Personal branding

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Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.[1] While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.[1] The term is thought to have been first used and discussed in a 1997 article by Tom Peters.[2]

Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.[3] Personal branding often involves the application of one's name to various products. For example, the celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump uses his last name extensively on his buildings and on the products he endorses (e.g. Trump Tower). Marketers McNally and Speak define the personal brand in this way: "Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you."

The relationship between brands and consumers needs to be constantly made and remade, and this continuous process creates a demonstration of the ambivalence in brand cultures.[4] This same logic follows for personal brands- there is a constant desire for a reinforcement of the self-brand.


Personal branding, self-positioning, and all individual branding by whatever name, was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich[citation needed] by Napoleon Hill. This relates specifically to Chapter 6, Organized Planning, Planning the Sale of Services, where Hill states, “It should be encouraging to know that practically all the great fortunes began in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of IDEAS.” The idea surfaced later in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.[5] More specifically in "Chapter 23. Positioning Yourself and Your Career - You can benefit by using positioning strategy to advance your own career. Key principle: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride". It was later popularized by Tom Peters.

Branding has reached a new level of imperative because of the rise of the Internet. The growth of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the ability to affect the real world. Because Individuals want to portray themselves a certain way to their social circle, they may work to maintain a certain image on their social media sites. As a result, social media enables the creation of an online identity that may not be completely true to the real self. (See: online identity)

Today, added emphasis is placed on personal branding, especially in the online world. Employers are now increasingly using social media tools in order to vet applicants before offering them interviews. Such techniques range from searching the applicants Facebook or Twitter feed to conducting large background checks using search engines and other tools.[6]

Amongst job-seekers, this is leading to a shift away from the practice of submitting a resume as part of their job application process to providing potential employers with access to a number of personal brand assets. Such assets are likely to include a resume, links to a carefully managed LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, evidence of articles which disseminate original ideas on industry blogs, and evidence of having an online following. Such efforts give job-seekers better odds of being noticed by potential employers.

Social media[edit]

Social media can be “roughly defined as ‘a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content’”.[7] Social media extends beyond just Facebook and Twitter and into the professional world as well. There are general professional profiles like LinkedIn and company or industry-specific networks, such as Slack. Because of these professional networks, self-branding is useful in finding a job or improving one’s professional standing.

Building a brand and an online presence through internal corporate networks allows for individuals to network with their colleagues, not only socially but professionally as well. This kind of interaction allows for employees to build up their personal brand relative to other employees, as well as spur innovation within the company, because more people can learn from more people.

Some social media sites, like Twitter, can have a flattened, all-encompassing audience that can be composed of professional and personal contacts, which then can be seen as a more “’professional’ environment with potential professional costs”.[8] Because of its explicitly public nature, Twitter becomes a double-sided platform that can be utilized in different ways depending on the amount of censorship a user decides on.

Personal branding focuses on “self-packaging,” where “success is not determined by individuals’ internal sets of skills, motivations, and interests but, rather, by how effectively they are…branded”;[9] it is more about self-promotion rather than true self-expression. The difference between the two is that self-promotion is deliberately intentional in all aspects because the individual is purposely shaping their image or persona, while self-expression can even be a byproduct of promotion.[10]

Aside from professional aspirations, personal branding can also be used on personal-level social networks to flare popularity. The online self is used as a marketing and promotional tool to brand an individual as a type of person; success on the virtual platforms then becomes "online social value [that could transform] to real rewards in the offline world."[10] A prominent example of a self-made self-branded social media icon is Tila Tequila, who rose to prominence in 2006 on the Myspace network, gaining more than 1.5 million friends, through expertly marketing her personal brand.[11]

As social media has become a vehicle for self branding, these moguls have begun to situate the maintenance of their online brand as a job, which brings about new ways to think about work and labor[12] The logic of online sites and the presence of feedback means that one's online presence is viewed by others using the same rubric to judge brands: evaluation, ranking, and judgement. Thus, social media network sites serve as complex, technologically mediated venues for the branding of the self.[12]


Personal branding offers promises of increased success in the business world. Thousands of self-help books, programs, personal coaches, and articles exist to help individuals learn to self-brand. These strategies emphasize authenticity but framed as becoming “’more of who you are’ as well as who 'you were meant to be.'[13]

The other side of these ‘strategies for success’ is that this is very subtle self-commodification.[9] Because personal branding is basically pointing out, and in some cases, glorifying, certain positive characteristics of an individual, it is not unlike traditional branding of products and companies. This puts individuals in the place of products, in which their efforts to appear more human are subverted.[13]

This possibility is exploited by celebrities and politicians, as “marketing individual personalities as products” is an effective way to gain millions of fans not just online but in real life as well.[10] For celebrities of all types, online personas are their brands. Public relations for Justin Bieber and Barack Obama alike can easily control the “brand” and maximize exposure and profitability.

