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.
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?
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!