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The Big Decision: Personal or Corporate Brand?

This guest post is by Luke, an IT-and-business nerd from Melbourne, Australia.

I started dating my wife when we were both pretty young and she still lived at home. My wife’s dad, Bob, was a very successful businessman and his daughters all inherited their dad’s intellect.  The dinnertime conversation often turned to their studies, and one of Bob’s favorite theories was about personal branding at school and university.

The theory went like this. The most important thing to do initially is to get noticed by the teachers.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  In fact, it might be easier to do something wrong in order to gain attention.  Once you have attention you then have something to work with, and it’s easier to do well when the teachers know who you are.

I think I recall this advice because it seemed highly unorthodox to me at the time.  If I’m honest I probably still wonder if it’s wise to instruct your children to misbehave.  But, if you stop and think about it—he was probably onto something.

In a society obsessed with celebrity, you don’t have to look far to find individuals who have turned themselves into household brands.  And it’s often the case that their brand achieved prominence because of bad behavior (yes Paris and Lindsey, I’m thinking of you).

That there is incredible power in brand is something I’m going to assume is agreed.  What I’m more interested in at the moment is whether it’s better to build your blog around your own personal brand, or is it smarter to establish a separate brand for your blog that is not directly attached to your personal identity.

The benefits of the personal brand

I think the most obvious benefit to a personal brand, is that it is easier to make personal.  Most people easily empathize with other people.  By putting yourself out there it gives readers something to connect to that is easy to understand and relate to.  It is easier to agree (or disagree) with a person than it is with a faceless company.  It is a smaller step to engage with a person than it is to leave a comment for a logo.

A good personal brand is a clear projection of you, what makes you an individual and what makes you different from others.  Done well, it will consistently convey your unique personality and approach to those you encounter.  It will help you stand out from the crowd, and hopefully mean that people think of you first when they start thinking about becoming a customer or partner.

Hopefully you don’t need to spend too much time formulating what you stand for before embarking on a mission to establish your personal brand.  I believe it works best when rooted in authenticity.  People have a sixth sense for what is credible and what is not.  The contrived approach will ultimately smell a little bad if you’re faking it.  The good news is that being yourself should be easier than working to a script—which is what you’ll have to do to some extent when inventing a corporate brand.

Fame can also be a benefit.  It’s a two-edged sword for sure, but who’s going to deny that it’s nice for your ego to have a personal fan base? Who out there doesn’t enjoy a little bit of attention? Before you tell me that it’s not your thing, how often to you check Google Analytics to see how many people tuned into your last post! If you’ve never had your name on the door at an exclusive party, I’ve heard that it feels great to walk past the queue.

If you become popular enough, there are also other perks out there.  If your personal brand is strong enough, others will pay simply so you can be seen to be endorsing another brand or product!  More of this goes on than you might think, and if you’re smart about disclosure and being ethical about it, why not enjoy the fruits of your labor?

But back to the business upside.  Because your brand can and will help you open doors—if you want to approach another company, website, or blogger, and you’ve established a strong personal brand—you’ll find that it’s a little like being on the guest list at that exclusive party.  Once you learn to leverage that brand power, a momentum can be built that continues to lever your business up from one level to another.

The drawbacks

Human Frailty

I am not perfect all of the time.  In fact, forget perfect. I’m not even close to being consistently good or bad at the same things.  The only reason I haven’t given up entirely is because, thankfully, most of the people I know share some or many of my faults.  I also think life would be pretty boring if there was nothing left to work on.

“Why use this post as a confessional?” I hear you ask. Well, if I’m doing the personal brand thing and people have a sixth sense for authenticity, this reality does not bode well for me.  Sooner or later, I’m going to do something stupid, say something insensitive or just screw up royally in front of everybody.  And my personal brand is going to suffer for it.

If I have taken the time to establish a corporate brand and one of the staff does bad, there is an inbuilt form of containment that offers more protection than a personal brand offers.  Ultimately a corporate brand has some redundancy.  The implication is that any single screw-up is just the action of an individual.  It doesn’t make sense to extrapolate one person’s actions into a statement about a whole corporate brand.  Do you think this could ever be true for Tiger Woods?

