03.07.20168 min read

Pitfalls of Personal Branding: 5 Signs of Trouble

by Sally Hogshead 

Sure a personal brand can boost your reputation, help you spread a message, build relationships, and grow your business. BUT… not always.

A personal brand can also work against you. In fact, if not done right it can damage people’s perception of you.

For the first half of my career, I was a copywriter in advertising and wrote ads for some of the world’s greatest brands. I saw the power of branding to help a brand become more loved and admired. Yet I learned a very important lesson:

Not all branding is created equal. 

A generic or half-hearted brand can turn people off and make them less likely to return for more. You need to unlearn boring.

As a girl, I had sister who held a record in The Guinness Book of World Records and an Ivy League brother. How could I stand out and make my parents proud? Well, I decided that dance would be the thing that allowed me to define myself away from the overcrowded trophy mantel of sports and academics. So, I took dance lessons and learned pirouettes and jazz hands, grapevines, and old classic tap maneuvers like the “shuffle to buffalo.” My dance teacher told me I was not the best dancer, but that I had a certain spark. She gave me a solo in the dance recital and I was ecstatic! I practiced day and night. Finally, I get to be good at something. On opening night I stood backstage, watching my teacher intently, awaiting my cue. The music began. I was ready. As I was about to prance onstage, my dance teacher whispered into my ear, “Just don’t forget the steps.”

You can probably guess what happened next. I stood onstage, paralyzed. Seconds ticked by, each more excruciating than the last. The spotlight had seemed so luminous a moment before, but now it burned me with its circle. I’d let everyone down. I never took another dance lesson. Ever. It was in this moment that I learned to be boring. 

The world doesn’t need another personal brand to roll off the assembly line. The world needs YOU. 

So the next time you think: Hrmm, that conversation didn’t go the way I expected, it might be time to take a look at your personal brand in the preverbal mirror. Your personal brand might be on the fritz if …

1. It’s too “basic” … er, I mean generic

Most personal branding techniques give generic tips about how to make an impression. Yet the whole point is to stand out and rise above the competition with authentic traits. Ironic, no?  

You can’t stand out by presenting yourself the same way everyone else does. Avoid following one-size-fits-all techniques, or else you’re just blending in with everyone else. Think through: Who am I as a professional? What are my best skills? What are the qualities others compliment? Leverage the gifts you already possess.

2. You’re faking it ‘til you make it … (stop that)

Do you sense others feel like they’re talking to a cardboard cut-out when you’re engaging in conversation? Are you focusing so much on the other person (your customer, your client, your manager) that you’re losing your personal swagger?  

Don’t focus so much on what you think someone wants that you lose who you actually are. 

You do YOU! 

Identify who you are at your best and the advantages that highlight your greatest value. You can discover your primary Advantage by taking the Fascination Advantage Report & Assessment. Build your brand around those core qualities, and you’ll never feel like a manufactured persona again.

Most personality assessments tell you how you see the world; only one measures how the world sees you.

The Fascination Advantage is the first marketing-based personality assessment. Answer just 28 questions and you’ll find out how others perceive you. The test, which I created based on the results of 600,000 participants, will reveal the very best of how the world sees you.

3. You equate “personal branding” with the same old song and dance

Your personal brand is NOT the same thing as your marketing or resume. It’s not your business card, or your blog, or the color of your website. See above sign: it’s not artificially manufactured.  

Your personal brand should come from within—from your personality. It’s a living, breathing part of you. What you do should be in alignment with who you are.

4. Your personal brand is on a fast train tonowhere

Basic personal branding is a good start to a career. But after a certain point, you outgrow where you started. The basics become too basic. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

As your income rises, so should people’s perception of your brand. Think through:Are my social media profiles consistent from start to finish? 

Hint: Does that picture you took five years ago still really look like you?! Let’s be honest, probably not. 

Am I authentic both on and offline? Do I make a good impression and tell people who I am—not what I do—in the first 30 seconds of a conversation? 

5. Your personal is made of contradictory road signs—it needs a stop sign

It’s easy to think you should change your voice and mindset to match different situations.

Here’s the problem: That makes you seem inauthentic.

Don’t be one person on LinkedIn and a whole different person in a live conversation. People want a clear, consistent sense of who you are. We want to trust that you’ll be the same person today and tomorrow.

Be more YOU

Everything falls into place when you have a clear focal point for your communication. You can stop struggling and start doing more of what you’re already doing right.

David Ogilvy, one of the smartest branding minds in history, said this: "Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating.”

When you know the truth of who you are at your best, you can be both authentic and fascinating.

The people in your life don’t want the plastic version of you; they want the realyou.

Give us the YOU who has ideas and opinions and quirks. Give us the YOU who is different and magnificent and one-of-a-kind. We’ll love you for it.

To become more successful, you don’t have to change who you are - you have to become more of who you are.  After a decade as one of the world’s most award-winning copywriters for brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola, Sally began researching personal brands. Today, she’s measured personal brands of 600,000 people around the world. Her latest book, How the World Sees You, became aNew York Times bestseller. Sally is one of only 200 professional speakers in the world to be inducted into the Speaking Hall of Fame.


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