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Personal Branding

When I was a kid, I ate a lot of peanut butter, always creamy smooth Jif. I didn’t like Skippy or any other brand. Only Jif. When I moved to Paris, this small American grocery store run by a Lebanese couple near my apartment was the only place I could find peanut butter, but it was the natural kind—all peanuts and no sugar. I couldn’t stand it, and never bought it again.

When I moved back to the states in 1995, I was on a health food kick, so I tried Laura Scudder’s peanut butter. I hated it. I hated that I had to stir it, and I hated the taste. I still bought it once in a while, but for the most part, I didn’t eat a lot of peanut butter.

Since I’ve been living in Berkeley, I’ve been eating a lot of peanut butter again. For a while I ate the (no-stir) Skippy natural peanut butter, and then I discovered Adams. It was similar to the Laura Scudder’s I hated in that I still had to stir it, but it tasted good, so I started buying it. I ate jar after jar after jar, and began serving it to my son once he was old enough, too.

Then one day, I went to the supermarket and noticed that the Laura Scudder’s was on sale. I decided to compare labels to see how much fat/sugar/salt it had compared to Adams (which is all peanuts and has no added sugar and less than 1% salt). The labels were identical in every way, right down to the company that distributes them: Smuckers. Here I had somehow convinced myself that Adams was superior to Laura Scudder’s when, in fact, they are the SAME peanut butter branded with different labels. One has a male/sur name (Adam/Adams) and the other has a female name. One has a bright blue label with large, circus-font letters while the other uses cursive on earth tones. While one emphasizes “all natural” and says “creamy,” the other says “old-fashioned” and “smooth.” The ONLY difference between the two products is their branding. That’s when it hit home how important branding is. MORE important than the product itself. Much more.

AdamsLaura Scudder's

So, when it comes to blogging, Twitter, and FB, what makes a good personal brand? Rather than quote from studies or other blog articles, I’m going to tell you what stands out for me when I look at someone’s blog/Twitter feed/personal brand.

1. Clean, simple design. Designs that are busy or too dark and difficult to read are a turnoff for readers. Clean and simple—with or without photos or other images—is always best.

2. Professionalism. A blog full of great advice, insightful thoughts, hilarious stories, or great information and links is much more valuable than a blog full of ramblings about what your cat did to the couch last night. Unless it was really funny. In that case, tell me all about your cat.

3. Consistency. Whether you post every day or once a week, it’s important to be somewhat consistent so readers know what to expect, and aren’t disappointed when they get something different.

4. Integration. It’s important to integrate your brand across multiple platforms, that is Twitter, Facebook, and your blog for starters. You can start by linking them so when you post to your blog, it updates to Twitter, Linked In, and Facebook. There are multiple ways to do this, and I’ll talk more about that in a subsequent post. But you need not only to integrate the content, but your personal brand as well. Does that mean your Twitter background has to match your blog background? Not necessarily. Mine doesn’t. But if you do have a logo or a book cover or some awesome art, yes, use it, and use it across all platforms.

5. Personalization. If you don’t own your domain name, buy it. If it’s already taken, think of something original and buy that instead. This isn’t to say that your blog can’t be or, but it looks much more professional if you have your own domain name: Also, don’t use a blog template (like I do) if you can afford a web designer. A professional web/blog design really stands out among the gazillion blogs using the same templates over and over.

6. Promotion. It’s important to get the word out about your brand, but not to self-promote to the point of irritating your audience. I have one friend who is ALL about self-promotion, and I cringe every time I get an invitation or update about her latest workshop, networking event, or web seminar. Don’t make people cringe.

What do you think makes a great personal brand? Can you cite examples of people who have created successful (non-irritating) personal brands?

20 comments to Personal Branding

  • That's fascinating about Adams/Laura Scudder. I always thought Adams was better, too. OMG am I a secret misogynist?

    Neil Gaiman has a great "brand" that crosses all media and genres. So does Jennifer Weiner. I guess all the biggies do–that's why they're big. I guess I'm still working on mine.

  • Great tips! The only thing I can think of to add right now is that is a pretty common solution to the "my name is taken!" problem. Or Things like that.

  • Anne – for pointing out Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Weiner's brands. I'll have to check them both out.

    Kristan – great point! And some people use another name altogether (like Writerland or Ghost Word, for example).

    I think the most important part of creating a strong personal brand is not to be annoying–whether through too much promotion, obnoxious blog posts, or what have you. I guess all that fits under "professional."

  • I'm a sucker for labels. Are we raised like this?!? I am still learning about branding so really can't add anything, but I love how you put your theory into practice with this post. Great read!

