Personal Branding vs Personal Development

Personal branding and personal development are not the same even if some gurus insist. Personal branding can be part of personal development. But there are those who think that personal branding is the shortest and surest way to success.

You can make a mark in this world even if you have not heard of personal branding. Gandhi, Einstein, and Steve Jobs put a ding in the universe, not because of personal branding. They answered their calling and made a difference.

There is an art to personal branding. I will share with you some resources to help you get started. However, if what you want is to be the best that you can be, make a difference in the world, or 1000x your impact — it is better for you to begin with personal development.

The Brand Called You

It was in my second year as a high school teacher when I read about the concept of personal branding. I loved the idea that I am the CEO of My Life.

Tom Peters was my influence. In 1997, he wrote The Brand Called You. Because of that article, I learned that I am the CEO of Me, Inc. That I am not an employee, but the owner of my own business.

I shared his principles with some of my college students too. Then, by the turn of the century, the Personal Branding industry became a shiny object.

Many motivational speakers and image consultants became personal branding gurus too. It became the hottest topic in many colleges. And when I began my career as a motivational speaker, I invested time and money in building my personal brand.

Then, for about two years I accepted speaking invitations to talk about it.

Until the last one.

I was invited to deliver a speech about personal branding. There were 400 college students in the audience. I was told that they wanted to learn many tactics.

During my preparation, I realized that I was not really into it. I never saw myself as a product. I am the product maker.

Though I love the idea that I can increase my value in the eyes of my clients through personal branding, I knew I am a problem solver. I create value.

I zag while others zig.

I won’t be one of the thousands who branded themselves as “personal branding gurus”. But that’s me.

I delivered the talk on personal branding for 40 minutes. I entertained questions for 10 minutes. The final question was,

Is there a better strategy than personal branding?

I answered yes.

I then delivered a short talk on Be Remarkable and Make a Difference. It was a piece I wrote while preparing for the talk.

I am not saying there is no value in personal branding. Demagogues like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte were elected presidents because of their masterful use of it.

You can use the tactics of personal branding to become your damnedest best.

The difference is always in the mindset.

You can have the mindset of someone who will sell a make-believe version of himself. For example, he will claim that he is the best motivational speaker in the Philippines because many people are gullible.

Many people are looking for the best, and someone who has the courage to make the claim will get some of them.

This example is one of the tactics I got from some personal branding gurus.

Or you can have the mindset of someone who makes a difference in the world. He does not mind being the best. His concern is to add value and give his best. He too can use some of the tactics of personal branding.

I assume that you are the latter. So, let’s proceed.

personal branding is image building

What is personal branding?

Personal branding refers to the steps you take to increase your perceived value in the marketplace. For example, a professional speaker may need to dress for success and fake it until he makes it. The speaker may need to call himself the “best motivational speaker in Asia” or the “best selling author” in his online store.

Personal branding is like playing a character. This is why I called it repackaged character development.

Professionals use personal branding to increase their income, credibility, and self-esteem. You can do all of those when you create your personal development plan too. [mfn] Learn more about personal development at the hero guide.[/mfn]

But there is a slight but significant distinction.

In personal branding, you are the product—one brands a product or animal to show ownership.

Branding & Burning

Branding means burning. Let’s talk a bit of history here.

In the olden days, cows are branded. And the practice is still continued until today.

A cattle brand is a design that is seared into the hide of an animal, such as cattle or other livestock, usually around the hip, to identify the owner of the animals. Each brand is distinct, so that lost cows—either through wandering animals or cattle rustlers–could be returned to their rightful owner. That’s the practice since 2700 BC. [mfn]What’s In a Brand: The History of Cattle Branding [/mfn]

Mavericks are cattle which are unbranded. Many thanks to Samuel A. Maverick, today an independent-minded person is also called a maverick. The movie Top Gun: Maverick gives us a clue.

But even humans are branded too. Human branding was done to enslaved persons. Called slaves by their masters, they are branded like livestock. Again, to show like animals, someone owned or controlled them. Those suspected to be witches were branded too. Those who were judged as heretics and adulterers were branded too.

Among the early civilizations, the Chinese people were the first ones to brand their wares. This is to show not only who owns, but who produced them.

Can you see why I was not comfortable with personal branding, no matter how elegant its definition today?

Today, branding is the process of creating a positive impression of the company. That you are creating a quality product.

So, what’s the product in personal branding?

You are right. YOU are the product you are selling to your customers.

