Trying to Create a Personal Brand? Unless You're Steve Jobs, Stop.

Last Updated Mar 16, 2011 10:02 AM EDT

Can you create a personal brand? Should you even try?
Nope. (I obviously -- and respectfully -- disagree with my BNET colleague Sean Silverthorne. Check out his article Rebuild Your Personal Brand by Starting With Your Strengths for a different point of view.)

Here's why you shouldn't try. Most of us wear something on our sleeves that tell other people about us. At a previous job the head of IT hung her NYC Marathon finisher medal on her wall. She was constantly asked fitness-related questions.

The VP of Sales kept a deep drop reel on his desk, and at lunch held court with the fishing crowd.

Our controller displayed a set of Star Wars action figures in a custom-built glass cabinet. No one ever talked to him.

Those are interests. Interests don't create a brand, even though they do help others identify us.

It's hard enough for a business to build a brand. Identity packages and public relations may help, but brand creation is almost always a by-product. Take a company like Coca-Cola, who as BNET blogger Geoffrey James points out, for decades focused primarily on sales and service. Coke's early-century branding efforts would have made Don Draper recoil in horror.

Instead, direct advertising and establishing a ubiquitous distribution network was Coke's primary focus. Branding was the outcome of sales and execution rather than the driver of sales.

If you run a small business, trying to build a brand is a waste of time. Build sales and brand will follow, not from fancy logos or slick positioning collateral but because actual sales identify your business to your customers and market. Put advertising dollars into marketing that generates direct sales. Sales generate immediate profits and, possibly, will slowly build your brand.

Which shows up on your bottom line: Branding or profits?

It's even tougher for individuals to build a brand. Steve Jobs is a brand. Donald Trump is a brand. Tony Hsieh, Martha Stewart, Oprah (recognizable by one name? definitely a brand), Richard Branson. All brands.

But think about what each of them have in common: You and I have no access to the person behind the brand. What we see is all we get. We can't purchase a person like we can a product or service. I'll never know if the real Oprah is anything like the brand Oprah. When I buy a Coke I consume the product. I can immediately determine if brand and product are aligned.

To people he works closely with, Branson is not Richard Branson the brand. He's just Richard, brilliance and talent and warts and all. Individual style and presentation won't create a brand to employees or customers. Any brand -- personal or corporate -- is ultimately built through execution.

Brand is based on go, not show.

As a business owner, your employees and customers know you by your words and actions. Sure, you can adopt a look, develop a personal value proposition, and carefully manage your persona. Potential customers may be positively influenced.

But to the people you see every day, no amount of personal branding will ever offset the impact of your words and actions.

You aren't Steve Jobs, and the cool thing is you don't want to be. Make good decisions, be authentic, treat people fairly, and you'll build the best and longest-lasting brand of all:

You.

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Photo courtesy flickr user acaben, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.