Personal Branding: A Race that Misses the Forest for Trees? 

Note: Recognizing the nature of the post. I reached out to a few amazing friends of mine, who know a thing or two about building a brand online and were kind enough to share their opinions.

I hope their thoughts on the topic cancels out any biases I might have, giving a fresh, balanced take: Thank you Karthik, Mukil, and Kaushik for taking your time to share your perspectives on personal branding.


This could possibly be the most controversial post I have penned down; even as I just begin to write, I can see this going in only two ways: counterintuitive at best and condescending at worst.

Yet, I feel it is about time to vent out my frustrations on a buzzword that is insidiously creeping on the professional circles. 

What’s that word?

Personal branding – the LinkedIn equivalent of California gold rush. 

To set the tone and context, here’s what Wikipedia has to say on Personal Branding:

“Personal branding is the conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition, to ultimately advance their career…”

And this is where the snag is: somewhere along the way, the lengthy definition has become blurry to the point where the ultimate end goal has become an afterthought.

In the majority of the webinars I’ve attended in the last few weeks (Mostly around marketing), one overarching theme is, how one can get better at personal branding.

It often comes up in the dedicated Q&A sessions or at times through a deluge of messages on the chat window, even when the guest speaker is trying to ram home a completely different point. 

“How did you get good at personal branding”

“How do I start personal branding”

“How do I build a brand for myself”

“How do I create content that differentiates my brand”

“I got 6280 impressions on my last post. Am I getting closer to nailing Personal branding”. 

“I received only 37 comments on my post. Is something wrong with the #hashtag I am using?”

You get the picture. 

This is where I feel we are missing the forest for the trees big time. 

For most of us seeking to build a personal brand (including me), a moment of self-reflection: Is that really what we set out for? 

Amidst the frenzy and the fomo, we at times forget to ask the more important, relevant questions. 

Questions like: 

“What are the 3 things I should do every day for the next 90 days to go from a ‘good writer’ to a great writer?”

“How do I still get the motivation to go out and work on my website even on the bad days?”

“What are the design concepts I should be familiar with, as a product manager to improve my communication with the designers?”

If it looks like I am trying to tie down two seemingly unconnected points, let me explain.

Because the more I sit and reflect the more I realize how the whole premise of “Personal Branding” is built on preaching rather than learning.

And of course, that is only logical. Building a brand for ourselves means answering questions that make us look smart; not the other way around. 

So why would I waste my precious time and effort being a learner when I can take the road of being an expert (even on subjects I am severely underqualified) and score brownie points on the personal branding scorecard? 

Result?

LinkedIn feeds littered with #hashtag #unique #original #posts #you #already #saw #4times #thisweek

Posts that could have been a comment.

An elusive chase after the vanity metrics.

Mistaking engagements for endorsements.

All because the goalpost has moved from ‘Getting better at what I do, and helping others’ to ‘Projecting myself as an expert in a domain’.

If this pattern at all sounds familiar, perhaps we used (or continue) to see the same with “Growth Hacking” by companies – what was just a tool/ practise at some point lost its way, overtaking the goal itself.

Emphasizing on personal branding over the more important aspects of getting better at what you do is akin to  the virtual equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.  

Perhaps, one question you might have in mind at this point is if personal branding is such an awful thing to do, how did the Gary Vees and Jay Shettys and the Elon Musks of the world get to where they are?

This is what I meant earlier when I meant the line is blurring by the day – personal branding is definitely not bad or pointless.

None of those I’ve mentioned above wouldn’t have been as popular as they are now if it weren’t for their extraordinary personal brands that almost has a cult following; the problem is when we get confused with their social media behaviour with the goals and purposes. 

Gary Vee started off as a wine critic, and is now running a communications company that holds media properties and other technology companies.

Jay Shetty went the spiritual route and came back to share his experiences and is currently running  one of the most popular podcasts in the world.

Elon Musk and Steve Jobs bent the realms of possibility through entrepreneurship, innovation, and pure genius. 

I strongly suspect any of them went to bed or woke up with “Personal branding” being the #1 item on their to-do-list. 

The brands they have built are centered around their achievements with a small tweak – deliberate leaving out of the hundred other mundane things they do day in day out. 

But look closer; 

Because it is not about the engagements or connections.

It is the grind it took for them to get to where they are.

That hard grind is where the real magic happens. 


Now onto what these smart individuals have to say on the topic:

Karthik Pasupathy on Personal Branding

The personal branding space has started to change. People have started to value one’s journey towards becoming an expert rather than following someone who is already an expert in the field. 

A majority of new age Twitter and Tech influencers have cracked this and have become quite successful. They start with a goal in mind and they slowly work towards achieving it over a set period of time, say a year or eighteen months.

And, along the way, they document everything they experience – success, failure, tips and tricks. The benefits of following such people is they don’t share high level gyaan on a domain, but offer a peek into the real problems and hurdles that stand in the way of becoming an expert in that field. 

