The Evolution of Personal Branding

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Some of you reading this will be very aware of personal branding, some not. In a nutshell I can paraphrase William Arruda: “your personal brand is your unique promise of value”. This means your personal brand is what value you add to others and how you do it uniquely – something which can take some time to figure out but definitely worth the exercise.

This definition is very clear to me, what is less clear is how personal branding came about and how it has changed over time. Here is my attempt at outlining thirteen years of evolution.

Personal branding origins

In case you didn’t know the term personal branding origins from an article that Tom Peters wrote Fast Company called “Brand You” back in 1997. It basically highlighted how people have brands just like any other product or service.

This article really kicked off a movement that turned into a big industry. Career coaches started doubling as personal branding experts, anyone that used to be a networking consultant was now offering personal branding services as well, and so on.

The actual idea of a personal brand has been around forever, just not the term in itself. What used to be called reputation building, image, credibility, personal PR/marketing etc is now commonly referred to as personal branding thanks to Tom Peters.

Personal branding in the 90s

Back in the late nineties when Tom Peters coined the term, evaluating and developing one’s brand had a different meaning than today. The emphasis was put on personal appearance, behavior, imagery, communication as well as actual items such as business cards and a person’s tie.

You would get personal branding coaches that would work out your color coding and matching your ties and socks for business success. Some personal branding coaches would be more focused on communication skills, some would even help their clients achieve thought leadership by writing a book. The variety of activities that sit under the umbrella term that personal branding is huge – but this been the key to its success, as the term can evolve with changes in the world.

The information age

One huge piece of evolution in living memory is a little phenomenon called the internet, which really started getting momentum in the early 2000s. Every man and his dog were getting online and signed up for an electronic mail account, started searching for things on WebCrawler and Yahoo!

Some folks even started journaling/weblogging (or blogging if you will) to reach an audience on the internet. A new search engine called Google came out and people’s behavior started shifting from using the internet for finding additional information to being the main place to find information. Google and the other search engines even let you search for people…

The social media revolution

Within a few years of the internet taking on, another phenomenon called social media started popping up, first with MySpace and Bebo, then Facebook and many others. Traditional media would never know what really hit it. Suddenly there was a channel of communication that worked both ways, as opposed to newspapers or television which has always been very much a one way traffic flow of media.

Social media allows people to communicate in real time; it allows most people to be reached at the click of a button. Whereas someone like Richard Branson got on with his job nicely tucked away in an ivory tower back in the 90’s, today he is blogging and tweeting just like your average Joe Websurfer. Being seen on social media is integral to career and business success.

Social media has been a game changer; it has leveled the playing field in many aspects of life. The barriers to entry for new Twitter users or to set up a Facebook Page are minimal. Social media is free in all aspects bar time. The social media sites have become second nature for most of us and it’s only natural that this has led to a seismic shift in how we communicate with other people.

Personal branding shift

What effect did this have on personal branding? It’s completely moved the goal posts and made it much easier for anyone to create a strong brand simply by going online. As you Google others and get Googled yourself, it’s increasingly important to control what information comes up in the search results. By blogging, tweeting, sharing on Facebook and LinkedIn you are now able to showcase your skills and experience to a global audience.

Personal branding coaches are increasingly focusing on their client’s online presence, sometimes turning into more of digital coaches than anything else. Instead of reading career books, people are now consuming books about how to brand oneself, instead of career workshops, people are now checking out personal branding seminars.

And perhaps the most striking example is the fact that people are spending less time on resumes and cover letters and more on writing great LinkedIn profiles as they know that this is where potential employers will look first.

Bottom line

Personal branding always was and still is a very wide term and nobody knows what will replace social media as the best way to market oneself. All we can assume is that personal branding will embrace new technologies and methods and evolve just like it has done.

So for now, forget the color coordinated socks and tie, don’t order those business cards – for maximum impact you want to go online and make a difference to your business and career.

What do you think is next for personal branding? Please let me know in the comments!

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