Build your personal brand.  It’s a phrase I’m reading and hearing a lot lately, as the language used by journalists and “consultants” to describe social networking matures.  Apparently, by using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, you can shape and mould your personal brand to represent exactly what you want others to perceive.  There are people out there who spend quite a lot of time formulating the perfect Twitter tweet, the coolest Facebook status, and agonising over the best background colour for their blog, to best deliver their desired brand equity.  All seems like a bit of a wank, really.

Maybe the tools have changed, but this isn’t a new, Web 2.0 innovation.  Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Sidney Weinberg, a key player in Goldman-Sachs’ ascent of Wall Street, and how he carefully crafted a mythology around his background as a means to further his career.  Gladwell himself is no stranger to the idea of building a personal brand – the photographs on his website and book jackets illustrate an obvious attention to detail in terms of how he presents himself to readers and fans.  He cultivates the image of a fringe-dwelling observer of society, an outcast by choice, and that adds weight to his opinions on cultural phenomena and human behaviour.

However, guys like Gladwell and Weinberg have something that most of today’s tweeting, self-Googling personal brand builders do not.  Talent. 

I’m always amazed at the willingness of large corporations to spend massive amounts of cash on branding, as though they can really influence how customers perceive them simply by changing the colour on a logo.  The best brand development definitely involves deciding how the company wants to be perceived, but then requires tying these intangibles back to the tangible actions or attributes the company has that create these perceptions.  Some people call these “proof points” and they are vitally important.  Why would a customer think your company is caring, responsible, responsive, or high quality, if your entire operations and culture aren’t set up to deliver on it?

Every day you develop your personal brand.  When you decide what to wear that day.  When you advocate certain restaurants, or films, or whatever.  At its rawest, when you submit a C.V. for a job.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, as long as the proof points behind it are in place.  Anything else is fantasy.