Attention, world: I am not a brand. Most people aren’t brands. We should stop trying to push this whole, “find out what your brand is and market the hell out of it” approach to life. It’s not healthy, and it will ruin us all if it continues.
Companies and their products are brands. And they have people (sometimes hundreds or thousands of them) to preserve, promote and enhance those brands. But there is a disturbing trend as we’ve become so much more interconnected online—and as a very, very few people even find financial success there with blogs and such—to tell people that they need to discover their own personal brand or create one, and then market that brand.
It’s a problem because most of us don’t have time to adequately and appropriately market a brand, not even our own personal one. A person who is a success at blogging (financially, that is) probably puts in the equivalent of a full workday most days of the week (and perhaps all of them) to be that kind of success. And for every person like that, there are probably at least 10 others putting in the same hours and effort and getting little or nothing in return. And then hordes of others beyond that who dream of such possibilities but are bogged down by the necessities of going to work, doing housework, cooking, running errands, raising kids, walking the dog, etc.
What’s worse, though, is it isn’t just people seeking a breakthrough online. Increasingly, especially as more people connect through LinkedIn and other social networking venues, we are expected to “brand” ourselves in terms of our careers and potential employment. Or our personal relationships.
But there’s a huge risk in that. Actually, several risks. How you brand yourself may not be how others see you or are willing to accept you. Branding yourself, if successful, may also “typecast” you into a niche and deny you access to other opportunities. Trying to market your brand may use up time you should be devoting elsewhere or, in a related problem, you put a bunch of work into finding out your brand only to realize you don’t have the time, the resources or the skill to market that personal brand.
And those are just a few problems off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.
We are people. We are not products. The more we turn ourselves into brands, the more we make ourselves into commodities. You know, the kinds of things businesses buy and trade. Do you want to be a product or do you want to be a person?
Increasingly since the end of World War II, when we entered the heyday of the middle class, we’ve seen things toward the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st continue to chip away at that middle class and give more and more power back to the companies and away from employees. We’ve slowly given up what we fought so hard to gain to be treated right and be treated as humans, only say, “Oh, I guess I should work whatever hours you say so you keep me” or “I guess it’s OK that I don’t get to use vacation time or can’t afford to include my family on the health insurance” or “Yeah, the execs should see their pay increase more and more and more while my pay stagnates or falls behind inflation.” And now, after slowly letting them take away any sense that we have earned the right to be treated well because we work hard, now we willingly prepare to make ourselves into “things.” If we make ourselves brands, then we are fit to be bought and sold, both literally and metaphorically. We risk becoming tied to that brand and forced to maintain it long beyond our comfort zone. We cease to be people. We truly become cogs. To be used until worn out, and then replaced without a thought.
Yes, some people need to brand themselves, or some part of their lives. But for most, that’s foolish.
Deacon Blue is a brand.
Jeff Bouley is not.
I am, in essence, the CEO in charge of shepherding a brand that is Deacon Blue. I am a part of that brand. Who I am influences that brand. But it isn’t who I am. I am not, in the end, Deacon Blue. Nor should I be. I don’t want to become a character or, worse yet, a caricature. I won’t brand myself; I will let the whole spectrum of who I am stand out.
There is nothing wrong with me promoting Deacon Blue. But the fact is, Jeff Bouley will not be a brand that can be pinned down and pigeonholed. I am a human and I am complex, with many skills to offer, many things to give and even many problems to pose. I will not strip away who I am to get down to a core that is false. Too many people think that by branding, they are stripping away the excess and getting down to the core of who they truly are. But if you peel everything away to be just one thing or a just a few things, you have made yourself false.
You may have a brand to market. But if you think that you are a brand, you are deluding yourself, I believe.
Or, even worse, diminishing yourself to fit in to someone else’s mold.