Let's End "Personal Branding"​ Now

"That coffee travel mug you’re carrying — ah, you’re a Starbucks woman!....You’re branded, branded, branded, branded.... take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work." - Tom Peters, "The Brand Called You"

Where were you the first time you read "The Brand Called You," by Tom Peters?

That must-read article for marketers, that foundational rock of personal branding, that permission slip, in retrospect, to become a selfish and self-indulgent fake?

Yes, I remember that article vividly.

I remember how much I loved, loved, loved to the core the idea that I could reinvent myself, not just once but over and again, and that it all came down to merely...my imagination.

And no longer did I have to serve as a serf of the Big Company that had taken me under its wing. No, I could be as big a star as I wanted to be, I could shine as brightly as the collected IQ of all of those branding heavyweights I worked with.

That is, if only I had enough creativity and focus, and enough...confidence.

You mean I don't have to put in my time?

To the restlessly ambitious person that I was, this notion that I did not have to "listen to my elders" was incredibly appealing.

All I need is savvy. Great!

I sat transfixed looking at the screen. The article was in Fast Company, and the graphics were so good then, just as they are now. Crisp, glossy, professional and cool.

That is who I want to be, I thought to myself. The CEO of my life.

Hook, line, and sinker.

We fell for all that, meaning "we" the collective business community.

It took awhile, sure.

But not very long, in relative time.

And before you knew it, there I was, "rocking my personal brand," telling YOU how to "rock YOUR personal brand," high on the ego of it all.

But slowly, like a tire that starts out pumped then runs over a nail, the wind went out of our collective sails.

Soon we were left with a cheap facsimile of what "personal branding" was supposed to be -- the manufacturing of an image that largely mirrored our highest aspirations in life.

Somewhere, along the way, the point of this exercise became the image itself, and not the substance that truly gave the image equity.

Because the notion of image over substance is so appealing, we gradually became a world where "optics" and the 24-hour news cycle are pretty much all that matters.

We sold out substance for "clicks."

In the process, the all-important metric of success became...the label. (Or at least, the potential one.)

How is the customer feeling about that? Are we striking the right note?

What demographic does this person fit into?

We have to appeal to a niche; can we call that look a niche?

In a world where valuable labels are all-important, the very opposite of value is to care nothing about your image at all.

But the talented ones, the ones who have a lot of substance to offer, reject labels utterly.

These are the thoughtful people, the original ones, the odd, the strange, the "controversial" -- the ones we cannot immediately cast into a "type."

Unfortunately for our economy, the emphasis on branding and image, as opposed to substance and value, leaves our capacity for true innovation in the dust.

Because we're so focused on providing how-to advice to "image wannabes."

They have the look of value, while the actual people with superior abilities are spending their time actually doing stuff.

Not reading magazines that tell them how to "act like a person with value."

They're the ones we need to be talking to.

The ones who jump at any opportunity to contribute their talents, in ways that enrich us all.


Public domain. Opinions are the author's own. Photo by Goran H. via Pixabay (Creative Commons; No Attribution Required)

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