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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let's Talk about Branding, Shall We? Like I Have a Clue.

Kelly Kilmer said it for me:  all the talk about "branding" drives me nuts, too. So I sat down to find out when and why we started using this term to talk about the way we try to make ourselves famous, and I found some stuff about various books and writers and stuff that I don't care to go find again because I really don't want to give these guys a link and any kind of credit for what I think is a lousy idea, because I also found the note about how actual branding, which comes from the word for "burn" and has been in use since at least the 1400's, was something done not only to livestock but also to humans. 


Branded with their owners' brands.

Now, see, this right here is enough to make me go, "Hey, people, let's find something else to call it, OK? Never mind the success of Proctor and Gamble!"

But no. Apparently a really nasty history of branding being used on unwilling human beings isn't enough to prevent people talking about branding themselves. Or actually doing it. Get this:

So I go in and ask The EGE if he knew that slaves were branded, and he looks at me in that way that so very clearly says, "Why, no, White- Woman-Who-Lives-in-My-House, I had never ever heard of that before. Go-o-o-lly!" 

[This last part channeling Gomer Pyle, of course.]

And then--get this!--he tells me what he learned last week while subbing. This 9th-grader was talking about branding, and since The EGE has heard me rant about people's obsession with it, he listened, expecting to hear, I guess, about social media marketing and an online presence. But: the kid was talking about his friend's brand as an actual brand--half a horse-shoe burned into his upper arm--and when The EGE expressed surprise that someone would heat up a piece of metal and press it into their own flesh ON PURPOSE, the kids said, "Oh, yeah, that's what we all do," and went on to explain that it's much safer than tattooing because the "fire kills the bacteria." That would be "tattooing" in the sense of "letting your friend tattoo you with India ink and that thing he made from an old VCR motor."

So kids are branding themselves. White kids, my husband specified. Hoping, that, surely, black kids might have at least enough of a sense of history to think this is a really, really crappy idea. But probably not, as "history" and "kids" is kind of like "peanut butter" and "chopped liver" = not something you usually find inhabiting the same orbit.

You wonder how it fits together. Kids hear their parents talking about branding, and that gives them this cool idea? Is that it? Or is it meant to be an "ironic" comment on cultural preoccupations?

Oh, wait. I'm talking about 9th graders here. What am I thinking, "ironic comment"? Even without the misuse of the term, it would still be way, way off the grid. No:  it probably has to do with the idea that branding increases your likelihood of getting laid. Now I remember 9th graders. . . .

But what about the rest of us, those who are not pressing glowing metal into our tender flesh? What about the women who attended the mommy blogger conference in New York City and learned about the importance of branding yourself? This was not a conference for people who were  working in a field where they needed a brand to identify themselves with a product--or however that's supposed to work. No. These were women who were staying at home, raising kids, blogging--and felt a need to learn how to brand themselves. For what? Well, to be famous, of course. To have a Following. A Presence.

Not too long ago, someone told me I've done a good job of branding myself. I kept the smile pasted on my face, but inside I was doing that thing you do when someone compliments you on how nice you smell, and you know you didn't put on any cologne that morning, and you think maybe they're being sarcastic, that you actually stink rather a lot, so you're trying to unobtrusively sniff yourself to see if you can smell anything. You know? Like that--I was trying to figure out if this person was really saying, "Boy, you've sure failed at every marketing strategy known to humankind, which would explain why you're wearing rubber shoes."

I never did figure it out, but my armpits didn't seem to stink, so I guess it was all OK.

I looked around online a little last night, trying to find something specific about personal branding in the non-searing-of-flesh way, and I couldn't. Oh, there's tons of stuff about branding, but I didn't find anything that laid it out simply, in steps, you know:  if I wanted to Brand Myself, where would I start? What would I do next?

