Try it.  Google “personal branding.”

Wo.  See that?  The little search ‘bots retrieve 381 MILLION results!

Since leadership guru Tom Peters first presented the concept of marketing yourself and your career just like a brand in that article, “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company magazine in 1997, the thing has developed some legs and has taken off running in all directions.

Click this button to read the article its own self:click-here

A whole industry has grown up around the idea.  The multitude of human potential advice-mongers keeps telling us that mega-success comes from self-packaging and telling a better, hand-crafted story than the next guy.


Before Peters dropped the PB-bomb, typical do-it-yourself self-help management techniques that were bandied back and forth were about self-improvement and developing inner qualities of character and all that other old-school, boring stuff.

Now, it seems, it’s all about self-packaging and “controlling” your image and massaging your message.

One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen about brand strategizing is this one, published in 2011 by BINA LA, featuring veteran marketer and brand promulgator Sasha Strauss, the founder and manager of the consulting firm, Innovation Protocol.  In it, he gives “$100,000 of Brand Strategy Advice” to a roomful of up-and-coming peeps.

It’s a wonderful, rollicking talk.  It touches on all the points about how, you too, can be a brand.  Woo-hoo!

(Notice, especially, that he says the big companies spend a heck of a lot of money and buy up a lot of people’s time and talent to work this thing.  Okay.  Onward.)


We keep getting bombarded by the same message:  We have to stand out from the crowd.

Repeatedly we are admonished:  We need to create buzz-i-ness.

We need to be seen.  Our ideas must be heard.  The social media – that insta-FB-tweet-post-pin algorithmic meta-dance — will take us to the place where we will be the Center of Attention.

And that, it says here, will get us to being showered by the Big, Big Bucks.

“Money” by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
We will be secure in the knowledge that when folks need something done, all this trumpet-blowing and drum-banging is going to mean that they will inevitably think of US.

We’ll be “Top-Of-Mind.”

This is because we are in control of our own story and the image we’ve inserted in other people’s minds.  (Then, of course, we can don our super-hero gear and go get ‘er done.)

PB jammin’ takes time, we are told.  It takes hard work.  It can cost a bunch too.  After all, there’s a heck of a lot of competition out there and they’re all doing the very same thing we are.

The noise level keeps rising.

And all of those stories are clashing and crashing together.  ACK!


It really has to make you wonder, though.

When everybody’s talking and trying to make their message louder and stronger and more and it’s all predicated on self-promotion and outshining the other guy, doesn’t that mean that it gets really hard to hold a normal, one-on-one conversation?

And if everybody’s shouting at each other, what do any of us actually hear?

If everybody is trying to “stand out,” doesn’t that mean that we are all sort of blending in?

In the analog world, a crowd of folks, each one trying to be more different and more avant-garde than the other guys probably end up looking sort of like a cosplay convention or maybe a Mardi Gras parade.  Right?

“Injured Jack” by David Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
I mean, it’s fun and all, but what’s the point?

All those guys in the white lab coats tell us that each of us humans are pretty much made up of the same bundle of needs and wants, strengths and vulnerabilities, patches of assorted bits of sanity and neuroses, and ordinary as well as extraordinary bits as every other human.  They tell us that our individual differences and eccentricities are often less noticeable than our collective similarities.

A punk rocker who “stands out” in a crowd of polka fans would just be a regular sort of guy in a punk rock concert crowd.

Since business and everyday living runs more smoothly where there is a “meeting of the minds,” it is probably a good thing that we are a lot more alike than not.

Still and all, we are not clones of one another.  Even minor differences of mindsets can cause major misses when two minds are trying to intersect.


It is certainly true that showcasing the parts of ourselves that we are particularly proud of is more likely to attract the attention of folks who are looking for those very qualities we most want to continue to use and grow.

I’m not saying that the PB-jammin’ dudes are wrong.

I am saying, however, that it isn’t the packaging that brings joy and gladdens the hearts of the recipients of a gift.  It is not the packaging that delivers on the promises made when you ask for somebody’s trust.  The packaging means squat when you are in the middle of the muck trying to knock out a solution to a gnarly problem.

“Gift Wrapped” by Matthew Kenwrick via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What your customer wants to know, really, are two things:

  • Can you do the work well?
  • Will it solve their problem so they can get on with doing their own work?

The shiny party paper and pretty bow are nice, but, so what?  How much of your time is it worth?

It seems to me that your time would probably be better spent making sure that you really are doing the work that your customers need done the way they need it done and that you are developing better and better skills at doing it.


The one thing most guys who are into promoting personal branding sort of gloss over is another truism:  You cannot control any other person’s perceptions of you or your story.  How they put together what you say is not in your control.

