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Personal brand vs. reputation. One in the same, or completely different?

Building your brand

brand box
More than ever Agents, Realtors® and other service professionals (like me) are told we must build and nurture a “personal” brand.  The term has gained traction with the proliferation of social media, with SM being the go-to tool to build one’s personal brand.

This leaves me questioning:

Do personal brands exist, or are we really talking about reputation?

Semantics first

What is a brand?

A brand identity is made up of a clearly defined set of characteristics/attributes (adjectives) identified as best representing the desired brand.  These are used as a standard by which initiatives, both internal and external, will be measured to ensure they are “on brand” to deliver on the brand promise.

A reputation is the judgment or recognition of a quality or characteristic that is earned/developed by what we say and do.  I’m of the opinion you can get a reputation faster than build a brand, but that’s a topic for another post.

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Are personal brand and reputation synonymous?

As human beings, we are what we do – that’s what creates a reputation.  And, the Interwebs don’t allow us to hide from our history so our reputation can actually precede us.

Brands are all about association, and people will associate with a brand based on experiences (which and include reputation and ethics).

So, are brand and reputation then synonymous, as they seem to roll experience, ethics and experience all up into one?

Or are they dissimilar?

You can have a reputation as a jerk, yet be known as the best at what you do (think: a temperamental, difficult chef that can create a culinary masterpiece).  And, one can have a relatively unknown personal brand, and a stellar professional reputation.

Or, you can have a huge personal brand (vis-à-vis a huge SM following), but not really be known professionally.  For example; think of the people that have a huge online following, but are known solely for their social media prowess, as opposed to their profession.

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One person that IMO has it right is Peter Shankman.  Originally a Facebook list, he built HARO – a huge online following of fellow PR types – to help further the industry.  So his following is relevant to his career.

But, my question remains: did Peter enhance his (already solid) reputation or did he build a personal brand?

This is where I see the problem…

If you could, in fact, boil yourself down to a few key words that represent your desired brand, you’d be one dimensional.

As human beings, we are complex, emotional sorts and differ daily depending on our mood, social setting, etc.

As such, how people we tie only a few meaningful adjectives to themselves which would establish a differentiated brand with maximum resonance?  Meaningful is key.  Then, how would people consistently execute against only those few descriptors?

In addition, being a person that develops and executes against strategic imperatives around branding, I know it as a complex undertaking, requiring far more effort that building a social media following – which seems to be touted as the method to build a personal brand.

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IMHO:  People build reputations.  Companies build brand.

What do you think?

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Written By

Brandie is an unapologetically candid marketing professional who was recently mentioned on BusinessWeek as a Top Young Female Entrepreneur. She recently co-founded consulting firm MarketingTBD. She's held senior level positions with GE and Fidelity, as well as with entrepreneurial start-ups. Raised by a real estate Broker, Brandie is passionate about real estate and is an avid investor. Follow her on Twitter.



  1. Erica Ramus

    April 8, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I’ve been involved in a series of online conversations lately about BRAND vs. AGENT.

    Real estate is a unique business. In my opinion, buyers/sellers may recognize a BRAND because they see signs/advertising, but they hire the services of agents because of that particular agent.

    I know one agent who has been with 3 firms in the past few years. She has carried 20-30 listings “with her” each time she switched companies. Her clients don’t care if she’s Remax or Prudential or C21. They care that she gives great service and knows what she is doing. The BRAND in that case is irrelevant. It is the agent and her reputation that seals the deal.

    Brands, real estate franchises, have lost their luster, in my eyes. If an agent counts on a BRAND to bring in business, he is doomed to struggle. We need to make our own business, based on who we know and referrals, and not rely on a logo to succeed.

    Franchises (BRANDS) offer agents tools, education and support. For that, you pay a fee–either off the top commission or monthly flat fees or per transaction fees. If the value of the logo on your sign isn’t there, agents will continue to flee the “big name” companies and align themselves elsewhere.

    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      Hi Erica,
      Welcome to AG!
      Yeah, I think the Brand vs. Agent argument will be around for some time. I am interested to hear your thoughts on personal brand vs. reputation, if you have the time or inclination.

