Personal Branding: It All Began With A Picture

Posted on May 19th 2012

There are no shortcuts to building a credible, durable and goal-oriented personal brand that delivers tangible results for your career and your life. As experts and those who have achieved remarkable professional and personal benefits remind us with the full authority of experience, before embarking onto any practical steps to develop our brands we must do our homework and put our house in order. And that will always include a healthy degree of introspection about our motivation and values as much as establishing a workable strategy that takes into account our target client, our objectives and a reasonable calendar to achieve them among other key aspects.

Once the above has taken place, the question immediately arises: which is the first practical step I should take to take charge of my personal brand? (never forget that your personal brand already exists whether you are cognizant of it or not). And the answer almost invariably is: get the best possible photo of yourself. For if logos are quintessential to commercial brands, photos are quintessential to personal ones. Even in the case of people who are already acquainted with you in a personal or professional capacity, pictures – when they display a lucky blend of originality, quality, artistic merit and manage to capture the essence of what you stand for – send a powerful message about you and your brand that colors the perception other parties will have of you across the board. Underestimate the importance of a portrait picture at your own peril.

The importance of taking photographs

This lesson was well understood by one of the forerunners of the modern personal branding movement: the Anglo-Irish dramatist, philosopher, novelist and wit Oscar Wilde. Perhaps no one was as successful as Wilde in developing almost from scratch a highly idiosyncratic and controversial personal brand that allowed his genius to flourish and attracted the attention of the prejudiced and corseted Victorian society he had the misfortune to live in. All the same his achievements are remarkable and have stood the test of time: I can think of no better example of a man who created a niche that nobody else dared to occupy as an art critic, brilliant conversationalist, connoisseur and lecturing aesthete across the English-speaking world. And at the start of it all was the picture displayed above alongside the one taken by the great Napoleon Saroni in New York in knee-breaches that launched Oscar to stardom in the US. (Lesson for personal branders: Want a smashing picture? Get a smashing photographer!).

The purpose of your photograph

Needless to say technology has moved on greatly since the end of the XIXth century and today even home-made pictures can have astounding quality and do the job for us – at least temporarily. If you ask me, however, I would never recommend trusting such a crucial piece of your personal brand to luck and my advice has consistently been to always engage the services of a professional photographer after you’ve made clear what the purpose of the picture is and its place within your overall brand strategy. To maximize the return of your investment bear in mind the following:

- Consistency pays. Even when it is becoming customary to exclude pictures from résumés/C.V.s for certain position in some countries (the same is happening to age, marital status and other irrelevant factors) to avoid unfair discrimination, the truth is that in the social media age almost every social network requires a picture. Using the same picture across the social media and internet sites makes it easy to find and remember you and reinforces the branding attributes you are seeking to emphasize with your image. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but using at least a picture from the same set is usually a good idea.

- Your picture must tell a story. The acme any photo (an indeed any portrait painting) can reach is to encapsulate within itself the art of storytelling and, in effect, tell a story and highlight key concepts inimical to your brand. Are you all about creativity and innovation? Thorough professionalism and time-tested experience? Not afraid to break conventional rules like Oscar Wilde? Let your picture speak for itself.

- Your picture must evolve with your brand. Brands are not static but dynamic, and changing your picture at the very least every three years is an unwritten rule that shows your followers, peers and clients that you are a dynamic as opposed to a static individual. It also offers you the chance to reflect on the passage of time kindly and underscore your accomplishments in the best possible light.

- Remain flexible and do not ignore feedback. Some of us have better judgment than others when it comes to our own image. Regardless, at the end of the day the feedback you get is what will determine whether the picture you have chosen is serving you well or not. Personally I always prefer what I call the a-ha effect‘: time and again people have been pleasantly surprised when they’ve met me in person and told me how I look ‘definitely younger than in the picture’. This is not only a great ice-breaker but helps me start conversations, networking and business dealings in the right frame of mind. Be it as it may, ideally you should never look significantly worse than your picture, which is another reasons why using dated pictures is inadvisable.

A whole treatise could be written on this hot topic but I hope the message by now is clear: getting a good picture is often the first practical step towards the strategic strengthening of your personal brand. Your presentation picture – especially if it will be included in your portfolio and social profiles – deserves your full attention and care and is one of the best investments you can make.

Your photo speaks volumes about you: make sure those volumes are filled in with your hopes, aspirations, personality and talent and not the result of a haphazard occurrence that you have been too careless to display. Your quality picture will pay off big: and the more visible you are, the higher the return. So get ready to collect.