Remember that ubiquitous disclaimer, “Individual results may vary.”

You can round up and herd other people’s perceptions.  You can influence them.  Maybe you can even drill an image into someone else’s head.  Whatever.

“Points of Perception” by vannio via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Know, however, that if you fail at delivering on your promises, none of the packaging stuff is going to matter one whit to your customers.

You will hear about it, and so will anybody within the reach of that social media thing you’re trying to game.


There are important questions embedded in that Tom Peters’ article, which was meant to be a wake-up call for those of us playing among the ranks of the corporate minion-hordes to break free from the need to conform to and in our workplaces.

“Questions” by elycefeliz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Peters was giving us a heads-up about a basic truism, I think:  Conformity does not promote creativity.

He was trying to get us to understand that as contributors in the “new marketplace,” each of us is responsible for owning who we are on the deepest level.

He told us that we had to “cast aside all the usual descriptions that employees depend on to locate themselves in the company structure.”

Forget job title, he said.  Instead, ask yourself, ‘What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value?”

Forget your job description, he said.  Ask yourself, “What do I do that I am most proud of?”

For me, at least, the personal branding advice Peters was presenting in that article more than a dozen years ago was less about you being noticed by other people and more about what you do, the meaning it has for you, and why it has value for other people.

He tells you to ask yourself “the same questions that brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body shop ask themselves.”  Look at your product or service (and at your own self) and figure out what makes that product or service (or you) different from the run-of-the-mill in 15 words or less.

What specific features do the product or service (or you) have that benefits your customer better than anything else?

If your answer doesn’t “light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or – worst of all – if it doesn’t grab you,” Peters says, you have got a problem.

Basically, you don’t know why you’re doing what you do.

“Question mark” by Kanser via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Applying the “feature-benefit model” to your own self, Peters suggests asking the following questions and he explains the benefits to the customers that arise from that feature:

  • Do you deliver your own work on time, every time? (Your internal or external customer gets dependable, reliable service that meets its strategic needs.)
  • Do you anticipate and solve problems before they become crises. (Your client saves money and headaches just by having you on the team.)
  • Do you always complete your projects within the allotted budget? (Cost overruns are not a help.)

Put together the answers to the feature-benefit model questions and the earlier ones about what you do that rings your own chimes.

Then, Peters says, ask yourself, “What do I want to be famous for?”

Doing all that helps you screw your head on right.  You will have figured out why your present and your prospective customers will probably like what you do.  You’re on your way to getting your story straight, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to live it.

There is a bunch of stuff in the article about how to call attention to your answers and conclusions once you’ve done the exercises.  Of course, there are.  The guy is a marketer-extraordinaire.  (Maybe, though, that part is optional.)


Whenever I run across another of the “personal branding” motivational rants, I can hear my grandpa grunt, “Only wala’au (talk, talk, talk)…no CAN li’ dat.”

(Papa was a great believer in doing and solving problems.  Talking didn’t cut it for him when the results didn’t match the boasting.)

It was a reminder that wala’au is only air.  What counts, all the old guys said, are the results of the work of your hands and your mind.

“These hard worked hands” by Carlos via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It is an old-fashioned idea.  One that’s been around for a very long time.

Before there was a thing called “personal branding,” everybody worried and gnawed on the concept of “building a good reputation.”

Reputation is what people remember best about you, they said, and other people’s memories and the stories they tell about the way you walked along with them and others they know are what can make it a good one.  The thing that builds your reputation is the way you walk.

“Walk” by Peter Blanchard via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


Every once in a while, I am reminded of how long other people’s memories are.

The Light of My Life and I stopped into a private craft sale put together one Sunday morning by a group of local craftspeople in an outbuilding at the home of their friend and patron.  There were three painters, a journeyman photographer, a beginner jeweler, a masterly potter and a stone carver.

I knew the stone carver, Ho’aka, who used to hang around the booth at the hotel and festival craft shows that my late husband Fred (a self-taught, traditional Hawaiian stone-carver) and I used to set up to market Fred’s decidedly esoteric and traditional art form.

My part in all of that was to learn the stories of the ways the ancient ones worked with the stones and to explain how and why Fred tried to emulate their ways while he sat on a mat on the ground doing a stone-carving demonstration.

One of my best things was organizing little do-it-yourself stone polishing sessions where kids who visited our booth could take away a small, child hand-sized ‘ulumaika game stone that they had worked on themselves using one of the flat polishing stone boards I set up on mats around our space.

Another activity involved print-making by pressing acrylic paint-covered carved stones onto torn rectangles of crafts paper.

