Are Personal Brands For Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs?

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It seems to be all the rage lately…

The power of personal brands. Become the wizard in your space. Establish yourself as the go-to person, the thought leader, the one with all the answers and the smartest strategies. Leverage the astonishing power and reach of the internet, the blogosphere, the twittersphere, the Facebooksphere, the Google Buzz-o-sphere, The LinkedIn-o-sphere.

Your quest is simple. Become…lé guru in your niche!

We’re told, online personal brands:

  • Lead to fame and and adoration.
  • Drive the world to you for answers.
  • Get you jobs, gigs and opportunities,
  • Put cash money in your pocket.
  • Make your life easier

How cool is that?!

There’s only one small problem…

All too often, personal brands are astonishingly shallow.

They start and stop at the point of capabilities and accolades. They stay topical. Superficial. Digital resumes on monkey hormones. They focus on the snapshot of what you can do, without ever really exploring how well aligned your personal brand is with who you are on a deeper, more visceral level and who you want to become.

Personal brands have ENDURING power…IF you first do the really hard work that most people skitter past.

Drill down. Move beyond your momentary skills and abilities.

Ask the hard questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I care about?
  • What makes me come alive?
  • Who makes me come alive?
  • Who do I want to serve?
  • What am I building and why?
  • What impact do I want to have?
  • What story do I want to be told about the way I’ve lived my life?
  • What massive, pervasive problems do I see that need to be solved?
  • How can I solve them in a way nobody else can?
  • What is my totally unique gift? And…
  • Why should anyone else care?

And, this is just a starter list.

Powerful personal brands are built on considered exploration of these questions over a period of months, years or decades.

They evolve as your answers evolve. And, here’s the real kicker…

Personal brands are not created by you.

You take action and serve others.

You offer words, ideas, insights, solutions, paths and inspiration.

You share your gifts, your talents, your resources and bring people together.

You do what you do in the most engaged, authentic, fearless way possible.

You may even offer up images, cartoons or visual representation of all of the above.

But your personal brand is organically coalesced by those with whom you interact, impact and in some way leave changed.

So, you have a choice. You can build a personal brand on momentary lists or public demonstrations of passing capabilities without reference to deeper alignment with the answers to the above questions. And that may bring you short-term accolades and opportunities. But, to what end?

Why bother, when the opportunity to go so much deeper and build something so much richer lays at your feet?

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58 responses

58 responses to “Are Personal Brands For Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs?”

  1. Very cool as usual Jonathan 🙂 Authenticity is a big part of it, but also the intention behind it. Is the “brand” a veneer or is it an expression of the truth?

    The way I often think about it is that it is like the famous for being famous reality star versus the people who develop over time. One has the fame as the whole goal, and all they have to offer, whereas the latter the fame and attention is a side effect and scrape that away there is still substance there.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  3. You have said the EXACT words I need to hear right now. Thank you Jonathan!

  4. Lindsey says:

    I’m so grateful you wrote this. I find myself often astounded at what feels like real inauthenticity in this world of blogs & branding – and some of those who haven’t done the hard work you describe here seem to be the worst at the direct marketing 2.0 you talked about the other day. Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing it all, because some of those without the true meaning and value seem focused on the brand. So, hearing you say this is heartening & makes me feel a little (!) less insane. I’m still engaged on the very challenging questions you cite, by the way.
    Thank you.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I think that’s really the big takeaway, Lindsey, stop trying to build your brand and start trying to discover who you are and explore the answers to some of the questions I laid out. And, the cool thing is, you answers will evolve as you grow and evolve and so too will your “personal brand.” But, only if it’s aligned with the answers and allowed to grow

  5. I’m in the process of building my brand (aren’t we all) and have been struggling to decide what direction to focus on. This article is exactly what I needed to hear. I don’t need a direction, I need to be me!

  6. Sally G. says:

    Thank you for following up your Game Changer Round Table participation with this blog post. I’d like to think I’m neither a Moron, Mogul or Megalomaniac ~ simply someone who serves as the gift to those she meets along the way. (A ‘miracle’ perhaps, but then – aren’t we all?)

