“Personal Brand” – An Exercise In Linguistic Olympics?

People find reasons to disagree about many things. Sometimes, what appear to be substantive disagreements turn out to be little more than smoke and mirrors.

Take for example the subject of “personal brand”. David Armano’s new “Brand U.0 Blog focuses on personal brands. Chris Brogan recently listed 10 articles from his blog about personal branding. And shortly thereafter, Jason Bender wrote a short article in his blog titled “People Aren’t Brands. Ever”. Jason Bender disagreed with Armano and Brogan – and argued that “people ain’t brands.”

Here’s the irony. They are all saying the same thing. A personal brand is your reputation. Pure and simple. There’s a great simplicity to the term reputation – everyone knows what that word means. There’s less simplicity to what is a brand – that’s been the domain of agencies and marketing specialists.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Reputation has always been important. The Internet didn’t create the notion of “personal brand”. Web 2.0 didn’t create the notion of “personal brand.” Gary Vaynerchuk didn’t create the notion of personal brand (although he is demonstrating firsthand how one can build a great reputation online). There is no new “movement” of people as brands.

Reputation has always been important.

And that’s why the debate about “personal brands” is purely linguistic olympics – it’s a debate about something that’s not really in dispute. There’s no real disagreement about what it takes to build a good reputation. Among other things, it takes time, effort, and the sharing of insights and ideas. This is what it takes to build a brand. And marketing-speak doesn’t shortcut that process. Nike didn’t become a “brand” overnight, despite the fact that today, its logo design is iconic. Neither did Apple, Google, or any of the top brands in the world. Similarly, the people whom many admire online – Chris Brogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jason Fried, Guy Kawasaki, David Armano (among others) – they gained their reputation after investing time, effort and the sharing of insights and ideas. Over a lengthy period of time.

And that’s why the disagreement about personal branding is a lot of smoke without much substance. I wanted to accept Chris Brogan’s statement that a “strong personal brand is a mix of reputation, trust, attention and execution.” But at the end of the day, I don’t buy it. When you have a strong reputation, you have built trust. When you have a strong reputation, you command attention. When you have a strong reputation, you can execute better because of that reputation. If we want to call this a brand – fine – but we can call it an elephant and it’ll still be the same thing – reputation.

Those people who have built a strong reputation are trusted by people who listen to them, command attention, and can execute better. How did they do this? Time. Effort. Sharing.

There’s no secret formula. There’s no secret sauce. It’s always been about reputation. Reputation has always been important.