The Observer: Be Yourself™®©

Building a personal brand is a thankless job. But only if you forget to thank yourself.

Primary Objective
To establish your “personal brand” through the creation of a distinctive identity, an image as individual as your fingerprints but that won’t smudge stainless steel surfaces.


Illustration by Ward Sutton

Secondary Objective
Leverage the brand to enhance your marketability, visibility, status, and value among select target markets, i.e., those with something You want. Potential outcomes may include: your next career opportunity, attracting a wealthy investor, landing an agent/manager/rep, getting into a better college, going viral, finding your first million friends/fans/followers (or 12 disciples!), being quoted on Buzzworthy, and/or influencing your high school reunion committee vis-à-vis the hors d’oeuvres choices.

Action plan
1. Define brand
2. Launch brand
3. [TBD]
4. Happiness, wealth, and fame.

Personal branding is the single biggest factor separating humans from the apes (and, anthropologists say, explains why ape unemployment is near 100 percent). It’s what makes the Kardashians possible, popular, profitable, and predictive of America’s demise. It’s how thought leaders perpetuate the idea that thought-leading is an actual thing and that they’re doing it. It’s narcissism with a secondary, less stigmatizing purpose: ambition.

But at its heart, for the vast majority of us a personal brand is the polished, tinted lens through which we ask the world to view us; a selectively assembled, shrewdly generated projection that allows us to put our best, most Photoshopped foot forward. (Needless to say, crucial as this representation of ourselves is, it calls for more thought and better judgment than is needed for living in real life.)

Think about it: With most relationships migrating away from in-the-flesh interaction and toward technological, screen-based interface, your two-dimensional identity, your brand, is how friends, colleagues, strangers, children, even extraterrestrials with an Earthling fetish, will get to know You. Relate to You. Be impressed by You. Approve or disapprove of You. Accept or reject You. In other words, it’s just like high school except with a billion classmates, in session 24/7/365, and lasting until the day your hospice nurse tweets your funeral arrangements.

In sum, personal branding is how we sell ourselves. Without it, we’re all just cheap Chinese knock-offs of our own unrealized potential.

America was founded on the idea of capitalism, a system that involves buying and selling goods and services. Naturally, in such a free and open marketplace, comparable products often sprang up. So, to attract and retain customers, colonial business owners began differentiating their “brands,” usually through proprietary names, distinctive packaging, and the dark arts, known today as paid advertising.

From the earliest handbills for Prendergast Wig Powder (“The only thing whiter is the name Prendergast”) to the pioneering paid “spokes-forefathers” (George Washington for Valley Forge Party Ice, Andrew Jackson for Jolly Racist candies) up to the present-day ubiquitous multimedia, multichannel, multimillion dollar campaigns for multiple genital-centric pharmaceuticals, this country has produced some of the most recognizable and trusted brands.

Along the way the average citizen, while increasingly resentful of and impervious to marketing’s escalating intrusions (Does anyone actually look at junk mail? Click on promoted posts? Believe in-store skywriting? Notice it’s Kool-Aid Man who’s flashing them in the park?), spontaneously grokked the language, the techniques, the obligation of brand development and ceaseless promotion. Until, finally, the superconfluence of a glut of qualified job seekers, unprecedented self-absorption, and pervasive mobile broadband gave every single one of us—You!—the incentive and the means to apply our marketing knowledge to the only product each of us possesses: each of us. Elevating beleaguered advertising targets to enthusiastic advertising bombardiers and, in the process, enabling a disdain for all commercial interruptions save our own.

All consumers know Coke’s little more than bottled carbonated sugar water and Walmart’s just a network of Milky Way–based souvenir shops for intergalactic endomorphs. Yet they’re undeniably two of the most successful brands ever, inspiring slavish devotion from legions of customers. How? By coining and advancing select brand attributes and/or benefits that, figuratively, sell the studio-enhanced sizzle, not the pre-formed soy-based steakfood with REAL non-toxic appliqué grill marks.

Same goes for You. In 2016, You can’t simply be yourself. Yourself is too broad, too random and generic. Yourself could be anybody, is anybody, which is to say nobody. And nobodies don’t appeal to anybody but nobodies, if anybody. In other words, without a spin, a hook, a creative interpretation, you (lowercase) are a commodity, another faceless millionth cousin twice removed in the family of man.

