Personal vs Career Brands, it’s all in the Mindset

First, I need to set the context for this post, it’s mainly in regards to individuals in the workplace, not so much applicable to celebrities, musicians, or politicians.

While anyone who blogs or actively tweets is creating a brand around their persona, there are two fundamental approaches.  This trend is unavoidalbe as the brands of individuals are popping up, and they are sometimes supercededing that of the brand.  Yet, as you look deeper into branding of individuals, you’ll see there are two different kinds:

  1. The first approach is called a ‘personal’ brand, which focuses on that of the individual.  The ‘personal’ brand focuses on the individual, essentially focusing on ‘me’.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, it is fundamentally a different mindset from the second type.
  2. The second type of approach is what I call  a ‘career brand’.  The difference is simple.  This is a brand that’s focused on “what can you do for your clients or employer”, with a focus more on ‘we’.

It’s easy to spot the difference between the two brands, you can see it in the content, or in the the focus.  And employers are paying attention to this too. Some brands want to promote their employees to have personal or career brands, but at the same time, they’re fearful, as they now become an asset that can easily be ‘sucked’ right out to another firm.  The real question is this: can a companies business model support those types of brands?

I’m actively trying to focus on a career brand, and write for interactive and digital marketers at corporate. This blog is written by me, but for them.  Love to hear your feedback on this topic, which was a point of controversy during my speech in Hong Kong.

So in the end, there’s a place for both, I’m suggesting you be cognizant of which type is for you, and be deliberate as you foster either your personal or career brand.

42 Replies to “Personal vs Career Brands, it’s all in the Mindset”

  1. There's a distinct line between building a personal brand and building an online social media presence for a corporation. And what we have begun to see is that those skills are NOT transferable between the two … and that the personal tends to overtake the corporate.

    It's also a maturity issue. Too many people are building brands for themselves, and do not care about the paycheck. The two of us can name people we know in the Bay that have built brands for themselves, and done very little for the companies that have employed them.

    And, too often people are building their personal brands on the company dime.

  2. I am guilty of blurring my personal and professional brand. Both my blog and twitter account talk about “me” and also contribute to the professional crowd I'm trying to attract. Recently, I made a change and created a new blog ( to represent my professional brand (i.e. startups, asian community, etc.).

    Ideally I would have kept everything under one roof, but I post too much random stuff (i.e. photos, videos, etc.) that don't even pertain to people I would want to attract professionally.

  3. I feel like this post comes at a great time for me because I just made the deliberate decision to shift to working on a career brand from a personal brand in the last few days. Before this decision, I do not believe I thought about there being a distinction, but recently, I have realized that I can be much more effective at helping my company to expand its reach online, interact with constituents, etc if I work as a representative of that brand.

    For example, I now consider, and attempt to portray, myself as Eric Pratum from Grizzard rather than Eric Pratum the social media analytics guy (or whatever title might be appropriate), who oh yeah happens to work for Grizzard. I believe that my company's brand lends legitimacy to my brand in certain circles and vice versa in other. I do not think that would be the case if I tried to have a personal brand. It should also be said that it is likely important that your company empowers you to have your own brand. If not, you probably don't have a choice and have to choose personal.

    When employers look to hire, say, a star in marketing or engineering or whatever else, will they be more interested in hiring someone who has made a name for themselves on their own or a person who has made a name for themselves as part of a team, a business, etc? I think it will generally be the latter.

  4. I would agree with you. I believe that I previously worked on a personal brand for 2 reasons: 1) I did not realize there was another option, and 2) I was not empowered to allow my brand to be public while also being entwined with that of my employer. By that, I mean that my employers may have been fine with me having a personal brand, but they did not want it to reflect in any way on their companies' brands. In that situation, I believe it is difficult to work on your own brand while simultaneously demonstrating what you can do for a company.

  5. Just curious, if you are focused on the “career brand,” and are really good at it, doesn't it reflect (positively) on your “personal brand?” Is that too simple?

  6. This is a great topic To consider. I would suggest that it is also a very difficult topic to consider. It would seem that the line between “You” Inc. & and that of your employer is very difficult to distinguish sometimes. I believe that both brands become intertwined and take on each other's attributes if one is to truly be passionate about either brand. It's hard to curtail your personality or that of the company you are vested in if you are truly passionate about your career or your personal aspirations.

