It’s Time to Forget About Personal Branding

Ah personal branding, it’s the thing that everyone’s trying to do right now. You’ve been told by all those in the know that you have to do it, that you have to differentiate yourself, that you have to show your audience who you are and engage with them. They want to know what makes you tick, they want to know who you are behind the scenes and they want to feel like a part of what you’re building.

I call bullshit.

Personal branding is yet another piece of flawed conventional wisdom in the online world. It holds true for a precious few people, and is a distraction for everyone else. 99% of the people trying to build a personal brand right now are putting the cart before the horse — they’re doing the online equivalent of starting a business by designing logos, ordering business cards, building websites, all before they have any kind of plan or product to sell. You’re doing nothing more than spinning your wheels and making yourself feel good about doing something that is ultimately nothing more than a waste of time.

Now don’t get me wrong, personal branding works and is important for a rare few. Names that come to mind are Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi. They all have very distinct and unique personalities that are a part of why their audience sticks around. They are all trying to appeal to a certain demographic. And most importantly, they have something of quality that they are trying to sell. I’ll say it again: they all have something they want to sell, something that they have put significant time, research and effort into building. It’s not some bullshit course they cooked up overnight in a field they had no expertise in. The personal brand came after the product, not before.

My question for those of you trying to build your own personal brand is, what are you offering? No one cares about your bullshit “I was sleeping on my friends couch with no money to my name, before I dragged myself out and became a millionaire, and you can do it too”. That horse has been flogged so badly it’s nothing more than dust. We don’t need another Eric Thomas, another Lewis Howes, another Derek Halpern, another Tai Lopez.

The problem with personal branding is one of ego. We’d love to believe that our fans care about us. We’d love to believe that they want to know what makes us tick, that they want to be a part of our lives, that they think we’re a great guy or gal and they’re hanging on our every word. It’s nothing more than delusion and a desire to be validated.

It makes me think of my favourite writers who lived before the age of social media and the Internet: Steinbeck, Yates, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald. Most of all I think of Hemingway. Here was a guy that lived an amazingly interesting life. He traveled the world, went to war, had tumultuous relationships. He was everything that the average person of the time wasn’t. Does anyone believe that people read his work just because they liked the idea of who he was, because they felt they could live vicariously through him? Maybe a few did, but the fact is that if his writing was poor no one would have given a flying shit how great or interesting Ernest Hemingway’s life was. No one wants to read a piss poor book, no matter how interesting a person the author might be.

And there’s the crux of it. Forget all this horseshit that you want to help people achieve greatness, forget about changing the world, forget about your image, people only care about the quality of your product and whether it entertains or is useful to them. It doesn’t matter if your product is your writing, photography, an app or a Youtube series — if it isn’t good, people don’t care about your personal brand. People don’t care if you don’t reply to their comments, and they don’t care if you engage with them.

People. Don’t. Care. About. You.

The other thing is, this personal brand you’re building that you think is so unique, is more than likely so vanilla that vanilla ice cream looks at it and says “Jesus, you’re white bread”. The online world has become an echo chamber, where everyone is so busy congratulating themselves on being unique because they rejected the cubicle lifestyle that they’ve failed to notice they’re doing the same damn thing as every other wannabe who is trying to build a personal brand online. It’s always the same story, the same M.O., the same script.

The people that build the best personal brands are the ones that aren’t even trying to. Richard Dawkins isn’t known worldwide as that pain in the ass atheist guy because he set out to build such a reputation, it happened because he has strong opinions based on decades of work and he wasn’t afraid to put them out there. He polarises people because he knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Compare that to the army of brand builders online right now with their lukewarm, everyone’s gotta like me and look up to me image.

One is black sesame ice cream — a flavour that turns a heap of people off, but has others coming back for it again and again because they can’t get enough. The other (to belabor the point) is vanilla ice cream. It doesn’t matter that you try to dress it up by calling it French vanilla, Madagascan vanilla, Peruvian vanilla, Siberian vanilla,

IT’S ALL FUCKING VANILLA.

And the thing we all know about vanilla, is that you only go for it when there is nothing better around.

None of my readers over at observer.com or here likely know anything about me or give the slightest shit about who I am, what I do or what makes me tick. All they care about is have I given them something interesting to read. If I haven’t, their clicks and attention go elsewhere. That’s all they care about with you too.

So quit trying to build a personal brand. Build something that captures people’s attention and interest, the rest will take care of itself.