      • Erica Ramus

        April 8, 2010 at 6:51 pm

        Thanks for the welcome Brandie.

        I have a marketing background. I think personal brand & reputation are tied closely together–yet are 2 distinct concepts.

        Personal brand involves creating a unique (as in, differentiated) logo, image for your business cards, web page, stationery… all merge into one BRAND if done right. Colors, your photos of you, how you put your brochures together. That’s your own personal brand. Someone sees the sign or ad and immediately identifies with YOU the agent.

        Your reputation is crucial to your success, but it’s also multi-pronged. How the PUBLIC sees you / knows your reputation (someone who gets the house sold, someone who’s a good buyer’s agent, someone who really KNOWS the neighborhoods and sales) may indeed be very different from what other agents see you and your reputation in the agent pool. That agent with lots of signs up, with a good rep in the public may very well have a BAD reputation amongst the other agents. I know people like that! They may get the job done and be all smiles to the client, but on the back end they will badmouth/undermine/sandbag other agents and be the one everyone hates to work with.

        • Brandie Young

          April 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm

          Hi Erica,
          Thanks for the feedback, fellow marketer 🙂
          I guess the disconnect for me comes from the fact I am not an agent. I view brand from the eyes of a marketer, where many elements roll up into a brand identity, including visual image (as you describe in logo, colors, etc), brand associations, brand voice. In addition, we have vision, promise, delivery and positioning.

          I get what you’re saying about logo, color, etc. but i don’t know if I agree it’s a personal brand.

          • Erica Ramus

            April 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

            It is a personal brand IF THE PERSON DOES IT RIGHT.

            I am thinking about one agent here, who works for a major franchise. She puts the company logo on everything, but her photo is VERY Different (not normal head shot) and she has a personal logo too (with her name in a fancy font) and colors unique to her. So she STANDS OUT from the other agents.

        • Brandie Young

          April 8, 2010 at 10:36 pm

          I think we need to agree to disagree on this one, Erica 🙂

          Using a logo, unique photo, etc. are absolutely setting that agent apart. But that is not what comprises a “brand” in the traditional sense of the word. Standing out is not a brand. It’s differentiating oneself, but not a brand.

  2. Benn Rosales

    April 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Funny, I have a theory about this and have debated it a few times. It’s my personal opinion that the word brand has been hijacked to simplify the ideals of reputation building. If you think about a big brand that really has no personalized reputation like ford, suddenly becomes approachable via Scott Monty, you have a brand that demonstrates a more personal reputation, where the brand itself is built upon reputation.

    Agents on the other hand are branding their domain names as company names, and interacting as individuals that represent the ideals of the brand. Their reputation is what sustains the brand, and not the other way around as was the way things used to be..

    Because each agent is in fact their own business, it makes sense that their names are branded and their brand is sustained or destroyed by their personal reputation.

    In the end, because the word brand has been hijacked, I think it becomes an issue of semantics but all should know the difference because the pendulum is still in flux.

    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Benn – you … debate? Imagine that (ha ha).
      I see your point about hijacking the word ‘brand’ … but not sure how it oversimplifies reputation building?

      I think a lot of the people throwing the word around may not *actually* know what brand entails. Instead they consider a logo or product a brand.

      I get that agents are creating some visual brand standards, and applaud those efforts. It demonstrates their professionalism.

      That said, I’m still of the mindset that a person is too complex to be a brand.

      • Benn Rosales

        April 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

        Well, I think I was being polite, and wouldn’t go as far as saying oversimplified- hijacked as a buzzword, similar to the word transparency (oh what a dangerous road to misunderstand this word). And by hijacked I mean misrepresented by those who never knew the difference in the first place and teach reputation as branding.

        Having said that I do think there is a hierarchy shift in that reputation may actually have more meaning than the brand itself, where people that make the brands are actually more visible and more effective in communicating than the brand in the digital space. Part of that multi-dimension I’m always on about.

