This is not a how-to article about personal branding. There are hundreds — probably thousands — of those. There are “personal branding strategies,” “personal branding tips” and “personal branding examples.” There are multiple sites for, “How to discover your personal brand,” and others with “Advice on the brand called YOU.”
But there’s precious little about what might be called the ethics of the increasingly common practice of “personal branding.” When I entered “Personal Branding: Is It Right?” into a couple search engines, they choked. All that came back was, “Personal Branding: Is It Right for You?”
Which is part of the issue. Questions of right and wrong are ruled “out-of-order” without a second, or a first, thought. The only real question is, “Is it right for you?”
Should you wish a definition of the subject at hand, here’s one from that venerable on-line authority, Wikipedia (I’m pretty sure you won’t find “personal branding” in Webster’s Collegiate).
“Personal branding”: “A description of the process whereby people and their careers are marketed as brands.” To which Wikipedia adds, “It has been noted that, while previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.”
Examples? Locally, think Dale Chihuly, Pete Carroll, and Bill Gates. Personal branding can fit all stripes: Martha Stewart, Nelson Mandela, Oprah, the Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi or Donald Trump. Good brand strength one and all. Moreover, personal failure — and in Stewart’s case even jail time — need not diminish brand strength. With the right management, the brand can even be enhanced by such miscues. We all love redemption stories.
Last week, while in Minneapolis, I was a part of a group of hapless, boring mainline Protestants (my tribe). We met with a guru of the Emergent Church movement.
He made the interesting, if obvious, point that, “Evangelicals aren’t afraid of personality. They love personality. You mainliners don’t. You run away from personality.” He’s right and it’s a problem for us.
Another way to put this is that, in world of religion and its competition for hearts, minds and money, Evangelicals are all over personal branding — think Mars Hill's Mark Driscoll, Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, Joyce Mayer and Tim Keller, to name a few. Odds are, you can’t name a single mainline or liberal Protestant leader at all, much less one with good brand strength.
We main (or old-liners) are a modest people, reluctant to tout ourselves, last to blow our own horns and as a consequence “losing market share.” Long ago we were taught and came to believe that the cardinal sin is Pride, thinking too much of yourself, putting yourself above others, pushing yourself forward. These days doing these things is no longer a sin. It is a tool, a skill, a virtue.
In the new dispensation, the real sin isn’t pride. Just the opposite: the real sin is to fail at self-promotion, to be inept at “creating a presence,” to lack overweening ambition — this is a problem.
What sells isn’t modesty, still less humility. It’s people with big personalities, with a personal brand. Lots of teeth help too.
According to our guru, there is one thing that makes the books and products mentioned on Oprah really move: crying. When the author and/or Oprah cry on-camera, the on-line orders go wild. “Then,” he exclaimed, “there’s a human connection. People want the human connection.” God, have mercy.
Meanwhile, as I was in Minneapolis being schooled on personality and brand, the whole thing with General David Petraeus was unfolding, which led to further ruminations about personal branding.
Andrew Sullivan, among others, pointed out how carefully Petraeus has built and managed his brand. On Sullivan’s “Daily Dish” website two photos appeared side-by-side. Panel One: General Dwight David Eisenhower on D-Day, with not a medal or ribbon on his khakis, looking plain as oatmeal. Panel Two: David Petraeus with medals and ribbons up one side and down the other, a genial all-American Caesar. Sullivan went on to note that even when Petraeus appeared in public in a civilian suit, he had his medals tacked on to his lapels. Part of the brand.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!