Personal Branding – an oxymoron?

Don’t you feel over exposed to the idea of branding as the path to success? Our screen feeds regularly prompt webinars about “positioning,” as we are told that everything successful is about, and subject to, branding.Including ourselves. People talk about themselves in terms of brands. We are our own brand, so we are told, and should attend to our personal branding. It is ubiquitous.

But are we brands?  

Being a brand is not the same as having a brand. Branding speaks of the logic of the market, and when applied to us, people, we turn into commodities, vessels of goods and services that are monetized. Pretty impersonal as a logic. So much so that the qualifier “personal” has come into the picture. Have you wondered why?

Our work, our services, our personality, our value as experts, are to be communicated through “personal branding”, with “personal” aiming to softening this commodification of human beings.

And with the best intentions, many  professionals offer their expertise within this language, coaches will create your personal brand, stylists enhance it, photographers capture it. Yet, even if trying to be differentiating, for many personal branding has joined the chorus of buzzwords, instead of rising above the noise. It loses meaning.

And humanity. So, another group of buzzwords has come to the rescue: authenticity, uniqueness, true self. Not that I have anything against these concepts and values – on the contrary. But their overuse as qualifiers is suspicious. Why do you need to speak of the “unique you”? Isn’t everyone else already taken? (Thanks timeless Oscar.) How authentic can it feel if you are trying to be authentic for the sake of distinguishing your personal brand?   

It remains to be seen how many more qualifiers will yet be added in order to make “personal” and “branding” stick together. It seems that it is either branding, or it is personal. Oxymoron aside, you may have a brand, but who you are as a human being goes well beyond that.

I may be reading too much into this (and bringing in my academic past, proving that once an academic, always an academic). Yet, as someone who is part of the “industry,” as an inside-out stylist who dives deep into my clients’ humanity, values, culture, purpose, and personality to realize a style that communicates substance, this language concerns me. I refuse to reduce human beings to brands, while understanding that evolving and reinventing is truly human.

I understand you, value-driven and sophisticated executives, philanthropists, professionals, entrepreneurs who are suspicious of “personal branding,” wary of commodifying your personality, but who still want to glow in your style. Your priority is not to dress for success or to impress; but to find a style that is genuine to your values and goals, that connects to who you are as a human being, and communicates it beautifully and powerfully. You know from experience that being genuine generates trust in who you are and what you do, and that trust will surround you with exactly the kind of people you want, and will take you exactly where you want to go.

Keep your faith in humanity.

I have you covered.




Mara KolesasComment