Branding the Self

Who says you need to be a brand?

Posted May 28, 2010

We live in a culture of entertainment, a society in which being entertained is so highly valued that at times it seems that if something isn't entertaining, it should be avoided or ignored. The demand for just about everything to conform to the standards of entertainment has, in the last few decades, extended to the person. You have to be entertaining, or you will be avoided or ignored.

Therefore a small industry has arisen to help you develop your personal brand. As you know, big corporations spend millions to develop brands with flashy logos that encourage consumers to view the corporation and its products as exciting, cool, edgy, etc. Well,, if products need brands, why not individuals? Inevitably, "branding coaches" have started popping up offering advice on topics such as "Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me, Inc." Most of the advice comes down to this: figure out your strengths and then figure out how to market them, thereby creating a public relations image for yourself.

This approach is generally oriented toward career management, but there is also a much larger (and somewhat harder to spot) process of self-branding going on in contemporary society. People have always used consumer products such as their cars and clothing to advertise who they are, but in recent years that process has accelerated. These days many high end houses are built not only to display the owner's wealth, but also to assert claims about who the owner is: "I am the master of a Tuscan villa", or "I am royalty" (I see lots of houses these days with turrets, which I suppose might be useful if you need to defend your house in a siege, otherwise they are just a way of saying, "I own a castle").

Or , to take a different sort of example, I don't listen to much country music, but I get to hear it sometimes at the gym, and these days it seems to me that a lot of it is about the sort of people who listen to country music: "I'm proud to drive a tractor and salute the flag" etc. Back in the day country music was about things like cheating spouses and drowning your sorrows at the bar; now a popular theme seems to be "I'm the sort of person who listens to country music."-more self advertising. My final example is one that is so obvious it almost doesn't need to be mentioned: social media. What is Facebook other than a vast platform for creating brand you?

Why do people feel they have to shout so loud to establish who they are? My answer would be: This happens for the same reason that movies get louder and brighter and more violent each decade: there's a competition going on for people's attention, and the competition will be won by whatever is the most stimulating. And increasingly that holds for people as well: people who are able to put together an impressive and eye-catching brand will be more likely to get noticed, get hired, be popular, etc.

I do have one question, however: What's the difference between marketing yourself and simply being yourself?

To learn more, visit Peter G. Stromberg's website. Photo provided on flickr by austinevan.