  • m++

    Yeah, it's always been amazing to me how critical branding is. Really all it is is one little graphic (the icon or label) that some artist took a few hours to create. But that graphic gets built on and built on through marketing campaigns until it holds a ton of value. The Coca-cola, Google, Apple, Intel are all good examples. How does that one graphic hold millions of dollars in value? It's amazing really. I can't say I fully "get" how or why it works exactly, but brand building is certainly key to creating a truly profitable and successful product.

  • Your peanut butter story reminds me of when I was in high school and searching for new hair spray. In my hands I held two bottles, both by the same company, both promised completely different things. On a whim, I turned them over, read the ingredients, and found they both contained the EXACT same thing.

    Marketing is everything!

    Thanks for a great post,


  • Great post and you get the point home very nicely about branding. As you might imagine, I'm pretty big into branding. Professionally — and then it bled over into personal efforts. I make conscious decisions about my online profile with branding foremost in mind.

    You might try this disgusting-sounding peanut butter, but which I recently heard was super tasty and good for you:60% peanut butter (which you can make yourself, did you know that? Just process peanuts!) and 40% cooked and pureed carrots. Mix together. Supposedly it is very yummy. I have yet to try but will let you know when I do.

  • Sarah – I'm a sucker for labels, too, and this is a good example of how important book covers are!

    m++ – I think there's actually a lot more to branding than a designer spending a few hours on a logo. I had a friend who worked in branding. She said Gap spent a gagillion dollars to change their logo, and all they did was change the size of the rectangle and font so little that no one could even tell. And they probably spent a ton of money on market research to do that. I'd love to learn more about branding. I think I need to start reading some books on the topic!

    Christi – Which hairspray did you buy? 🙂

    Sierra – I bet that peanut butter is delicious! Cooked carrots are really sweet and yummy. What is the name of that peanut butter, btw? I did know that i can make peanut butter myself, but I've never tried it. Do you just stick peanuts in a food processor? Does the oil come out that way? That reminds me that I recently learned that I can make powdered sugar by putting it in a spice grinder. Who knew!

  • Great post! Your peanut butter illustration is perfect. Hmm. Now I just have to decide what kind of peanut butter I want to be. 😉

  • Linda – Thanks for stopping by!

  • roh

    What a great post! Branding is something I learned about at writers' conferences. I'm working on it, but it's not easy when one's web resources are limited. My blog has a cute logo, although it violates one of your rules – it's dark, but then that's what I write. But my goal now is to have someone develop artwork that I can use on both website and blog – that consistent branding that you spoke about.

    Thanks again for such an informative and motivating post. It's just the kick-in-the-butt I need to get my website finished.

  • I am a sucker for branding – of course, we all have our own take on it – but most of my branding is just related to what i find beautiful – i do judge a book by its cover – i am embarrassed to say… i have never read a "Harry Potter" because i think harry potter's have some of the ugliest covers I have seen – if not THE UGLIEST, and i can't bring myself to hold a book that is so ugly for more than a second.. so how will i ever get around to finishing it.. weird, but true.

    Then, take Apple – of course, I do think their products are great , since i have used plenty of PCs as well (my office was all PC and college was both PC and Mac) – but i also, know that if there were two products that functioned equally well, i wd pick one with the cleaner, minimalist branding…

    I love that you have a routine and theme to your blog – while i have a theme, I don't have any routine – i need to make one, and more importantly, stick with it.

    ps: peanut butter is just ground peanuts, you can make it at home – Berkeley bowl used to have a peanut grinding machine (like the coffee grinding machines and juicing machines they still have in there). Haven't been to the old BB in a long while to see if they have their peanut crushing machine.

    pps: Graphic design icons often take WEEKS to come to the final product – case in point, Apple – once its out there, making the Apple of Apple Inc on the computer doesn't take a lot of time – but the design process would have taken weeks, just as a novel/ book that took a over decade to write can be typed out and read in less than 10 weeks.

  • oh, even if two items have the exact same ingredients – they may perform/ taste different, based on the process they have been subjected to, as well as quality of the raw ingredients – for example, the same recipe – cooked by two different people can end up tasting quite different. the end product is typically more complex than just the "sum of its parts"… which is why two shampoos with the exact same list of ingredients may perform very differently… etc etc

  • Roh – You have a great logo! My biggest complaint with dark backgrounds is that they're very difficult to read, not that they don't look great. I like the look of your blog, but I'm not sure how long my eyes can handle it 🙂

    Aditi – You're the third person who has told me that I can process my own peanuts. Why does everyone want me to make my own peanut butter? 🙂 I am tempted to try Sierra's peanut/carrot butter, though. Sounds yummy. I agree that two products with the same ingredients may taste different, but when they're both by Smuckers, I'm sure they're processed identically! And I, of course, love Apple products, too! (Who doesn't?)

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