Why You? A Personal Branding Primer with Debbie Millman

In preparation for her class on Personal Branding, we spoke with author, designer, and branding expert Debbie Millman about the importance of a strong personal brand and why it matters no matter who you are or what you do.

What is a personal brand, why do you need one and how do you create one?

I believe that the definition of personal branding is “deliberate differentiation.” In order to stand out you need to know what it is that you—and only you—can do on a personal level. This is all about having a strong point of view about what you are capable of, and a meaningful philosophy that you believe in. Then you must be able to communicate this and your own brand with passion and enthusiasm and sincerity both through an online presence (through platforms like LinkedIn and other social media platforms) and offline.

Make a living doing what you love. Join Debbie Millman to build your brand and create a meaningful career.

A Brand Called You with Debbie Millman

In today’s competitive business world, you must to be able to understand what it is that you do that is unique and you must be able to communicate that in an easy-to-understand statement. This is often called the elevator pitch. If somebody asks you, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” or “Why do you do what you do?” or “What do you want to do next in your career?” Most people don’t have a clue, especially if they are just starting out.

Your answers to these questions allow someone to quickly understand who you are and what you stand for. Your replies let you take control of and set the stage for differentiating yourself from others, and is a far cry from the standard answers, which include meaningless sentiments such as, “I’m a people person”; “I want to make the world a better place”; and “I want to contribute to something good.” (Please note that these are all noble descriptors, but they are a given in today’s world; nearly everyone says these things, especially when they have nothing else to say.)


The best possible answer to these types of questions is derived from having a strong point of view, or what is more commonly called a philosophy or mission statement in business. I call this your personal brand. You need to be able to instantly answer with clarity, courage and purpose, and do this from your heart. Ultimately, you need to believe it so thoroughly that it becomes part of your DNA. You become a thought leader of your own brand.

It’s not something false, it’s not something phony, it’s not something that you’re hoping will impress people, it’s just an honest and authentic part of who you are. That is the centerpiece of where your “brand” is born. Your brand is the distinct you; who you are on your best day.

Your personal brand embodies what you stand for. For example, the great football coach Vince Lombardi had a standout philosophy. As he said with great zeal: “I never lost a game.” During his career as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led his team to five NFL Championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II. But his career record of 105 wins, 35 losses, and six ties belies the declaration that he never lost a game. When asked to defend his statement, he staunchly replied, “I never lost a game. I just ran out of time.”

How to build a personal brand and who needs one, anyway?

EVERYONE! Being creative isn’t a handicap! In today’s digital age, self-branding (whether on your website, social media profiles or social networks, or your résumé) is as important as your work and ideas. This doesn’t change if you are a designer or an electrician or a widget manufacturer. Taking actionable steps to build a strong personal brand is an ongoing process but will ultimately help you secure professional opportunities in the job market.



How will having a personal brand help someone in their career?

Potential employers will hire you and pay you in order to sell more products, communicate ideas better, move things off of shelves, to write code, to invent and innovate. But when we work for someone, we are essentially asking them to give us money to do what it is that we love. But they’re not interested in what WE love, they’re interested in moving more product or securing speaking engagements or winning an election or inventing new marketplace opportunities or securing potential customers. What we need to realize is that our employers or business owners are looking for a return on the investment of giving us that money to do what it is that we love. They are hiring us to help them.

In interviews, we signal our affiliations and beliefs. Interviews are essentially self-promotion. We telegraphically communicate who we are by the way we look, the things we carry and the way we carry ourselves in our professional and personal life.

In addition, you must be able to understand how to communicate what you can do and what benefit you can provide in a memorable and intelligent manner. Every single one of these requires an understanding of how and what we convey and why. That is developing a compelling personal brand. Your individual set of attributes, beliefs and behaviors will help you build long-term professional networks.


Make a living doing what you love. Join Debbie Millman to build your brand and create a meaningful career.

A Brand Called You with Debbie Millman

Emily Potts FOLLOW >

Emily J. Potts has been a writer and editor in the design industry for more than 20 years. Currently she is an independent writer working for a variety of clients in the design industry. www.emilyjpotts.com