Monday, November 06, 2006

A Brave New, Brand-New, Brand-You World?

When my former neighbor and long-time friend Margot Wallace told me that she had written a book entitled Museum Branding (AltaMira Press, 2006), my first question was, "What's that?" Margot teaches at Columbia College, Chicago, and she worked in advertising/marketing for many years before earning a master's degree and becoming a teacher in her field. She's good at what she does. She cheerfully explained to this outsider that museums need identities, or brands, to promote their institutions to visitors and benefactors. The book's subtitle is "How to Create and Maintain Image, Loyalty, and Support." O.K. Museum branding makes sense.

Still, when I encountered Jeninne Lee-St. John's article, "It's a Brand-You World," in the November 6 issue of Time, I was startled to learn about "personal branding." According to Ms. Lee-St. John, personal marketing consultants apply "the language, philosophies and strategies of Madison Avenue to the brand that is you." According to the experts she quotes, we need to be "packaged," our images overhauled, in order to get ideal jobs or to find life partners. "The majority of [job-seeking] kids coming out of college are essentially generic," according to consultant D.A. Hayden of Hayden-Wilder. As a long-time college professor, I question that, but I'll concede that some graduates may need advice: relax, don't say "uh" or "like" so often, dress appropriately, and so forth. But do they need to pay $2,950 for Hayden-Wilder's "Illumination" branding package? I don't think so. There's even a New York company, PersonalsTrainer, that will rewrite your on-line personals or dating service ad for $159.95!

I don't especially need or want either a job or a date these days, but this article interested me for two reasons: a short-lived experiment with a senior on-line dating site (no dates), and the publication of my book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor, earlier this year.

I wasn't serious about the dating site for senior citizens. I just wanted to explore, and I wouldn't have minded meeting someone in my age group for coffee and conversation if, indeed, there are any seventy-ish men out there who are interesting, single, straight, healthy, and not looking for a housekeeper, cook, and/or nurse. I was truthful. I did not claim to be beautiful or vivacious or eager to find romance. The two or three tentative responders lost interest quickly, as did I. And when one mentioned sex as his main interest or activity, I concluded that he must hit the Viagra a bit too hard. Possibly a personal branding consultant could have improved my image and found me a date, but I might have told the guy to get lost. There's not much wrong with being single.

Then, there's my book. I've learned about marketing and publicity packages that cost many thousands of dollars: possible radio and TV interviews; book tours; public appearances. How about an image consultant for an "extreme makeover"? A media consultant to improve my radio or TV performance? No sale. My book is mainly for seniors, whom I assume to be quite oblivious or resistant to such efforts, and I do not expect it to be a best seller. Its readers have been appreciative, but it's a book with a limited audience. Why waste money on the impossible?

I've grown up believing that I should be myself and not care what others think. I'm an individualist and a loner. Those qualities have never made me popular, and perhaps they helped make me the depressed recluse I became for a while after my husband died; some reinvention was necessary. I've improved me teeth and my hair, and more importantly, become a volunteer, joined writers' groups, and made a few new friends. I've attempted to market my book on line (where many seniors never venture). But as for aggressive and expensive personal branding? I don't think so. I wouldn't mind meeting a few new people or selling a few more books, but I won't buy a new image in order to do so. I know who I am, and I'm content with the imperfect brand that is me.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Margot Wallace said...

As the branding expert on this page (with all modesty, the only one) I must point out that you have branded yourself perfectly. You know your strengths and highlight them. You are clear and focused in all your postings about your book and yourself. You don't try to be all things to all constituents. You have a point of view. Personal branding is not just for job (and date) hunters. Volunteer organizations, colleagues at conferences, and prospective new friends all will know what Marlys Styne stands for, and why they can trust her.

Paul Copcutt said...

Marlys - you are right in the sense that you now is your brand.

Personal branding is about being yourself - but being aware of it. We all have personal brands its more a case of how aware you are of that brand and the impact that brand is having.

Good personal brand consultants or coaches should work with you to help identify your unique skills and attributes and how best to communicate that to your target audience.

There is a confusion out there that personal branding is just about image, but that is just a small aspect of the whole picture. The personal branding process can be intense and detailed and costs can vary depending on the length and depth that you want to go.

It certainly does not have to be about aggression. We all do not have to be Donald Trump to be a strong personal brand - although love him or hate him he is a good example of a personal brand because he is clear with his message, consistent with who his target is and constant in working on being visible.

Clarity, Consistency and Constancy are much more the pillars of personal branding.

Just my toonies worth - good luck!

seniorwriter said...

Many thanks to both of you for your comments! Obviously this whole branding thing was new to me, but I'm learning!