Why Authenticity is Critical to Cultivating a Personal Brand

In the world of professional services, we, as service providers, are the product that customers are buying

In two recent posts, I discussed the importance of having a personal brand at professional services firms, as well as the three phases of evolution that individuals follow in building their personal brand.

The concept of a personal brand is not without its detractors, however. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, for example, has argued personal branding is an overblown craze and that people shouldn’t do it. According to Sandberg, “People are not that simple. We’re not packaged. And when we are packaged, we are ineffective and inauthentic.”

Implicit in this statement is that anything branded or packaged is inauthentic. As a marketer, I reject that notion. Before joining Guidehouse, I spent two decades at Leo Burnett and two branding agencies. I saw firsthand that the best marketing illuminates the authentic product elements with appeal to the customer. As ad agency McCann lays out in its credo, effective branding is “truth well told.”

Sandberg is right, however; people are not simple. We are complex and multifaceted individuals, with talents and interests that extend far beyond what is required of us in the workplace. But, just because we are complex doesn’t mean that we can’t have a brand.

In the world of professional services, we, as service providers, are the product that customers are buying. So if products can (and should) have brands, then why not an individual who provides a service? Like any good brand, your personal brand must be relevant, compelling, and differentiated from the competition.

A great personal brand is one that is authentic and intrinsically connected to who you are as a person. It magnifies your talents and knowledge in a way that makes them appealing to a specific audience — in this case, your coworkers, clients, and extended network.

But a personal brand can become inauthentic if there isn’t a thoughtful, honest approach underpinning it. Your personal brand starts and ends with telling a genuine story about you — your capabilities, your expertise, and your experience. By contrast, people who try to concoct a personal brand that isn’t rooted in reality or who choose to “fake it ‘til they make it” will find that their efforts have the reverse effect, serving to confuse or disappoint their audience.

Above all, cultivating a personal brand (as with a company or product brand) requires consistency. And just as effective marketing requires repetition in order to make a lasting impression, employees who seek to establish a personal brand should be prepared to make a sustained effort that clearly communicates their distinctive traits. Are you consistent in how you interact with clients versus coworkers? Is your personal value proposition clear in how you conduct yourself and communicate? When you start from a place of authenticity, it’s that much easier to be consistent and remain true to yourself.

Many of today’s products stress their origins, their providence, or their honest, natural, and organic ingredients. Likewise, an individual’s brand must be authentic, not manufactured. Tell the story of who you are and what you do. Tell it truthfully, artfully, and simply — and you will be rewarded.

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