Last week, I enjoyed serving on a panel discussion organized for the Catalyst for Change Leadership Program by the Community Foundation, which aims to empower diverse board members to local organizations. Our discussion included many conversations that empowered thoughts of building collective communities of/for leaders to work together across organizations to benefit our ecosystem at large. I am happy to report that the future might be a better place if more conversations like this took place by people more frequently.
One of the topics we explored was personal branding. Someone brought up how personal branding looks fake, unauthentic, glorifies extraversion, and having to do that requires a certain amount of energy. We all agreed that branding is a product of marketing, and it is scientifically taught at educational institutions for that purpose. Branding is promoted and abused by large companies and organizations for pure profit. Subsequently, it promotes stereotypes of specific imagery of success and could equate to capitalism and patriarchy.
I thought that was an excellent comment, and we continued to talk about it. The following is an expanded version of my time-constricted answer, which I think is worth sharing:
Many of us are witnessing the rise of good, and bad influencers who have cultivated a niche and an audience, that even capitalism bowed to utilize as a channel or tool. A big part of the reason such practices are working is due to years of conditioning of a particular image of success. Conditioning happens as a result of long-time exposure to imagery that eventually influences one’s beliefs and behaviors. To many, success looks like someone looking and sounding confident. That someone could originate from the height of the third industrial revolution (Bauhaus if you’re artistically inclined). That someone could look like a cisgender white man in a suit ringing bells to sell products door-to-door during mid-1950s--to expand on this, read Quiet by Susan Cain, where she shares interesting research-based reflections on this topic.
Yes, a brand is usually defined or associated with advertising or promoting a product and/or a service. It is a tactic used for marketing purposes to drive consumerism. If we go back to the origin of the word “branding,” just like the way we did with the imagery of success, the word brand in English (other languages could originate back to the word Symbol).
“A mark of ownership made by branding.”
Abstractly it means owning what you have. Imagine marking what you have with your own name. No, I don’t mean slapping a label on every item you own or urinating on your stuff. I mean owning what you metaphysically have. In other words, being authentically you. We can’t be anything but ourselves. Ourselves are unique; they are the only existing version resulting from a combination of chemical reactions and psychological journeys.
Transmitting our authentic-selves could sometimes be the hardest thing that someone would do because our society is attracted to homogenized normativity and marginalizes diversity and uniqueness. However, the definition of normativity is the mathematical average of what you see on organizational boards. Privileged cisgender white males, you can throw middle-age in that mix if you want, but I personally think it’s slowly aging out. Organizations are realizing that their consumer and their savior is diverse unique individuals. So I say, own your authentic uniqueness. Your uniqueness might have been marginalized your whole life, however; this is the time it is needed the most. This is the time where you can leverage it and create change. All organizations need you and should listen to you.
”Don’t be anything other than you, because the best you can do is to be you.”
Living by mantra above is something I try my best to do every day. As much as it could be taxing, the reward could also be considerable. I don’t believe that anybody should invest time in building “a brand.” Instead of that, invest time in being in tune with ourselves to present ourselves authentically and effortlessly. When we achieve that, we will shine through all modalities of communication.
**This adds a layer of the receiver of the information, and how it is interpreted in their mind due to biases, but this is something this post is not talking about** -PLUG: If you or your organization are interested in exploring how you can overcome some of your biases that intersect with my areas of expertise. Contact me for DEI coaching or strategy consulting.