I was reading one of those articles. You know, the job hunting and/or career advice ones where they tell you to “cultivate your personal brand.” You interact in a world of brands, they say, so you should have one too if you want to stand out.
Excuse me, but ick. Yes, like anyone else, I love branded things – like my collection of Fluevog shoes or Orla Kiely’s patterned anything – and I have weird attachments to one thing that is basically the same as another, except for brand – like Facebook instead of Twitter or Honda instead of Toyota. And I understand the purpose of branding in business, to give a product or organization the essence of personality that helps it stand out in the marketplace.
In other words, giving an object human characteristics so that human consumers can relate, identify and buy. In turn, the brands we display or associate ourselves with reflect something about ourselves to others – prestige or taste or youth, for example.
But you and me, we’re already human. (At least, I am, I don’t know, you could be a Google spider, bot or artificially intelligent machine. Greetings, robot overlord!) We don’t need to replicate human qualities, do we? I’m a person who provides writing and editing services to other people. I’m a person and I connect to other people. We may project our best selves as professionals on the job, but we are more than our surface persona; we are real and we have layers; we are sometimes messy.
So for me, the advice to “have a personal brand” and also be “authentic” is contradictory. Think of people who have branded themselves, like Trump or Oprah. Their name is burnished onto a thousand products, they have a certain essence that resonates with the masses, and they’ve made a lot of money, but they are not real. Is their glossy celebrity image is consistent with the human being underneath? Can I connect with that? No, though it is delicious when the chasm opens up between carefully cultivated image and the real person, revealing those messy layers. It will happen sooner or later.
And back here on earth, when you are told to brand the essence of your authentic self, they usually mean to be positive, enthusiastic, likeable, whether or not that actually reflects what lives deep down inside. I’m not saying I want the world to be my therapist, nor do I expect people to “handle me at my worst.” Nor do I have the time or inclination to go around plumbing everyone else’s messy layers.
I suppose that if you have a brand at all, it should tell others what to expect. Be consistent, have integrity and show what distinguishes you from others. For example, if I’m scrolling down Facebook and see some rednecky meme I can say, “oh, that’s just my wacky family,” and carry on. I don’t have to agree with it, but that’s a bit of their personality being performed for those they feel connected to. (Being a non-PC rebel is great, especially when you have thousands of others to fit in with by saying so.)
As much as I hate most of the BS woo-woo that goes into articles like the one that prompted all this foaming at the mouth, I admire those who are able to create a distinct persona for their work or business. Like Cal Worthington and his weird daredevil antics to sell cars on local cable (go see Cal!). Or Stephen Colbert’s former conservative pundit persona . And I love the moustachioed, eyebrow-cocked representation of my favourite podcaster, David McRaney of You Are Not So Smart.
If it works for you, go for it. Go over the top. Or just be yourself, but better behaved. Anyway you slice it, what you see should be what you get.