It’s not personal, it’s business


Every individual with an internet connection can grow his brand through platforms such as as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. /Fredrick Onyango

Personal branding, despite its seemingly obvious name, may not be that personal after all.

A lot has changed since Tom Peters coined the term in 1997 in an article published in Fast Company entitled “Brand You”.

Personal branding is about finding and leveraging unique, relevant attributes to further one’s career.

It borrows plenty from the world of commercial branding.

When successful, branding translates both into creating value for the brand owner in terms of profitability while also making the brand in question more valuable.

To put it another way, successful branding ensures that the brand is both valued by customers (read employers or clients) while becoming valuable to the brand owner.

The branding concept has its fair share of critics due to its focus on the long term, sometimes at the expense of paying the bills.

Yes, paying the bills today is critical as it guarantees that the brand owner shall be there to reap from that golden pot at the end of the brand rainbow.

African culture
Most African cultures place the community above the individual. One could of course argue that this is the same culture that has more chiefs and kings than most others.

To counter this, one could argue that kings and chiefs were never personal brands but more of the embodiment of authority and even sometimes, like in the case of Egypt, a deity.

It was not personal it was about creating an impersonal centre that could order society.

In the narrowest sense of the word, a brand is simply a name. For persons, the name is often the first distinguishing tool.

In Africa, even the naming process betrays the underlying desire of society —to fail to distinguish. Children are named after their forebears who were in turn named after their forebears.

In communities where this is practised strictly, what happens in effect is that most “personal brands” are not really personal.

Virtually everyone is a “photocopy” of this or that ancestor.

The emergence of the interactive internet, termed Web 2.0, characterised by among other innovations, social media, absolutely changed the world of relationships.

This applied to both personal and professional relationships.

Relationships are at the heart of human interaction and at the heart of branding too. Commercial brands, especially media brands, are reeling from the effects of new media.

Personal branding has not been spare the effects .Platforms such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which are now easily accessible via the mobile phone, have turned the world around its head.

While one had to rely on mainstream media to communicate and thus grown their brand, now every individual with an internet connection is a very niche media house.

As a professional, you really needn’t address the whole world to move your career along.

To get back to our point, even news now needs to be so focused that the best source is a relevant circle of individuals you can choose on Linked In or Xing.

Personal brands, like commercial brand have a target audience determined by who will be most relevant in achieving your goals.

To succeed in building ones personal brand using new media, one must remember that it is not personal, it is business.

Personal Branding is not a choice. The centre has moved from the masses to the individual and personal branding has never been more important.

An interesting thing about branding, and this applies to personal branding too is that branding is not a choice.

If one does not intentionally brand, he or she will get branded anyway by virtue of the attributes that keep emerging from their actions, image, interactions and even the company they keep.

Even as things have changed, personal branding still remains what Tom Peters wrote about 12 years ago. It is about intentionally taking charge of what one stands for and leveraging it for career development.

It starts with finding that core, then both embodying it and communicating it continuously and consistently so as to achieve the desired results.

In the final analysis though, as things change, they really remain the same at the core. One major advantage the personal brand has over the commercial brand is that even with society’s manoeuvring and all efforts towards conformity there is and can only be one real you.

Mr Sitati is a brand strategist and Executive Director with Interbrand Sampson East Africa.

He is also the author of “It’s a Branded World.”

Email: [email protected]