But What If Your Brand is Bogus?

Branding is hot

The trend of developing a ‘personal brand’ has been getting a lot of attention—like it’s something they just thought of. There is nothing new about it, except now there are many online services available to help you craft and market your personal brand. Some charge big bucks to bang out some edgy jive. A lot of the personal brand statements I have read are variations on the same theme, anagrams of a finite collection of all-purpose self-empowerment words. You know what they are—the same  words you put on your resume or job application—the crap we’re forced to write about ourselves that makes a sane person cringe. The more statements I read, the less meaning they hold; the more forced they sound, the less I believe in them.

Other services advise flooding your brand into the right directories, social media, forums, etc., with the content and frequency of each post carefully designed to reinforce your image. There are people who expend enormous time and effort to promote their brand. It’s dizzying, isn’t it? Who the hell has time for all this? What about life?

Go with the flow but obsession not necessary

With the current pathetic job situation and more people than ever competing for what crumbs are available, as well as more people trying to make ends meet on their own, you need more than solid work experience, a good resume, and respectable references. We’re told we need every weapon we can lay our hands on, every angle, every app. We are encouraged to regard ourselves as commodities and to strategically manage our images as if we were products. One brand-developing service promises to help you build meaningful relationships within your organization’s power structure, another advises that your clothing match your business card, stationery, and the background color of your professional photo! So where do you fit into this gaseous miasma?

Is your brand really you or did you make it up?

Your brand is supposed to reflect who you are as perceived by the world. So, can your brand be an invention hatched by your wannabe self? And if it is invented, can you grow into the persona you’re trying to create? I’m not talking about mean-people brands—any bully can easily maintain a negative brand if that’s what they are and have no aspirations to rise above it. But maybe, if people are putting some effort into maintaining an honorable brand, and sincere about living up to it—then maybe a heightened awareness about your image isn’t such a bad thing.

Do we all need a brand?

Your brand is about the business of you. You don’t have to be a high-level player to have a brand. Maybe, like lots of us, you’re just a refugee from something or someplace, trying to survive with a few shreds of dignity intact. We might not be CEOs of big corporations—but we’re CEOs of ourselves.

We are already branded

Every single one of us already has a brand. Would people describe you as unreliable? Forgets important stuff? Won’t shut up? Doesn’t listen? Interrupts? Doesn’t keep your word? Doesn’t tell the truth? Always has an excuse? Passive-aggressive? Business owners or employees who promote themselves as ethical, sincere, or hardworking will eventually be outed if that’s a crock, as well they should be, the posers.

Have you ever been kept waiting by someone who claims to be dependable, snapped at by someone who feigns friendliness, or lied to by someone who swears by sincerity? Ever been stood up, let down, stiffed, screwed?  No self-packaging hype or resume fluffing or inflated mission statement is going to change how people perceive you if you’re a phony. Your brand is built-in, so if it’s bullshit, eventually you’ll be exposed.

Create your own brand by example

So yes, a brand can be invented, but it takes effort to make it yours. You do have a choice in how you interact with the world—and, you should periodically assess your style to help keep glitches in check. If you really, really, don’t care about your image and want no part of this, do note that a brand will be assigned to you regardless of your level of  participation—and it may be one that’s less than flattering. The idea behind branding is you get to create the image, but it’s up to you to own it. Damage control is much more work, effort and stress than doing the right thing in the first place.

Branding for real people—be authentic

You could hire a personal branding expert to give you a makeover and then market you like you’re the next miracle eye cream. But I firmly believe that you, your brand, your resume, your reputation—the extract yielded when your actions are compressed—is about integrity and credibility in the face of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. If you’re a consistently thoughtful, responsible, and rational person because that’s who you really are, then that will shine through in all aspects of your life. And if that is the extent of your brand, I think you’re doing damn well.


11 responses to “But What If Your Brand is Bogus?

  1. Wow, I never heard of this and I now envision people packed in shrink wrapped boxes like dolls on a toy shelf — as if it wasn’t hard enough to find a job, be yourself, live life now you have to “brand” it as well! I have been struggling just to figure out who I am, what I want, what makes me happy (the usual mid-life jazz) this past year. Guess I’m going to have to keep in mind my “self branding” when I dress myself and my business cards once I figure it all out. Oh, the pressure, the pressure of it all….

  2. The pressure is ridiculous! All this plus having to decide whether to spend the last of your savings on the fancy stationery or gas to get to the interview.

  3. This concept has crossed my path a few times in recent years. We had an applicant show up and actually refer to his “branding” efforts. I glanced over his application and asked when did he work on a cattle farm. He didn’t get it. His brand of applicant didn’t come with a Sense of Humor. Those must cost extra. What is the branding protocol after landing the job? “Bob, your work is excellent and your attitude is fine, but some of the associates are talking…Did you know your shirt doesn’t match your stapler? You did!? Well, Bob, I mean during the interview…well, we hired Bob Wilson whose Tie matched his Stationery…I don’t know about this Bob you’ve become!”

    Insanity, cubed.

