Five pitfalls of personal branding: When becoming known doesn’t work

Mark Schaefer
7 min readMay 15

I recently had an exchange with a friend who described a person who seemed to be doing everything right with his personal brand but had no progress with monetization. He wondered why his friend was failing — to the point of quitting. It made me reflect on the pitfalls of personal branding. Under what circumstances will even an excellent personal branding effort fail?

There are five pitfalls of personal branding. You’ll want to avoid these problems and we’ll dig into those today.

The personal branding path

First, let’s take a step back and examine the fundamentals of developing a personal brand.

I wrote the all-time best-selling book on personal branding and also teach a popular online course on the subject. I help people focus on becoming “known” in their industry, not famous. Being “known” in the digital world means you have the reputation, authority, and presence to get your job done.

There are four main steps in my process:

  1. Identifying where you fit in the business eco-system — what you want to be known for. It’s not as easy as it seems, requiring research, introspection, and insight.
  2. Finding the most productive place to tell your story.
  3. Consistently create one form of content that effectively tells your story (you only have four choices by the way!)
  4. Developing an actionable audience (which is different from a customer list or social media connections)

So, the path is straightforward but there are no shortcuts. It’s not necessarily easy, but it works!

But when does it fail? I see five pitfalls:

Pitfall 1: Too small of a niche

When it comes to navigating a career in the creator economy, there’s a lot of popular advice about narrowing your niche. But what happens when your niche is so narrow that there aren’t enough people who care? You can niche yourself out of business.

I’m not a fan of the overly-narrow niche.

I like this example instead:

Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!