Make More Happen

Does Personal Branding Really Help Your Business?

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360 Conference in Long Beach, Calif. on Nov. 16. Secure Your Seat »

There’s a ridiculous amount of confusion about personal branding, especially among entrepreneurs. They don’t know how much time and resources they should spend developing and promoting it. They’re not exactly sure how to leverage it or how it fits into their business. I’m not even sure they know what it is.

Well guess what? If you’re confused about personal branding, you’re one of the smart ones. It’s actually an amorphous concept fabricated by opportunistic Gen Y personal branding “gurus” out to sell books and consulting services. It’s more or less a waste of time – precious time you can’t afford to waste.

In case you’re wondering, the fad took off because it appeals to the narcissist in all of us. The notion that millions of people are interested in who we are, the lives we lead and what we have to say is hard to resist. But the critical thinkers among you are beginning to wake up and wonder if personal branding actually helps their business.

It’s a very good question. And since I actually ran marketing for a number of successful public companies, I can tell you the short answer is no, it doesn’t. And contrary to what all those self-proclaimed gurus say, you should focus on developing and promoting your products and services, not you.

You are not a product.  

The simplest way to explain this is to consider corporate branding – you know, the real deal. A corporate brand reputation is essentially the sum total of all the experience customers have with a company, its products and services. That creates value.

Related: How to Deal With Self-Doubt

Forbes names Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, IBM and Google as the five most valuable brands in the world, in descending order. They actually quantify it. For example, Apple’s brand value is $104.3 billion. It’s just a number, but it’s a very big number and I’ll tell you why. Customers love Apple’s products and services.

That’s why Apple’s brand is so valuable. It doesn’t necessarily mean the company makes “better” products than anyone else. It does, but that’s not the point. The point is Apple’s customers prefer its products and services, are willing to pay more for them, and are intensely loyal to the brand. Simple as that.

Sure, Apple does have this sort of clean, simple, iconic identity that is consistent with its products and services. But make no mistake: if its products and services ever stopped living up to the promise of providing a superior customer experience and value, its existing brand loyalty could only sustain it for so long. In time, it would lose its stellar reputation, brand value and market share. And that would be that. Such is the fate of companies and products in competitive markets.

It’s exactly the same with you and your business. Customers may pay for a service you provide or a product you develop, but trust me, they’re not paying for who you are. They’re paying for what you do. And, yes, there is a world of difference. Customers pay for what you do for them and how you help them and their business. No more, no less.

Related: How Alibaba's Jack Ma Became the Richest Man in China

Putting lipstick on a snake.

Of course customer relationships matter. So does your reputation. They matter a lot. But that’s nothing new. It’s been that way since the snake sold Eve on the whole “take a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge” thing. You know the snake’s brand wasn’t worth dirt in the Garden of Eden after that because it sold Eve a bill of goods.

Likewise, your customers would feel exactly the same way about you if you fail to deliver the goods they’ve come to expect from you. And there’s no amount of blogging, tweeting or linking that would change that. You can dress up your online persona all you like – you’ll just be putting lipstick on a snake.  

Growing up in New York I had a friend who had a plaque on his wall that said, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull$#!*.” You know the guy never amounted to anything, unless you count being a raging narcissist. If that’s how you want to make a living, be my guest. Plenty do. There’s no shortage of snakes and snake oil salespeople out there, that’s for sure.

But serious entrepreneurs and small business owners focus on developing and marketing their products and services, not themselves. That’s what your customers are paying for. And if you don’t consistently deliver the goods, I’m sure your many competitors will be more than happy to take your place.

Related: Doing Two Things? That’s One Too Many.