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Don’t be a brand; just be a better person

Jul 28, 2013 Success, Sunday Nation

It’s all the rage these days: how are you managing your brand?

Not your company or product brand, please understand: your personal brand. You, as a person and individual, now have to worry about how your brand is looking to the world. You will even be told to manage multiple sub-brands: your leadership brand, your employee brand, your family brand…

The idea is simple enough: be aware that the world runs on perceptions, and that you can manage perceptions. So don’t just let your brand be what it will, blown this way and that; shape it and manage it. This is especially important in the era of mass connectivity and social media: we are now supposed to be very conscious of the digital streams that define us.

I have been asked about my own ‘brand’ many times of late, and my response is always the same: I’m a person, not a brand. Let me focus on being a better person, and the brand will take care of itself.

This can be a lonely view in a world dominated by marketing gurus and image managers, so it’s always a pleasure to come across similar thoughts. Here is Nilofer Merchant, an author, lecturer and director, writing recently on the HBR Blog Network: “The truth is this: The brand follows the work. Your brand is the exhaust created by the engine of your life. It is a by-product of what happens as you share what you are creating, and with whom you are creating.”

Wonderful words. Don’t mistake the exhaust fumes for the engine. Don’t spend all your time making the exhaust gases smell nice, have the right colours, or have pretty patterns. Look after the engine, and the emissions will be just fine.

What we should all be preoccupied with is a search for meaning, not a search for branding. By focusing on image and perception, we are in severe danger of forgetting about substance.

Part of the issue comes from a widespread misconception about what a brand actually is. Those who get it, know this: brand is not the spray job on the car, or the ribbon on the package: brand is simply a manifestation of all the internal things we do, good and bad. Those who do many bad things have a lot of image management to do; those who focus wholeheartedly on doing good don’t have much to worry about managing perceptions: the good will shine through, most of the time.

If you’re going to worry more and more about your ‘packaging’ – your appearance, where you are seen, what words you use, what associations you make – you are going to move away from what matters: the person within, the work that person does, and the values that underpin the work.

What’s true for corporations is true for persons: too much attention to brand, image and PR leads only to fakery and inauthenticity. We dress to impress, we craft every word for impact, we make sure we’re seen in the right places. In my experience of the business world, those with too much budget for the packaging are precisely those with no budget for doing things right in the first place.

People who are true to themselves are the only ones with any chance of doing things that matter. For the rest, the camera lights will eventually go out.

Be yourself, not an artificial movie of yourself. Be the best person you can possibly be. Be flawed, because everyone is. Don’t airbrush your flaws out; know them and minimize their negative impact. Be consistent, and true to a core belief system. Be natural, not a fashion mannequin. Be true to your origins, not a ventriloquist’s dummy that spews out insincere words in manufactured accents.

Be all those things, and your brand will be just fine.

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