That being the case, the brand You unleash on the public must be sharply focused, strategically formulated, and scrupulously curated. It must be the distilled You. The assured You. The happyfunsmartwinner You. Or, for artistic types, the darkcynicalblaséeveryoneelseisaloser You. The You without doubt, anxiety, fear, contradictions, complexity, missteps, flaws, and a giant cold sore on your lip. (True, some personal brands utilize doubt, anxiety, and fear, but it’s primarily done to rally Republicans to the polls.) This is the online You. The You that’s like You but way, way better. The You that, if s/he existed, wouldn’t want anything to do with You.

Key Insight
Even if You’ve never burned one calorie or fired one brain cell to the establishment of a personal brand, You have one. It’s unavoidable, like vegans or Benedict Cumberbatch.

This is due to the Internet, that ubiquitous, omnivorous devourer and searchable regurgitator of all things true, false, neither, and both. A network ever ready to instantly, dispassionately spill its all-inclusive guts about You to the next inquiring soul who can spell your name (or get close enough for Google to correct it). What such a search turns up—typically, a conglomeration of miscellaneous tidbits and factoids, like Facebook posts, tweets, Instagrams, YouTube videos, donor lists, alumni rolls, “survived by” mentions in online obituaries, bowling league stats, and liens placed/granted—forms what might be thought of as your “inadvertent” or “Gee, Your Life Smells Pathetic” brand. It’s also worth noting, this involuntary patchwork portrait has global reach and is undeletable.

The solution, one’s only recourse, is to take control. Bury the detritus of your disjointedly documented life in an avalanche of You-sourced, You-centric content. In this way, the dull, factual dot points will become a smaller and smaller percentage of “who You are.” And minimizing the facts is the first essential step in any branding.

Brand Protocol
Only You can develop a public You that private You would like to think of as all You. But while everyone’s brand specifics should and will vary, some broader concerns and considerations are shared by all. You may, for instance, wonder:
• What, exactly, comprises my personal brand?
• What doesn’t?
• Are actions more branding than words and if so, can an action be effectively communicated in Braille to the blind community?
• Must I incorporate my middle name as part of my brand, even if it’s Yves?
• Should minor children be part of my brand or should they be treated as standalone brand extensions?
• Can a personal brand be rebranded?
• Re-rebranded?
• De-re-rebranded?
• Un-de-re-rebranded?
• Overprefixed?

The answers: lots of stuff; the opposite stuff; that’s a tough one; Yves? Oy!; could You repeat the question?; qualified yes; yes, in non-Communist countries; by Papal decree; don’t be a smart-ass; and quasisemipseudoabsolutely.

[This document has insufficient space to address all such universal matters. For additional information and direction, consider illegally downloading some expert’s e-book on the subject. He probably doesn’t need the money.]

Brand Strategy
How many inimitable skills do You have? How much effortless charm, infectious pizzazz and/or magnetic style? Don’t bother answering because even if You have zero—and research reveals that’s almost a sure thing—in the age of the Internet, where truth is elastic enough to include an independently authenticated photograph of Jesus washing the feet of Sasquatch, You have, or can convincingly allege to have, plenty. Put more aphoristically: All BrandS use BS.

Which isn’t the same as saying your task will be easy. Establishing an effective personal brand takes work and lots of it. After all, You’re competing for the hearts and minds of men, women, and children posing as women, men, and adults everywhere, all of whom would rather You go away so they can get back to managing their own personal brands. So, unless You’re willing to devote your life to distilling and disseminating your life, this project isn’t for You.

The good news is, all your effort will absolutely, positively pay off. [Legal disclaimer: Guarantee of payoff entirely dependent on nebulous definition of “payoff.”] Imagined and administered properly, your personal brand will assign to You the traits and talents the power elite will be anxious to underpay You for, as well as enhance your reputation among people You have no interest in meeting or hanging out with.

Your toughest and number one job, of course, is to define your brand, distill its essence. How to arrive at this differs for everyone. And while lists of “attributes and benefits” and asking your mom if she thinks You’re really good are a good place to start, increased competition and higher stakes have spawned new practices and techniques for discovering who You should appear to be. For instance, psilocybin-fueled vision quests and psilocybin-fueled focus groups are showing promise. Also, asking dad.

No matter how You go about it, though, the important thing is to not limit your thinking and never undervalue what You have to offer. Always use your tastefully embellished talents and alleged accomplishments inspired by actual events to their best advantage. And in the end, whether the personal brand You land on is manic albino opera buff, free-spirited canine organ broker, iconoclastic ham salad sculptor, famously unfamous fame-seeker, or something more specialized, know that it’s yours. Exclusively. Until a hacker decides it’s not.

