Personal branding has been playing on my mind for a while. In a world where your success is seemingly determined by how many Twitter or Instagram followers you have, it has become all too clear that people are more interested in the person rather than a traditional brand. Of course, as the saying goes, ‘people buy from people’, and in today’s world it seems like people only want to buy from people.
For the past few years I have watched with interest as the word ‘celebrity’ has been redefined. When I was growing up my idol was Victoria Beckham; the Spice Girl, the WAG and then the fashion icon. Victoria was untouchable and I loved her because her life was what most people could only dream of. On one my birthdays, I was given a book all about her and I remember reading it from cover to cover, hundreds of times, memorising all the things she liked and didn’t like. At seven years old I was too naïve to realise that she probably didn’t enjoy eating burnt toast, and actually her publicist had had a great time writing up snippets about ‘Victoria’.
However this idea, the idea of finding out the inside scoop about your idol, is actually what social media has made accessible. Whether you love or hate her, Kim Kardashian has made her empire by allowing the world a backstage pass to her life. I am fascinated by Kim Kardashian West ‘The Brand’, something which has created clothing lines, makeup products, computer games, websites and even an app. Indeed, it was the recent launch of her personal website and app which really got my attention. Kim had seen that her social media channels were still not enough, people wanted even more exclusive content and Kim was more than happy to fulfil her public’s need.
Although, Kim still hasn’t managed to shake that ‘untouchable’ element of her personal brand. Her life is still somewhat unobtainable. Not every girl can marry a rapper, go on holidays to Bora Bora whenever she wishes and be on the cover of Vogue. So, although Kim Kardashian might be a social media queen she is still reminiscent of the traditional celebrity.
Those who have it all, and are waiting to steal Kim’s crown, are the vloggers and bloggers. This new breed of celebrity has managed to achieve relatability, something which Kim has never achieved. Look at British vlogger Zoella, who has made her millions by creating a personal brand that screams girl-next-door. Zoella has made videos and written a blog for the past six years, regularly producing content about shopping on the high street, school girl problems and making cupcakes with her best friends. The Millennials or Generation Y are now growing up with girls like Zoella being their idols, as by watching her videos and reading her blog they can see comparisons with their own lives. Although I find her at times a bit jarring, she has managed to pull off a personal brand which ticks a lot of boxes. Zoella has created a brand which people believe is both aspirational and achievable, hence why the YouTube star now has every major brand begging her to feature one of their products in her videos.
So what is Zoella’s secret? How has she managed to create a following of nearly 10 million subscribers on YouTube? I did some digging on Google on the secrets of personal branding and came across some similar trends, particularly emphasising the importance of authenticity. Zoella certainly has this nailed as when she recommends a product, it immediately sells out, because her fans know she only recommends things she genuinely likes…right?
Well actually maybe not. Essena O’Neil, a famous vlogger from Australia, has recently made a stand against her personal brand, declaring that she will quit social media because her brand has become fake. She has explained how girls like herself make thousands from posting carefully constructed pictures on social media which are only there to promote brands. These photos give people the illusion of a perfect life, when in fact the subject is actually buckling under the pressure of being perfect. Essena’s words were particularly shocking as she is only 18, but has years of experience as she became interested in social media at the age of 12. She explains how she became obsessed with how many followers she had and that she never felt good enough for the online world. This shows the darker side to personal branding and could shine some uncomfortable light on women like Zoella, who have made their money by trying to appear ‘real’.
Only time will tell whether Essena will be the catalyst for the end of personal branding, but I am sure brands who use vloggers and bloggers will be concerned that the public might not be so receptive to this form of advertising. Cynicism could become crippling to brands that have relied on bloggers and vloggers to sell their products.
Away from the fanfare of this online world, we all have a personal brand, whether we choose to highlight it or not. In a business environment you might be asked to describe your personal brand. In this case I think personal branding is a great thing to be aware of. Think about who you are, where your strengths lie and how you can use these to benefit business. This awareness will not only help your career but also the businesses you work for. Companies that have strong voices, and allow those voices to be heard, are seen as incredibly positive as it shows that they have staff that are open and honest.
The relationship between personal branding and the online celebrities that I have mentioned might be entering into some trouble, but nevertheless we can still learn lessons from their brands. They have built fortunes on showing the world their personalities and been brave enough to share their opinions.
The reality for business is that personal branding is nothing to do with popularity and all to do with authenticity. As soon as that disappears, so do the followers.