    There are individuals in all walks of life that stand out as ‘stars’ in their respective fields – because they are deeply rooted in the experience of the people they are serving vs what they, themselves, can take from the exchange. Your questions are significant and worth re-visiting every time one enters into something meaningful. As Chris noted in his comment – substance matters. I’m grateful to have ‘met you’ this week …

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      “because they are deeply rooted in the experience of the people they are serving…” Beautifully said. That’s what it’s really all about.

  7. Patrice says:

    This is great! It took me 2 years after launching my blog/website to decide what direction I wanted to go in. At first, I was all over the place. I knew I wanted to create a more positive and inspiring web presence for my niche, but figuring out my own personal brand came much later. I agree with everything you stated. It is important to stand for something, which makes you and your products/services much more credible. Thanks.

  8. Julie says:

    The deep work is the part most are afraid of, regardless of the arena, but it’s the E-ticket (I”m again myself) to a meaningful life. Thank you for saying this so eloquently.

  9. Hey Jonathan! I totally agree and just wrote about this yesterday ( but with a slightly different tone.

    I think we should start a movement. What you’re talking about isn’t branding, it’s reputation-building, which I see as completely different animals. In the former, a company works hard to be true to its brand. In the latter, a person lives the kind of life that allows the reputation to follow.

    There’s a huge contingent of people who are far more reputation-oriented than personal branding-oriented. Who’s with me? How do we hammer home that authenticity is really the only thing that works?

  10. Leah says:

    There is no better way to really sparkle and shine than when you are fully embodying what makes you unique. It is so attractive to other folks too…at least to “YOUR” people.(Some folks may find you totally distasteful…but that is OK)
    Thanks for clearly speaking this truth.

  11. Dan Schawbel says:

    Let’s not mention that it takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of creativity and a lot of internal passion to create the right brand for yourself. A lot of the questions you asked in your post are spot on for brand discovery, which is the hardest part of the process. Most people skip that step because they want to start communication, yet they never become known as anything.

    • Is it really about “creating” a personal brand? And “brand discovery”? For a human being? Should I pull in a diverse focus group to help direct my branding efforts?

      It takes a lot of time, creativity and internal passion to do great work and deliver great value, which is what I think really matters. Your impact on the world, your ability to deliver consistently great results to whoever you’re dealing with (clients, co-workers, friends, significant others, family, folks you’re volunteering with) — those are the things that are what builds your reputation.

      I really believe that personal branding is window dressing when you don’t have anything else to offer. Your reputation is mostly outside of your control, unless you do what you can to present yourself as a “brand” rather than a person, which almost automatically makes you known as inauthentic.

      • Jonathan Fields says:

        “I really believe that personal branding is window dressing when you don’t have anything else to offer.” Can’t agree with the last part of that sentence, but I do agree it’s just today’s fancy keyword phrase for “so, who the hell are you and why do I care?”

        • Interesting point.

          Maybe I’m misunderstanding then. If personal branding is, in fact, answering the question “who are you and why do I care?”, then it means someone is actually asking the question. When you’re branding yourself, you’re not waiting for someone to ask the question, but simply creating a message that you’re going to repeat regardless of whether it reflects reality or not.

          That’s where the “window dressing” thought comes from — that creating a brand and positioning yourself is an inauthentic way of demonstrating who you are. Perhaps it’s not “when you don’t have anything else to offer”, but I’d rather let my work speak for itself, and, as you said, not allow myself to be perceived as shallow than try to make someone sort through who I want them to think I am.

          • I believe the confusion is an issue of semantics. Many people don’t know the true definition of a personal brand, therefore want to dismiss it as something shallow and meaningless.

            How people perceive you IS your personal brand. Period. Therefore, it IS the same thing as your reputation. Reputation 2.0, if you will.

            People create their reputations (branding) through their words, their actions and their beliefs. Whether this is done in a calculated, fake and manipulative way, or in a truthful, authentic and passionate way depends on the integrity of the person, NOT on the integrity of the concept of “personal branding.”

            So, ARE personal brands for moguls, morons and megalomaniacs? Sure.

