Personal Branding: A Promise You Keep

With all the buzz around personal branding, there seems to be some confusion regarding the difference between “marketing” and “branding” – and why that difference can make or break your attempt to create a positive first impression.

Simply put:

  • Marketing is what you want people to think about you… regardless of reality
  • Branding is a demonstration of what others really think about you… a promise you keep

As corporate America has taught us over the decades, we can get away with terrible marketing blunders (think Sketcher’s $50 Million “Shape-ups” mistake, the “New Coke” mess or the laughable “Ford vs. Mercedes” disasters). Now hoping to put troubled pasts behind them, celebrities such as Lance Armstrong  and Charlie Sheen (#winning!) constantly join the fray.

With personal branding, however, you often only get one shot to get it right.

Over-sell – or under-sell – in a critical situation, and you may have missed your only chance to impress a potential employer, influencer or mentor. Worse yet, try to “sell” a version of you that doesn’t exist… and you’re likely going to be on the outside looking in for a long period of time.

Here are a few rules to make sure you keep the promise generated by your personal brand:

Quantify Your Brand

Don’t just say you’re good at a specific task, or excelled during a specific effort: show the results. No doubt, influencers and hiring managers love numbers that show true ability (“recruited and managed a team of 22…”), dollars (generated a savings of $210,000 annually…) and percentage signs (exceeded quota by 132%…).

Let Your Work Speak for You

Or, rather, let those who have worked with you speak for you. While it would appear odd, and even spammy or arrogant, to call yourself “brilliant” or an “expert,” when your colleagues or customers expound on your excellence they create major credibility points. The best place to start letting others brag about you in our digital world: LinkedIn recommendations.

When Tempted to Exaggerate…

We live in a small world. Everyone, it seems, knows everyone… digitally. Want to get creative when talking about your education, the title at your last job or your accomplishments? Bad idea! That small world will catch up to you eventually – and in this case, it’s lying, not marketing.

Don’t Tell Me What You DID… Talk About What you CAN DO

From resumes, to LinkedIn profiles and your page, this is my new “golden rule” of personal branding. We seem to believe we must always feature what we DID when creating a personal brand, as if we’re creating a mini-bio of our professional lives to date. Wrong!

As a recruiter, I want to hear what you can do. I want to know where your passions lie. I am really interested, when I gather my first impression of your personal brand, how you are going to help solve my company’s problems through your work ethic, sincerity and leadership. So… instead of telling me how you managed that Honey Baked Hams shop in Duluth during college… tell me what you are capable of, now.

The brand you create – the person you are selling, online and in-person – is neither flexible, nor negotiable. It must be authentic and sincere. You must show you are willing to leave your comfort zone, and learn. You absolutely must demonstrate you are a good fit with my company.

Most important, from first glance on, your personal branding must keep the promise you make.


Mark Babbitt, the CEO and Founder of YouTern, is a serial entrepreneur and mentor and a passionate supporter of Gen Y talent. Mark contributes to, Glassdoor and Business Insider. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter:@YouTernMark.

Related posts:

  1. Personal Branding with Purpose: What’s Your Intention?
  2. Personal Branding Basics: It’s All About Communication
  3. Personal Branding Predictions for 2010

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  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

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