In a recent interview, Sheryl Sandberg was asked about the increasing personal branding conversation in the business world. And it's clear from her response that she is not a fan.

According to Sandberg, "The reason it's not right is that products are marketed... But people are not that simple. We're not packaged. And when we are packaged, we are ineffective and inauthentic. I don't have a brand, but I do have a voice."

She makes an interesting point that the conversation around personal branding has used much of the same vocabulary as would be used to describe branding a can of soda.

The difference is that the soda can't talk to the people who drink it. And it can't listen to their feedback afterwards.

Working with authors, I often hear them grumble about this topic. Why do they need a personal brand? Why should they be thinking about their platforms? To them, after hearing the same impersonal "tips and tricks" for building a brand, the process sounds tedious and, most importantly, inauthentic.

At Greenleaf Book Group, what we try to drive home for our authors is that building a successful personal brand requires a shift in mentality about what "brand" means. It's not just about racking up Twitter followers or building a mammoth subscriber list. Without any context of who those followers are, the process seems daunting.

At its core, building a personal brand is about finding a way to connect with your audience, whether that audience is made up of readers or customers. With today's new media, we have a fresh opportunity to speak with the people who support our endeavors, whether through social media, newsletters, podcasts, etc.

Why wouldn't an author want to speak directly with her readers? Why wouldn't the face of a company want to speak directly with his consumers?

A personal brand affords an enormous opportunity to cultivate goodwill toward your company or book by fostering a human connection with the people you serve. Equally important, by fostering this connection and staying engaged, there is an opportunity to allow their feedback to shape your next moves.

It should come as no surprise that when Sandberg decided to voice her thoughts on grief, she didn't do it on the TODAY show. She went where her followers are and where her words would have the most impact: Facebook.

Where the conversation gets tricky is in unpacking exactly how to build this connection. In an effort to help leaders find their audience, our language becomes clinical and tactical. We talk about reader demographics and hacks for building follower counts. It's no wonder that tried-and-true thought leaders would want to distance themselves from such cold, sales-focused language and focus instead on a message of authenticity.

But the truth is that authenticity and personal branding go hand-in-hand. Understanding the tactics of building an audience isn't enough. And neither is simply speaking from the heart.

At the end of the day, a personal brand comes down to three things:

  1. Understanding your passions.
  2. Finding and communicating with people who share those passions.
  3. Growing and evolving together as passions shift and the world changes.

To do these three things effectively, we need to build our knowledge of the channels through which we can find similarly impassioned people. We need to provide them with an authentically consistent message that adds value to them. And we need to listen to the feedback they give us in turn.

Perhaps it's time for a change in the branding vernacular. Or perhaps those of us at the helm of the personal branding industry need to remind our clients more often of its core purpose. But to say that having an authentic voice is enough makes light of the work that lies ahead of every thought leader in finding the right people to listen.