            But, they’re also for you, me and everyone else who’s able to form a perception in their mind.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      “Let’s not mention that it takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of creativity and a lot of internal passion…” Absolutely. And, sometimes a whole lotta therapy, lol! Thanks for jumping in, Dan,

  12. Bubblybull says:

    Quite refreshing post, thank you Johnathan ! What holds true in architecture, holds true in Communication : it can definitely help to build on solid foundation…

    And yet again..

    With a hundred years of psychoanalysis behind us, one can only wonder : is Thales ‘s key precept “know thyself (and thy shall know the eternity and the gods)” at all possible ??

    iInother word : will one ever know who one really, deeply is ? Am I the same person with your boss, your mum, your cat ?? Can you say, I have one personnality, the rest is bullshit and communication ?

    I’d say you should try to be who you’ve always wanted to be. Be it a dream, be it unatteignable, be it a mere lure. And therefore there is room to communication, there is room to branding and any other kind of “in between” medias that would help one convey the “right” image of yourself.

    Does “right image” here means “true image” ? It’s up to you.

    Can it mean “the right image FOR YOU” (and your purpose..) I certainly hope so..

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      And, that’s the challenge…getting to the crux of those answers. It’s a lifelong process, so, you’re right, all we can really hope for is to create a snapshot of our current thoughts. Still, it’s so worth the exploration.

  13. […] more from the original source: Personal Branding: For Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs? Related Posts:The Branding Power of Personal Projects | Personal Branding Blog …The Power of Your […]

  14. Hugh says:

    “Digital resumes on monkey hormones” – hilarious!

    I really like the list of questions. I will ponder those today. I’m just starting out my “online branding” so I have to think this through really well.

    I also love that this entire post applies to branding in our lives and not just online. Even if one has no intention of establishing an online presence, he/she has to intentionally create a personal life brand (for lack of a cooler term) in order to have enduring success.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, glad you liked my monkey hormone line, just kinda came flowing out, LOL! And, you’re right, it’s really not about business, it’s about life

  15. Hulbert says:

    Nice post Johnathan. It sort of does seem like personal branding is the thing now, but I like how you brought up that it’s not just about being everywhere or spamming the internet. It has to affect who we are, what kind of impact we have towards others, and what kind of changes have we learned through communication. Personal branding is just scratching the surface and can last only for short term; digging deeper helps us build something richer in the long run.

  16. Mick Morris says:

    As usual Jonathon a kick ass way of looking at things, I love it.

    So much of what is going on online is spin and bullshit and not enough focus is placed on building character and allowing a reputation to follow(see here from my recent take on this, rather it seems to be about seeking a reputation for it’s own sake, ie a shallow brand as you put it.

    I love the way you get to the crux of the matter, so succintly.



  17. Thanks for reminding us what personal branding has ALWAYS been. Tom Peters taught us how to do this years ago, but most people have either forgotten that or never read him in the first place (do, or you’re missing out). He always said personal branding came from your values and what was deep inside you, and that it was a way to deliberately externalize that into touch points other people could latch onto.

    Honestly, I wonder if we’re reading too much into the idea of personal brands. Other than the “window dressing” of design and logo, etc., it’s really about all that other, deeper stuff. And I wonder if that’s not “brand” at all, but rather, “truth.”

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Funny, I was just tweeting Tom Peters when I saw your comment. Perfectly stated.

      James Autry built on the concept in The Servant Leader. It’s about complete alignment, being one person, regardless of the setting. The bigger challenge for a lot of people is, they don’t who they are, what they’re building and who they’re looking to impact in the first place.

      It’s hard to align when you don’t have a clear picture what you’re aligning with.

  18. Helen says:

    Ok, enough with reading my mind already. And we’re not even on the same continent.

    Thank you for this.

  19. Sarah Mae says:

    I am newly in love with your blog.

    Thank you.

    That is all…for now.

