Why You Must Produce Content to Build a Personal Brand


Recently I have noticed a growing backlash against the concept of Personal Branding. Several people on Twitter have rightly pointed out that (at least the way many people are practicing it) personal branding has become little more than snake oil salesmanship.

My first thoughts were that these critics were just uninformed. Personal branding, as I have been using it in this blog, is a good thing. It is a way to get the word out about one's skills and expertise.

I am a veteran of sending out lots of resumes and getting little or no response. I am also a veteran of feeling frustrated because I was very good at what I did, but felt I had no way to get the right people to know about me.

Finally, I am also a veteran of old-style techniques of marketing my services as a business person (I still have nightmares about making 200 cold calls a day). I knew there were people who needed my services, but was unable to be found by these potential clients.

Personal branding is the tool to let people who need your expertise find you.

One of the most life-changing books I've read in my life was Robert Bly's How to Become a Reccognized Authority In Your Field - In 60 Days or Less. Bly opened up a new world for me, a world that opened my eyes to the world of how to leverage your skills and become a widely-known expert.

The bottom line is that personal branding without expertise IS hype and IS deserving of the criticism I have been reading about.

Which leads me to my definition of personal branding:
Personal Branding is becoming a recognized expert in a certain niche by producing content that demonstrates knowledge and adds value.

I am not an advocate of Hollywood-style branding, in which someone seeks to become a celebrity simply by being a celebrity. I think of this as the "Paris Hilton method of personal branding."

I suspect this is where the backlash and criticism is coming from. The Hilton method is not, to my mind, really personal branding at all. There is no substance to this kind of name recognition.

In contrast, think of a politician you regard as someone who is a person of integrity and public service. (Try really hard, I'm sure you can think of someone you respect).

When you vote for someone in an election, you vote because of two things:

First you choose this person because of name recognition. This person has done something to get herself on your radar. So far, Paris Hilton meets this criteria, but I still wouldn't vote for her.

But second, and more importantly, you choose this person because you perceive this person to be the better person to deliver the results you desire. You regard this person as capable, knowledgeable, and good at her work.

It is this second factor that is missing from some efforts to establish personal brands.

So how do you establish this perception of expertise? My answer is to produce content. Content - whether in the form of a blog, a book, podcasts, speeches, public presentations, teleseminars, or videos - establishes a person as knowledgeable within a field.

If you want to establish a real personal brand, do so by producing information that solves your audience's problems, helps them achieve their goals, educates them, and helps them make better decisions.


In the world of social media, few people have achieved more celebrity and more of a personal brand, than Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary began his video blog, Wine Library TV, in February 2006. Today he gets over 80,000 visitors a day.

Gary began his video blog because he didn't think he had the patience to stick with a written blog. Every episode showed Gary in his cluttered office in his family's wine store discussing a variety of topics about wine. He would do tastings and discuss which wines might go well with certain occasions.

These short videos propelled Gary into a major star. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and the New York Times. He is also a much sought after speaker for many business events.

But at the core of his celebrity is content. Gary has consistently built his personal brand upon information. He has created a huge body of work that you can find on a variety of platforms, both online and offline.

If you are starting out, I would suggest that you begin with a blog. Whether you choose a written blog, a video blog or an audio blog (podcast), produce content that will appeal to your audience and solve their problems.

Over time, you can spin and re-purpose your blog material into other forms of content, such as a book or public presentations.

And what if you are not already an expert in your field? Use your blog as a platform to learn more about your topic. As you write about it in small doses, you will find yourself reading, researching, talking with others, interviewing experts, and becoming an expert yourself.

So to the critics of personal branding, I would suggest that branding by producing quality content is a far better way to reach clients and employers than by sending out resumes or direct mail. It is a give-to-get philosophy that builds a brand by adding and creating value to the very people you want to reach.

Or would you rather go back to cold calling and mailing 10,000 resumes?

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4 comments:

November 16, 2009 at 10:56 AM Martin Buckland said...

Your definition of Personal Branding provides much needed clarity. And your "give to get" philosophy is great advice whether networking, implementing a job search strategy or creating a personal brand.

November 18, 2009 at 4:10 PM Charles Brown said...

Thank you Martin. I think a lot of people are trying to "brand themselves" without understanding this core concept.

The result, unfortunately, is an empty claim to being good at one's work without the proof. At worst, the person can come off looking like a phony (just the opposite of the message the person wanted to get across).

January 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM Rich Pizzuti said...

Amen to that! I'm in a creative field and there is this seeming necessity to brag about your latest achievement on twitter or FB. I've caught myself more than a few times and refrain from picking up the proverbial mega-phone, because from a fresh perspective you look like a jackxxx when you do that.
Thanks for this post

January 16, 2010 at 1:03 PM Charles Brown said...

Great point Rich. It is alright to let people know about yourself and your work, but you have to back it up with content.

CB