I think, from what little I know, that it has something to do with figuring out what you want people to think about you and then being consistent in presenting that picture of yourself in every context--online, in print, in interviews (and we all spend our days doing interviews, don't we? Which is why we all have agents, which is how we all make The Big Bucks, right? And just in case my sarcasm is lost on anyone:  I do interviews, but I'm almost always the one getting to ask the nosy questions. I have never had an agent (and if I didn't know better, I'd say, "I have never and do not now have an agent," but fortunately I know how grammar works and so can spare myself that extra typing). And I do not, sadly, have The Big Bucks).

I don't know about y'all, but this idea of branding worries me a great deal. Isn't it what would once upon a time have been called Being Yourself? Being Authentic? That's what it seems like, right? But then, slowly, slowly, it begins to dawn on you:  this isn't about consistently being who you are. It's about figuring out who you want people to THINK you are, never mind if that has no more relation to your real self than you do to Paris Hilton (it's soooo easy to pick on her when an AP news alert about her latest arrest hit my iPhone yesterday morning BEFORE the alarm went off, meaning it woke me up. "News alert," to me, means an alert about, oh, I don't know: actual news, maybe? Disaster? Something I need to know about? I am still trying to figure out why Paris' arrest in Vegas has anything to do with me. But maybe, later on, once I get a clue, I'll be able to work it into my brand!).

I really just don't know. When people compliment me on "working my brand," that's scary. Like the blog banner up there. People think I staged a photo shoot for that. Yeah. The only time we "stage photo shoots" is when I'm showing y'all pictures of what's in my closet, and then I have to put on the clothes and go pose somewhere outside, like a dork, so you can get an idea of the actual colors, since the colors of our walls make everything look washed out. That photo up there was taken across the street from the George Brown Convention Center two years ago (hence the tie-dyed t-shirt; it was like a week before the election). The EGE said something to me, and I sassed him, putting my hands on my hips and giving him lip. I love the photo because it shows a bunch of my jewelry, plus it reminds me of a really good time--we love the quilt show because there's lots of fabulous stuff to see, but mostly it's because we get to hang out with some of our favorite people--not always the same people, but always fabulous people. Plus shopping! (I say I don't like to shop, but there's *some* shopping I can't resist. Duh.)

Am I branding myself when I dress up in my going-out-of-the-house clothes, as opposed to my regular-work-at-home clothes, which consist of a tank top and ragged cut-off Levi's? Am I branding myself when I dye my hair? Do people actually dye their hair as a part of creating a brand? What are examples of "branding," and how--and I really want to know this--is it different from just being a person living your life?

I don't know if I want to know the answer to that--it may be even scarier than I fear--but I have to ask, you know? If anyone can provide a link to something with sets of steps, so we can see exactly what the advice is--you know, From the Experts--it will be ever so wonderful of you. It may frighten us, but at least we'll have a clue~~


Sydney Harper said...

So I decided to google "blog branding" because I think I have a general idea about it but I can't put it into words. I discovered there are a lot of blogs on blog branding, personal branding, student branding (!), and more. I got discouraged at that point and stopped.

Maria said...

Well, you are just you, and I like your articles! You say it like it is, and I'm all for that. I don't care about branding, I care about being myself consistently, which is a challenge at times...

kerin rose said...

"Am I branding myself when I dye my hair? Do people actually dye their hair as a part of creating a brand? "...

yes some people think you are...they call it "crafting their persona"...

there is a designer who has taken my trademarked name ( looong story) and created a persona and brand based on her look..go to google images and type in:

"kerin rose" ...:(

flying fish said...

I think "branding" is about being consistent. It used to be called having a certain style before it involved logos and brand names. You've got a very certain style in your work and your self. I think going to a class on branding your blog is like having those cheerleader people come in to the work place to force cubicle dwellers to be happy. But...that's just my opinion.

Mandi said...

I think it may be a strange generational thing. Youngsters want to be famous for just being famous. A la Paris Hilton.

I hate it. I hate the whole idea because it represents so much that is wrong with our failing society. It's sick, boring and so unoriginal. And the worst offenders are always those who have the least to offer.

However, I think there is something to be said for having a nice website, blog etc, that is nicely designed in order to sell a product, and isn't just personal branding (of the non-flesh mortification kind). I see that as different.