This approach helps one build a strong personal brand and also delivers immense value to the followers. 

If you want to establish yourself as a content writer in the SaaS space, set yourself a goal. 

Let’s take an example: 

Tell the word that you’re going to write 1,00,000 words on SaaS over the next year. That is one hundred blog posts, 1000 words each. Start doing it without worrying about the likes, shares, and subscriber count. Along the way, document your journey on Twitter or Facebook or the social platform where you think your content would make more sense. 

By the end of the year, if you’ve even got 100 followers who’ve read 70-80% of all your posts, you would’ve created a loyal tribe of 100 people and also become a better writer. 

Personal branding takes a lot of effort. No doubts about it. But, make it a journey and keep it fun and engaging for you as well your followers. 

Check out Karthik’s weekly newsletter around everyday life incidents narrated with an artistic finesse. 

Kaushik Kannan on Personal Branding

Do you want to be heard? Do you want people to recognize you and your ideas to spread like wildfire?

What you need is a Personal Brand like our man Krishna said, my friend!

I like to define your personal brand as the unfair advantage you have to crush your competition and stand out.

I’ll tell you my favourite part about building your personal brand. it shows how – ‘Anybody can become a Somebody!’ ✨

All you need is the passion and the steps that Krishna has laid out for us here and you’re well on your way to building your Personal Brand. 

It can be incredibly powerful as it changes everything inbound. 

Inbound? Offers come searching knocking at your door.

You don’t have to go behind them anymore.

Wait, you’re still reading? 

Why aren’t you out there building a brand that lasts?

Let’s Set The Vibe. Let’s Spread Positivity wherever we go!

Check out Kaushik’s views around storytelling, community building, and networking.

Mukil Ganesan on Personal Branding

In recent times, with the soaring popularity and the DAUs of social platforms, the very idea of personal branding is buried deep within the number of likes, comments, reshares, and tags. 

As Krishna already mentioned in the start of this post, the original definition of personal branding focuses on getting better at your career and having a large impact on people in your network.

In my perspective, it all drains down to two questions – 

Who am I without social media or a digital footprint?

What value am I going to deliver to my network?

You might have more than a thousand followers on a social platform; you might have a website, a flashy Instagram profile – but, in my honest opinion, nothing matters until you are a subject matter expert in your field and a professional who is open to help out the people in your network.

It would be best if you focus your efforts on becoming a better professional rather than counting the social shares and likes. 

Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Phil Knight, and other veterans organically built their personal and professional ‘brand’ with their products, with the value they brought to the people and the world economy. I’m not saying that you need to be an Elon Musk to build a brand – but, (yes, I’m repeating it again) you need to primarily focus on becoming a better professional. 

Someone trying to build a personal band after graduating straight out of college, with minimal experience, is like jumping into a well without knowing the depth of it. 

You can’t fool professionals with poor content. The social attention would be intoxicating. There are chances for you to ruin someone’s career or thought process by giving irrelevant information. 

I’ve been a freelancer throughout my college life, and I got into the SaaS industry in 2016. It’s been almost ten years, and the network that I’ve built over multiple conversations and discussions are closely acquainted with me. 

My network automatically started to grow when I was sharing valuable content based on my experiences. 

Of course, this took years of effort in learning, failing, experimenting, and disappointments. That gave me the confidence to openly give my suggestions to someone who was looking for assistance in my domain. I’m not bragging here. The whole point is, it took years of learning to make a top-notch professional listen to my ideas and suggestions. 

Most of them who’s lured by the idea of a personal brand today don’t even know why they need it in the first place.

Personal branding has various intentions – 

  1. To position someone within the industry as an expert
  2. To leverage branding for running their business (consultancy, services, etc.) 
  3. To make some good money by running side gigs

I have known people who have started with 1 -> moved to 2 -> and then started with 3. This process is healthy and rewarding. 

On the other hand, lately, I’m seeing a lot of ‘gurus’ ‘ninjas’ ‘hackers’ running their own gigs with limited knowledge in their domain. And, misnformed people are being taken advantage of, paying money to consume the content that’s already available on long-form blog posts in a bid to build a successful brand the easy way.

To conclude, my opinion is, once you become an expert and start giving it back to your community, your ‘brand’ automatically starts improving. I urge you to invest a lot of time in learning and failing in your domain.

A personal brand is just an identity. You already have one. It’s okay to have a digital footprint but don’t get obsessed and lost over the dopamine rush you get from those activities. Be humble, learn a lot, and keep giving it back to the community. You’ll build a remarkable identity.

There’s this favorite quote that I always try to apply in my day-to-day life.

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” – Rainer Maria Rilke 

Just keep going. 

Check out more of Mukil’s thoughts around SaaS, marketing, and growth. 


Would love to hear our thoughts on this! 

Drop a message to any of us on LinkedIn and we’ll continue the discussion 🙂

P.S: If you want to hear more from me, follow my uber-cool LinkedIn hashtag #prokristinator 


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