Scaling up

If your blog is based on your personal brand, and you are fortunate enough to enjoy success.  The day might come when you can employ others to run your blog.  You might now have a challenge.

Chances are that your audience is there because they like something about what you do.  They relate to you.  They are your fans, your tribe.  When that first guest post goes up, even though you think it’s better writing than you ever did, it flops.  The first comment asks when your next post will be, and the next five chime in supporting the sentiment.  There go your plans for that extended vacation, because what you just learned is that it can be hard to scale a personal brand.

Said another way, it’s very difficult for a personal brand to truly outgrow the person.

Privacy and personal exposure

If you’re going to enjoy fame, it’s probably a good idea to start getting used to the idea that your privacy is going to take a hit.  This will bother some people much more than others, but privacy is something I think we should be taking more seriously.  After all, as Mark’s ex-girlfriend explains to him after he blogs her bra size on The Social Network, “Everything on the internet is written in ink” (If you’re a Sorkin fan like I am, go see it).

A friend who follows my wife on twitter (@drcris) remarked to me the other day that he was amazed at how I had no privacy.  Cris talks about our home life a lot on twitter.  It initially struck me as a strange comment because neither of us have that many followers.  I suspect many of them don’t listen anyway.  Who wants to know about how our house cleaning is going, seriously!?  I also made the observation that I had always pretty much shared more than I should have whenever somebody would listen, so I guess it made little difference.

I wonder if I had 200,000 followers, would my attitude to privacy change?  It probably would.  I suspect your first stalker changes your attitude as well.

If you take the time to establish a corporate brand, you will likely have a lot more control about what you can keep personal and private.

The other thing many bloggers know all too well is that putting yourself out there can have its downside.  Those snarky comments can sting badly.  If you don’t have a thick skin, it might be a good idea to hide from the trolls behind a more generic brand.

The big decision

I haven’t decided if there is a right answer about whether or not you should pursue a personal brand or start work on a corporate brand. There are upsides and downsides to both, and ultimately I think it comes down to what it is you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve mentioned what I think are some obvious points, but I’m hoping many more come out in the comments and any discussion.  Is your brand a personal one, or a corporate one? Why did you choose it? And do you have any regrets?

Luke (@lukie) started life as a young corporate IT nerd, who then got interested in running a business. He spent the last five years as CEO at SitePoint, and has just made the move to start working on something of his own. Luke is an Aussie who lives in Melbourne and is married to Cris (@drcris). They have three kids under five and no spare time!

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Comments

  1. Hee hee, I always tell my kids that they *need* to sit in front and speak up in class to start making an indelible impression on their teachers. Teachers sometimes are so starved for intelligent classroom feedback that this can really help getting oneself known (works great in college too).

    I have a business brand but so far, I’m keeping that in limbo while I build up my personal brand. Brand building two identities at the same time – ‘way too intensive to me. So…everything in its own time at its own pace for me!

  2. Seems like if you are a small biz or single entity such as us bloggers that a personal brand works best. I actually started my online fitness career as a corporate brand but found that when I switched to putting my face on everything instead of my logo that more people identified with me and trusted me more. Interesting.

  3. This question becomes more and more important as increasing numbers of people rely on freelance, contract work or their own business. Also, the use of social media means that 1) we tend to share more publicly and 2) many of those accounts are inherently personal.

    I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a number of times, here is a link to one of those presentations, which talks about some of the pros and cons: http://bit.ly/aFysmz

  4. Tara says:

    Thanks for this, Luke!
    I’ve been thinking a lot about this in my own business (I both sell yarn, as a “company” and consult, as a, well, “person”).
    Even though those snarky tweets can hurt, I think I’m discovering that I have a lot more FUN (and connection with my people) when it’s all authentically me, when my “brand” isn’t something to hide behind.

  5. Generally I would go for corporate brand for the reasons you mentioned and for one more reason.

    At the first year bloggers are not always focused. Sometimes they start one blog then find out that they should focus in a different niche or they would like to aim for more than one direction and create more than one blog/web site. That way you do not “stain” your name with fails.

