Personal Branding–Whatever you do, don’t do this

photo credit: bob jagendorf
photo credit: bob jagendorf

by Amanda Cleary Eastep

Remember when your mother told you not to get that tattoo of Tigger on your upper arm? Remember when she said it would make you look like a wimpy biker?

And then it did? Personal branding gone wrong is kinda like that.

What is the right kind? Well, there are great articles out there that will explain it to you. I can tell you what NOT to do. How do I know? Ask my mother…

To start, what is personal branding? (My husband assures me the back tattoo does not count.)
It’s believed that the term was first used by business author Tom Peters in a 1997 article called The Brand Called You.” 

“Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

All this “me” talk might make us a little uncomfortable (or at least feeling the need to pretend we’re uncomfortable). But as business professionals, personal branding is one of those occupational hazards that we can’t ignore. Well, we can, but just like getting the Tigger tattoo, it’s a bad idea.

But–you might protest, as a less experienced I once did–if you’re continually concerned with your personal brand, can you ever truly be yourself?

The answer is no. But we aren’t truly ourselves anyway…until we are tested by extreme circumstances…like drinking too many margaritas on a pontoon boat floating down the Menominee River at midnight and responding with a boisterous rendition of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

So, read the great “how to” articles out there about personal branding, then make sure to avoid the following when marketing “the brand called You.”

Thanks for your business, Sweetie Honeychild Darlin’

Unless you work at the Wal-mart in my husband’s hometown in Kentucky, don’t use terms of endearment with customers or co-workers. Save the “baby” for your:
1. baby
2. significant other
3. small, fuzzy pet

You think this is obvious, huh, Babe? Well, it can happen completely by accident. So what do you do after you blurt “Bye, Sweetie, love you”…not to your kids but to a fellow professional? If you’re like me and are looking that person in the face when it slips, you smile and hope he feels especially appreciated.

Tootsie Roll–it’s a candy and a dance, but not business casual

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Ah, sage advice from my very professional and well-briefcased fellow writer Melanie. Looking down at your favorite Tootsie Roll t-shirt, jeans and hiking boots, you one day realize that you could easily be mistaken for a camp counselor. Does that mean you want to be a camp counselor?

No, but NOT “dressing for success” may mean you need a makeover and that you don’t aspire to reach the next rung on the corporate ladder. If, however, you’re the guy who lugs the corporate ladder from office to office and your shirt has your name embroidered over the left pocket, then you’re dressed appropriately.

Really love your peaches…but not your taste in music

The music we listen to can say a lot about us. That’s why you should wear headphones at work. Because this could very possibly almost certainly definitely happen: The former college president you interviewed over the phone decides to come to your office one day to meet you in person. Said distinguished and well-dressed gentleman is accompanied by the current college president and appears at your desk at the exact moment the Steve Miller Band  loudly croons “really love your peaches wanna shake your tree-ee-ee.”

At this point, you will smile sheepishly and only half stand to shake his hand because you simultaneously realize the ripped jeans you define as Friday casual will only accentuate the inappropriateness of your Tootsie Roll t-shirt.

Your career is too young to buy the farm

Your private obsession with milking sheep and taking free range chickens for their daily walks should remain private. The antics of Farmville gamers on social media platforms such as Facebook do not appeal to current or potential clients, so keeping your personal page separate from your business page is a stellar idea. The same can be said for personal blogs that you decide should automatically post to your LinkedIn profile.

You are well aware that anything you post online has the potential of being seen or read by more people than your mother and one very proud fifth grade language arts teacher. When a well-meaning colleague points out that one of your blog posts has reared its ugly head in the LinkedIn news feed, your response apparently should not be “Cool, it worked.” Her shocked expression makes you realize that your personal brand could be in jeopardy. Respecting this person’s opinion immensely, you reluctantly disconnect your blog from LinkedIn, admitting that not everyone finds the humor in  10 Lessons You Didn’t Know You Learned from Barbie.

Below you will find a handy Don’t Do This personal branding checklist. I hope it helps you as much as it should be helping me.

1. All terms of endearment used up on the kids early this morning–CHECK

2. Dressed in crisp white blouse, maroon sweater, and respectably brown and boring dress slacks–CHECK

3. CD of nature sounds with unobtrusive and inoffensive background singers in briefcase–CHECK

4. New blog post banned from social media platforms–CHE–

So what personal branding no-no’s would you add to this list?

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