Are You Good Enough to Be a Personal Brand?

Do human brands exist? If you are a celebrity or famous are you a brand by default? Not necessarily, I am talking about humans having the same effect on customers as product and service brands. David Ogilvy was one of the first to describe a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” A brand is really the perception that is held in the mind of customers about your product’s quality and attributes based on factual (design, colour, experience, consistency) and emotional (values, promise, leader, passion) characteristics. Sometimes defining a product brand is like describing a person.


name-tag my brand


Is this a person or a brand? Clean-cut but trendy, easy-going and likes to have fun, loves music and photography, comes across as friendly, bright, cool and very simple to get to know. Did I describe you or Apple?


Brands have personalities, they possess character and they can stand for something.


Celebrity Brands


The difference when you’re famous or a celebrity is about reach and frequency – having a widespread reputation and awareness. Being a human brand is about making a connection with your customer that they own. Their connection isn’t about you, its more about what you give them. Some celebrities turn into brands by using their fame and uniqueness by consciously packaging their image into a brand. Good examples are Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton.




In 1976, Oprah worked in Baltimore as co-anchor of the six o’clock news (WJZ-TV). By 2000, Oprah Winfrey had built a multimillionaire empire as the producer and host of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ Through that show, she built and refined her distinctive personal brand. A brand that now includes a book club, magazine, charitable foundation, and multimedia businesses, which also includes the Oprah Winfrey Network.


Well you might think that Paris Hilton may not look very smart. She took her humble beginning as a hotel heiress and socialite at the age of 22 started to build a brand as a media personality, a model, a recording artist, a book author, and an actress. Today, Paris Hilton has a billion dollar business with her own line of clothing and perfumes.


Human Brands


Don’t confuse celebrities who endorse product brands or act as a spokesperson for brands as human brands, most are just famous people sharing their awareness and winning trait. A number of these people are very successful athletes like Tiger Woods (Nike), David Beckham (H&M underwear) and Serena Williams (Wilson & Gatorade). Be careful when you saddle-up your brand to a celebrity. Remember Lance Armstrong and Nike or O.J. Simpson and Hertz. Even Tiger Woods was problematic, with his personal antics off the golf course.




Another easy way to become a human brand is by being the founder of a very strong corporate brand, such as Donald Trump with the Trump Organization, Richard Branson with the Virgin Group and Hugh Hefner with Playboy Enterprises. All three have very distinct and memorable personalities. Each is a living image of their company brand and brand values. Each of them has carefully crafted their unique brand image. Donald Trump, the successful hard-nosed businessman and leading Republican nominee, with his controversial viewpoint and long batch of hair. The fun and risk-taking Richard Branson with his long blond locks of hair, casual attire (never with a tie), and headline making stories of his latest attempt to break a world-record. But the most iconic of the three has to be Hugh Hefner who lived the Playboy brand in the Playboy mansion – always in his signature silk pajamas, robe and pipe, and his messy bedroom hair.


Can you be a human brand without being a celebrity or an owner of a successful business? History would tell us, yes – such as: Jesus Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, William Shakespeare, Mozart and Beethoven. They changed history and took civilization to a new depth. For some of us this might be too aspirational to try to build a similar brand.


Sustained Presence


Powerful human brands generally have sustained a presence over time. The underlining commonality in all the human brand examples shared is their power to influence. As Tom Peters explains, “one of the things that attracts us to certain brands is the power they project. As a consumer, you want to associate with brands whose powerful presence creates a halo effect that rubs off on you.”


With the introduction of digital mass and social media tools we all have the ability to influence via the internet. All you have to do is build a brand following based on the same principals of building a product brand. What will define success will be your ability to give your audience something of value that they will want to own – not just once but over time.


Managing Your Identity and Perception


Branding is the process of managing identity and perception. If you want to build a personal brand you must form a memorable presence through your physical persona combined with your digital manifestation (a book would also help to define who you are or how you think or writing a blog or an article on LinkedIn isn’t a bad idea).


To help you get started, here are some questions you need to answer:

  • What does your brand stand for?
  • What is your unique promise?
  • What qualities do you want linked to your brand?
  • What value do you bring to your audience?
  • Are you always consistent?
  • Can you tie your brand to a product or service brand?
  • What does your brand look like?
  • A strong personal brand is dependent on a strong narrative. In other words, what’s your story?


Walk The Talk


Remember, a personal brand is all about who you are and what you want to be known for. You can engineer any brand image you want through time and resources but to connect to your audience you must live it. You must walk your talk every day. I know this sounds daunting but controlling your professional reputation makes good sense for all of us. Our online image is our digital biography.


So who are you? Are you good enough to be a brand?


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