Personal branding happens in many ways and many places. It is a dynamic process that you start and maintain, but never completely walk away from. Every time you post something online, go to work, or make a professional appearance at a conference, how you present yourself has an impact on your personal brand.
Because your clothes, business cards and social media profiles play a big role in making a first impression, speakers and experts often refer to personal branding as “self-packaging.” Even Wikipedia, the default definition engine for much of the Internet world, resorts to this phrase:
“Personal branding is… a description of the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands. It has been noted that while previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.” [emphasis added]
There are a few problems with thinking of personal branding as “self-packaging.” At first glance this definition sounds true enough, but there’s something a bit off about the word “packaging.” Packaging is static. Packaging often goes on an entire line of equally static products that are intended to look the same. Packaging gets taken off of a product and tossed in the waste bin, never to be used again.
We are people, not products, and people don’t come in packages. People are not static, have individual value and personality, and we don’t toss part of ourselves in the waste bin upon entering a room. People are a lot more dynamic than something that sits on a shelf. People have conversations, interact with other people, and change and grow everyday.
The Wikipedia entry does get closer to the truth as it continues:
“Further defined as the creation of an asset that pertains to a particular person or individual; this includes but is not limited to the body, clothing, appearance and knowledge contained within, leading to an indelible impression that is uniquely distinguishable.”
Personal branding is about personal presentation in all its many forms, not just the packaging. Yes, business cards, blog posts and suits can be part of personal branding, but no more or less than phone calls, business lunches and speaking gigs.
Self-presentation is about taking that essence of what sets you apart from the crowd and figuring out how to convey it every step along the way. When you think about what to wear as part of your personal brand, present your essence. When you think about how to design your business card, your blog, or your social media profiles, think about how to present what you are about, not put it in a package. And when you think about what to lead with or emphasize at the next meeting, interview or conference, think about the presentation as a whole, not just the package you arrive in or wrap it up with afterward.
Self-packaging is the shell of who you are in general. Self-presentation as a personal branding avenue is a dynamic, day-to-day chance to consistently and continually re-enforce the essence of what makes you stand out.
While both of these concepts play a role in the definition and act of personal branding, there is a key difference that will make your understanding and practice more effective.