  20. Jeff Goins says:

    Amen. What sells is authenticity, and many times personal branding quests are anything BUT authentic. Thanks for saying what needed to be said. I LOVED this: “personal brands are astonishingly shallow…”

  21. Mark Brimm says:

    Great points. I’m always about empassioned engagement with topics and true identification with the audience. I’m probably still grappling with some of this as I’m sure we all are. 🙂

  22. bchase says:

    Excellent post. I am trying to think of an intelligent, witty comment that others have not already said but I can’t, really. I do know, from teaching 9th graders, that they can pick the fakes in a New York second. Authenticity gets me places with my students that I wouldn’t get otherwise. The respect that I get from them, when I get it, comes from their hearts and is, itself, authentic. I have learned a lot teaching 9th graders. I think this translates to every other aspect of life. The blogs that I choose to follow are the ones where the owners are offering their authentic insight. As others above have said, there is substance.
    I enjoy your posts and your insights. Thanks.

  23. Super, concise, thought-provoking post, which seems to be your ‘personal brand’ these days Jonathan! I’m not yet sure whether going deep on all the questions on your second list will automatically bring about all the things on your first list, but what they do guarantee is a deeper, more authentic sense of self. And that, in and of itself, is perhaps the most important goal there is. The fact that it also happens to be a good starting-point for a ‘brand’ of real and lasting value is a bonus. And that’s the takeaway here for me…

  24. Nazima Ali says:

    Fabulous post and great questions to ask oneself. Bottom line is always authenticity. Thanks

  25. One of my greatest alignment/authenticity (sheesh; need to find new words for those) moments was when I realised that my ‘personal brand’ isn’t determined by me; it’s the perception others have of me. Asking a handful of trusted clients or peers can be a real eye-opener.

  26. […] Personal Branding: For Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs? Personal branding means that when people see your name, they think of something – preferably something that’s positive. What do people think of when they think of your name? (@ awake @ the wheel) […]

  27. don says:

    I’m brand X and I can kick Gary Colemans ass.

  28. Peter Mis says:


    Joel Canfield is spot on…branding is a perception that is really out of the true control of the brand. All I really hope to be branded as is an honest, authentic, compassionate individual working towards making things better. Even then, those attributes are subjective and beyond my control. I’d love for the world to love me, but I’ll be just fine if they don’t.

    I am reminded of a story often told by basketball great Bill Russell. Prolific NBA, NCAA, and Olympic champion. When strangers as him if he’s a basketball player, his response is “no”. His rationale? “Basketball is what I do, it’s not who I am.” The world only saw a basketball player, but he saw basketball as only a portion of what he really was. I’m inspired by his clarity.

    “Monkey hormones?”

    Great post yet again!


  29. Queenie says:

    As someone who frequently fantasizes about the era in which my personal brand will become a household name, I humbly accept the advice. I have often battled within myself as to the relevance of creating a personal brand when my work as an entrepreneur has nothing to do with me directly. Indeed making my work about me may adversely affect and distract from what I do. The ache for some recognition and the vanity for adoration and admiration makes it difficult to let go of the dream though. Thank you for the guidance. Perhaps with this guidance I can still get my props but in a way that has meaning, substance and depth but does not betray my “megalomaniac” tendencies and desires to take over the universe. LOL

  30. Jackie says:

    Branding…the Holy Grail??? well that depends on who’s watching and listening to you!

    The issue lies not in the definition of Branding but the individuals interpretation of what the brand means personally to them.
    The depth of personal investment into a brand (not monetary, but of self)will shine through and those brands will always rise to the top & become sought after.

    Why…because we want connection, if there is no connection there is no value

    Love the post & the conversation, keep em coming.

  31. […] Personal Branding: For Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs? Personal branding means that when people see your name, they think of something – preferably something that’s positive. What do people think of when they think of your name? (@ awake @ the wheel) […]

  32. Anne Wayman says:

    What tickles me about this post (I’ve mostly ignored the whole personal branding thing) is you not only talk about knowing yourself, but also what you have to give… to contribute… somehow in my mind it takes both.


  33. Sue says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great article. I agree with you as to how a lasting brand (whether at a personal or corporate/organizational level) is created. To some extent it almost seems, these days, to be the trendy thing to do that will bring “instant” results, yet it really is a reiterative process based on the answers to some serious questions and the feedback you get from others.