    I think that personal branding is for people who would like to be consultants. In such case people would pay for your name (and experience of course)

  6. Kevin Yank says:

    One major factor might be your own personality. What kind of person are you, and will infusing your brand with as much “you” as you have to give be more of a benefit or a hindrance?

    Are you entertaining, or annoying? Insightful, or glib? Casual, or professional? Rational, or rantful? And don’t kid yourself: people may not see you the way you think they do. Before you base your entire business on a false assumption, buy a trusted friend a cup of coffee and ask her for a few minutes of brutal honesty.

    In any case, stop and think about the kind of business you’re in (or want to be in). Different personalities can suit different businesses. Even if a personal brand is the right way to go, you might not be the right person.

  7. I think you should work on both..I try my best to put my name and business out there so people can recognized me in a crowd..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  8. Dan Schawbel says:

    Great job with this post Luke. The biggest problem I find with personal branding is scalability. The biggest benefit I’ve found with personal branding is that it puts a human face on your business and it’s easier to connect with people.

  9. Hello Darren, I am curious that whenever I open your blog, I find your own Google ads displayed in your Sponsors Category. Wouldn’t it be better to have an own site banner as it might also save you money.

  10. dotCOMreport says:

    I am with Shay there; it is best to not stain your name with ‘fails’ from not being focused. Except this can only work if you are an anonymous blogger because whether you are building your personal brand or your corporate brand, you still have your name attached to your blog.

    When all is said and done though, I think there could be a middle ground; a place where your corporate brand is built on your personal values so that when you speak, even in your corporate ‘voice,’ there is still a person that your readers can relate to.

    Great post Luke, thanks.

  11. Guerrero Ink says:

    My personal and corporate brand are intertwined and my customers actually branded me with a name.

    I find that over the years (been online since 1995) I tend to share less due to a stalker and bad behavior from some early peeps in cyberspace who mistook me for someone else.

    So, at the moment I am in a quandary as to just how much I share and how much to not.

    One of my profiles in Social Media is private but all the others are public and I use discernment as to what I convey.

    I enjoyed your post because it really is something to think about. I do have a few online resources not affiliated with my name or business but it is a whole different process and removed from who I am and what I do (mostly anyway).

  12. Tyrus Antas says:

    For bloggers that are ABSOLUTELY SURE about what they want to blog and what their passion is, I’d go with personal branding.

    People more easily build relationships with other people. Sure we also get attached to corporate brands but it’s much easier to establish emotional connections with people.

    That’s the approach I take with my online business.

    - Tyrus

  13. Ryan Renfrew says:

    Hey, good arguement and I can see a case for both corporate and personal brands. However I an a big fan of the personal brand.

    Ya see, the economy has nearly turned full circle again. We are re-entering a knind of 1950′s consumer mentality, buying products and services locally – mainly due to face to face word of mouth from our small community of friends and family.

    Obviously a more transparent and personal approach to branding products and services (providing its qreat quality) wil far outweigh a faceless impersonal corporate brand.

    With the arrival of social networks there is vastly more word of mouth communication that extends more extensively and a lot faster than traditional face to face communication, combined with greater choice of what products and services are on offer we are beginning to see a decline in big impersonal faceless brands, as smaller more personal brands are just as – accessable and affordable.

    Ryan Renfrew

  14. Interesting points, especially scalability vs privacy.

    Trying to do both is twice as much work, though there are additional advantages:
    - your personal brand reinforces your company brand
    - your company brand adds an air of authority to your personal brand
    - you can do things with a personal brand that are not appropriate for a company brand, such as tweet about how much you dislike housework, or crow with joy over the release of your first garage-band album

    Given the number of ‘side projects’ I am currently involved in, I have to do both…and am learning a lot in the process!

    keep up the good work!

  15. I have gone with personal brand as I believe with social networking people associate with people more than they do a brand. If my followers get to know me they will get to know my brand.

  16. Wasim Ismail says:

    Privacy is always a concern whether its online or offline, sometimes you have to give a bit to gain more, I guess, but at end it all depends on what you are looking to achieve, and based on your goal and target you should decide on whether you want to build a personal brand or a corporate brand.

