Human Workplace CEO and founder Liz Ryan has lots of good advice in this recent post on LinkedIn Today – but seriously, this personal branding malarkey has gotta stop right now.

In case you didn’t know, Liz Ryan is the founder of a business called Human Workplace, and much what they stand for is just great. In essence, the business is a think tank, consulting firm, search firm and an online community. The team works with employers to re-invent HR and leadership practices to support people, not policies, and they do it all with a ‘human voice’.

This said though, I must take issue with Liz’s recent LInkedIN Today post on personal branding – the rise of term only matched by the rise of my hackles ever time I hear the phrase.

Yes, it’s true. I AM just like the people Liz was quoting in her opening par. “People protest,” she wrote: “‘Oh, I don't have a personal brand, and I don't want one’ but that's like saying ‘I choose not to cast a shadow when I walk in the sun.’"

A cute baby does not have a personal brand! 

A cute baby does not have a personal brand! 

Actually Liz, I don’t think that’s right. When you support your argument by saying that: “You've got a brand. Newborn babies have their own brands ("Ooh, have you seen Amanda's little Dexter? He's so strong, he can hold his head up already and he has the cutest mop of curls!")!” I think you’re off your freakin’ rocker.

How does the fact that people ooh and ah over a baby’s curls demonstrate he has a brand? He’s a cute baby for goodness sake, nothing more.

Here’s the thing: A brand is a story and it’s a real life story told in three acts. Act 1 is the promise, act two is the experience and act three is the memory. I believe it should also be an honest story – which is what I lay out in the True Story Marketing Manifesto – but it’s a carefully crafted story nonetheless.

Now let’s think about a human being. As Carrie Fisher said so well and so long ago in her book Postcards from the Edge, “I’m not a box; I don’t have sides”. What did she mean? I think she’s saying: We’re flesh and blood. We’re history. We’re desires. We’re at times conflicting interests; passions for everything from felting to fast cars; from business to boxing.

Of course, as you say, people form opinions about us, but that’s nothing to do with branding. And while you may sympathise with people like me for whom the term ‘personal branding’ is a term that makes them want to ‘hurl’, I also don’t believe it’s a surrogate for what you describe as “just a newish term for self-description and reputation, two phenomena that have existed for millennia”.

All that said, there are some people who do have personal brands like say Tiger Woods, or Serena Williams, but in their cases, the brand – around which an industry is built - is merely eponymous.

The same cannot be said for most people – and nor do they have the potential to create one.

Don’t get me wrong; people DO need to market themselves – especially in the job market and as business owners and entrepreneurs. To do that they do, as you quite rightly suggest, need to “simply tell your story. Use the first person, and write a paragraph or two that lays out where you came from and what you care about. Skip the corporate-speak jargon and sound like a human being.”

With those sentiments I couldn’t agree more. But that’s not developing a ‘personal brand’. That’s sharing yourself. And ultimately, the people who will probably be the most desirable and influential in both job markets and other spheres, will be the tribe leaders and the lynchpins (hat off to Seth Godin here) – not the people in pursuit of some spurious notion of a personal brand.

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AuthorAmanda Falconer