Guided by the pictures in the old books I’d found, Fred carved ancient-style petroglyphs onto those stones. The kids loved the results when they played with the stones.

“Rainbow Chief” carved by Fred A. K. Kanoho

I made simple display boards, wrote up the mo’olelo (stories), and wowed the visitors to our booth with cultural tales during a time when the Hawaiian cultural renaissance was just starting to grow.  It was timely, and we sure had a lot of fun with it.

After Fred’s death, Ho’aka went on to find master traditional stone carvers in the islands, apprenticing himself to them.  He got good at working stones.

As the Light of My Life and I were leaving, Ho’aka gave me the highest compliment one local can give another.

He told me, “Netta, I want you to know.  We remember.  We remember how you told the stories.  We remember how you guys kept the stories alive.  We remember….

Twenty years after that chapter in my life had ended, I was given this gift.  It made me cry…and the funny part was that what he said other people remembered was not what I thought I was doing.

Here’s a poem:





EVERYBODY says so…

All the them that’s in the know.

(If YOU don’t know, then who are you?)

Me, I am famous!




Watch me twist and twirl,

Gyrating in the swirl

Of Other People’s noticing,

Glowing in the spotlight

Incandescent like a mirror-ball.

I am famous!  Me!




Hey…look-a-me, look-a-me!

Hey, hey…why’d you stop?

Don’t you like me any more?

Gee…don’t you know?

I’m famous!


Ummm…where’d you go?



They’re all gone.

There’s nobody looking.

Guess I’m done, my race all run,

Washed-up, a has-been…


The formerly famous.

created by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Dying Fire” by Frank Crisanti via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0] 



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


  1. Lynne Huysamen says:

     I believe that personal branding is so important and it is something that I am spending a lot of time thinking about lately since I have bought my personal name domain name a few months back and I am in the process of setting it up.

    You are so right – we spend so much time figuring out how we can stand out from the crowd and it kinda feels fake but it is not easy to stand out amongst the many bloggers and influencers online!

    1. I hear ya, Lynne!  The hardest thing, I think, is trying to figure out how to stand there and be visible without adding to the noise.  Hmmmm….

      Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Please do come again.

  2. What a great concept to ponder. 

    Those of us that are in the internet marketing business, or trying to make a name for ourselves in a particular niche sometimes get caught up in getting our names out there and being noticed, and then our reputations taking flight. 

    Something else I’ve noticed – there are people who have sort of a social media fame who didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into. 

    There’s a lot of responsibility once you have “made yourself into a brand”, and there is also a lot of unpleasantness coming from people who don’t understand or like you. 

    In the end, if you don’t have the good stuff to back up what your shiny wrapper seems to represent, then you don’t really have much of anything. 

    Thanks for such a great post!


    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Darci.  

      I do agree with you.  Your “brand” is also about the promises you are making to all those other people whose notice you want, so you need to have the “good stuff” to back up your word.  

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  3. Hi Netta, going through your site was overwhelming. 

    I am given a certain set of guidelines to go by in order for your acceptance or your disapproval to my comments. In most cases it perhaps takes about a half hour to piece together what I see, read and get to know you through what you have put together, all in order for me to earn one credit.

    I am aware of my abilities. My writing skills are still in their infancy. I am unable to follow the guidelines given to me. All I can do is attempt to convey my experience while going through your site. I hope to gain your approval.

    It has taken over two hours for me to come to this point. I was moving along just fine following the path of self branding. The definition of serendipity according to William McKeen, PhD. “The ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally”. The first thing that captured me. Then reading the stories about Alexander Fleming accidentally discovering penicillin and Alexander Graham Bell’s detour that led him to develop the telephone.

    Netta, you could say I am a branded man. I do my best to walk the talk. We do live most of the time inside our own heads. For me to make it to be a good space to be, I have to be honest and I have to do my best when called upon. These things help to make my mind good space.

    Believe me, I am still moving along at a pace, but it is like being in a traffic jam. You have to get to your destination, but it is a stop and go situation. 

    Making an effective prayer. To me, it is creating an effective way to build my strong foundation. Walking in wisdom does give me the opportunity to be happy and not worry.

    I am now at the About page. Netta, I am guilty of doing a few copy and pastes here. I spent a lot of time here, the Hawaiian words and translations. I have practiced a bit of aikido in the physical sense. Watching the direction of someones play and then assisting them in the direction (perhaps more definitely than they want) and, thus, to move them out of your own way.

    For me the punch line, or the best of the best: “She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin”. I get it all now. The inspiration here is huge.