  17. affiliatesea says:

    Getting success as a person first after that corporate goals.

  18. Elliott F. says:

    I have been trying to figure out the answer to this one for a while. I am considering splintering off my current personal brand into two directions: maintain the current blog for posts that are my opinion and close to my activities.

    create a second one which is a corporate brand and has more things like guest posts and more generic post formats.

    the only challenge will be maintaining them!

  19. I worked on building a personal blog first which was definitely personal. I just launched a new blog today which I hope to brand more, rather than myslef, but I need to be careful because I believe my voice and my authenticity is what drew readers to my original blog. I need to find that right mix for my new blog at http://livingthebalancedlife.com.
    Bernice

  20. Ivan Walsh says:

    Dan nailed it – The biggest problem I find with personal branding is scalability.

    John Chow made the point that while his site is worth millions there is really no-one he can sell it to.

    while this smart guy called Darren Rowse – you might have heard of him :) – chose more neutral brands eg DPS that are easier to sell, should he ever choose to do so.

    Ivan

  21. Great post, Luke! I wonder if there’s room for a hybrid?

    For example (and I know this doesn’t directly relate to blogging, but), where does a company like Pixar fall? Technically, Pixar is a corporate brand, but I consistently think of that studio as a small bunch of guys and gals (y’know, like us) led by some really authentic personalities—for example: John Lasseter, Brad Bird, and Lee Unkrich (not including el Jobso, here). I do this, and yet I’m aware that—technically—Pixar is 20-years away from it’s indy roots, and now employs over a thousand people. It seems their original brand—a very personal one built on their twenty-or-so founding members—has survived dramatic growth and success. I think this is due to their atypical, and very public, company culture. A personal brand gone corporate? Or a personalised corporate brand from day one?

    Such a humble mascot, too—a cute desktop lamp… how could anyone associate Pixar with ball-busting Disney deals? ;)

    All the best in your next big thing!

  22. Mary says:

    I’m running several sites, in totally different niches.

    One issue you didn’t cover is what happens when you need to stop doing the blog. If the project is your baby and if you don’t have long term objectives, then it’s fine to make it personal because you can just stop when you’re ready.

    But in several of my cases, I’d like the work to be continued even after I’m no longer able to do it (eg because I’ve moved away from this city, or got old/sick/dead). Or I’m seeing that the brand I’m building will have long term commercial value, and I want a reward for the work I’ve put in. For these, it’s corporate identity all the way.

  23. Very interesting theory, in some cases it makes sense. Personal or corporate brands matters in some industries and other places, many do not care as long they buy product/info at cheapest and value price.

  24. jason says:

    It all depends on what motivates you, the money or the intimacy of a personal blog.

  25. vs says:

    Personal Branding is super important. I lecture at University and I run a company and I have a successful commercial blog. The world is full of people with contrived ideas and very little to say. Nothing wrong with that. But if you can stand out, have something intelligent to add to conversations, people will graviatet towards you.

    And the best bit is that it is not difficult to be heard. Usually it just takes a conscious decision not to be meek and quiet. Having an opinion doesnt necessarily mean being lod and gregarious. You can have a considered opinion that stays inline with your persoanlity. One must always be Oneself…people can spot a fake from a mile away.

  26. .This article really resonates with me because I’m struggling with the same decision.i think I can build a pretty good corporate brand, but a personal brand would be a bit more personable. Good job on this article, it caught my attention when I war scanning through my rss reader.

  27. Reading through the comments it seems personal branding wins the day. Not that surprising really. Particularly since social media entered the equation there have been big changes in branding. These days even corporate brands are trying to reach out in a personal way, just look at FB and twitter…

  28. Duncan Riley says:

    While I think some great points are made, I’m surprised you left out the most obvious difference between personal and corporate brand: it’s very near on impossible to sell a personal brand.

    A blog based around a corporate brand, and not strongly tied to an individual is a stand alone asset that can be sold, vs a personal blog that most times can’t.