        There is growing conversation that big brands have a newer shorter life expectancy, and smaller more nimble brands built on individual reputation will have more staying power- big brands are trying to capitalize on this but aren’t really sure of what it is they’re capitalizing on- yet. Brands cannot build multi-dimensional relationships, only static ones.

        Like I said, I truly believe this is all still in flux and a year from now it would be interesting to revisit this conversation.

        • Brandie Young

          April 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm

          BINGO “… misrepresented by those who never knew the difference in the first place, and teach reputation as branding.” Note to self: Call Benn to sum it all up!

          Building reputation is not branding. They are distinctly and materially different.

          • Benn Rosales

            April 9, 2010 at 11:12 am

            I’m still however willing to explore that we’re in a paradigm shift of some hybrid effect of new media, and I think it’s worth study to look at small individual brands where the product really is the service of the individual and how that looks in its totality. Fundamentally, nothing changes, but I’ll roll with the trend. With freelancing becoming the in thing due to necessity I think consumers will shape the ultimate definition of a quasi brand. Thoughts?

  3. Susan Wright-Boucher

    April 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Great post, and great conversation here.

    I don’t know if we will ever finally decide as a society whether a personal brand is a facade, a misnomer, a reputation-by-a-new-and-fancy-name, or a stand alone viable part of each of us. I’m just glad it’s getting attention.

    My own belief is that we each have a brand. The people around us know what our brand is – not so much by what we say, but by observing our actions. I think the value for each of us comes from seeking ways to be as authentic and intentional with our brand as we can possibly be.

    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Hi Susan,
      Great thoughts, thanks. My question to you is this: is it a Brand people see, or is it reputation?

  4. Justin Boland

    April 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    It’s a valid distinction.

    Your personal brand is the impression I get of you when I see your online/advertising presence or google your name.

    Your reputation is what I find out about you from other people.

    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm

      Hi Justin, good to hear from you. Interesting definitions! Thanks.

      Totally agree on your take on reputation – it’s what you “hear”. Brands are built from interactions and feelings, which may not always come from online or proactive searches … Think Apple … they leverage all sorts of media to create points of interaction.

  5. Greg George

    April 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    This is great stuff. So dead on. We all have a brand in some way shape or form.


    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks for chiming in, Greg. Respectfully, I don’t really agree with your statement. I think people have reputations. To Erica’s earlier point, people may use visual brand elements (logo, colors, etc.) to identify themselves, but that alone does not a brand make.

  6. Sue Adler

    April 8, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    As an agent, I find that my brand, especially now that social media has come into play, is part reputition, and the rest, how the public perceives me from what I put out there and from what others put out there abut me. It’s one and the same. Consistency is the important thing here the way I see it. Your reputation as an agent needs to be consistent with what you’re putting out there and with what others are saying about you. It’s the overall picture.

  7. Nashville Grant

    April 8, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    The more I think about the question, the more I am convinced that you the individual is clearly the most important brand. In my opinion, everyone should be branding their name, not their company. Their company is only a place you borrow “brand equity” from in order to boost your own brand. We basically operate autonomously from our offices anyhow (at least I do).

    • Erica Ramus

      April 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

      Let me be right up front. I OWN A FRANCHISE. I am a broker/owner of a Realty Executives office. And I agree 100% with your comment. Period.

    • Brandie Young

      April 8, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Hey Grant, thanks for the comment.

      I agree with the tactics of what you say 100% with regards to individual efforts.

      The only areas I would somewhat challenge is an agent “borrows brand equity” … I think they leverage the equity.

      I am, however, caught in the semantics of a person building and/or being a brand.

      • Nashville Grant

        April 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm

        Borrow or leverage were interchangeable in my example, but leverage is most likely the better word.

        Erica – I also happen to be a broker of a Realty Executives franchise. Perhaps in addition to being affiliated with one of the largest companies, we are also some of the more progressive and independent thinkers as well?

        • Erica Ramus

          April 8, 2010 at 9:43 pm

          I’d like to think so. Our franchise / BRAND brags…. “it’s about YOU” so that’s my take on it. I would hope that we are cutting edge and ahead of the curve.

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