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William Arruda

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Getting Beyond “My Brand”

When you were growing up, did your friends ever ask if your brand could come out to play?

These days, it seems that personal branding has faced increasing criticism. Much of it, I think, is driven by people who don’t get it, or at least who don’t get the concept that we advance at Reach. And, let’s face it, social media and the prevalence of internet marketers has allowed for the idea to be hijacked in the interest of “driving traffic.” Lot’s of people out there pushing “my brand” opens the door to the perception of personal brands as contrived or fake.  Frankly, I think the dialogue about personal branding is a good thing, and that we need to participate. I think that addressing these criticisms gives us a platform for creating more clarity, and perhaps even evolve the concept of personal brand further. So, here’s my contribution.

* * *

Think about it. When you were growing up, did your friends ever ask if your brand could come out to play? Not likely. What they wanted was you and what you brought to their experience. Fast forward to the present, and ask yourself if your friends ever ask for your brand to come and hang out. They probably don’t. What they want is you and what you have to give. The fact is, people don’t associate with you because of your brand, but because of who you are and how their experience is transformed by being with you.

The same holds true in your business and career. Even if you have a “brand” that represents some distinct value that people are willing to pay a premium for, they’ll still expect something more. They’ll expect some of the magic that only you can provide; a magic that is not available from anyone else. So, why do people insist on creating this artificial entity that is labeled “my brand” and then proceed to promote it endlessly? Even as a personal branding strategist, I can tell you that listening to that distinction is a bit creepy. And that’s not to mention suffering the endless “me” messages.

Frankly, Geoff Livingston, who has long been critical of “personal branders,” hits the nail on the head in a brilliant post. He said:

“We all want to look good and want to present ourselves in a becoming manner, but not to the point that we seem like over contrived, fake people. By its very nomenclature, the term “personal brand” creates a connotation towards the latter.”

And went on to say:

"In the end, it’s about being smart.  Present a good face, but know that your reputation will ultimately be decided by the actions you bring to bear, not the consistency of your presentation. At best, the presentation will only get you a shot to be on the stage. Your performance is the ultimate barometer."

Of course, a big part of Geoff’s message is that you need to do what you do very, very well. Still, I think there is even more to it. And that “something more” is addressed by Seth Godin in his excellent book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? One of his central ideas is that it’s not just what you deliver, but how. It’s about your ability to give generously, to transform others by going beyond the expected. Godin sees this as your artistry. It has nothing to do with what is said or promised in advance. Rather, it is the unexpected gift the artist offers up freely – even as he or she provides what was expected in the first place.

In the end, no matter how shiny your “brand,” it’s who you are and how you enrich the lives of others that really matters! Get beyond “my brand,” and find ways to make art.

Cross-posted at Threshold Consulting.

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Dubbed 'The Personal Branding Guru’ by Entrepreneur magazine, William Arruda is a pioneering brand strategist, speaker, author and founder of Reach Personal Branding. He is credited with turning the concept of personal branding into a global industry.

William delivers keynotes and workshops on the transformative power of personal branding for some of the world’s most successful companies. He energizes and motivates his audiences—and his private clients include some of the world’s most influential leaders. As a thought-leader, William is a sought-after spokesperson on personal branding, social media and leadership. He has appeared on BBC TV, the Discovery Channel and Fox News Live and he’s been featured in countless publications, including Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the New York Times. William is the coauthor of the bestselling book Career Distinction. He is a member of the International Coach Federation and the National Speakers Association. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education.