    As for
    ” Because your [personal] brand can and will help you open doors—if you want to approach another company, website, or blogger, and you’ve established a strong personal brand—you’ll find that it’s a little like being on the guest list at that exclusive party”

    While this is true, it can most certainly be true of a corporate brand as well. A strong corporate brand opens lots of doors as well.

  29. Jonny Gibaud says:

    Nice thought provoking post. I was wrestling with this problem the other day, personal or corporate brand.

    I have decided to keep a professional and minimilist style for my personal brand, a relevant style for my various projects and a break out style on my blog where I can let a bit more of myself come to the forefront.

    The reason being, I don’t know where I will be in 5 years time and I don’t want my blogs slightly wacky brand to be effecting my personal brand if I end up heavily in the corporate world.

  30. lukie says:

    @susan When you think about it, it’s not a surprise that people relate more to a face than a logo. With a 7 month old baby in our house, I’m learning again how important facial expressions and contact are to us humans. An interesting example of a corporate brand that you’ll see around the web for the past year or so is MailChimp http://www.mailchimp.com (great service too). I think one of the reasons their Chimp does so well is because it looks like the face of a baby…

  31. lukie says:

    @Emily I liked your slide that shows a range between corporate and purely personal brands. There are definitely more than two ways to go about branding, with more being dreamt up every day.

  32. lukie says:

    @Tara I think that an authentic personal brand gets a lot more cut-thru in a world with a gazillion designed, strategized and contrived brands. And that just makes sense to me.

  33. lukie says:

    @Shay It’s a good point. But honestly, I just don’t know about the whole idea of “staining” your name with fails. I’d like to believe that the world is generally a bit more forgiving than that, perhaps I’m just naive. I’ve always had a special bit of respect for those that have a go, put themselves out there. Fail or not.

  34. lukie says:

    @Kevin I think anybody who suggests coffee with a good friend for any reason must be a balanced, sane, rational and talented individual. As I know you well, you only serve to prove my theory :-) Good advice as always.

  35. lukie says:

    @Dan sums up my post nicely with 2 sentences. Perhaps I ramble too much.

  36. lukie says:

    @Lesley-Anne “social networking people associate with people more” <– I agree. I was just lucky enough to have gone to BlogWorld Expo in Vegas. As somebody who spent the last five years working with customers who were focussed on the technical, the difference between them and the social media crowd hit me like a sledgehammer. Social media is some of the most effortless networking I've ever done, so if you're targeting that crowd a personal brand has to be a big head start..

  37. lukie says:

    @Adam Schilling – You already know I’m obsessed with all things Apple and by extension Pixar… To have either brand would be a dream come true. I like your idea that Pixar created a corporate brand from a personal one. There has to be something about having founding personalities driving company culture, which in turn creates a corporate brand that inherits the authenticity you normally see in a personal brand. That’s something worth aspiring to. I wonder if the place has really kept the underlying values now that they are thousands strong. I’d love to think so, and their latest flicks suggest they’re still doing something right IMO.

  38. lukie says:

    @Duncan Riley – I agree it’s much more difficult to sell a brand based on a person, but it’s not impossible. There are lots of personal brands out there which have not only been sold but sometimes outlived the person. I would concede that where this happens there is often some transition to make it possible, where the person moves into the role of mascot like Colonel Sanders & KFC.

    Also, not every venture exists with the goal of being sold. That being said, if the ultimate intent is to sell & exit, I’d move away from a personal brand as quickly as possible.

    You’re 100% right on your point about corporate brands opening doors. I missed that one completely. Thanks for pointing it out.

  39. I just had to read this post. Were you thinking about me when you wrote it Luke? It’s something I have been mulling over for quite some time.

    My decision so far has been, as Adam Schilling describes above, a hybrid. My blog is a hybrid of my name and a place to create a unique brand. I know that when people search for the site, they search for both my blog and my name.

    I have just this week moved my About Me branding with photo and personal links to the top of the sidebar and added a line about authorship. I am hoping that this strikes a happy medium, so that if for some reason I can no longer author the site, that it could be passed onto someone else, and I can leverage my current readers who ‘know’ me onto another project. Fingers crossed!

