What Personal Branding Is Not

What Personal Branding Is Not

As the Olympic games come to a close in Rio, we can look back and reflect. When we do, it is a mixed bag. There were many great stories. Two from the state of Maryland dominated the pool. Michael Phelps extended his medal win streak to unworldly heights, while Katie Ledecky seemingly won every race she swam as if she were running while every other competitor was swimming. Usain Bolt ran as though all of his competitors were swimming. Swimmer Ryan Lochte should have stuck to just swimming. His actions fit in with his “bad boy” image. It is what he did to perpetuate his original lie where his personal branding is all wet.

If you don’t know the story yet, Ryan Lochte and 3 of his fellow Olympic swimmers went out on a bender on August 14, 2016. The next day Lochte reported that he had been robbed at gunpoint by security guards at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro. The other swimmers with him told authorities the actual story, which was that they had vandalized a bathroom and paid the owner for the damages inflicted. The lie was up. Yet, for some reason, Lochte perpetuated it when interviewed by NBC’s Matt Lauer. The 32-year old swimmer has now made a statement that he should have been “more careful and candid” and that he has “learned some valuable lessons”.

Did he learn a valuable lesson or was he just building on his bad boy image and stealing the spotlight of his fellow Olympians?

You can argue one way or another, but you can learn from his mistake by understanding more about personal branding. Just as with strategy in business, one of the most important things you can answer to hone in what your strategy should be is what you are “not” going to do. This is something even professional organizations struggle with. They try to be all things to all people and are not focused in their efforts. If you can answer what you are not going to do with your personal brand you will be further along than most.

You should follow a process to build your personal brand. Start off by defining what you want to be known for and then execute on the brand. Now you may think Lochte wants to be known as edgy. This falls right in with that brand. That is certainly true, however, his timing is going to come back to haunt him.

He wants to be known as the bad boy of the pool, he doesn’t want to be known as the selfish fool that took the spotlight away from others who worked a lifetime to achieve an Olympic performance. It remains to be seen whether or not his decision to lie and maintain the spotlight will end up costing him endorsement deals or not. Many believe it will impact his pocket book.

Determining your personal brand is a great first step, but it is not the end. Just as in the model referenced above, personal branding is an iterative process that requires reflection. Before moving to the “consider what you want to communicate” phase in the model, make sure you stop and identify what you do “not” want to be known for.

Add the answer to the question ‘what am I not?’ to the equation to ensure that when you are pushing your image to the world you aren’t actually projecting an image that may seem similar to your goal, but is detrimental.

Answering the same question for personal branding- it is not:

  • Drawing attention to yourself for the sake of getting attention
  • Blasting social media with posts just for the sake of being on social media
  • Projecting yourself as an expert on every topic that comes along

Again, be focused on the message you put out into the world and think about how it impacts your brand. One things we can be sure of, Ryan Lochte didn’t think at that level before his decision to do an interview. The argument could be made that he didn’t think at all.

What are you not? With that simple question you can stay the course.

Swim on.

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