I really didn’t want to be part of this whole “personal branding” conversation because I just don’t believe in personal brands. But after a Twitter conversation last week, I feel compelled to say something. I am not going to dive into why I don’t believe in personal branding here today, but just know that after doing corporate branding for almost 15 years, I struggle with transferring those same concepts, trademarks, theories and applications to…people (other than JLo, Madonna, etc.)
Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that marketing, PR and communications folks need to have an online presence/reputation especially when it comes to networking. I’ve known so many professionals that let their networks go because they are so busy with work, family, etc. and then when they want a new job or get laid off they struggle to establish or re-establish a network…and it’s usually too late because it can take years to establish and maintain a network of people who know and trust you. Valuable networks require time and nurturing…after all, we are talking about people here. And in this tough economy, it usually takes an established network to help you land a job or to open a door or two for you.
Should marketing, PR and communications professionals develop an online presence and manage their online reputations? Yes and yes. No argument there.
Should marketing, PR and communications professionals develop personal brands? I am not convinced. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Example One: MarketingProfs
As a marketer, I talk to a lot of offline marketers (offline = they don’t have Twitter & Facebook accounts). I often ask them “Do you know Ann Handley or Allen Weiss?” I get a blank stare. Then I ask “Do you know MarketingProfs?” The response I typically get is “I LOVE MarketingProfs, such great information…love their newsletter, etc.” I love MarketingProfs too and have been a member since 2000. And now that I know and have chatted with Ann and Allen both in person (I had the pleasure of meeting Ann at the Digital Marketing Mixer) and on Twitter, my commitment to being a Premium Member is cemented and they can be guaranteed of my ongoing renewal. Even though Ann has her own well-known blog, I get the impression, as a customer, that along with the folks that aren’t in the public eye, both Ann and Allen mainly focus on being MaketingProfs employees and brand stewards. (But I hope they’ll stop by and clarify that for us).
Point: The MarketingProfs brand is solidified by their employees’ passionate and authentic brand management work.
Example Two: Dan Schawbel
Let me just say even though I don’t believe in personal branding, I have a huge amount of respect for Dan Schawbel and his work in personal branding. He’s really done a great job with branding himself and becoming known as a top leader in the personal branding space. His work, I am sure, has helped lots of Generation Y folks get their online reputations in order. But I’ll ask this one question…do you know where Dan works? He works for EMC Corporation, a high-tech IT equipment manufacturer. Honestly, I know more about Dan’s work on personal branding than I know about Dan’s work for EMC. I’ve never met Dan or chatted with him on Twitter, but for the longest time I thought he was a personal branding consultant. So, how does EMC, his employer, benefit from his online “personal brand?” Is Dan utilizing his personal brand to talk with IT data center professionals about how an EMC Clariion solution might work for their data center and to promote the EMC brand?
(Dan, sorry to use you as an example but you are the king of all things personal branding! I hope you’ll stop by and let us know how things are working with your and EMC’s brands.)
Point: Whose brand is more important? The company’s or the employee’s?
Example Three: A personal experience
I was at a job interview over the summer for a job that I wasn’t really interested in, but wanted to see what the company had to offer. The hiring manager came into the interview with my resume in hand and started asking me the typical interview questions. All was going okay until he asked this one question: “Tell me what don’t you like about marketing?”
Even though arrogant, I couldn’t help it…I chuckled and said “Have you read my blog? Have you Googled me?” He said “no.” I answered with “Well, I can tell you there is nothing about marketing that I don’t like…” He said “that’s impossible.” I wanted to answer: “Well, I like everything about marketing except for people with marketing titles that ask silly questions like that of another marketer and especially of one with a blog called “The Harte of Marketing.” But, I didn’t say that aloud because that would have been totally rude and uncalled for. I let it go and didn’t debate it because there are lots of marketers who don’t like everything about marketing and he was just doing his due diligence. But what it showed me was that this particular company didn’t care about a potential candidate’s online savvy or the passion that was behind the blog. It just didn’t matter…at all. And it never would.
Point: Even when you have a so-called online “personal brand” (or reputation) some companies just don’t care.
Let’s face it…when you start talking about brands egos are involved. Are you willing to give up your personal brand for the brand of the company that pays your salary (whether it’s an employer or a client)? Or on the flip side, should a company be willing to give up their brand when an employee’s brand is stronger and holds more recognition and influence? Is this a situation ripe for a brand conflict? Or can there be a balance between personal and corporate brand (I am thinking Richard Branson/Virgin might be a good example here).
Where do you fall in this branding debate? What additional examples can you share?