I Am SO Over “Personal Brands!”

Are you the star of a reality show? Do you have products or services licensed under your name? Do you aspire to either of these achievements? If your answer is no, you should not be marketing yourself or your career as a brand.

I offer another essay from the Curmudgeonly Crone, continuing my rant on bad career advice floating around which, in the end, only serves those floating it. These folks arguing that we need to develop our personal brands to assure career success may, indeed, hope to launch classes and services offering us help under their personal brand.

What is a brand? The dictionary defines “brand” as:
1. A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name. e.g., “a new brand of detergent.”

2. An identifying mark burned on livestock or criminals or slaves with a branding iron.

Those of us with careers in marketing and advertising know that understanding a brand’s image is a crucial part of the marketing process. We must know what our prospective customers think and feel when they hear our brand’s name. Market research is conducted to deeply understand how consumers go through purchase funnels and make brand choices. Advertising is designed to support or shift those brand images and millions of dollars are spent on media selected to reach the appropriate target audience. Branding is big business.

How did that big business approach to brand image and brand development come to be applied to ourselves?

Management expert Tom Peters, writing in his book, The Brand You 50 (Reinventing Work): Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an “Employee” into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion!, states: “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are the CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc.” He adds, “You’re not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description.”

In other words, someone looking to sell something, using his own reputation and expertise as the reason you should take his advice, coined “personal branding”. There’s nothing wrong with that. I happen to think his advice is sound. I constantly read books by experts because I can learn something from them. But I do rail against the non-experts, picking up the catchy phrase and purporting to guide others in the development of their personal brand. Tom Peters has a personal brand and he uses it to sell books. Oprah has a personal brand, as do the Kardashians, Serena Williams and Donald J. Trump along with many other modern celebrities.

You, job seeker, do not have a personal brand and do not need a personal branding strategy. But you should take certain steps to keep your career on track:

• Keep your resume up to date. That includes making sure it looks good, and is reviewed carefully. I recommend that it be professionally reviewed. If you are changing fields, get some help with repositioning yourself.

• Don’t languish. Besides doing your job, ask for new and challenging assignments that will keep you learning and growing. Use volunteering to gain experience. If you’re a student, seek out multiple internships.

• Find a Mentor. We all benefit from someone else’s perspective. I recommend everyone – no matter your age – find a mentor.

• Be Informed. Know what is happening in your field and in the world.

• Learn how to network. It is important to maintain connections within your field and across your different worlds. You should be able to learn how best to network through your mentor. Smart networking requires giving as well as taking.

• REALLY learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. It is really hard to learn about our own weaknesses. Make the effort. But also acknowledge what you’re good at and play to your own strengths.

• Promote yourself. It can be difficult to let others know about your achievements but it is necessary. There’s a fine line between bragging and promoting yourself. Learn where it is. People often assume their bosses know how good they are. Don’t assume anything. Instead make sure you find ways to let your managers know about your achievements and successes all through the year but especially at performance review time.

Why am I making so much fuss about a seemingly insignificant practice? I believe that personal branding strategies involve treating people – nay, ourselves – as commodities to be managed and positioned. We are not commodities. We are complex, with strengths and weaknesses and aspects of self that we do not want the world to see, of course. But to position our very selves as products designed to appeal and “be sold” to some target audience renders our need to even think about authenticity, honesty, truth and ethical trade-offs moot. I don’t want that kind of career. I don’t want to hire those kinds of people. And I don’t believe we thrive in that kind of society.

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ― May Sarton

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