    On a personal note, I feel very blessed in so many ways. My nephew and his wife have taught their five year old daughter about positive affirmations. Every morning she looks in the mirror and says the words, “I am a good girl, I will be happy today….

    Netta, however this goes, whather I get an approval and earn 1 credit or I do not earn that credit, I feel what I learned through you is priceless. I just realized my niece’s name is similar to your’s. Her name is Etta. All the best to you.



    1. Michael, I do thank you for your visit to my site and for your extensive sharing of the thoughts my posts engendered.  Beautiful! I am so very pleased that my work affected you and made such a connection with you.  

      That’s just the coolest feeling for this writer — when the silly blather actually works a magic spell that has someone else thinking good thoughts and flying through the mystery and the wonder that is our world.

      It is a pleasure to read your comments and I do like the stories you tell.  Give Etta a hug for me.  Tell your nephew and his lady they are doing a really good job!

      Please do come again….

  4. For me personal branding is key although it is not something you have to rush into…. because once you make things public it very hard to start changing it again.

    I  bought my domain name very recently and I am working on what to take out that would stand out.  Standing out in the mist of many is not easy but it’s very necessary.

    Thanks a lot for this awesome article.  I learnt a lot that I know would help me in my work.

    1. Feji, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  You are right.  Personal branding is not something to rush into.

      Please come again.

  5. EliteCarol says:

    Branding is an important part of any business but it’s true that the best product one can sell is one’s self, which also translates that it’s necessary to have a personal brand. 

    However, I didn’t know much about personal branding until I read this post and I must say that it’s been quite informative. I’ll put the lessons into good use. 

    1. EliteCarol, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad I helped you learn more about personal branding.

      My own take on it, however, is that the kind of “personal branding” most guys tell us to do seems to be a lot like gaming the building of a good reputation.  (That one takes a bunch of time and a lot of consistent effort.)

      It seems to me it’s as easy to hype your own self as it is to hype another brand of laundry soap…and it means just about as much.

      My own feeling is that being authentic and genuine rather than trying to project some “brand” thing that showcases you as some “thang” that people can envy or want or whatever is self-defeating.  

      Please do come again.

  6. The discourse on personal branding cannot be over-emphasized, especially for those in the internet market.

    However one must be very careful because once your image has been perceived in a particular direction it really will be difficult to alter.  Hence personal branding requires a lot of paying attention to details.

    Thank you for this post it’s really helpful.

    1. Jomata, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do find them interesting.

      My own feeling is that if you choose to follow your own inclinations — paying attention to what resonates deeply with you and following the dictates of your own heart — you really don’t have to bother with all the many details that are apparently a part of trying to cop an attitude or faking it until you make it and trying to convince other people that you are this, that, or the other.  

      It’s a heck of a lot easier just doing what makes you a better version of your own self, I say.  People will react however they want to react to the you that is just you-your-own-self. 

      ‘Course, that does mean you have to be best-friends with your own self and it can take a lifetime figuring out how to get there.

      Please do come again.

  7. Lizzychris says:

    Personal branding goes way beyond ” just standing out in the crowd”. It goes way beyond” a good gift wrap” or “a good outward appearance”. Your product or service has to go with all the “big claims” you have mentioned! Otherwise it will just be empty promises. 

    A perfect branding has to do with inward and outward branding for constituent patronage. 

    Nice write up!

    1. Lizzychris, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  8. Thanks for sharing this masterpiece and nice poem!

    This is the first time I read such an article and enjoyed it!

    Going through your website was interesting and I loved the life notes!

    I also loved the fact that you have a guest poet portal, my best friend will love to share her creativity with you since she is so into poetry!

    Thanks again for writing this personal branding jammin’  article your hard work is appreciated!

    1. Mariem, thank you for the visit, for exploring the site and for your kind words.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  9. I have bookmarked the video to watch later, but really enjoyed this piece on personal branding.

    Job hunting (or seeking a new client) is one of those times when a person has to come face-to-face with their personal brand to understand what it reflects. If it’s not accurate or does not leave a positive response, then it’s time to figure out how to make improvements to get to where you’d rather be. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for your comment, Aly.  Lining up projects and collaborating on stuff really does bring home the importance of what you’re showing the world about you. 

      Please come again.

  10. I love the poem. It encapsulates the highs and lows of fame but it can also be used as metaphor for life. 

    I also agree that personal branding matters.  And the only way you can get far in your business is by focusing on your passions. That way, you can find like-minded people and create a community around whatever you are passionate about.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Valentin.  You’re right.  Focusing on your passions and building your community has direct consequences on how you show yourself to the world.  Mighty potent stuff!

      I’m glad you enjoyed my poem.

      Please do come again.

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