Wandering around the web, burning my retinas, I keep stumbling across the necessity of branding yourself. It seems every LinkedIn user profile has a pithy self-description, designed to sell. The 140 character messaging service Twitter allows a whole 160 characters to capsulize yourself and win followers. The new “branding” is the equivalent of standing up in a crowded room and announcing whatever you perceive your distinction to be. (I am reminded of ancient times with a chamberlain announcing the arrival of guests at the ball: “Lord and Lady Fenestrator … The Grand High Duchess of Camembert” …) The chamberlain is now the internet, and what you are and do, your brand, has become the equivalent of the landed title.
And so I ponder what exactly is my “brand”? Is it the degree I earned years ago? Is it the name of one of many occupations over the years, and if so, which one? Is it one of my hobbies? An attitude? A political inclination?
Dan Schawbel, who started as a soi-disant “leading personal branding expert for Gen Y” in 2009 gave me a free download of his personal branding guide and in it warned that –
“Taking ownership of your personal brand is extremely important because otherwise, people will categorize you based on a first impression. That first impression might not align to your branding strategy and the brand attributes that you selected might not be displaying. People can freely communicate about you behind your back and if that word-of-mouth isn’t accurately portraying you, then it will be much harder to reposition your brand in their minds.”
Oh dear, Mr. Schawbel. People do indeed categorize you based on a first impression regardless, and they can and will communicate about you behind your back no matter what you decide to call yourself. A branding claim of “SEO Genius” or “Million-Selling Sales Rep”, might prompt a reader to think one arrogant, even possibly a liar. I know my initial reaction to that sort of unqualified personal brand is – says who? I mean, being a Nobel prize winner is one thing, but deciding to call yourself a “Branding Expert” kind of primes the ego for puncture. However, it appears a brand can become a lodestar, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Several years later, I note that Mr. Schwabel is recognized as a “personal branding guru” by the New York Times. Bravo, sir.
It seems branding shorthand is essential for the internet attention span (equal to one New York Minute). The elevator message rules. But still I’m equivocating. What if more than one brand applies? I could brand myself “Marketing Consultant” or “Chef Extraordinaire” or “Promotes Prosody Through The Harvard Comma” and be right on every count. And admit it, jumbling them all together looks ridiculous.
And what if I change my mind, and give up writing and take up auto mechanics, am I stuck with my first brand, like today’s body art aficionados will one day notice that the tattoos of youth have sagged and faded like old balloons. If things change, do you get to re-brand? Do all brands grow blurry over time?
Perhaps branding comes easily to the young who have little patience to sort things out and even less history to hide, but I just haven’t figured out yet what I want to be when I grow up. I still hope there is a little mystery to each of us, a few layers of complexity that defy easy categorization. You can’t imagine how much trouble it was to write the “about me” section. I’ve changed it a dozen times in a week. I fear I am hopeless. I could no more settle on one brand than I would settle for just one perfume.