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Personal Branding

In a panel interview entitled The Role of Brands in Human Culture (2023), Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing, stated that ‘branding’ can be used ‘whenever anyone affixes their name to something that is available for sale.’


Branding carries a significant economic value in any capitalistic system. It helps sellers create a distinct identity for their products and services in the marketplace. This market segmentation, in turn, allows buyers to orient themselves when faced with a range of competing products or services. Ultimately, branding helps create a tighter link between supply and demand to benefit transacting parties.


In the labor and social marketplace, personal branding serves the same matchmaking purpose.


In Personal Branding: A Review of a Contemporary Phenomenon(2018), the authors identify the following ingredients of a personal brand: values, expertise, credibility, authenticity, differentiation, and a digital footprint providing visibility in a world aggressively competing for attention. The approach is not too far from the winning character-building recipe described in Beth Dutton.’


However, there are several issues related to personal branding.


In her book Doppelganger(2023), Naomi Klein discusses one of her classes entitled ‘The Corporate Self.’  She writes that ‘candidates learn to tell stories about their young lives that had less to do with truths […] than meeting the needs […] of the audience.’ Some students refer to this exercise as ‘packaging up your trauma into a consumable commodity.’ Is personal branding an act of self-empowerment or dehumanizing commodification?


Furthermore, self-branding may require a crude simplification of a persona. The Internal Family Systems’ introduced in these notes in 2019 establishes that every individual owns multiple sub-personalities that operate as discrete and autonomous systems. Majoring in one of these sub-personalities to develop a personal brand with depth comes at the expense of the others. At what price?


Finally, brands must be actively managed to avoid obsolescence. They rely on innovation and relentless engagement with stakeholders, including clients and sponsors. Similar to a business context, R&D and marketing represent significant expenses that can only be incurred if justified by vast advantages.


If self-branding were optional, many could elect to live without it. But it is a must: individuals who do not actively brand themselves risk losing control of their narrative and seeing it hijacked by others.


So, is there a path to personal branding that maximizes its benefits while minimizing its cost? I believe so. A way forward is to define a personal brand based on what one seeks to achieve instead of what one claims to be. This approach carries several advantages: First, it is differentiated in itself; second, it provides more flexibility in a world where skills requirements evolve fast; third, it is inclusive since a mission can serve to attract similarly motivated individuals and build a purposeful movement. To illustrate the approach, if anyone asked about my identity, I would include ‘Making capitalism great again.’


Personal branding is a tool that must be used judiciously to open doors instead of closing them.

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