Monday, May 19, 2008

Does Your Personal Brand Taste Like Burned Toast?

A lot of people are promoting their personal or career brand these days as a way to make themselves more memorable and more successful. There's one problem, however. Some of these personal branding strategies make us a) want to run and hide or b) smack the person across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

More than a decade ago Tom Peters' call for "You, Inc.," resonated with many people. Articles and books were written about it and businesses sprung up to help others develop career or personal brands. It's become one of the hottest things going, and a lot of people have made money off the whole idea of "me."

Now, don't get me wrong -- I think career and personal branding is a smart move, especially in this tough economy. Anything you can do to get others positively talking about you and your brand, the better.

You'll note, please, the emphasis on positive.

The problem is that some personal brands are starting to put a foul taste in people's mouths. Sort of like burned toast.

I mean, I can eat burned toast if I have to. If I have time, I'll scrape off the really brown parts. But as I become busier and more stressed, I'm not really inclined to put up with burned toast. I'd rather pitch it in the trash (I know, I know, at $12 a loaf this is a terrible thing to do) and get new, better toast. Something I'll enjoy and not have to put up with that lingering bad taste in my mouth.

That's what you've got to remember: Your personal brand has got to be palatable. Too much self promotion, too little focus on bringing something valuable to the table, and you could find yourself getting discarded.

So, in an effort to get things back on track, here are some tips:

* Don't always hit "send." Seriously, folks, I don't need to know about every burp in your life. Just because you attended the National Association of Acid Refluxers, I don't need to know you met some other folks and ate the all-you-can-barf buffet. Please stop sending me so many "branding" updates that I now send you straight to the spam file.

* Think of your momma. If you're hanging out with some real questionable characters either at work or online, you need to reconsider. You know who these people are: they spend most of their day doing things they're not paid to do and are probably illegal in 12 states; they don't have anything good to say about anyone or anything; and they get nervous when "America's Most Wanted" comes on the air. Think of it this way: Would your mother be pleased that you're associating with these people?

* Look in a mirror. Have a heart-to-heart talk with "Me, Inc." Have you become "Idiot, Inc.?" Have you become so focused on establishing a brand that you've lost sight of who you are? Starbuck's founder Howard Schultz is being portrayed as more intense, more anxious, than in the past. While this may be a natural evolution for him as he struggles to bring the company back to its head honcho position, it might be time for him to do a gut check and ask himself if this is really true to his personal brand.

And speaking of looking in the mirror: Your personal appearance is one of the first things that mark your personal brand. If you've been nominated for "What Not to Wear" by several people and have been featured in the "What was he/she thinking?" category for any publication, then you need a makeover, pronto. Remember: If you can wear it to sleep in, to mow the back 40 in or to go clubbing in, it's never appropriate for making business contacts.

If you've got some more personal or career branding insights, please share!

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