Personal branding – it’s not about you!

During the recent decades, personal branding has become a popular phenomenon, as a response to the paradigm shift in the employment environment. Just as brand building has been considered “the best way of doing business because of the constant changes in the marketing environment” (Aaker, 1996), personal branding can be seen as a strategy for individuals to negotiate the chaotic employment environment around them.

Co-constructive approach to personal branding

Prior literature has described personal branding as an inside-out process (Khedler, 2014), in which individuals aim to project their authentic identity to others (Rampersad, 2009) through the acts of self-marketing (Shepherd, 2005). The self-centred approach has raised concern in the academic world, with researchers accusing this kind of a mind-set as leading to decreasing attention to emotional growth, learning and higher values of people (Lair et al., 2005; Gehl, 2011). As a response to this need, this thesis introduces a new angle to the discourse around personal branding, claiming that individualistic promotional approach should be replaced with a co-constructive approach, in which the focus is shifted from strategic self-marketing into on-going value sharing, learning and self-reflection.

The co-constructive approach to branding suggests that the stakeholders of the brand should be considered as active participants in creating the brand value, brand identity and brand meaning. This means that the value of personal brands is determined by their ability to provide value for others and to engage them in meaningful interaction.

Personal brand value of Tolvanen and Kortesuo as the objectives of the study

The research problem was to find out, how the value of a personal brand is defined by its stakeholders. This problem was addressed from two research angles. First, the study was set to determine how the value of a personal brand is described by its stakeholders. Second, the study aimed to reveal how and why do the stakeholders participate in the value co-construction of personal brands in social media.

The research was conducted using mixed methods. A quantitative online survey with open-ended questions was conducted to communication professionals in Finland, in order to get an overview of stakeholder perceptions of personal brand value within one professional field. Twitter accounts of the most valued personal brands, according to the survey, set the scene for the second research method, content analysis, revealing the various ways of stakeholder participation in value co-construction. These two persons were the founder of Digitalist Network, Ville Tolvanen, and crisis communication professional, Katleena Kortesuo. The concept of social brand value (Dennhardt, 2014) was used as the theoretical lens to the analysis of the potential motives of individuals to participate in their personal brand value co-construction.

Research findings – turning the gaze from the self to the others

The study showed that stakeholder involvement has paramount importance for personal branding. Individuals assess the value of other people’s brands in terms of the brand authenticity, uniqueness and identification, communication, as well as on the basis of the perceived personal benefits. Individuals contribute to each other’s personal brands by participating in social interaction in various ways: both quantity and perceived quality of communication around personal brands seem to have a crucial effect on their perceived value. The personal brand owner has a special role in feeding and facilitating interaction, and thus, keeping the brand alive. The ongoing and active interaction provides the participants with social brand value (identity value, communal value and informational value, Dennhardt, 2014) that serves their fundamental human needs and thus motivates them to engage in value exchange.

What’s in this for you, coms professional?

The study introduces a paramount shift to personal branding, both as a field of research and practice. As an alternative to the individualistic, inside-out model dominant in the field, this study introduces an outside-in perspective, perceiving personal branding not only as output of but also as input for identity work and self-development. The study proposes that the success of personal branding is based on the individuals’ ability to deliver value primarily to others, and to evoke positive reactions among them.

As a practical implication of the study, individuals need to acknowledge that personal branding is an on-going process of interaction, the effectiveness of which requires time and effort – not only in continuous self-development but also in compelling and credible communication. From the organizational view point, the findings suggest that communication skills of employees are essential in building a valuable employer brand in social media. The survey findings indicated that there is a knowledge gap among the communication professionals in Finland, with regards to personal branding, which call for more research and public discussion around this topic. As contemporary communication environment calls for a pluralistic approach to corporate branding (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011), this study encourages communication professionals to adopt a more active role in facilitating the personal branding skills of the executives and employees in their organizations.

For more information, please don’t hezitate to contact me.

Download the full Master’s Thesis here:



Aaker, D. A. (1996). Measuring brand equity across products and markets. California Management Review, 38 (3): 102-20.

Christensen, L. & Cornelissen, J. (2011). Bridging Corporate and Organizational Communication: Review, Development and a Look to the Future. Management Communication Quarterly 25 (3): 383-414.

Dennhardt, S. (2014). User-Generated content and its impact on branding. How users and communities create and manage brands in social media. Dissertation University of Innsbruck. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Gehl, R.W. (2011). Ladders, samurai, and blue collars: personal branding in web 2.0. First Monday 16: 9-5.

Khedler, M. 2014. Personal Branding Phenomenon. International Journal of Information, Business & Management 6(2): 29-40.

Lair, D. L., Sullivan, K. & Cheney G. (2005). Marketization and the recasting of the professional self: The rhetoric and ethics of personal branding, Management Communication Quarterly, 18 (3): 307-343.

Rampersad, H. K. (2009). Authentic Personal Branding: A New Blueprint for Building and Aligning a Powerful Leadership Brand. Sage Publishing Inc.

Shepherd, I. D. H. (2005). From Cattle and Coke to Charlie: Meeting the challenge of self marketing and personal branding. Journal of Marketing Management, 21 (5-6): 589–606.

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