Enough About You, Let's Talk About Personal Branding

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 28, 2009

When I first heard the term "personal branding" I was skeptical and more than a little put off. Really, are we, as a society, so self-obsessed that we think we deserve a brand identity of our own?

Of course the answer is yes.

The sheer number of folks who are publicizing their personal brand, writing about how to create a personal brand, promoting themselves as personal branding consultants, and worshiping at the personal brand alter is astounding.

Search Google for the term and you'll get more than 650,000 hits. There's a popular personal branding blog. There's Personal Branding Magazine, just $12.95 for an annual subscription so that you can read all about you, you, you. And the folks on Twitter are, well, all a-twitter about personal branding. There's even a small Wikipedia entry on personal branding.

But (in theory, at least) there is more to personal branding than vanity and self-promotion. And there are implications for organizations, including hospitals and health systems.

Consider one sub-set of personal branding, CEO branding. There are plenty of hospitals that have well-known CEOs who have a strong personal brand. Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel in Boston, is one example. He might not see his online activities, such as his Running a Hospital blog and Twitter account, as marketing activities, let alone personal branding. But they are.

If you have a strong CEO, someone who is visionary but also has a good personality and, in general, acts like a human being and doesn't spend $1,400 on a "parchment waste can" while redecorating his corner office, you might consider building and cultivating his or her personal brand.

One way to get started: Buy domain names that include your CEO's name (paulflevy.com and paulflevy.org are both still available, by the way) and the names of your physicians—especially the really good ones.

Patients conduct Web searches for physicians more frequently than they do for hospitals—and too few hospitals are taking advantage of this fact, Jim Banahan, president of Banahan Communications, a marketing consulting firm in Phoenix, AZ, told me in a recent interview.

How much does it cost to own your own name? "Eight bucks," he says.

You should do this, by the way, even if you don't end up using the URL. It's a defensive tactic, Banahan says. One of the first rules of organizational branding applies to personal branding as well: If you don't define your brand, someone else will do it for you.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.

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