Monday, March 21, 2011

Why You Should Care About Branding, Part 2

Are you a brand?  Do you want to be?

These might seem like bizarre questions to ask, especially in a time where the idea of commercial brands being emblazoned on our bodies is all too real. But what about creating your own brand?

We are all recognized by individual identity markers: personality characteristics, unique physical traits, abilities, monikers, and memories others have of us. These signifiers create the way we are seen by our peers, families, and those who come into contact with us over the course of our lives.  They change as we grow, but some stay the same forever: a laugh, a love of death metal, or, in my case, the use of the word "dude" way more than is appropriate or necessary.

Everyone already has a personal brand.  And the good news is, you can create it.  You can mold and develop it depending on how you want to be seen, experienced, and understood.

In Part 1, I talked about why branding interests me: because the communication of identity and purpose matters. If you can more readily identify what the purpose of something is, you can easily categorize its relevance in your own life. If my goal is to market my services to the public, than branding myself as an ambassador of those services will better help other people determine whether or not they are interested in those services.  That's the great thing about branding—it more easily connects those who provide a product with the people that want/need it, and it successfully communicates the benefits so that those who think they want it can decide.

Nubby Twiglet has a great post called The Power of Personal Branding.  She cites Jessica Simpson and Donald Trump as examples of personal brands. So those two celebrities aren't as hot as they were in 2008 when she wrote the post, but they still have marketable, very visible personal brands that build on their personal identity markers—Jessica Simpson's products are all marketed as part of her laid-back, breezy, glam California lifestyle. Trump's products are all high-wealth, audacious, and ballsy. He's known for the comeback, for high-risk investments and returns. People find that tantalizing, and buy into his books and his lifestyle because they aspire to be like him.

You can use personal branding to attract other people with similar identifiers. This should come as no surprise: we look for those who look like us in the hope that they are like us. People who dress similarly, or have a projected similar attitude, tend to find each other at social events.  It's a handy tool.

Now for the darker side: you can also create a personal brand that gets you in with the people you want to be like and socialize with. It's nearly primate-level behavior: if we camouflage ourselves to look like members of a group, will be more readily accepted as members of that group. Sneaky! And effective. It sounds pretty manipulative honestly, but this is how marketing works.

The truth of human life is this: we are all insecure. Without insecurity, marketing wouldn't work. The lie that consumerism has taught us is that we will never be satisfied with who we are, hence the power of the aspirational brand.  So what do we do about that?

I know some who would rather not play the game altogether.  I have a relative who questioned why I'd even write about this stuff, since other pursuits (politics and non-profits where the ones she suggested) would be far more worthy of my time and energy.

That might be true, but the reason why I examine these issues is this: branding and marketing will always exist.  Having critical awareness of what branding/marketing is trying to push is necessary.  If we're not critical of it, if we don't examine it and question its motives, we fall prey to its worst elements.

Personal branding has the same issues as commercial branding.  If you are selling yourself based on true criteria and marketing yourself effectively, people will get a clear picture of your services, products, or your personal character and they will trust you.  That brand will last. 

If, however, you market yourself as someone you're not, if you go too far out of your comfort zone, if you try to reach too high and too wide, that illusion will eventually fail. 

It's important to think about who you really are and what you want to communicate about yourself to the world.  I'll tackle how to do that in another post.  For now, who do you know that brands themselves effectively?  What brands do you trust?

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