What’s the difference between Personal branding & Professional branding?

I did a mini-workshop/talk about personal branding to the Professional Women’s Association of Milan last fall. There were 50+ people there, which was a great turnout, but it made it hard to get a good discussion going among so many people, and I had hoped it would be more interactive.

A question kept popping up that I wanted to take a moment to better address:

What’s the difference between professional and personal branding?

This question took me aback for a second, because to me it was very obvious that there is no such concept as “professional branding.”

It became clear to me that there was a large percentage of the group present who still needed to understand and be convinced they needed a personal brand vs. the group I was expecting: people who were already sure they needed a personal brand and wanted to start working on it during the workshop.

The term “personal” was attached to branding because historically branding has been very commercial and company-based, and personal branding indicated this was not a company but rather based on the person themselves rather than a tangible or physical product or a corporation. It’s not easy to convince someone that they need a personal brand. Many people don’t understand the concept nor do they really want one.

But I have an uncomfortable answer for them: you already have a personal brand, whether you want it or not, and it’s probably not very good.

Your name is a personal brand whether or not you’re promoting it actively online or offline. It exists. It exists with the people who know you, with your past employers, with friends, family, and their acquaintances, too. When someone mentions you in conversation to someone else, they are expressing their understanding of your personal brand — what you do and what you’re passionate about.

So the question is not whether or not to have a personal brand. You already have one.

The question is, what will you do with it? Will you allow it to be formed by others, or will you shape and grow that brand firsthand? Actively promoting and shaping your personal brand gives you an opportunity to tell people directly about your own story: what you’re interested in, what experiences you have, and what you’re working towards. You can share your passions, your goals, your aspirations, and how those all work together to make up the brand that is you.

LinkedIn has attempted to solve this for a lot of people by providing an online professional profile. This definitely reduces the guesswork in making a networking connection or introduction, but it focuses strongly on a chronological order which isn’t always the most effective way to present your personal brand. You’ve included what information you think is important in your profile and left out other information, and you’re already shaping how people will perceive you, but your personal brand is probably not measured best in years or past job titles.

Embracing personal branding is an opportunity for storytelling in the 1st person…about yourself.

I have many websites, including my hub site which encompasses my varied interests and projects. One of the first things I tell people asking me for advice about their small business or consulting company is to create a website. And not just for their business — which you may want to sell off someday — but perhaps you want to emphasize a different skillset or passion separate from your business on your personal site. Start telling your personal brand story.

What do you think about personal branding? Still need to be convinced? A believer?

For more on personal branding and really understanding what it is, here are a few articles to get you started – and I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

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Director of Product Marketing @ HubSpot. Early hire @ Automattic / WordPress.com. Founder World Nutella Day. MBA Alumni Advisory Board @ Santa Clara University.

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