  7. It's a very interesting topic. What comes to mind is Jeff Hayzett, recently departed CMO of Kodak. Jeff is an amazing marketer. And he has used social media extensively. But… did it help Kodak? It certainly built the Jeff Hayzett brand – as an amazing marketer, and avid user of social media. It's helping his newly launched book, The Mirror Test. I'm not convinced that his social media efforts did a lot for Kodak. But I'd say it sure did a lot for Jeff (and deservedly so).

    I agree with Heather's comment that if you do a good job at social media for a corporation, it reflects well on the individual.

    And Jeremiah, despite your intentions, you are definitely “brand Jeremiah”. Of course, it's blurry, because Altimeter is also so social media oriented. But you, Charlene, Ray – you are all your own brands as well.

    I think it's good to decide what your intention is, and build content for that audience, but ultimately, in my opinion, social media has to show the contributor's personality in order to work, and therefore, the personal brand gets built, regardless of intention.

    Very interesting topic.

  8. Thanks Jocelyn

    I hope I'm seen as Jeremiah of the Web Strategist brand. The Web Strategy blog/brand goes with me from job to job to job (I'm on my fourth since I've been writing this blog) so to me that's one of the indicators that it's a career blog, not a job blog. I rarely write about my personal self and hobbies, but instead want to focus on the corporate digital marketer.

  9. Well, Jeremiah, I'd say that it's accurate that I don't know you or your hobbies. I first saw you present at Forrester IT Forum in Lisbon and started paying attention to you from that point on. At first, I thought of you as a Forrester analyst, but as social media started to – what? – blossom? – I followed you for your knowledge on the topic of social media – I don't know I'd use the term “web strategist”. But – my point is – I've changed my thoughts about following you because you're a Forrester analyst, or an Altimeter analyst to following you for your opinions on the topic of social media. Is that the same as brand? Maybe. But to follow “social media” is daunting. I pick and choose those that I can listen to. And right now, you are one of those I follow. Is it because you and I share hobbies? No – I don't know if we do. It's partially because you're “brand Jeremiah”. Don't think of that as a bad thing.

  10. I'm not sure if that's true. Unless you're the face of that company, or “mascot”, of the company — I don't see how it would be intertwined. I don't see how companies would be able to “own” your brand if you have a “”.

  11. Joe

    Actually, I recently worked for a company where “All the IP I created (including flickr pics and facebook status) was owned by the employer.”

    Did you look closely at your employer contract? The thing is, the employer wouldn't want half of my tweets, or FB status, or Foursquare checkins.

  12. I was told that Amazon, here in Seattle, has that type of policy where anything created both online and offline were owned by them. It's kind of odd, but I do agree — if it's in the contract, then it's in the contract. The legality of things are just out of my scope sometimes.

  13. I also like to consider my personal brand as permanently “freelance”. Depending on what's happening in my life or the career that I'm vested in, my brand becomes an extension of the happenings in my life. Life is forever changing, and so is “You” Inc.

  14. In an ideal situation, one can focus on their “career brand”, which by default benefits their employer AND by happenstance builds their own “personal brand”. Win/win, everyone goes home happy.

    Companies like Zappos and Google understand this, and prosper as a result. But, there are other companies who (by choice or by regulation) forbid employees to identify their affiliation. In this instance, the employee is left to either: A. Hide, or B. Build a personal brand independent of their employer.

    Option A leaves the employee with their career eggs squarely in one basket, and keeps them a relative unknown to the rest of the world. In this economy, that is one risk I don't suggest taking – which is why Option B is a difficult, but necessary step today.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Jeremiah.

  15. This isn’t a new debate, or a new topic. And sure as heck isn’t unique to social media, although the individual nature of social media IDs bring this issue into stark relief. I think @armano hit the nail on the head with this one 18 mos ago —

    I remember the day at Forrester when I realized that I was no longer Forrester Analyst Jaime Punishill, I was Jaime Punishill, Forrester Analyst. I didn’t set out to shift that dynamic, it came on the back of hard work and a dedicated focus to my craft. There was a reinforcing nature to the strength of those two brands, but there came, as it inevitably does for folks like Jeremiah, Charlene, Armano, Rubel, Hayzlett etc where the brands are not perfectly aligned in their interests.

