Personal Branding

A Different Perspective

By Vin Sparks

There is a lot of talk around marketing in general and in social media circles as well about branding. We know what branding is and there are those that understand, we’re always doing it.

It’s funny, but the earliest use of the word I could think of is the kind of branding done out west on the range – making a mark on the hide of an animal. I decided to look at the etymology of the word and found a couple little surprises.

So, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Brand (v) c. 1400, “to brand, cauterize; stigmatize,” originally of criminal marks or cauterized wounds, from brand (n). As a means of marking property, 1580s; figuratively from c. 1600, often in a bad sense, with the criminal marking in mind.

Personal Branding

According to Wikipedia, Personal Branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. The term is thought to have been first used and discussed in a 1997 article by Tom Peters, a business management writer who co-authored the book, In Search of Excellence.

The prospect of positioning, not a product but yourself, for the purposes of advancing your career goes back a bit:

  • Napoleon Hill speaks of it in his book, Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937. Mr. Hill writes that personal services and the sale of ideas have been the beginning of many a fortune.
  • The 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout develops the idea further.
  • More recently, Brian Tracy speaks of looking at yourself as the CEO of your own personal services organization. How would you conduct yourself if you were the CEO?
  • The first time I really heard the term, Personal Branding, was in the book, Me 2.0, by Dan Schawbel – a look at how we appear online to an employer.

Rather than the idea of how we look online, the importance of which I am not diminishing in this age of who knows how many social media platforms, I want to look at personal branding from a little bit more traditional place.

I have five adult children, all of which are enjoying success in their lives because, in part, of what we told them repeatedly as they grew up:

We live in a world filled with mediocrity. It’s not only tolerated but rewarded from grade school up. While this is unfortunate for our society, mediocrity presents to you an enormous personal opportunity. Always strive to do your very best and it will not be difficult to shine above your peers.

This mindset has paid off for all five of them. They are key members of their respective teams at work, they are on upward occupational trajectories, they are well respected in their own circles of influence and have enjoyed the financial benefits that accompany all the above.

They have also come to understand that, it is not the paycheck that is the most important thing gained at work, but it is what you become having done the job. The kind of a mark they left in the minds of co-workers, employers, customers, strategic partners, friends and family has had a direct impact on the quality of their lives.

That’s my take on Personal Branding.

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