Personal Branding

Whether you like it or not these days everyone is a brand

I had a senior moment the other day… and learnt something new. We were sitting around with good friends and colleagues discussing the marketing plan for our new website and brainstorming ideas for some of our new projects. The talk turned to marketing, branding and promotion in general. I quite confidently added my thoughts and ideas including the ancient true and tried ones from the 1980’s. I was going on about visibility in the market place and so on, not realizing just how fast the market place changes. A young savvy friend of mine (Rob) told me that:These days everybody is a brand!

Now Rob tends to get excited easily and he speaks extremely fast. Almost as fast as he thinks. So I didn’t really understand what he meant. Initially I thought he was joking. I was having vague impressions of myself somehow being a brand like Kylie Minogue, feather boa and all and I was just about to refute his nonsensical idea as I thought it was a wild exaggeration, when I realized he was right.

That’s when I had my senior light bulb moment. I am a brand in the sense that I present and represent myself in a certain way when I engage with others.

I choose how to represent myself according to three things:

  1. My personal beliefs, opinions and ideas that affect how I act, what I say and how present myself. For example: This is best observed using the example of ageing. When I was young I had certain beliefs and priorities which I do not entertain now. Thus I present myself very differently in the world now than when I was 17.
  2. The situation in question For example: If I am giving a speech during a seminar, I am likely to want to represent myself as a professional looking person who knows what she is talking about. I dress snappy and use professional language when speaking to my audience. If I agree to meet those same people later at the pub for a beer after the seminar, I am more likely to show up in a pair of jeans and speak more colloquial language. I may even swear a bit for impact during one of my wittier anecdotes
  3. Who am I talking to? For example: I am likely to speak and act differently during a job interview than I do when I babysit my 5 year old nephew.

These days the way we represent ourselves is not restricted to local activities. Now your personal brand is observable all over the world.

I call it universal Ego-Branding

Rob enlightened me: HOW AM I A BRAND or why am I a brand, and why should I care about that? The answer is, of course, that you shouldn’t care if you really don’t want to. But it’s wise to inform yourself just how much of your personal preferences, thoughts, data and so on, are readily available on the internet to anyone who knows how to retrieve it.

The fact is that it is happening 24-hours a day. Whether you like it or not is no longer relevant. And here is the worrying thing: It’s not hard to find out savoury & unsavoury facts about just about anyone. Even just a simple test like typing my name into Google provided me with the following information:

  • My old address and whom I used to share that address with and my old mobile phone number
  • My old home number in Alice Springs
  • My business profile, work history, affiliations and more
  • Lots of my work was listed on other peoples’ websites
  • Photos of me that I didn’t know existed showed up in Google images

A very personal example: I was shocked to find on the net a rather personal email I had written 3 years ago to a shipping company. I asked some rather delicate questions about my father’s private life which they then kindly posted on the Internet. I may possibly not want the rest of my family to read that.

Another unnerving example is anyone with a registered business name (ABN) has a permanent online record with the Australian government, when you began trading, if you ceased, and your registered trading address. These days with so many people working from home your registered trading address may well be your home.

Don’t forget Facebook! Even if you are among the 3 or 4 people left in the world who don’t maintain a Facebook presence, chances are that you are well represented there too. If nothing else, then through friends, family and work mates mentioning you and tagging you in photos. I have set the settings on my private Facebook page to be secure and private. Hence I (naively) thought that only my accepted friends have access to my info. Not so! Here is a little nifty disclaimer from Facebook: ”Remember: Things you hide from your timeline still appear in news feed, search and other places on Facebook.”. Which in plain English means that EVERYTHING you have EVER posted on Facebook is probably still out there. Available to those who are interested enough to look.

Yes – even that picture of your backside on the photocopier your mates posted and tagged five years ago. Maybe its just because of my age….. but that is a very sobering thought.

And it makes me feel like I am now living in a clever, but slightly depressing Orwell novel.

Except now it’s not just one big brother watching you. It’s every brother and sister in the world who cares enough to google you.

How could I not have known about this? My ignorance of the extent of this phenomenon has shocked me. It was like the future had crept up on me.

What happens if you Twitter, Tumblr, and comment on other people’s sites and Youtube and write down musings in your Blog? Well – wonderful things can happen. If you do it well and you want the attention. But make sure you tailor your presence well.

If you don’t have control of your personal brand it can have surprisingly uncomfortable consequences.

Like these?

  1. You applied for a grant to go to a religious college and didn’t get it. Was it because you are not academically minded or was it because you ridicule religion and promote atheist causes on your Facebook page?
  2. You ask a girl to the Prom and her father refuses to even let you near her. Do you stink? Or has he checked your credentials on the net and now knows that you routinely post misogynist comments?
  3. You applied for your dream job for which you are more than qualified and you didn’t even get an interview? In some cases it can be as simple as the fact that you have listed yourself on Facebook as having a “complicated relationship” that was enough to eliminate you from the pack. A boss hiring staff for an important position is not likely to favour someone with a problematic private life – he or she will want someone who is able to focus on the job 100%.

So – yes, unfortunately- everybody is a brand today. And from now on I will be more careful how I promote myself digitally.

And I will keep my behind well away from photo copiers!

I wonder – does anybody out there have a nice, deliciously embarrassing account of ego branding gone wrong? And if you do, please share it here?

Digital Marketing - 14 Jul 2013 - by Iben Blom Hansen

About Iben Blom Hansen

Communication designer with Northern European design sensibilities. Designing minimalist, striking and beautiful websites, media campaigns, logos, brochures and just about anything else we throw at her. Iben’s the go to person for anything design oriented that comes across our desk.