Why Your Personal Brand Is Always Secondary

Yes, "personal branding" is crucial for you to get a job. But your work builds the brand.

We knew that we shouldn't put the cart before the horse. Now we're learning not to put the brand before the person.

As Nilofer Merchant writes at HBR, we've been getting the causation wrong all along:


The brand follows the work. Your brand is the exhaust created by the engine of your life. It is a by-product of what happens as you share what you are creating, and with whom you are creating.

Why do we get caught up in this language of "brand"?

Because, Merchant observes, marketing has become our common language. And marketing, traditionally, is concerned with how a product is distributed—though as has also been argued, the product is the marketing. To graft that onto the personal brand discussion, then, we can observe that your "product" then is your "brand."

For people committed to doing hard, meaningful work, this is good news that is evidenced also by top companies: Both Google and Amazon only want to know the work that you've done and how you did it—not what school you went to or how handy you are with brain teasers.

In other words, amid the superficiality of the social web, substance is becoming the style. Merchant, who wrote the rules of the social era, puts it better that we can:

In a world of "personal brand" and "leadership brand" and "personal reinvention" and so forth, we should not forget: The real signal is the work itself, and the social signaling is just its echo.

How do you get to do the work you most need to do? As Seth Godin explains, it's a matter of finding the right clients—or as you might also call them, bosses.

Hat tip: HBR

[Image: Flickr user Stanzebla]

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