Reaching your target audience
If You have the money for mass media advertising, the credentials to attract media coverage, the reputation to be booked for personal appearances, and/or the proven ability to bend humankind’s collective will to your own, by all means, do so. The fact that You’re already successful makes You just the kind of person who deserves more.

If, however, You’re just a (for now) regular Joe/Jo, You’ll be dependent on “free” media, i.e., The Internet. (For our purposes, as in the business world, “free” assumes the hours You spend creating content have no value.) To maximize your digital footprint:

A personal website is essential. This is “brand central station,” the place where You can most fully and deeply present as many superficialities as You’d like, spreading them over as much virtual real estate as is necessary to express yourself in both nontext (formerly: photos) and nonphoto (formerly: text) modes.

Blog daily. Be sure to keep it relatable and lively as some technologists predict that, some day, someone, somewhere may once again read a blog.

Start a YouTube channel. Video is a quick, impactful way to reach any audience. Pro Tip: whether your brand is best served by informative or entertaining video content, keep production costs down by always using cheap, recyclable rescue cats instead of costly purebreds.

Work social networks hard. Obviously, these are the Promised Land of personal branding, providing the opportunity and means to promote yourself to the very limit of your audience’s ability to bear it…and beyond! For professional exposure and advancement, use LinkedIn, a.k.a., the Internet’s breadline. To raise your overall profile and build a fan base, use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, et al. If You find your constant posts leave You no time for anything else, You’re getting the hang of it.

Important: Do NOT confuse your personal brand with your Internet persona. While they do share areas of overlap, they’re not the same. To learn the difference, good luck.

Talking to your target audience
For your brand to gain traction, all content should conform to the following guidelines:

Consistency: Have a wide range of interests? Can You see both sides of an argument? Ever change your mind? Yeah, You’re gonna wanna stop that. Complexity is time-consuming, confusing. Just because an issue or problem’s complex, that doesn’t mean the solution has to be. Narrow your focus. Tunnel your vision. Play to your strengths. Present simple, digestible thinking. Circle back often to your most familiar themes and topics. Fact: Repeating yourself is no sin so long as repeating yourself is no sin.

Frequency: Attention spans are short and if You haven’t posted anything today, this morning, just now, people will quickly forget You. Make that, have forgotten You. Remember: You’re not only competing for share of public mind with Justin Bieber’s army of round-the-clock social media brand nuancers, but also with Seth from accounting who posts about his weekend cover band so compulsively You suspect he has Asperger’s. If You find yourself at a loss for something to say, bear in mind it’s the Internet: Steal something and stick your name on it.

Credibility: Before posting something, never ask yourself, Is this true? Instead, ask, Is this supportable? Because, of course, everything is. Cite a source (there’s at least one for whatever insanity You believe), post about obscurities (how many people will refute your parallel between investment banking principals and the 17th Century Corset Wars), bear personal witness (“I saw a unicorn.” “I saw Vladimir Putin at the mall.” “I saw a gypsy optician for my new glasses.”). Also, pay attention to detail. If You post a selfie of You eating a corn dog but in the caption refer to it as a hot dog, trolls will dump on You until You have no choice but to drop Wood-handled Portable Meats from your Areas of Expertise.

Authenticity: People are naturally attracted to sincerity and personal conviction. They want to get a true sense of the fake You. But, please, only in emoji form.

Additional Considerations
• Include your Social Security number in all posts. Nothing says “unique” like a one-of-a-kind, nine-digit number from an important government agency.
• The sooner You start the better. Some marketing evangelists believe a personal brand may begin as early as a fertilized egg with an Internet connection.
•Avoid the overused “guru” designation (HR guru, logistics guru, rabbinical guru). Opt instead for something equally affected but more distinctive (metallurgical swami, shipping & receiving prophet, financial planning Valkyrie).
•If You take a lot of selfies, a mustache designer pays for him-/herself in no time.
•Once your brand catches fire, extend and monetize it with a premium, Platinum-level You. Since fans will expect fuller, deeper, franker access to “the real You,” assign it to your best writers.

Additional Info
Find out more about how to productify your existence by contacting Me!Me!Me! U, America’s first online university with a degree in [Your Name Here] Studies.

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