Kel said...

Oh this is something I struggle with so much. I dropped out of a course earlier this year because so much of it was about branding ourselves and making 'the pitch'. The more I worry about finding my authentic voice on my blog, the more I lose my voice! And yet, in a sense, I do see that every time we dye our hair, or choose a sweater or pick these shoes over those, we are to some extent controlling our brand. And now I feel all yucky, I guess it depends on how much we think about how we come across and how much we just be (there's the good grammar for you, right there!).

Carol said...

Well, I am pretty much a What You See is What You Get kind of person. Anyone that knows me personally will vouch for that.

I have a presence on the net, no matter how slight. But I want people to know when they see BEAD AND BIRDS that its me. That's why I sign up everywhere as that personna.

However, in my opinion, I think people that are trying to "brand themselve" that are on the net via site, blogs, etc are just looking for a way to stand out amoung the multitude.

Kids branding themselves...well its a fad. My concerns are that they don't know the symbolism of their branding. Kinda like the kids that run around with their pants below their butts. They just jump on the bandwagon and only the older generations realize the symbolism. And then I wonder what our parents really thought when we burned our bras, swear words were heard on TV and gays kissed in public.

Well, guess I got off track, but isn't it all relavent?

Suella said...

My first impression is that if one needs to *be* a brand (which is likley to involve finances of some sort) one probably need an agent.

It seems a very Madison Avenue concept to me.

Unless one is Queen Elizabeth II of course...

Cody Goodin said...

Maybe it's my age, but it seems people are willing to pay anything to anyone to make them feel valid. It is a sad thing. What is wrong with just putting your stuff up and let those who see it draw their own conclusions. I am a what you see is what you get person. I use my real name, and make the art I want. That may be a brand, but it's just semantics. I call it being myself.

kluless said...

Thank you again, Rice! Yesterday you spoke to this recent notion that we have to "play" to be creative and now the branding. Here I am, going around feeling like branding myself is some sort of requirement to validate that I'm creative. The truth is, the idea of pigeon-holing myself into just one "thing" is pretty scary. Granted, there are some folks who are making decent money by doing that exact thing. That is a choice they made but it doesn't mean that every creative out there needs or even wants that particular flavor of creative sucess. I want to make what I feel like making at the moment. One day I might paint and another day I might crochet and another I might fix up a piece of old furniture. Some of the most creative people out there don't have what I'd call a brand. Thank you for pointing out that it isn't a requirement!

Kathy said...

I think that there is a difference between branding and identifying. BEADS AND BIRDS, Voodoo Lounge and others identify for us who you are and what we may expect - or not. At least it piques our interest. Branding seems to me to be more limiting with boundaries attached - just as branding was intended to be. It labeled property and the owner/plantation where it belonged. The branded property (human and otherwise) would never really be able to break away from that label. In the commercial world P&G makes soap, Izod makes shirts, thomas k. makes something I can't quite understand. And we are confused if P&G makes shirts, etc. So what happens to the artist who has successfully branded themselves into a niche market and suddenly wants to work outside the brand? Does she have to start over and re-brand? Think of the scars...
*I've read this over a couple of times and either I am still drugged or I have managed to compose a cohesive thought. In any case, humor me

Velma said...

shouldn't you just call up martha stewart? (grin)

goodwolve said...

I am one of those people who "brand" companies for a living (marketing is all about branding). What I do for businesses is help them create a consistent look, feel, message, style - call it what you like. It IS all about consistency.

Now, the idea of branding a person or crafting yourself to be a brand is so phony it is pathetic.

You are who you are AUTHENTICALLY and you keep trying to be who you are AUTHENTICALLY. If that creates something that people want to follow, great - but to do it to GET followers is a sad statement on being human.

So, businesses, yes, please brand.

People... learn to be better people.

Just my two cents from the peanut gallery of marketing professionals (where LOTS of them would disagree with me.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and Kelly Kilmer. I am all for people being authentic and real. "To thine own self be true..."

Mary Dean said...