Oscar Del Santo is a lecturer, consultant, key speaker, blogger and populariser of online reputation and inbound marketing in Spain. He has been extensively featured in the Spanish and Latin American media and is included in the ‘Top Social Media Influencers’ and ‘Best Marketing Tweeters in Spanish’ lists @OscarDS. He is the author of ‘Reputacion Online para Tod@s’ and the co-author of ‘Marketing de Atraccion 2.0’.


Daniel Schawbel

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Posted on May 19th 2012 at 6:15AM
"when they display a lucky blend of originality, quality, artistic merit and manage to capture the essence of what you stand for" Pray tell, what does your generic portrait style photo say about you? The single biggest factor in getting recognised is to do good things. To act. To acheive. This article is symptomatic of a huge swathe of people that try to short cut their way to success, and the expert consultants who give the pointless advice. I loathe the term personal brand because it epitomises the attitude that it's more important to spend time on how you look to other people than it is to spend time doing stuff other people will enjoyor learn from. If you actually want to build a 'personal brand' then stop naval gazing and start doing stuff that is useful, interesting or funny.
Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 12:02PM

Mike, you obviously hold a deeply distorted view of what the personal branding philosophy as posited by Dan Schawbel and the rest of the team at Personal Branding Blog stands for.

I invite you to read my response to such accusations as the ones you replicate here so that at least you are better informed on opinions of both sides of the divide:

As to doing 'stuff that is interesting, useful or funny', I have authored two books, lecture at several universities, and written hundreds of blog posts in both English and Spanish. Believe me when I tell you that navel-gazing is not a sport that I practise!


Best regards,



Posted on May 19th 2012 at 10:42AM

the author advises "ideally you should never look significantly worse than your picture, which is another reasons why using dated pictures is inadvisable".

is he saying that older is uglier?

Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 9:42AM

Not necessarily. In fact, I do believe I look significantly better than when I was a teenager. Having said that, dated pictures in a social media age are hardly a good idea.

Posted on May 19th 2012 at 2:27PM

Authenticy is on it's way in! People are tiring of the over-manicured, over-manipulated, over-the-top macabre imagery. It's become run-of-the-mill angst. Less photoshop, more truth. Can't go wrong. Keep it Simple.

Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 9:41AM

That's why a picture for personal branding purposes should seek to display what you are really about and tell a story about your style, your values, etc. It is all about putting across you message with consistency and coherence and always being true to what you stand for.

Posted on May 19th 2012 at 2:31PM
I just photographed someone for their branding and social media. It is nice to see this topic behind to be addressed! So many people either assume it is unimportant, or worse: that they can just use an instagram, or shoot in a mirror etc. This does not send a professional message, even if what you do is not directly contingent on your physical appearance. BH /
Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 9:38AM

I totally agree!

Posted on May 19th 2012 at 6:04PM

Glad you focused the entire blog on personal pictures. Every cliche about pictures still holds...worth a thousand words in eyes of, still, portrait, humor, artisitic...just please no egg head unless you are a Chicken Little.

Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 30th 2012 at 1:19AM

Thank you, you nailed it! And your picture is a great example!

James Meyer
Posted on May 20th 2012 at 11:10AM

Your photo should be engaging and show personality.  I'm seeing less and less of the staged "portrait" style and overly produced Photoshop caricatures that seemed so popular the in the past.  Social Media and branding is about connecting.  A picture that says I'm important or I'm trying really hard to impress you may not be the best first impression these days.



Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 9:38AM

James it all depends on the context and the purpose of the picture. That's why I clearly indicate that 'first you must do your homewrok' and learn about your target audience, etc. A 'staged' picture can be perfect in some settings and just not get you anywhere in others. Flexibility is key, but the picture remains an important element for your personal brand nonetheless.

MaryLynne Christman
Posted on May 21st 2012 at 5:18PM

How do you feel about the person that does not even put a picture in but just leaves the ghost (if that is what it is called)?

Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 11:41AM

Not the best of tactics for personal branding

Oscar Del Santo
Posted on May 29th 2012 at 9:50AM

Thank you all for your comments, I'll do my best to respond to all of you individually.

Posted on June 11th 2012 at 10:38PM


You shared sage advice, but as you can see I too struggled with what image would reflect my brand best and went with a cartoon image. As many have already pointed out the ills of imagery in techno-social world using a cartoon gives people a picture that serves as your logo. As a public speaker who trains people on communications and social media the feedback that I receive on my logo picture versus my likeness in film is the same. What are your thoughts on using cartoons?  

Posted on June 12th 2012 at 8:50AM

I would not be dogmatic about it, I think it can work well in some quarters, though as a general principle I would be against it.