What’s your personal brand?

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon, July 20, 1969
Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon, July 20, 1969 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) I’m also a fearless explorer, minus the helmet.

I recently attended a writers’ conference and listened to a panel teaching us “Brand You.”

Not the hot metal mark seared into your butt kind.

The “I’m unique because” kind.

I’m lousy at sound-bite self-definition, which is driving American business as never before, thanks to Twitter, (which I don’t use), Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media.

And tomorrow in Manhattan I’m attending a huge blogging conference, BlogHer, where I’ll have to tout yourself in a few pithy syllables.

I was raised, culturally (Canada) and by my (accomplished but quiet about it) family and by my profession (journalism) not to toot my horn all the damn time.

Have you ever heard of “tall poppy” syndrome? In Australia, the tallest poppy — i.e. the boastful braggart — gets its pretty little head lopped off for its temerity. The Japanese and Swedes have their own expressions for this as well.

Canadians just find chest-beating socially gauche, and assume you’re a pushy American. So that whole brand-building thing, there, is often considered about as attractive as passing wind. Modesty is highly prized, so how to “be a brand” and do so in a low-key way, somehow escapes me.

(Being modest is easier in a smaller nation with tighter social and professional networks. There are more than 300 million Americans, some of them breathtakingly aggressive. Remaining invisible often means professional suicide.)

I still think (yes, I know I’m wrong!), that the quality of my body of work should speak for itself. This constant, tedious “watchmewatchmewatchmeeeeeeee!” of a three-year-old at the pool — now considered part of “building your personal brand” — remains a behavior I find a little infantile. Even after 20+ years in the U.S. and near New York City, where sharp elbows are a pre-requisite for survival.

Here are a few phrases I think define me and my work:

passionate authenticity

insatiable curiosity

nuanced investigation

I love this song, Helplessness Blues, by Fleet Foxes:

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see

What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do

Do you have a brand?

What is it?

How did you arrive at it?

25 thoughts on “What’s your personal brand?

  1. Most people who meet me and know me say I tend to leave an impression just by being myself, so I never had the brand-building problem. But now that I think about it, I guess creating my blog was a big part in building my brand. Heck, the whole idea was to have something more to show people that I was a serious writer.

  2. Delusions of grandeur. It is what I named my blog some time ago based on what I thought was a whim. But then I realized it summed me up quite nicely. I’m going for the top, but the reality is quite far from it, however, because I’m delusional, I’m still going for it. (shrugs) I’m sure folks think I’m stark, raving mad. But that’s true, too. 😉

  3. ‘Passionate authenticity’ – cool, and that’s exactly the tone of your blog too. It’s why I so enjoy reading your posts! Good stuff.

    David’s right that it’s hard to reduce a person to a phrase; but I think we’re talking about approach to profession, rather than character. Point of difference.

    You got me thinking about my own brand, which I’ve built by deeds, but never expressed – more to say than I can put in a comment,

    That tall poppy syndrome is rife in New Zealand, too. (Sigh).

  4. Pingback: Defining your writing brand « M J Wright

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on this issue…I have a blog from the perspective of mom, grandmother, registered nurse, and social worker…it speaks for itself…at least that is what I thought. Then I went to MOM 2.0 and learned that blogger is a “big” business of promoting yourself…which I am not very good at.
    The blogging world is very interesting for someone my age and I am enjoying it for just for that reason. Enjoy BlogHer…wish I could have been there.

  6. Yet another very interesting post from Broadside. Yes, the whole branding thing. It IS tedious, you’re right. The best writing advice I’ve ever received was from Dorothy Porter, a very successful Australian poet. She said, ‘Compare yourself to no one’. So that’s what I do. At least try to do. I’m not sure that means that I have a brand. In terms of writing, and by default blogging, I can only do what I want to do, want turns me on, what moves me. The rest has to look after itself.

  7. With so many voices, writers, blogs, media outlets, I’m pretty conscious of my digital footprint being synonymous with this idea of a “brand.” I used Facebook and Twitter, but almost strictly professionally, to share and curate ideas. I’ve never thought about what I do online as creating a “brand” but I guess that’s what I’m doing. If I ever leave the classroom and apply for other education-related jobs or others, I can hopefully point to a unique digital footprint. Nice post!

  8. This is exactly why I had such a tough time in theatre and real estate. In theatre, it’s your face, your body, your voice, you “type.” In real estate, it’s all about your image–you have to appear knowledgable and savvy, a ball buster but still a nice guy. I usually just felt like an imposter. Blogging has helped me define myself in a more authentic way. You’re able to attract an audience based on your voice and your ideas. I am very put off by any kind of sales pitch and I know I’m not alone in my distaste. But branding is now an integral part of competing in the modern world. What I’m finding is that if you say what you really mean and you are who you really are, that’s a form of branding–it can happen gradually and authentically, kind of like personal style. I really love the way you define yourself as authentic, passionate and curious–those are some of my favorite traits. Your inadvertant “branding” has attracted a lot of fans, and I count myself among them.

  9. You’re too kind! I’m a very big fan of your blog, as well, so you know the value of…being one’s self, albeit an edited/revised one…:-)

    I think some people are now SO weary of hype and BS and over-caffeinated DRAAAAAAMA that quieter, smarter voices are probaby becoming even more appealing than ever.

    In such a crowded and distracted world, it’s very difficult to prove you are somehow different or unique. I think you do just have to be your (best) self and trust that — as you have done — it is appealing. Your blog conveys a nice blend of empathy and wisdom, which we’re all pretty hungry for.

    I’m very blunt and very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Some people find it off-putting but whatever I say, here or elsewhere, is genuinely felt — whether true admiration or lack of same. I’d be a lot richer and more famous if I sucked up better, but…oddly, I suspect that’s the value of “me/brand”. No BS, at least not deliberately!

  10. I used to think I was distinctive enough a voice to have a personal brand. But as I get older I seem to connect more with others, find commonalities, and this is ok with me now – I find it comforting rather than worrying I’m bland and generic. I also feel inclined toward the buddhist idea of personality being somewhat fluid – I think many of us are different people from day to day. I also came to the conclusion later in life that I’m an introvert – a friendly, outgoing introvert, but still – which often makes for categorizing yourself tricky.

  11. I agree totally that we are many different people — as Walt Whitman would say, we contain multitudes. One reason I dislike the notion of a brand is that I’m more complex than that, as are most of us, whatever we show to the world professionally and personally.

    My husband is a devout Buddhist and I really appreciate many of the teachings, like not attaching too much ego (if any) to any particular label or outcome.

  12. Pingback: Lead-Learn Mashup – Lead.Learn.Live.

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