On the other hand, personal branding may afford potential employers the opportunity to more accurately judge a candidate's abilities and cultural suitability, since blogs, profiles, websites, etc., are pieces of work that can be evaluated.[citation needed]

Gender roles and personal branding[edit]

Personal branding makes you accountable to others in a way that mirrors the corporation to consumer relationship. This means that the individual will be further constrained by the dominant ideological standards set by mainstream society.

This relationship is particularly pronounced with respect to gender roles. For example, women who broadcast themselves on YouTube are expected to present themselves as "attractive" as defined by the stereotypically dominant male perspective.[13] Self-branding is theoretically seen not as an imposition of a concept or product by corporate culture, but rather as the individual taking on the project herself as a way to access her “true” self. However, the almost inevitable presence of commercial brands as structuring narratives for YouTube videos indicates that self-presentation does not imply simply any narrative of the self, rather one that is formed by the cultural and economic context of predetermined values.[13] The communicative act involved in self-disclosure "works as a technique of self-branding, thus objectifying young women precisely through the act of authorizing them as subjects.”[13]

Postfeminism’s reliance on the capitalist engagement with media and the economic market means that while privileged women can ‘regain’ power of their own images in this era, others never had power in these arenas and therefore cannot do the same. “Some women, notably women of color and working-class women, are identified by precisely the opposite position—they are girls ‘at risk’ of failing economically and socially, signaled in part by ‘bad choices’ regarding drugs, alcohol, early maternity, and inappropriate sexual behavior.” [13]

The practice of branding the self for women includes ideas of freedom, self-determination, and self-improvement, in addition to notions of sexual freedom and sexual confidence.[12] In fact, feminist scholars are currently exploring the benefits for girls of exploring the Internet as a space in which creative identity-making might be possible. The notion that girls can be producers as well as consumers has been embraced as a kind of empowerment.[4]


Personal branding involves the practice of self-disclosure, and this transparency is part of what Foucault would call "the proper care of the self." [4] In this sense, disclosure refers to the details of one's everyday life for other's consumption, while transparency is the effect of this kind of disclosure. Transparency essentially works to give viewers a complete view of one's authentic self.[4]

Digitally aided disclosure, which involves building a self-brand on a social network site, relies on traditional discourses of the authentic self as one that is transparent, without artifice, and open to others. Authenticity is viewed as both residing inside the self and is also demonstrated by allowing the outside world access to one's inner self.[4] It is interesting to think about the idea of authenticity with disclosure, and the freedom social networks allow in disclosing an inauthentic self. All the while, these posting are forming a digital archive of the self, through which a brand could be crafted by others. An example of this is Carly Fleishmann, whose Twitter posting created an iconicity and brand without her ever speaking out loud.[14] Another example of a figure who rose to prominence through this disclosure is Ingrid Nilsen, who posted a video on YouTube coming out as lesbian and subsequently took off as a YouTube star.[15] Through disclosure individuals are able to go through the process of personal branding.

See also[edit]


Inline citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lair, Daniel J.; Sullivan, Katie; Cheney, George (2005). "Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self". Management Communication Quarterly. 18 (3): 307–343. doi:10.1177/0893318904270744. 
  2. ^ Asacker, Tom (10 March 2004). "The Seven Wonders of Branding". Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  3. ^ Creating Your Personal Brand - Los Ellis 2009
  4. ^ a b c d e Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144
  5. ^ Ries, Al; Trout, Jack (1981). Positioning: The Battle for your Mind. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-135916-0. 
  6. ^ Landau, Phillip (11 December 2013). "Job applications: social media profiles under scrutiny". Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  7. ^ Dijck, José Van. "Chapter 1: Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity." The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. N. pag. Print.
  8. ^ Marwick, A. E., and D. Boyd. "I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience." New Media & Society 13.1 (2011): 114-33. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2014.
  9. ^ a b Lair, D. J. "Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self: The Rhetoric and Ethics of Personal Branding." Management Communication Quarterly 18.3 (2005): 307-43. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2014.
  10. ^ a b c Dijck, J. Van. "'You Have One Identity': Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn." Media, Culture & Society 35.2 (2013): 199-215. Sage Journal. Web. 19 May 2014.
  11. ^ Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144. 
  12. ^ a b c Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Banet-Weiser, Sarah. "Branding the Postfeminist Self: The Labor of Femininity." Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York U, 2012. 51-90. Print.
  14. ^
  15. ^

General references[edit]

  • Omojola, O. "Audience Mindset and Influence on Personal Political Branding." Journal of Social Sciences, 16.2 (2008), 127-134. Kre Publishers. Web 17 March 2015.