Did it to me again. I don't like being "anonymous." I guess I may keep forgetting to do something when I post. Anyway, above comments are mine. Thanks!

Kim Hambric said...

Well, I have zero interest in being consistent. I might as well get that iron out of the fire.

This is the sort of thing I have been thinking about for a while --- Persona, following, style, branding. Now, I feel I can stop thinking about it.

(but one little part of my brain wants to imprint a little horseshoe on my ass and see if anyone lines up behind me).

Pattio said...

I can see doing it for a business, it makes sense to let people know what to expect so you attract your customers, but I didn't even realize how much this was going on in bloglandia. I like to create stuff, whatever my muse is feeling on any given day. I sure wouldn't want to have to sensor the muse. I would end up a very unsatisfied artist.

Very interesting topic.

MB Shaw said...

Oy vay, this branding thing drives me nuts too. Lots of people have told me I should do it. As in branding. And I'm like, brand *what*??? I mean I am the brand, right? And I just am who I am. Geez, what sort of brand is that, the MB brand? I actually thought about this for awhile, as in *if* I was going to brand myself, what would the brand look like, how am I most consistent, etc. And the best I could come up with (as a 'brand' for me) was
"Mass of Contradictions."
Ha, how sad is that. But it is who I am. And I kinda like it that way.

Magpie Sue said...

Don't have the emotional energy to read through all the other comments but have to say I much prefer your idea of being authentic, true to oneself, over trying to establish any other kind of "branding." What those kids are doing in your neck of the woods is just plain scary. Anything to be cool I guess. And some of us really do want to be noticed, to be famous, and will do almost anything to get there (ie: Paris H.).

Anonymous said...

I was doing mixed media artwork in the early 1960's, 70's, 80.s and 90's; lots of it and there was none of this BS going on with branding oneself. It's the culture, period. Everyone wants to be famous and unique so they use GIMMICKS. I just love that word GIMMICKS. My hubby uses it and I have adopted it. Definition: GIMMICK, any means of tricking the unwary or, an inducement to make a sale. When you read the blogs, this definition surely applies. They are hawking something and telling you you need it to be creative and it is hog wash, poppycock. You are being told that you need their E course to REALLY get in the creativity loop. You know, to really be creatively hip and cool and to really have the creative panache you need what they are hawking. What a crock of crap all of this is and too bad for those who pay their big bucks for the nutty on line E courses. In blog land there is currently an on line course where, for a cool $98 bucks you will be sent a "free kit" with a few rocks [yes! rocks], simple felt star, computer generated workbook. And what else do you get for your money? You are sent some thought provoking questions....unbelievable. Like you really need a person with a degree behind their name to ask you thought provoking questions about who you are. Where, oh where, are big boys and girls who don't need anyone to hold their hands and walk them through the creative journey? Why can't they grow and mature on their own with reading and researching and just getting in the studio and doing the work. GIMMICKS sell and the people who buy into all of the BS think they need someone to hold their hand and maybe, just maybe if they pay their bucks, they will get just a tiny little piece of the famous, beautiful creative people...maybe, just maybe. Pathetic to say the very least and we can only hope that this trend of gimmick land will go away but unfortunately I think it is only going to escalate. Stay out of GIMMICK LAND and walk your own path and just do the work. There are no shortcuts folks, even if you pay the money. You still must do the work and be yourself, not somebody else who resides in GIMMICK LAND.

Anonymous said...

ohhh, just another play on words so internet marketers & publicists folks can make some extra money...I don't do other folks running game on me. I'm with Russell Simmons: just DO YOU!

M said...

Branding? I'm not that old...48. when did "Marketing" yourself become branding? I guess the words "marketing" and "advertising" oneself sounded too much like selling oneself. The whole thing is nuts. Who gives a crap anyway? I blog for myself and to share with family and friends. I read blogs for inspiration and perhaps some food for thought.
Fame is over rated. As long as I have the love of those who matter most, my kid and my dogs, and the respect of my friends and co-workers, I'm good!

Rachel in San Diego said...

