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3 Ways to Overcome Resistance to Personal Branding

The right mindset to personal branding can increase your impact.

Source: SplitShire

In a 1997 article "The Brand Called You", Tom Peters laid out a kind of manifesto about the potential for personal branding.

"Starting today," Peters wrote, "you are a brand." The article set the tone and influenced much of what we know as personal branding. Your personal brand is the total set of associations - emotional and intellectual - that people have with you. Whether you work for yourself or within a company, you already have a brand because people already have these largely unconscious associations with you. The question that Peters raises is, “Are you branding yourself intentionally?”

The idea of personal branding was repellent to groups of professionals, executives, and creatives. The notion of drawing too much attention to yourself or your accomplishments might feel gauche and egotistical. Better to downplay everything than risk being judged.

If you've already put yourself out there and have tested your marketing and content marketing chops as well as your social media skills and you have a super-charged website, you might feel as if you've sort of over-reached how you put yourself out there and made everything about you. Professionals and executives also rightly worry about publicizing private information.

Yet it’s a vital misconception to equate personal branding to being self-centered or airing dirty laundry. Several examples and studies point to a different trend: Executives, professionals, and creatives can develop personal brands based on integrity and authenticity - not on self-centered self-promotion.

In many ways, the use of authenticity as a positioning device has long been recognized as resonating with consumers of both goods and services.

Even if two social actors behave in similar ways, the authentic set of behaviors are those that are believed to reflect the actor's true self, not simulated to achieve a particular effect. (Grayson and Martinec, 2004)

In fact, some researchers have said that “the search for authenticity is one of the cornerstones of contemporary marketing” (Brown et al., 2003).

So how do you manage to access this authenticity from a perspective of personal branding, without feeling as though you’re straying from your integrity?

Get Curious About Your Deeper Motivation

Find your burning motivation borne from your or your business’s heritage and experience. Find the idea you cannot help but pursue over the next three years or more. You have to know what’s jazzing you about developing a brand or book or business.

Get curious about your deeper intention and drive. To earn $200k or to build another $3 million in revenue doing what you love is not an intention. It’s a goal. A worthy goal, mind you, but still a goal.

Instead, examine what excites you about your work or the potential impact of your work on the world. Examine why it is that developing a brand or authoring a book and expanding your platform could make a difference in other people’s lives. By exploring not simply your passion for your work but the impact your work could have, you’ll tap into a core motivation for developing your personal brand.

The idea of core motivations and purpose has been widely considered as a more psychologically impactful approach. A 2016 study in the Journal of Economic Psychology found that working in non-profit organizations has been shown to be good for individuals’ satisfaction with their jobs despite lower incomes.

Detailed data collected from 1996 to 2008 as part of the British Household Panel Survey, analyzed answers from 12,786 people who were employed in private firms, and 966 people who were employed in non-profit organizations, and found conclusive results:

  • Working in a non-profit organization increases job satisfaction for BHPS sample.
  • It is also beneficial for life satisfaction.
  • The positive effect is uniform along the well-being distribution.
  • A for-profit worker would have to earn an estimated extra $36,000 (£27,000 per year based on salaries between 1996 to 2008) to be as happy as a person working similar hours for a not-for-profit organization. (Binder, 2016)

Even if you don’t work for a non-profit organization, you can motivate yourself by doing work you care about. The research of Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer shows that people who perform work daily they truly care about report being more satisfied and fulfilled.

The conclusion? You can let your core motivations drive you to show up for your personal brand.

Share the Personable & Personal, not Private

Executives, managers, and CEOs often think they should hide their personal identity behind the company. Entrepreneurs, creatives, and solo-preneurs similarly think they should hide their personal preferences in order to appear more professional. Yet building a personal brand and company brand in the 21st century requires building relationships with your potential clients and customers - whether your following is ten or 10 million.

Self-disclosure has long been identified as one of the most effective ways of building a relationship with another person. A study performed by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the California Graduate School of Family Psychology, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Arizona State University, proved this under test conditions.

College students were paired off and told to spend 45 minutes getting to know each other - the first group was given the opportunity to use small talk, the second was given the opportunity to talk more deeply. At the end of the test, it was shown that real relationships were formed faster when there was more self-disclosure than small talk.

Think about a powerful CEO like Tim Cook of Apple. His Twitter feed is an excellent example of how you share the personal, without treading into the private. We know his affinity for sports and can get a feel for who he is, simply by what he chooses to self-disclose. But with nearly 11 million followers, he never strays into revealing the private.

Self-disclosure is also an excellent way to help build your community of readers or viewers. The best way to assert this is by making sure that your biographies and profiles are complete and personal - to you. Profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, G+ can be peppered with the personable so we get acquainted with the person behind the package or service, the program or product.

Let your motto always be: pepper, don’t douse.

Get the Balance Right

Striking the right balance is important because any idea for a business, book, start-up, or brand that comes from you–your convictions, your lived experience, your choice to pay attention to–is personal. If you don’t “do” art, make your sharing deeply held views and stances artful. Your shaped responses also become fodder for website copy, collateral, and interviews.

An angel investor wants to know why she has chosen this particular project out of any other to expend her finite time and resources advancing. Your clients and customers similarly want to know why you do what you do.

What’s your story? Why do you do what you do? What drives you? Why this?


Aron, A. , Aron, E. N., Melinat, E., Vallone, R., & Bator, RJ. (1997) The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 23, Issue 4, pp. 363 - 377