    I would add this to Jeremiah’s characterization…there are two kinds of people in the workplace — those that lead with their personal agenda and those that lead with doing the right thing for the company/customers (I realize there is a distiniction and debate to be had with people who are more company centric than customer centric, but that’s another discussion for another time). The sad fact of the matter is that too many people in the workplace lead with their own agenda. We all know who they are. A few are masters of disguise, but time always proves them willing to kill their grandmothers if that’s what it takes for them to win and advance. And this issue then gets exacerbated when the personal vs corporate brand plays out in public. And that I think is the real issue…are you doing what’s right for you or your employer? And when they are in contrast, which way do you go?

  16. Jeremiah I was the one in the HK audience who asked about your unnamed previous employer's policy re blogging and your departure and kicked off this conversation…I have to admin when you first said “personal brands are BS” i was a dissenter. But from the second you started to define what you meant by that…that a personal brand should be in aid of your customers (whoever that is for you) and therefore be a career brand…i was in total agreement. employers need people who have communities and contacts around them and are knowledge leaders. What they don't generally need is the insecurity of an employee who conspicuously cares about their own brand more than their clients/employers brand. we all serve our own ends but how you get there is something marriages are based on. employment and retainers are like marriages. balance your ego with your service.

  17. Thanks Taura

    Yup, there was a lot of dissension in the room, good times. Every time I tried to explain myself someone interrupted me, but thanks for hearing me out.

  18. Jeremiah, regarding the career brand: in one sense this is no different than how individuals have become known in the industry, as “go to” people. Either within a large corporation, or a local community such as a chamber of commerce networking group. Headhunters and organizations tend to target these leaders and knowledge workers.

    A person who works for an organization represents that organization in social contexts. Their conduct and communications may enhance the organization's brand, or may not. Perhaps the difference today is the speed and reach of social media.

  19. Hey,

    Really great post. This isn't something I had thought. Thanks for pointing it out because it is something that we should be more aware of when building a brand. Thanks!

    Darren L Carter

  20. Jaime, interesting, nice to chat with an Alum. I think that at the very root of it, most people are looking out for themselves primarily, regardless of employment. Also a similar post could be written about the 'two types of employers' it goes both ways.

  21. Jason I have to agree with you. The lines have begun to cross over and will continue to merge more tightly.

  22. What about segmenting? I use my twitter account more for building a professional network and audience. (Because I'm an activist, that includes talking about political issues that would otherwise be “touchy”.) While I use Facebook as my “fun and friendly” space.

    It's not something I've really got figgured out though.

  23. Career brand and Personality brand most of the time do not mix well… But when these two are managed successfully then this lucky person only reflects that he or she is more than happy to be working in that company… and that s/he shines as a total person! 🙂

  24. Jeremiah,

    I can see why it could cause controversy! People are fickle..if a competitor sees your work through a blog for example, and wants some of that knowledge for themselves, then they can offer you more money to work for them, and nurture that knowledge further. But then the company that is currently paying your salary, and therefore enabling one to build up an individual brand in their time effectively, is justified in taking umbrage were this to occur!

    I don't have the answer I am seems both the individual and the company have plausible arguments.

  25. Both have there advantages and purpose, but I strongly believe in Personal Branding first and foremost. When I was laid off and decided to switch careers, I was in for an uphill battle because so much of my brand was tied into my job. Even at work, it's important to establish your Personal Brand. My suggestion: Find creative ways to brand your career while making it all about you!

  26. Thanks for shedding light and contextualizing this. I think I have a demonstrable model. My “iBrand” would be Brent.FM, my lessor known brand that I spend less time on. My “WeBrand” would be Green Collar Technologies a non-profit I co-founded to help create a global model of sustainability on Hawaii Island. We have a board of advisors, advocates, volunteers and I spend a lot of my time working on this brand. The two brands are who I am. Although I'm personally unemployable by most standards, I do a fair job at both of these efforts.

    Each have their identities and delineations. Yet, realizing I need to be/create mass change I give most of my time to the “WeBrand” and feel strongly that pursuing that brand will ultimately achieve my broader personal goals.

    So I do feel both can be done discretely. Both can also be done under separate yet complementary models. Even as a DBA and a 501c3. But then again, I have a certain amount of flexibility, being unemployable an' all…

  27. “too often people are building their personal brands on the company dime.” thats very true point and its not in your area, same here in UK as well and we have to little more careful when employee in social media department

  28. Hi Jason – I also agree. A personal brand is who you are, what you're known for, how you come across to people, your values (brand attributes) and they are relevant whether it be for their career or their social network

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