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Personal Branding: Why It's Larger Than Social Media and Its Various Misconceptions

Isaac Mashman overlooking the water on a bridge. His back is facing the camera and his hoodie shows his firm's handle @mashmanventures

The term personal branding was coined in the late 1990s by a man by the name of Tom Peters. He’s often regarded as the father of personal branding and wrote extensively on the subject, but I view him in a different light. He’s not so much the father of personal branding as he is the person who gave a title to a concept that has been around since the beginning of humanity. It sounds good, personal branding. If you walk up to anybody on the street and ask them if they know what branding is, there is a high likelihood that they would mention some of their favorite brands and that it has something to do with an image. A logo.

In my first book, Personal Branding: A Manifesto on Fame and Influence I break down what personal branding is and as I am preparing to start writing the second edition, I think it is a perfect time to shed some light on my philosophical approach and clear the air on some misconceptions on the subject.

Personal Branding Is Transcendent

The delivery of information is propagated and excelled through different channels and what I refer to as "vehicles." 100 years ago the primary method of communication was newspapers, the radio, and word of mouth. If you went back 600 years depending on location, it would’ve been through the church, town criers, and word-of-mouth. 2000 years ago the written text was solely reserved For people in positions of power but once again, the one vehicle that remained unchanging is word-of-mouth.

If you think about face-to-face communication, whether that be with family or friends or clients and even strangers, the entire point of a conversation is to spread information. This is where oral stories and mythologies are passed down from generation to generation. A person would say you need to go see this blacksmith or that this king figure is more feared than the next.

Do you really think that we know about Genghis Khan today because he had scholars following him around and writing about his feats? People told stories that over time either remained true or lost some of their accuracy to hyperbolic statements, which of course only made it more entertaining. Interestingly, Genghis Khan was known for not allowing anyone to mimic his likeness and the first recreations of his looks appeared post-mortem.

In 2024 when I’m writing this article, there are various methods of communication or vehicles that are expediting the flow of information. Thinking about one of the biggest examples is social media. Can we say that because social media existed, people didn’t have personal brands 100 years ago? No of course not.

This is where some of the biggest misconceptions of our age occur on the subject. I’ve seen so many fellow professionals speak in terms that their personal brand is something that you have to create anew each time you create a social media profile, or is something that only exists in the digital space. This is false. I do not believe that anybody who says this has an ill intention, but is misguided a misinformed.

Personal branding is one of the most powerful things of all time. I would put it right up there with the discovery of the atomic bomb. Think about who discovered and researched the atomic bomb. One such scientist had a full-length biopic film generate millions of dollars just last year. Oppenheimer. Decades later we still know their names. Is the concept dangerous or is the person who uses the concept? A pencil itself isn't dangerous, that is unless you are John Wick.

Every single person from the beginning of making has had a personal brand. Personal brands after all are what have propagated religion. Almost all major religions have a "father figure" - Jesus Christ and Christianity, the Prophet Muhammad, and Islam for example.

I would like you to take a step back from social media and think about the people you know in your life offline. The people that you aren’t connected with, but know personally. Do they cease to exist because you don’t have them on Instagram? Of course not! Your relationship still exists as does the perception you have of them in your mind. They may have hundreds of people who have their own perceptions about them.

Even if you have shared your name with people before you, you do not share your spiritual make-up, I say, spiritual, not in terms of religion, but in terms of unique characteristics and traits that only you possess. 10,000 years ago or 10,000 years in the future, you will still be one of one. It’s not something that can be duplicated, however, going to the vehicles as I mentioned before, we have access to more technology than our ancestors. Just 100 years ago you had to build the infrastructure to communicate with new people, now you can pick up your phone, hit record and potentially reach 4 billion souls. This means you can leave a mark that is larger with less effort.

What makes you different is your selling point. From your reputation to your personality to your profession, to your interests, to your physical traits and quirks all of these things encompass what your personal brand is. YOU.

Using tools such as social media, podcasts, press, written articles, content, vlogs, and any other various mediums of communication, act as permanent extensions of yourself.

The chief executive officers of corporations might not be on social media but have personal brands. They were hired for a very specific reason. Their qualifications and what they bring to the table. The Board of Directors somewhere along the line chose them over another candidate because they felt that person was a better choice.

The Master Key of Personal Branding, if you will, is the conscious and dedicated effort to establishing your personal brand.

The moment you make the decision to purposely build your personal brand is the moment you get access to this beautiful yet fickle thing. Although your personal brand cannot ever be destroyed because it is you, your reputation can be tarnished and equally built. This influences the perception surrounding your name. If you are trusted and vetted, you’ll notice things come to you easier. Your efforts compound with time and whereas you had to fight for an interview in the past, you'll have people coming to you asking to have you on their platform!

To give a world example in easier-to-understand terms, would you want the average neurosurgeon to perform brain surgery on you or the world's best?

You won't know the intricacies of what that operation is or know about the complications, and that is perfectly okay with you, but that does not mean want anyone other than the best of the best to be messing with your brain matter. If you think about the prominent neurosurgeon, they have likely been practicing longer, have engaged in numerous procedures, have published medical science-changing studies, and so many other things that would influence your choice over the average option.

Now that you understand what your personal brand is, you need to ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. What do you want to get from your personal brand?

  2. Who do you want to be known as?

  3. How do you get there?

The answer to the first question will have multiple answers. You may want to make more money, have more respect, have better relationships, and create a legacy if that’s important to you. This is the psychological part of things. You can't consciously get somewhere you've never been to before if you don't know where you're going. You shouldn’t rely on happenstance.

The second question talks about building your personal brand. Actually being that public figure that is well, in the public’s eye.

The third question, which in my opinion is the easiest, refers to marketing. The vehicle or vehicles, in which you use.

Don’t limit yourself to the vehicle, because your personal brand is more than just social media, or the content you produce. It is YOU.

I challenge you whether you’re reading this the day the article comes out or 10 years down the line, to make the conscious decision that you will be building your personal brand and becoming somebody that other people can go to either feel connected to, be entertained by, learn from, or feel inspired by. Aim for a combination of all four.

Like me, be a student of the philosophy of personal branding.

The individual action items that can help you build your personal brand are easy. From a handshake to an email to a comment on somebody’s post, all of these things affect your personal brand.

For more detailed strategies, I recommend following me across social media and subscribing to my newsletter below. I also have other articles on my website here.

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