I have been taking a job hunting for older workers workshop, since I am an *older worker* and looking for a job. We really are taught to do something similar to branding. We need to create a 30 second commercial for ourself, which is brief and consistant and tells what we can do/are looking for. We need to target our resume, cover letter, and any other communications to the words used in the job description. Being an all around interesting person is not going to get a job. I have checked this out with people I know and respect who have the opportunity to hire people and they say, yes, with the huge number of applications they receive now, they do have to limit their interviews to people who have those specific skills and in the interview they need to focus on the job, not the interestingness of the person. They dont necessarily like it. but it is the world today. Sigh.

So, I am an experienced customer service rep. I listen to people, assess thier needs and satisfy the customer. I am creative, resourceful and visionary. I know there is the right job for me out there. Let me give you my card so you can contact me if you hear of anything.

Actually, I learned a lot putting this together. And, we also spend a lot of time discussing finding the right job that we really want to do. Not just any job to get a job. For those of us who can hold out, it really is a good way to look at things.

I think the key to the branding issue is that the blogger is either selling something, or that, as with so many people today, it really is all about growing up to be famous.

Thanks for your very enjoyable blog. I laugh, I cry, I spit cereal on the keyboard when I read your posts.

Raine said...

Is it just me or am I missing the sort of "branding" you are talking about? As in searing
one's flesh to make a permanent imprint? I thought that's where Rice was going with her
post. Maybe I'm the one who misunderstood...
Anyway... Right off the bat, let me just tell you that I have tattoos...several tattoos...
one covers almost my entire left calf. It's gorgeous! And it didn't really hurt. REALLY!
In fact, I fell asleep during every session...and NO drugs were involved. Just a VERY GOOD
tattoo artist.
That being said, I do NOT understand the branding fad. It comes and goes every few years
and I'm with Kelly...I cringe at the very thought. To purposely inflict that sort of pain
on oneself or another seems barbaric. My ink is a beautiful artistic expression.Branding
is creating SCAR material. I have a scar on my arm from a time in my life when I was
suffering from some severe mental illness issues and I had burned and cut my skin. A few
years ago someone asked me about it. I told them it was an old "war wound." They said
that they had just watched a program on tv about branding and thought that's what it was.
I was horrified! I am stuck with this horrible scar on my forearm that is hard to keep covered. It's
embarrassing when someone asks me about it. If I can prevent ONE person from disfiguring themself
by branding, then my experience will almost be worth it.
Value your skin. It's the only set you own!
Thanks for "listening."

crimsoncat05 said...

Your last few blog posts have been particularly timely for me, and very thought-provoking. I think society in general, as an earlier commenter said, is obsessed with being famous just for the sake of "being famous." This sort of thing, along with the creation of a personal "brand" or a possibly-fake, carefully-edited persona, and the "creative life must look a CERTAIN way" things are why I go through spurts with my online presence and my attempts to sell my artwork online.

I get tired of seeing the "same-ness" of online material (blogs AND websites such as Etsy), and get irritated that this is what it seems to take to get noticed nowadays.
I recently saw a forum post where a VERY new blogger was asking for free samples of items to review on her blog-- she hasn't even been blogging for a month, yet, and she's asking for free stuff to review! When I read her blog, she said she doesn't know WHAT she wants to say or what she wants to blog ABOUT, she just knows she'd like hundreds, or thousands, of followers. I was absolutely flabbergasted at this-- where are people coming up with these notions??

If you have something to say, your "brand" will evolve, and people will want to read it/see it/buy it, whatever-- it's just not authentic the other way around.
(I'll step off my soapbox, now- the short comment is this: thanks for posting your views on things, and keep doing it, because you're saying what a lot of us are thinking!)

Ricë said...

wow--i didn't even know that was a possibility: asking for free stuff you want in exchange for reviewing it on your blog. like advertising, but not. huh. so do you ask only for stuff you know you're going to love? and what if people also send you stuff you hate? you're stuck with crappy stuff and have to spend time to review it and say how crappy it is? or do you lie? boy, this takes my thinking on a whole different tangent--