  4. In today’s competitive job market there is definitely a place for Personal Branding depending on an individual’s goals. As John alluded to, talking about the effort one actually puts into branding is within the realm of silly. After all, when a product goes to market and uses branding such as a specific color scheme, font or logo, the company doesn’t provide the consumer with a brand book explaining the why and how of the final product. With all of the homogenized, ‘pc’ corporate-speak that is to be expected in today’s business world, candidates need a way to stand out. As you pointed out, “Every single one of us already has a brand.” How one manages and promotes that brand is the key differentiating factor.

    A huge part of the Personal Brand whether one likes it or not, is reputation. It becomes more about how one lives his life, his actions and reactions in various situations that become the Brand’s marketing. Personal Brand is more than ‘tie-matching-stationary’, it is The Logo of You; and no, I don’t mean a catchy graphic with one’s name emblazoned in an original font (as cool as that may be), it’s the essence of who you someone is – her personality, her ethics – these elements that always peek through. It’s okay to have personal business cards that match stationary – and maybe it’s even okay to match one’s tie also – just make sure all of that hype matches the ‘product’ behind the brand.

  5. I think branding has been around since the first people and we have always done it, it’s what humans do. Now with the Internet we have this whole other universe that wants you to participate. It’s a strong force. I would certainly Google a job applicant.

    I note that some of the finer points of branding seem to be much more relevant in bigger cities, or by profession. The rest of the country (or world), still brands people the old-fashioned way, by reputation. Works good. The Internet is an amazing tool though.

    And yes you should absolutely shut your mouth about it! It’s all supposed to appear effortless, like you just floated in on a cybercloud of decency and virtue.

  6. Hi D., great post.

    I have never thought about this subject of personal branding. I do remember watching some video of comedians talking about their “Branding” and it just flew over my head without really entering my consciousness.

    I would think this could be a subject of derision from some if the people doing it are just “normal” folks instead of show-business or political types.

    I’m not looking for a job so I guess I probably don’t understand or “get” just how much this would effect most people looking for work.

    Let’s see, I’ll brand myself as a rich, handsome, womanizer and see how far I get before my wife slaps me down. 🙂


  7. Hi B,
    Listen to this from December’s PC World magazine:

    “A recent survey shows that 92% of kids in the US have an “online presence” by age two.”

    I don’t know how accurate this is, or how they did the survey, but this was bound to happen with parents showing off baby pictures online. So this way you can start your personal branding early, with no control over it, no privacy, and certain embarrassment later on.

  8. Debra: I really like your post. The brand is a brand is a brand. Fancy smancy logos repel me unless they are backed by pounds and tons of experience, events happening to the “brand” that really happened and are not invented to pose a reputation to allow entry into your checkbook. Personal brand advisers have found a way to make some money by promoting a person’s “image.” And the people that pay for this dubious architecture seem to think that font you use or the color of paper they promote their “image” on makes the person — repeat, makes the person. The substance of a person is their narrative, told truly without embellishment. To get at that, we make telephone calls to vet and verify the resume, and many of those calls are to people that are not on the “list of references.” It’s trite, but appearances can be deceiving.

    I get research papers handed in at the end of the semester that are very well written. There’s no brand or logo on them. The papers that I get that are encased in some sort of plastic folder and have elaborate fonts on the title page are a sure bet to be (nearly 100 percent of the time) the shallowest, narrowest and dumbest papers of the class. The student thinks that if they can put their prattle in some pretty folder, points will fall their way — magically, like praying for a grade. Image is not substance. Never has been, never will be. Brand is not substance. Never has been, never will be. The family heraldic crest or brand never killed a foe; it was the sword behind the crest or brand that secured the family, the land, the nation.

    Last year I gave the Prairie Sagebrush Award for fine writing on the WWW. It’s a personal thing of mine to do. Behind that award are substantial pieces of writing. Your work excels. Several of your posts are so well written that I can’t help but speculate that you are a published author in exile from a faraway land and you have chosen privacy over the vexation of publicity and Madison Avenue branding.

    My brand: Say what you mean, deliver what you promise, fight for the right.

  9. Hi Jack,

    This will be a topic of study someday to future anthropologists. I didn’t even think about branding at universities, but after what you pointed out, I agree that fancy report covers are a wasted effort unless you’re majoring in graphic design.

    I still take it hard when folks don’t keep their word. “Doesn’t deliver on promises” is the befuddled brand of alcoholics and drug addicts, users and losers—and overshadows any good they may offer. If only there was some way to learn this before we do damage.

    A reputation for being a class act doesn’t just happen. You lay the groundwork early on and build upon it for the rest of your life. There’s no font that can replace it.

  10. Image has supplanted substance in our culture since TV became the ‘fireplace’ for Americans. If I were to place a date on when it happened I would tend to say that it was the Nixon/Kennedy Debate where Nixon looked so bad and Kennedy looked so good.

    Substance, or truth, has no meaning anymore in our society. It is ALL about how something will look or how something will sound NOT about truth or reality.

    • Ed, I’m flattered you’re browsing some of these older posts! Now more than ever image is everything. Just look at the business of Photoshopping celebrities on magazine covers—encouraging people to pursue the impossible.

      I thank goodness I dumped cable TV years ago, I don’t think I could endure the political ads without being sick. I understand they’re more negative than ever. I stand by my own brand, my conscience!

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