Try it. Google “personal branding.”
Wo. See that? The little search ‘bots retrieve 297 MILLION results!
Since leadership guru Tom Peters first presented the concept of marketing yourself and your career just like a brand in that article, “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company magazine in 1997, the thing has developed some legs and has taken off running in all directions.
A whole industry has grown up around the idea. The multitude of human potential advice-mongers keeps telling us that mega-success comes from self-packaging and telling a better, hand-crafted story than the next guy.
FOCUSING ON THE GIFT-WRAPPING
Before Peters dropped the PB-bomb, typical do-it-yourself self-help management techniques that were bandied back and forth were about self-improvement and developing inner qualities of character and all that other old-school, boring stuff.
Now, it seems, it’s all about self-packaging and “controlling” your image and massaging your message.
One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen about brand strategizing is this one, published in 2011 by BINA LA, featuring veteran marketer and brand promulgator Sasha Strauss, the founder and manager of the consulting firm, Innovation Protocol. In it, he gives “$100,000 of Brand Strategy Advice” to a roomful of up-and-coming peeps.
It’s a wonderful, rollicking talk. It touches on all the points about how, you too, can be a brand. Woo-hoo!
(Notice, especially, that he says the big companies spend a heck of a lot of money and buy up a lot of people’s time and talent to work this thing. Okay. Onward.)
WHY “THEY” SAY IT SHOULD MATTER TO YOU
We keep getting bombarded by the same message: We have to stand out from the crowd.
Repeatedly we are admonished: We need to create buzz-i-ness.
We need to be seen. Our ideas must be heard. The social media – that insta-FB-tweet-post-pin algorithmic meta-dance — will take us to the place where we will be the Center of Attention.
And that, it says here, will get us to being showered by the Big, Big Bucks.
We will be secure in the knowledge that when folks need something done, all this trumpet-blowing and drum-banging is going to mean that they will inevitably think of US.
We’ll be “Top-Of-Mind.”
This is because we are in control of our own story and the image we’ve inserted in other people’s minds.
(Then, of course, we can don our super-hero gear and go get ‘er done.)
PB jammin’ takes time, we are told. It takes hard work. It can cost a bunch too. After all, there’s a heck of a lot of competition out there and they’re all doing the very same thing we are.
The noise level keeps rising.
And all of those stories are clashing and crashing together. ACK!
REALLY, YOU GUYS?
It really has to make you wonder, though.
When everybody’s talking and trying to make their message louder and stronger and more and it’s all predicated on self-promotion and outshining the other guy, doesn’t that mean that it gets really hard to hold a normal, one-on-one conversation?
And if everybody’s shouting at each other, what do any of us actually hear?
If everybody is trying to “stand out,” doesn’t that mean that we are all sort of blending in?
In the analog world, a crowd of folks, each one trying to be more different and more avant-garde than the other guys probably end up looking sort of like a cosplay convention or maybe a Mardi Gras parade. Right?
I mean, it’s fun and all, but what’s the point?
All those guys in the white lab coats tell us that each of us humans are pretty much made up of the same bundle of needs and wants, strengths and vulnerabilities, patches of assorted bits of sanity and neuroses, and ordinary as well as extraordinary bits as every other human.
They tell us that our individual differences and eccentricities are often less noticeable than our collective similarities.
A punk rocker who “stands out” in a crowd of polka fans would just be a regular sort of guy in a punk rock concert crowd.
Since business and everyday living runs more smoothly where there is a “meeting of the minds,” it is probably a good thing that we are a lot more alike than not.
Still and all, we are not clones of one another. Even minor differences of mindsets can cause major misses when two minds are trying to intersect.
M…M…M…MAYBE IT’S SORT OF RIGHT
It is certainly true that showcasing the parts of ourselves that we are particularly proud of is more likely to attract the attention of folks who are looking for those very qualities we most want to continue to use and grow.
I’m not saying that the PB-jammin’ dudes are wrong.
I am saying, however, that it isn’t the packaging that brings joy and gladdens the hearts of the recipients of a gift.
It is not the packaging that delivers on the promises made when you ask for somebody’s trust.
The packaging means squat when you are in the middle of the muck trying to knock out a solution to a gnarly problem.
What your customer wants to know, really, are two things:
- Can you do the work well?
- Will it solve their problem so they can get on with doing their own work?
The shiny party paper and pretty bow are nice, but, so what? How much of your time is it worth?
It seems to me that your time would probably be better spent making sure that you really are doing the work that your customers need done the way they need it done and that you are developing better and better skills at doing it.
HEADS-UP, CONTROL FREAKS
The one thing most guys who are into promoting personal branding sort of gloss over is another truism: You cannot control any other person’s perceptions of you or your story.
How they put together what you say is not in your control. Remember that ubiquitous disclaimer, “Individual results may vary.”
You can round up and herd other people’s perceptions. You can influence them. Maybe you can even drill an image into someone else’s head. Whatever.
Know, however, that if you fail at delivering on your promises, none of the packaging stuff is going to matter one whit to your customers.
You will hear about it, and so will anybody within the reach of that social media thing you’re trying to game.
THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
There are important questions embedded in that Tom Peters’ article, which was meant to be a wake-up call for those of us playing among the ranks of the corporate minion-hordes to break free from the need to conform to and in our workplaces.
