I have never been a fan of — or even a believer in — so-called “personal brands.” Human beings are much more complex than brands, though the latter are more complex than most make them out to be. Human beings have full personalities; brands deliver a host of benefits and some sense of a personality, but that’s all. Brands are staged, even when authentic. We don’t trust people who are. Only one can show your its deepest secrets and inherent vulnerabilities and still retain your love.
That said, Marissa Mayer’s move to Yahoo as CEO made me reexamine the question of personal brands. I maintain my position: they don’t exist in any meaningful way. They are just (not terribly) fancy jargon for bloggers. What Mayer brings to Yahoo is not her personal brand, but the brand capital of Google. I won’t be surprised to see Yahoo stock jump further.
As one of the most respected and accomplished people (no need to limit her rightful claims to women) in technology, Mayer’s own reputation is based on her successes at Google. In jumping to Yahoo, she brings serious tech credibility to the struggling “media” company the way the intensely problematic Carol Bartz never could. If there is any signal of hope for Yahoo left, it is that extreme talent from Google believes so. No move could have inspired more confidence in the circus of Yahoo’s management or board than this one. Mayer has often spoken for Google — and that same voice now says, “Yes, there is something of value left here.” But that voice is essentially Google’s, not Mayer’s personally, at least at this point. With her move, she essentially extends an endorsement of the collective “Googleplex” to Yahoo.
For those who think this is still about Mayer’s “personal brand,” just ask yourself: what if Sheryl Sandberg moves from Facebook to Google? There is not indication that she will, but if she does, it won’t be about her.
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