    From what I’ve seen in the work world, large companies and organizations also seem to suffer from the delusion that if they just create a dazzling brand for themselves and have the resources for all the PR spin to go with it then that’s all they need from here on in to succeed. Umm, no not really. Clients will see through it pretty quickly if the quality of the product or service and the customer relations don’t match up with a hyped up brand, and they will understandably take their business elsewhere if there is no enduring substance behind the claims.

    I just wish we could find a better name for this process than “branding”, given that at least one of its meanings has some rather brutal connotations.

  34. Cole Matson says:

    I prefer the term “vocation” to “brand.” My life (and my work) isn’t just about my career, it’s about my entire calling as a human being on this earth, and how I can best serve others. My work is bound up in the rest of my life as one seamless vocation. My brand and my vocation are the same thing.

  35. Great post –

    A personal brand is the story that we tell the world about ourselves. There are myriad “facts” or “truths” about every person, and of course endless possibilities of how to combine them. We can paint many different pictures of who we are and use these to move forward in life – that is part of our identity. However developing and creating stronger and more coherent facts is vital too. Anyone can create a story about being an expert – we all know that actually being an expert takes years of learning, practice, and patience. These are the facts that make a solid personal brand people will continue to buy.


  36. Mark Silver says:

    So interesting… and thanks for the shout out.

    I had such an aversion to “branding” and to the word “brand”- it just so totally doesn’t really capture what I think is really being said.

    I prefer to use the term “worldview.” In bringing in a solution, which is what a business does, there’s tons being said unconsciously or not about the world we’re trying to presence.

    For me this is very strongly linked to the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam- the repair of the world. In trying to presence a world, and the associated values and perspectives, we share that worldview with others. And they join us, or not.

    By doing the good work with integrity, there is perhaps a “brand” created. But heck, it’s just a beautiful world we’re building together.

    And as we build it together, we recognize it as familiar within one another’s efforts, and businesses.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, Jonathan, that gets to the core, as usual. 🙂


    I am working with my team to develop their brands as well as continue to deepen mine.

    It’s amazing how long it takes a TRUE brand to take hold and become real.



  38. Emma says:

    Fab article there! Great to see such a vast amount of people commenting on this topic! Personal Branding 1.01 should be your questions – the deep, delving questions that allow us to understand what our core beliefs and values are, otherwise we spend our time spouting off content without authentically understanding our own core message. People need a core authentic awareness of themselves before delivering a message they want others to grasp. This also ties into Personal PR.

    Thanks Jonathan,

  39. The cool thing about todays internet tools is within 5 minutes I can tell if there is any substance behind someones words and online photos or presence.

    As an example, I see companies offering their SEO services to the world and they have an Alexa Ranking of 3 million.

    Some people are still growing into their own personal brand and they might need to tone down their Guru pitch a bit until they have some more things figured out.

    Plugin to blogs like this and join the conversation!

    Nice work Jonathan

  40. I think we sometimes forget that there’s a “person” behind a personal brand – and that the “personal” part comes first.

    When I work with clients, one of the first activities we take a look at what their mission/passion and core values are. These are the foundational elements of who they are, and you can’t build a genuine brand on a lie.

    There’s a reason Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s only get so far in the world – they are characters. Characters have a limited scope and are shallow by nature, because they are not all-encompassing, or of a ‘personal’ nature.

    That’s how I try to distinguish ‘character’ branding from ‘personal’ branding. A person has multiple facets and characters. A character is a one, maybe two dimensional archetype that doesnt give your audiene a full glimpse of what you’re really about.

    Some people just don’t want to bare the depths of who they are – and should avoid personal brandin at all costs.

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  43. […] way out the door, and that there is so much that you cannot say with a paper resume. then I read this, which again got me thinking(amazing how that happens)…You can blog all you want about your […]

  44. […] thinking through the very same questions. I came across this interesting post from Jonathan Fields: “Are Personal Brands for Moguls, Morons or Megalomaniacs?” It’s a good read; what’s more, he offers a series of hard questions that apply to any […]

  45. Image Group says:

    good article on personal branding. It helps you to differentiate your company from your competitors.

  46. Personal Branding also extends to what you wear, how you carry yourself and the way you communicate verbally.