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Personal Branding: What's Your Value-Add?

by Steve Woodruff  |  
November 18, 2008

There's been a bit of buzz in the blogosphere of late about "personal branding" (if you want to catch up on the kerfuffle, kicked off my occasional blogging provocateur Geoff Livingston, you can pick up the thread here and here and here and here and here).

I don't think anyone will argue whether the bathwater of an inauthentic persona (faux personal brand) should be tossed out. But, let's talk about the baby.
I've tended to view personal branding as a secondary issue. If you're looking to project a personal brand, the primary question to you need to answer first and foremost is: What is your value-add?
You don't have a brand worth a nickel unless you are clear in what value you have to offer. That's true of personal branding, corporate branding, political branding, and whatever other type of branding du jour we'd like to dream up.
golddrop.jpgLook around you. Right now - in your office, your home, or even look at all the various Twitter avatars and e-mail addresses on your computer. Not a single one of those people can offer what you do. Each one has inherent value as a person, and unique value as an individual who can contribute to the greater good. And you, too, have a unique and irreplaceable value-add. Focus on the gold - what is it?
I know mine, though it has taken many years to clearly identify and articulate it. But even if you are struggling to put your own value-add into words, you still have that value, and probably those who are closest to you can tell you what it is. Here is an exercise to help you - try to find 5-8 adjectives or nouns that summarize what you do best. Ask your friends and colleagues to help (you might even want to have some fun by making it a Twitter exercise).
Now you're much closer to figuring out your "personal brand," because you're understanding where you add value. And you should think about your value-add on at least 2 levels - the professional level (how do I help my employer and clients succeed and make money?), and the community level (how do I help my family/church/neighbors/network grow and succeed?). Usually, you'll find quite a bit of overlap, because you are you in both realms, and your strengths carry over.
And that's the point about having a personal brand. The best personal brands are those that are authentic - that is, they reflect who you truly are, in all realms. You may emphasize specific activities and outworkings in your projected identity, because we all put our capabilities and strengths to use in tangible realms of endeavor, but that projected identity - that personal brand - is coherent with who you are. If you changed jobs, locations, or responsibilities, your brand would remain quite consistent.
If you're trying to create a persona to hide behind - a faux personal brand - you're wasting time and energy. Toss the bathwater out the window, identify your true value-add, and embrace it. Then you can project yourself without fear, and we won't need to waste so much digital bandwidth beating down "personal branding"!
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Steve Woodruff is the world's only Clarity Therapist. He connects people with their purpose, their message, and with other people in order to create new business opportunities. He writes at the

Steve is an unusual hybrid of conceptualizer, strategist, marketer, analyst, wordsmith, semi-techie, and all-around decent fellow, except when there's bad coffee or lousy wine.

Steve can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn.

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  • by Lewis Green Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Steve, It's not what I do that makes me unique; it's who I am. Hence, the problem with a term like personal brand.

  • by Ike Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Be yourself. To thine own self be true. You can't brand yourself successfully as something you're not -- and the corollary is that you can't project or market yourself if you don't know what you are (or what value you provide). This is the sticky issue here, because I'm convinced that MOST people have no idea what their real core values are until they are pressed. Makes it hard to be genuine. The other piece here is that you can be genuine (and must be), but if you aren't aware of how you're being perceived externally, then your "Personal Brand" is for naught. Be Yourself. And then See Yourself through objective eyes. That's all you need to maintain a healthy personal brand (lowercase by intent).

  • by Jason Baer Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Steve. Good thoughts here. Much appreciated. What troubles me is people "pro-tizing" their personal brand by focusing only on professional themes and memes. I think you'll agree that you have to be three dimensional, and if that means a tweet or blog post from real life on occasion, then that's the way to go.

  • by Paul Barsch Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Steve, I'll agree with Ike that most people have probably not put the thought into their differentiated value propositions as marketers/consultants. Even when pressed, I bet most would have a tough time coming up with differentiation. It's there, however, it just needs to be analyzed and fleshed out as you have pointed out. In a tough economy, I believe that identifying your value-add via thorough self and client assessment is more critical than ever. Differentiate or die.

  • by Nick Stamoulis Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    I think personal branding is something that will allow individuals to really stand out these days. There is a lot of clutter and it is important to push through that clutter.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Isn't personal brand another way to say "work skills" but you market and sell them better? So it does not necessarily have to define the person as a human being but more about what they have to offer in the world of work. Your personal brand does not have to be there when you are on your day off.

  • by Steve Woodruff Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    @Lewis - I'd argue that the combination of who you are (abilities, character, personality, etc.) and what you do (professionally and otherwise) is, in total, your "personal brand" - because that's the sum total of YOU. @Ike - Yep! @Jason - and a lot of folks are doing that quite effectively, though it is easier to do when you're on your own, or in a small creative shop. A bit harder to build and project a "3-D" personal brand when you're in some of the big companies (but Scott Monty, for instance, seems to be maintaining his bearings at Ford). @Paul @Nick - I was really helped in the process by the Gallup "Strengths" books. The on-line strengths profile was dead-on - a good place to start. @Neil - always in these cases, we run into semantics - how a term has been used in various ways shapes how we react. On my part, I don't see a personal brand as a work uniform, but something much more reflective of the entire person, in all spheres.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Interesting though confusing... To me, while work and play sometimes overlap, when I am not working (displaying my personal brand) I am sitting at a jazz club watching jazz or having dinner with friends am I?

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    To clarify what I meant above: isn't personal brand specific to the work environment? By that I mean everything to do with work. Now, that would be distinct from who you are on a Friday night just relaxing wouldn't it? Or is the idea that your brand is who you are all the time? Not that you are a different person while working but I would think you would have a different focus when soaking up some rays on the beach versus adding value in business or organization work. What am I missing here on what personal brand means?