Let that sink for a while.

The brand of my company distinguished my products from others. My personal brand, distinguished me (as different product) from others.

There are many gurus, each define personal branding in a slightly different way. I will give you two of the most popular.

There are those who define personal branding as the creation of a positive reputation in the eyes of your customers. Perception, to them, is reality. A plundering and incompetent politician, for example, can create the image of gentle, honest, intelligent, and unifying personality. [mfn] They know that most people will believe them if a good number of people spread the lies.[/mfn]

There are those who believe that personal branding is allowing others to see the true you. That you must create a positive image so people will take you, your products and services, and your leadership seriously.

Let’s assume that what you one is the last definition.

Improve Your Personal Brand

As a marketer, I can give you 4 simple ways to improve your personal brand. These aren’t tactics, but high-concept ideas. These can help you in your personal development planning.


When I was young, we have fewer options when it comes to instant coffee. What’s available in the market are Blend 45, Great Taste, and Nescafe. But for most people, there is not much differentiation. Their prices are almost the same too. So, consumers buy coffee with the best glass.

Then as the economy went from bad to worse, people started buying tingi, coffee in a sachet. Again, not much of a difference. Until some add some mixture. They started selling 3 in one: sugar, coffee, and cream. Then with ginseng. Then Jimm’s 5-in-1 coffee.

How do you position yourself? Who are your competitors?

The first time I heard of Starbucks Coffee, it was already obvious to me that it is not competing against Blend 45, Great Taste, Nescafe, or Jimm’s.

That is positioning.

Your positioning defines your intrinsic and extrinsic value. Your intrinsic value is how you see yourself. You ought to know the kind of problems you are solving. Your extrinsic value is how your customers see the value of your product.

Not every Juan is a Starbucks Customer. Some people will get their coffee from a 5-peso coffee vending machine.

Earlier, I told you that some people like to market themselves as the “best motivational speaker” in the Philippines. They call this personal branding.

This is wrong.

A five-peso coffee isn’t the same as the ones you get from Starbucks. The best motivational speaker may fool some students who have not seen some good speakers. But he won’t be able to sell himself to those with discerning taste.

Instead of paying too much attention to “branding”, mind your positioning.

Be clear about the audience you are serving. Know what problems you are solving. Identify your superpowers that can help them solve their problems. And be clear about what you are against.

Positioning is about defining your identity so you and your audience are clear about it.

By the way, I love Kapeng Barako.


Honk your own horn. If you are selling yourself as a product or as a provider, people ought to know your value (positioning). By promotion, you want to become visible to those you intend to serve.

Promotion refers to how you communicate a clear and compelling message. You must have heard of the elevator pitch. It’s your 40-word summary of your value to your customers.

To craft your pitch, you may answer the following questions.

  1. What are you selling?
  2. What are its benefits?
  3. Why I must believe you?
  4. What do I need to do?

Another way to look at your pitch is to consider the offer that your target customers cannot refuse.


You know who you are. You have a clear and compelling message. The next thing you need is a platform.

Platforms are ecosystems. They enable developers to build new experiences that activate a value exchange between businesses and people. [mfn] The Art of Building Platforms [/mfn]

Your platform allows you to build new experiences with your customers.

Public speaking, training, coaching, online courses, and webinars are platforms.

Blogging, podcasting, writing, and networking are platforms.

The pulpit, a radio program, and online communities are platforms.

Pick the platform that will allow you to be seen, heard, and trusted.

I explained positioning, promotion, and platform in strategic marketing. The other Ps are people, product, process, and profitability. If you want to enhance your personal brand, begin with the first 3Ps.

What is personal development?

Personal development refers to the activities you do to become your damndest best. The term personal development is often confused with personality development.

This is why I prefer the terms self-evolution and self-transformation.

In personal development, you are the creator. You develop yourself to become a leader, teacher, artist, and remarkable person who creates and multiplies value. Your products and services solve problems.

An observer may mistake that personal branding and personal development are the same. The big difference is in the mindset.

The first is a product, and the latter is a creator.

And since I have written more than a dozen of articles on personal growth, I will cut this discussion short. You can find some of the resources below.

leaders pursue personal development
Leaders grow.


If you want to learn more about personal development, I recommend that you read the following:

Unlock Strategic Success.

Discover simple ways to achieve what you want—get experiences crafted for deep learning. They're desirable, effective, engaging, and profitable, paving the way for 10x success for you and your team.

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