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The Three C’s of Personal Branding: Communication, Competencies and Character

The Three C's of Personal Branding: Communication, Competencies and Character

David Hagenbuch

Just as in product marketing, flashy language can’t sell an incomplete package. Make sure your brand includes competencies and character

A former student recently e-mailed me, asking if I would write a letter of recommendation for his application to graduate school. I’m usually eager to honor such requests, but unfortunately I needed to tell this young man “No.”

Only a few months earlier he was in one of my classes, where his work habits underwhelmed not just me, but his client for a major course project. Even more troubling was the fact that he had misrepresented his completion of an important course assignment—an incident that we debriefed in detail.

After these significant strikes, I was astounded that he thought I could truthfully tell graduate schools he would be a good fit for their programs, i.e., that I could honestly ‘recommend his brand.’ Although his request was unusual, I believe it reflects a broader, potentially dangerous misconception about personal branding: that branding is all about compelling communication that can somehow overcome fundamental product flaws.


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David Hagenbuch is a professor of marketing at Messiah College, the author of Honorable Influence and the founder of, which aims to encourage ethical marketing.