1 How has personal branding developed?
When considering the origins of personal branding, authors often quote Socrates, who said ‘The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear’ (Karaduman 2013, p.465).
In the 1950s, sociologist Erving Goffman first published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Goffman, 1990) which suggested that we spend our lives playing a series of different parts in order to present ourselves to others in the best possible light.
Watch this short video clip which explains his work in more detail:
Following his 1997 article, ‘The Brand Called You’, many authors refer to Tom Peters as the ‘father of personal branding’. Peters (1997 ) closes his article with the following call to action:
It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.
This viewpoint was ground-breaking when it appeared over 20 years ago, but now personal branding is a more familiar concept. It has grown in popularity in recent times following the explosion of the internet, combined with a desire to prioritise job satisfaction and a need to stand out in an increasingly competitive job market.
Before the internet, the first people to use personal branding to their advantage were celebrities and other professionals with a public profile, such as politicians. They used television, radio and newspapers, or made appearances at events, giving speeches and meeting people.
Activity 1 How things have changed
Imagine a politician campaigning to win an election in the 1990s, before the internet and social media became ubiquitous. If you were in their marketing team, how might you seek to promote their personal brand? For example, which media would you use? How would you ensure that their messages reached the maximum number of people?
Fast forward to now. How would your promotional campaign differ? Note your thoughts in the box below.
In the 1990s and before, politicians had to rely on inspiring oration and personal charisma. Appearing at key events, giving speeches and shaking lots of hands, would allow people to see and hear what they had to say. Newspaper, radio or television coverage would broaden their reach – as it still does today.
Now, social media has changed all that and a politician doesn’t even need to leave their office in order to reach millions. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all allow them to get their message directly into the homes of potential voters, reaching the younger generations whom most want to influence.
The impact of the internet and social media on personal branding has been huge. But this has also lead to a common misinterpretation of what personal branding is. Arruda (2017) explains:
…personal branding works when it is based in authenticity and a genuine desire to add value to those around you. It is not a ‘me me me’ way of life. Personal branding does allow you to stand out in an increasingly competitive world. It helps you clarify and express the value you can deliver to your team and employer. Personal branding is not a competition to see how visible you can become – for the sake of being visible. It is not measured in the number of tweets you can post per minute and it is not a function of putting yourself at the center of the world.
Arruda goes on to lament that ‘conflating personal branding with social media excess has eroded the true value of personal branding as a serious career development strategy’.
In the next section, you’ll look at how effective personal branding can be beneficial in your workplace.