    Enjoying reading all the comments. Thanks again Luke for a great topic.

  40. I think it’s probably good to build a personal brand in the beginning of the carrere because it will most certainly open many doors to new oppurtunites.

    On the other hand there’s no real brand to sell if a potential buyer comes along.

    Well, I guess I would go with a personal brand at first anyway.

    Thanks for a good post
    /Daniel

  41. I think you have to go for a logo these days, as that will last longer than trying to be famous.

    Design a logo —–> Build a team —–> Sell!!!!!…

    That’s my 10 pence worth today!…

    David Edwards

  42. Luke,

    I agree with nearly everything you’ve brought up, and I struggled with (am still struggling with) the overall question. I can say that I tried the corporate branding thing when I first started trying to build my freelance writing business, and I found it felt truly unnatural. But I was concerned about the privacy and imperfection issues you mentioned, so I hesitated to put myself out there. It wasn’t until I realized that my personality was one of the (few) things grabbing peoples’ attention that I gave some real thought to taking the plunge into building my personal brand. Since I started up justinplambert.net and making a point of finding my blog voice, I’ve seen a marked increase in connection and I’ve gained a few clients I don’t think would have noticed me back when I was CopyGhost Inc.
    Great post. Thanks very much!

  43. I had never thought that my kids misbehavior might be a good thing! But on reflection you might be right. Now they are older and thinking a bit more consequentially and productive, the teachers are responding extremely well to them largely because of the relationships they built up when things weren’t going so well.

    For me, the decision is a slam-dunk. Personal all the way. I don’t know how to be corporate.

  44. Interesting post, and timely for me. When I started my blog a friend, who owns a PR firm, told me to make the blog my brand. I had an art website and thought that should be the brand. Now I realize she was right. If people trust you and care about you your products become more personal, therefore more sought after.

    I’ve now blended my many creative outlets into my blog site and it’s beginning to work out well.

    Thanks for the post!

  45. Social Steve says:

    Good post and good perspective. I wrote an article a couple of weeks back on personal branding that you might find of interest – “The Most Important Brand (You) and Social Media”: http://t.co/hyYa3nU

    Best,
    Social Steve

  46. To create personal or corporate brand requires understanding what your customer is really buying and what business you’re in. The question recalls a great Warren Buffett quote when his corporate brand, Berkshire Hathaway, bought a jewelry company: “If you don’t know the jewelry, know the jeweler.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that brief line…The flip side that few want to admit: Most big corporate brands were started by personal brands. We just didn’t think or talk like that in those days. Thanks for the good post. Best,

    JG

  47. That’s a great post and it certainly raises some issues but I believe that it would be impossible to have just a corporate brand. Why? Because within 7 seconds of you introducing yourself to someone as your company, they’ve decided if they’re going to buy into you – the person.

    With that ,and your drawbacks, in mind, I suggest you create some personal guidelines that you’re comfortable with to set out how far you want your personal brand to go. For me, I’ll happily share with anyone the fact I live in the country and have chickens and bees (in fact it’s part of my biography on my website) but will wait until I’ve known someone longer and know that they understand my personal brand (with both its positives and negatives) until I’ll reveal anything deeper.

  48. Evelyn says:

    Great post. I agree with building a personal brand is more authentic to readers, but for starters authenticity doesn’t seem as important as gathering readers within a short amount of time. Sometimes it’s even more helpful to build up reader network with corporate brands. But I struggled with how much is too much when it comes to a balance between corporate brand & personal brand. Thoughts? Would also like to connect on twitter @evyfindstheway

  49. I find it very hard to justify a corporate brand when blogging. Even if my client is a company, I tell them to have a personal face for the blog. People want to connect, and it’s impossible to truly connect with a company. Imagine the difference if apple blogged or if steve jobs blogged. I’d want to hear steve.

  50. Lisa Attias says:

    The strength of the individual is always compelling. Everyone wants to relate to someone who is not afraid to be strongly him or herself. The products and services will seem to be steeped in integrity.
    A group of people who know how to work dynamically together also emanate respect.