Nonprofit Periscope

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Posts Tagged ‘branding

Personal branding: why I won’t be converted

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I didn’t plan on getting tangled up in a blogosphere debate over personal branding (catch up on the action at Rosetta’s blog and Allison’s and mine), but I’m glad I did.  And I’m glad I’m playing defense in a debate dominated by pro-branders.  Many sing the praises of personal branding, and few ask critical questions about it.

My recent concession on personal branding was too meek.  Here’s what I meant: personal branding is a waste of my time. 

Other Brazen Careerists and bloggers are speaking out against it too.  Carlos Miceli says to hell with personal branding.  Andrew Swenson says we’re not thinking critically about it.   Justin Wise isn’t convinced that marketing a person like a brand is a good idea.  And Boon Chew one-ups us all by not even talking about personal branding, but backing off from cyberspace and living in the real world.

I have no beef with the personal brands of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or fellow bloggers.  You are rad.  You wow me every day, as you did even before you had brands.  (Because there was such a time.  This is not an organic concept.  Someone made it up and then it caught fire.)

My problem, however, is that personal branding is like religious evangelism: if you don’t buy into it, you’re going to hell.  Or so the evangelists say.  I can write all day about how personal branding is made up, a waste of time, pure jargon, neo-narcissism, etc.  But if I do, pro-branders will reply: You have a brand whether you like it or not.  All you can do is control it. 

Which leads me to wonder: if I don’t want to have a brand, why do others want me to?  Why, in other words, is it so extremely important to pro-branders that everyone acknowledge personal branding as real?  Why not let bygones be byones—or just atheists?

My hunch is that, like religious evangelists who believe nonbelievers are going to hell,  pro-branders believe the unbranded will suffer professional decay, and wish to save them from that fate by preaching the gospel of personal branding.  The intention is admirable.  But just as I don’t believe in hell, I don’t believe that a torturous ruin awaits me if I neglect my online persona.  Real life is not about cyberspace.  Yes, what I do online often touches my job, at least on the fringes.  But what I do offline is more important.

I admit: if I have a personal brand, it’s my own fault.  It means I’ve spent too much time thinking about how others see me.  I don’t want to be that self-conscious.  I don’t want to limit myself to how I want to be seen.  I don’t want to live or die by whether I’ve impressed or disappointed someone.  If I can create an entire persona around how much I worry what other people think of me, I’m wasting my time.

Note that I didn’t say “you,” or even the vague third-person “one.”  If you want a personal brand, that’s your business.  Just don’t insist I have one.  Let me be a nonbeliever.  I’ll be okay.

Call me cynical, but I suspect personal branding is a fad.


Written by eclawson

December 31, 2009 at 4:21 PM

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I take it back. Kinda.

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In a previous post, I made a parenthetical statement, almost an afterthought, that “personal branding is a lie.”  I had no data to support it; I just threw it out there and walked away.

But Rosetta Thurman diligently noticed and artfully rebutted it, and I now have to admit: I was wrong.  Personal branding serves purposes—very concrete ones—and a lot of people find it useful.  A lot.  It has theory and methodology, and its meaning is understood by many.

However.  While I admit on an intellectual, left-brain level that the evidence for the importance of personal branding outweighs whatever made-up non-data I had in mind when I called it a lie, my emotional right brain is putting up a fight.  I don’t want to be a brand.  I don’t even want to have a brand.  I want to BE a human and HAVE a life.  I’m not saying that brand and life are mutually exclusive.  Rosetta’s personal brand is rock solid because it’s based on her inspiring, fabulous self.  But we’re all different.  Part of my background is in marketing and communications, where a brand is not flesh and blood and soul, but something both ethereal and squirrelly to be “managed.”  I can’t shake that connotation.

So instead of working on my personal brand (“What’s my reputation?), I’ll work on my personal mark (“What are my contributions?”)  Perhaps it’s the same thing as branding after all.  But it at least feels more human.

Written by eclawson

December 15, 2009 at 10:09 PM

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