We would get the pitch of the culture and leadership style. When all the marketing was done, we would check out the brand inside and out. If we experienced what was marketed, we had trust and moved forward. If we had a different experience with products/services/culture, etc. then we needed to take a step back. There were so many unintentional disconnects that I started Your Brand Plan in Jan. 2005.
    Brand is a patient process and is not about how you market yourself. It is about how others market you. As that executive recruiter, I am not interested in how, say a CFO, uses buzz words and personal brand training to stand out to me. What I care about is how that CFO is marketed to me by her market – that consistent message defines the unmistakable personal brand and confidence that person can do something never done before. That person knows her value including costs and how core values mission and vision is how you determine fit. When we teach this to the person, the company brand will improve.

  • I understand reluctance to use the term “personal branding” as I feel it’s far more about self-discovery and honesty than generic “branding.”
    Ultimately however it is needed for a simple reason – communication.
    There’s a classic principle of NLP – you cannot NOT communicate. Everything we do or say communicates something. We might as well choose what it is and make sure it’s backed up. I think of personal branding as “being yourself effectively.”

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