Peters was giving us a heads-up about a basic truism, I think: Conformity does not promote creativity.
He was trying to get us to understand that as contributors in the “new marketplace,” each of us is responsible for owning who we are on the deepest level.
He told us that we had to “cast aside all the usual descriptions that employees depend on to locate themselves in the company structure.”
Forget job title, he said. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value?”
Forget your job description, he said. Ask yourself, “What do I do that I am most proud of?”
For me, at least, the personal branding advice Peters was presenting in that article more than a dozen years ago was less about you being noticed by other people and more about what you do, the meaning it has for you, and why it has value for other people.
He tells you to ask yourself “the same questions that brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body shop ask themselves.” Look at your product or service (and at your own self) and figure out what makes that product or service (or you) different from the run-of-the-mill in 15 words or less.
What specific features do the product or service (or you) have that benefits your customer better than anything else?
If your answer doesn’t “light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or – worst of all – if it doesn’t grab you,” Peters says, you have got a problem.
Basically, you don’t know why you’re doing what you do.
Applying the “feature-benefit model” to your own self, Peters suggests asking the following questions and he explains the benefits to the customers that arise from that feature:
- Do you deliver your own work on time, every time? (Your internal or external customer gets dependable, reliable service that meets its strategic needs.)
- Do you anticipate and solve problems before they become crises. (Your client saves money and headaches just by having you on the team.)
- Do you always complete your projects within the allotted budget? (Cost overruns are not a help.)
Put together the answers to the feature-benefit model questions and the earlier ones about what you do that rings your own chimes.
Then, Peters says, ask yourself, “What do I want to be famous for?”
Doing all that helps you screw your head on right. You will have figured out why your present and your prospective customers will probably like what you do.
You’re on your way to getting your story straight, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to live it.
There is a bunch of stuff in the article about how to call attention to your answers and conclusions once you’ve done the exercises. Of course, there are. The guy is a marketer-extraordinaire.
Maybe, though, that part is optional.
AN OLDER KIND OF PERSONAL BRANDING
Whenever I run across another of the “personal branding” motivational rants, I can hear my grandpa grunt, “Only wala’au (talk, talk, talk)…no CAN li’ dat.”
(Papa was a great believer in doing and solving problems. Talking didn’t cut it for him when the results didn’t match the boasting.)
It was a reminder that wala’au is only air. What counts, all the old guys said, are the results of the work of your hands and your mind.
It is an old-fashioned idea. One that’s been around for a very long time.
Before there was a thing called “personal branding,” everybody worried and gnawed on the concept of “building a good reputation.”
Reputation is what people remember best about you, they said, and other people’s memories and the stories they tell about the way you walked along with them and others they know are what can make it a good one.
The thing that builds your reputation is the way you walk.
MEMORIES ARE LONG
Every once in a while, I am reminded of how long other people’s memories are.
The Light of My Life and I stopped into a private craft sale put together one Sunday morning by a group of local craftspeople in an outbuilding at the home of their friend and patron. There were three painters, a journeyman photographer, a beginner jeweler, a masterly potter and a stone carver.
I knew the stone carver, Ho’aka, who used to hang around the booth at the hotel and festival craft shows that my late husband Fred (a self-taught, traditional Hawaiian stone-carver) and I used to set up to market Fred’s decidedly esoteric and traditional art form.
My part in all of that was to learn the stories of the ways the ancient ones worked with the stones and to explain how and why Fred tried to emulate their ways while he sat on a mat on the ground doing a stone-carving demonstration.
One of my best things was organizing little do-it-yourself stone polishing sessions where kids who visited our booth could take away a small, child hand-sized ‘ulumaika game stone that they had worked on themselves using one of the flat polishing stone boards I set up on mats around our space.
Another activity involved print-making by pressing acrylic paint-covered carved stones onto torn rectangles of crafts paper.
Guided by the pictures in the old books I’d found, Fred carved ancient-style petroglyphs onto those stones. The kids loved the results when they played with the stones.
I made simple display boards, wrote up the mo’olelo (stories), and wowed the visitors to our booth with cultural tales during a time when the Hawaiian cultural renaissance was just starting to grow.
It was timely, and we sure had a lot of fun with it.
After Fred’s death, Ho’aka went on to find master traditional stone carvers in the islands, apprenticing himself to them. He got good at working stones.
As the Light of My Life and I were leaving, Ho’aka gave me the highest compliment one local can give another.
He told me, “Netta, I want you to know. We remember. We remember how you told the stories. We remember how you guys kept the stories alive. We remember….”
Twenty years after that chapter in my life had ended, I was given this gift.
It made me cry…and the funny part was that what he said other people remembered was not what I thought I was doing.
Here’s a poem:
I am FAMOUS!
EVERYBODY says so…
All the them that’s in the know.
(If YOU don’t know, then who are you?)
Me, I am famous!
Watch me twist and twirl,
Gyrating in the swirl
Of Other People’s noticing,
Glowing in the spotlight
Incandescent like a mirror-ball.
I am famous! Me!
Hey, hey…why’d you stop?
Don’t you like me any more?
Gee…don’t you know?
Ummm…where’d you go?
They’re all gone.
There’s nobody looking.
Guess I’m done, my race all run,
Washed-up, a has-been…
The formerly famous.
created by Netta Kanoho
Header picture credit: “Dying Fire” by Frank Crisanti via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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