If you think it’s risky trying to build a personal brand, let me tell you why you're wrong.
Firstly, we have to get broad definitions out of the way.
I think it’s fair to say that what most people think of ‘personal brands’ largely revolves around an individual, one that puts themself in a position to socially elevate their own name.
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately where friends and family ask if my decision to create a ‘personal brand’ was a ‘creative’ decision or a ‘business’ decision. They’re always surprised to hear that it was, first and foremost, a business decision.
Only once I had decided to build a ‘personal brand’, did I decide that I wanted to do so in an enjoyable way, which inevitably led me to the creative work I now pursue.
But there’s always one point that I emphasise, something most people don’t seem to have realised.
In marketing, it’s said that a company’s brand is exactly what someone thinks of them.
Therefore, it follows that our personal brand is what other people think of us.
In the context of juggling an online presence with my medical career, I often discuss with medical colleagues what they’d like to achieve in their respective fields.
They almost always say something along the lines of: “I’d like to be an expert in my field. I’d like to be known for my work. I want to be respected for X work, have Y accolades etc.”
To which I follow up with the question: is that not a personal brand you’re seeking?
To be deemed an ‘expert’ at something or to be widely ‘respected’, it requires a third party to actually give us that ‘respect’ or call us an ‘expert’. I almost never hear someone say ‘I want to be the best at X’ without expressing the desire for an element of external recognition for it.
It’s not good enough that we’re the best at what we do, we want to be known for it.
That makes what we seek, a personal brand.
We’re all seeking personal brands.
Once we accept this, it places us on a level playing field.
Although I (and many others) use the term synonymously with this relatively new form of personal branding (content creation, building an online presence etc.), the truth is that we all have a personal brand to begin with. I’m not ‘growing’ it for the first time either, I’m just doing it in a different way from what I used to.
My issue with the traditional, institutional ‘personal brand’ is that it’s binary, leads to injustice and can even be taken away from you.
For example, if you gain an academic degree, you further your personal brand. If you miss out on the final degree certificate but did 99% of the hard work, you don’t further your personal brand. The result is binary (0 or 1). It doesn’t reward the hard work, just the end result.
In a corporate environment, if someone less deserving gets promoted over you, they’ve furthered their personal brand, you haven’t. Injustice is prevalent in a world where you allow other people to dictate your personal brand.
Similarly, a job can be taken away from you. If your personal brand revolved around your career, now that’s also been taken away from you.
So here’s a new type of personal brand…
You build an audience from scratch. What they think of you and your work becomes your personal brand.
You control its growth (but also its downfall). You don’t need permission to grow it and all your hard work isn’t wasted if it's going towards it. You can monetise it in many different ways, and pivot into a new discipline if your audience is receptive to it.
It’s decentralised, particularly if you own direct access to the audience (such as an email list that can be downloaded). Growth can also increase exponentially instead of linearly/incrementally as we see with traditional, institutional roles.
We’re all working on personal brands, and I don’t think it’s riskier to pursue the relatively ‘new’ way of doing so. In fact, I think in this day and age, it’s riskier to stay with the traditional route.