The concept of “personal branding” used to be known as – and was encapsulated by – the humble curriculum vitae, or résumé if Stateside.
But where a CV would be the way to communicate one’s background and abilities to a limited audience –p recruitment firms and potential employers –now, people’s increased visibility across the internet by virtue of social and professional media has turned us into branded products to be managed; that is, if you care sufficiently about how brand “YOU” is portrayed. If not, then the Facebook photos showing you comatose and semi-clothed at the Christmas party might as well remain.
There is something slightly dystopian in treating ourselves as “brands” whose value can appreciate or depreciate by simply being our, imperfect, selves. And if commercial brands – supported by an infrastructure of management, protection and guardianship – can fail, what hope do we have maintaining our personal brand equity, if such a phrase can be used without inducing involuntary vomiting.
A successful brand is only so because of the promises it makes and keeps, time and again; the promises kept are the reason the customer develops the trust to come back for more. And what the customer trusts is, in fact, the brand’s reputation, which is why the real value is more difficult to build and maintain than creating merely a recognisable image.
Similarly, personal branding can become a personal reputation landmine if the emphasis on image manipulation is greater than the truth behind it.
Stefan Stern, visiting professor in management practice at Cass Business School, London, called it “bigging yourself up” in his Guardian comment article, of which the worst examples are described as “humblebrag”, aka “falsely modest declarations that betray the self-satisfaction and boastfulness of the speaker.” He accuses our two most senior political leaders – Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers Cameron and Clegg – of such “humblebrag” behaviour; maybe protesting their validity too strongly when the results they have to show are so scant. Then again, the residents of Hell would be acquiring hats, scarves and gloves long before politicians chose to be candid about their shortcomings.
Stern goes on to say:
“It is better if the nice things we say about ourselves have solid foundations…but some people are clearly feeling so vulnerable that they are making grand and exaggerated claims. We can’t all be quite as creative and innovative as that. Self-esteem is one thing and permahype is another.”
What you claim about yourself, in a bid to manage your “personal brand”, needs to stand up to scrutiny, in the same way the claims made by companies about their products need to be true. Attempts to dress something up as something it’s not would be decried as “spin” or worse.
What you say you are matters far less than what you do. And if you’ve done enough to substantiate your CV, there should be no need for hyperbole. After all, you’re only human. And, to paraphrase the famous quote about avoiding exercise, if you suddenly get the feeling that you’re a brand, I suggest you lie down until the feeling goes away.