  • by Daria Steigman Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    Hi Steve, I think we should be talking about reputation and not personal brand. I'd argue that they should ideally be the same thing, but personal branding has somehow gotten a reputation akin to Bob Dole talking about himself in the third person. But it seems pretty clear that understanding your value added and being authentic online and off is critical to being seen in a good light. Call that reputation, personal brand, or something else -- just strive to have people speak of you favorably. Because when that's gone, you're done. Best, Daria

  • by Alan Wolk Tue Nov 18, 2008 via blog

    The whole notion of "personal brand" -- and subsequent incorrect usage comes from a subset of independent consultants who can't see beyond their little world. It works for them. Their "brand" is another word for "self-promotion" and they've taken a page straight from Hollywood without acknowledging it (I mean isn't Paris Hilton the ultimate "personal brand"- famous for doing nothing?) I like your definition of personal brand much better.

  • by Luke Harvey-Palmer Wed Nov 19, 2008 via blog

    All, some great conversation here, but I would like to add that in our work at buzzle (my business) we work on uncovering and developing a personal brand around four elements 1. INTELLECTUAL (what you know, education, experience, ideas etc) 2. PRINCIPLE (integrity, principles, honesty, speak your mind etc) 3. PHYSICAL (appearance, language, network etc) 4. PRACTICAL (work style, achievements, how you get things done). If you look at a brand like this, then I believe it helps to answer some of these questions presented here. Once you are clear on how these elements are perceived by your target audience, and what you can do to strengthen these elements, then communicating and strengthening your brand can begin!

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Nov 19, 2008 via blog

    Perhaps personal brand is something like this: reputation + value add = personal brand Your reputation would be things like honesty, integrity, a propensity to follow-through, be on time, and so on. Essentially, in your off work time, your reputation would be more important, whereas your reputation + your value add would *both* be important in your work. Presumably, your value add is somewhat irrelevant in the personal context insofar as we separate our work and personal lives. Of course, they overlap and having drinks with a colleague or client you might switch back and forth between work and non-work topics. When discussing something about which you are expert, your value add matters then. Or if you ask the right questions to elicit a productive discussion, then you also are bringing your value add to bear by engaging in a synergistic conversation with someone who knows more than you about certain things.

  • by Dean Holland Thu Nov 20, 2008 via blog

    Hi, I have to say I totally agree with what you have said in this post. I believe honesty will have the long term success over any kind of 'disguise' online As an added point when you work so damn hard to get your online business to a successful level why would you not want the personal recognition for your achievements ?! My online business is in its very early stages and has started with my blog. However after just 4 weeks I just made my first sale yesterday and have bank several hundred dollars. Something I am proud of and I most certainly want my customers / blog visitors to know who I am and what I have achieved. Not in a smug way but I want people to really relate to me as a real person. Thats how I see long term relationships developing. I just managed to also get a spot in Alex Jeffrey's coachig program so I hope to go bigger and better. Thanks for all this great information, I will be sure to pay regular visits Dean

  • by Jay Ehret Sun Nov 23, 2008 via blog

    Spot on, Steve. Branding, whether personal or business, is not about trying to be something you think people want. Branding is about finding that uniquely you value.

  • by Steve Woodruff Mon Nov 24, 2008 via blog

    Thanks, all of you, for contributing to the discussion. I'd like to suggest that reputation is intimately tied to one's "personal brand," as it encompasses what everyone currently thinks about you. The distinction I think I'd make is that we actively project a personal brand (which, hopefully, is in line with our reputation). @neil, I do try to draw the distinction between our "professional" value-add, and our "community" value-add. Both represent who we are, but of course we may project ourselves (our brand) more aggressively in the professional realm. In the non-professional realm, it's just us being us. But I'd hold that even in that realm, we occupy a "brand position" in the minds of people (reputation + role + perceived value) even if we wouldn't want to use that term.

  • by Abhishek Roy Mon Nov 24, 2008 via blog

    I agree that from the help of your friend you can devlop your brand personality.There are also some tachnique which will help you in this matter. with the help of SWOT Analysis or Johari Window Analysis you can know about your self more, because self analysis is best if you do it without bias. From the help of SWOT Analysis you know your strength, weakness, opportunity & threat, and from Johari Window you will know what is your open, close, hidden & your blind area. After that analysis you will know your strange & power which will help you in devlopment of your brand image and reputation.

  • by Louisa Mon Nov 24, 2008 via blog

    I work as a recruiter in Boston for Hollister ( and have recently been doing a lot of research about personal branding for my clients. I think your advice is the best I've come across so far, thanks so much for passing it along!

  • by Steve Woodruff Tue Nov 25, 2008 via blog

    Thank you, Louisa and Abhishek!

  • by olivier blanchard Tue Nov 25, 2008 via blog

    Boiled down to its most basic level, a brand, personal or not, is a simple equation: purpose + value. Too many people looking to build a personal brand - especially online - focus on grabbing eyeballs and acquiring followers instead of actually providing value. It's an upside-down proposition when it comes to building a relevant (personal) brand. Great post, Steve.

  • by William Arruda Fri Dec 12, 2008 via blog

    I am so thrilled to see all this discussion and debate focused on personal branding. My full time job is helping people uncover and build their personal brands (my business, Reach was one of the first personal branding companies). Seeing this discussion validates what I hear when I am working with people in companies - there are as many thoughts about what personal branding is as there are people! My definition: your personal brand is your unique promise of value. - Unique because it separates you from your peers. Promise because it is authentic to you and you are committed to delivering it with everything you do. Value because it has value to your target audience - those people who need to know about you so you can achieve your goals. This definition resonates with the people I work with. Thanks for the lively discussion. I have truly enjoyed it! Best. William

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