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~~