A dear friend of mine and the owner of Sweat Concierge, which provides all the fitness hot spot recommendations you would ever need (and the beats to listen to while you are there - check it out), got me into a stimulating conversation about what "branding" is. You readers should know by now that that is probably one of my top topics to nerd out on. After all, I teach a class on it (message me for more info about that).
When I teach a class on personal branding, I always ask the audience how often they hear the word "branding" these days and it is pretty common to hear that the word is all over the place. I talk about personal branding a lot because that is what I help individuals with and several of my mentors' careers have been devoted to broader brand design and strategy.
When discussing it the other day, my friend was confused that I was talking about so much emotion and psychology in my blog when she always associated "branding" with the larger corporate world. She is not wrong, but branding is talked about so much more in the startup and millennial world as well. In fact, it is everywhere. I told her that the distinction between what I do and the commonly known business branding is not a matter of definition but a matter of magnitude / scale. Let me explain:
In personal branding, I help individuals align their interests, core values, and personal goals toward personal contentment. In corporate branding, it can be said that the same categories are addressed but for a larger institution instead of a single person all in service of the company's productivity and success. The two kinds of branding are very similar, but different by scale.
Let us explore further:
The origin of the word branding, as many probably know, is the use of a hot iron to mark something - or someone - to show ownership or simply to label it as belonging to something, some place, or some group. The word comes from old German in which it means burning and transitioned into a verb in Middle English as in to leave a permanent mark and subsequently began to imply ownership in the 1600s. Branding was most commonly used on livestock to show which was owned by whom, but unfortunately the practice extended to slaves and criminals. Despite the intended target, branding denotes belonging.
These days, tattoos denote gang affiliation. In the American Indian world, perhaps hair styles and jewelry were relatively similar but garments of clothing and artwork distinguished tribes from each other around the country. Think about right now. You can often tell who belongs to the class of superwealthy by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive or what google says their net worth is. No matter what, branding is everywhere whether you like it or not. Even if you reject the idea of branding and walk around the world naked all day long, that is still your brand! That is still showing others - graphically - how you enact your place in the world.
Branding is about the story that is expressed to the world. I believe that brand strategy for large businesses and corporate departments is interesting but I more strongly believe that if the individuals within those companies do not understand their own personal brand that they bring to that company and those around them, the company's brand will never be quite complete.
Now here is where it gets hairy: sure, you could argue that a company could hire a brand strategist who designs a campaign that makes the company enormous success without talking with the employees about their ambitions, interests, and core values. Absolutely. Because brands are everywhere and we all have our own, there is no one singular brand to rule the world (cue the audience member who yells out "Amazon!"). There are successful brands and less successful brands, but that is relative to intention and is boiled down to understanding. My clients understand themselves so much better - their emotional patterns, communication styles, goals, interests, and values - and can more confidently express each of those in daily life to improve their communication, interactions, relationships, and work satisfaction. This is only possible because they were open to a new understanding. One of my mentors was once hired by a large company and worked them through his whole process of narrative and brand design only to be met with a lot of "but why though? I don't get it." It was not my mentor's inability to describe new story channels for the company, but the company leader's inflexibility to understand and accept the new brand identity.
My clients come to me when they are feeling the need for some kind of change either in their work, career, or relationships. They notice something is not working and there is a tension inside of them that burns into restlessness. So many people never respond to the restlessness except with anger. They stay stuck, go home and vent or drink it away, then get up and repeat. Those who want to make that change, though, look outward for guidance and take action. The catch is that, even though they recognize their ambition to make a change, there is a whole lot of fear pulling them back toward their familiar, un-risky daily life.
Being stuck in the middle of fear and ambition creates even more tension within someone and confusion within their mind. People lose sight of their interests, they think that their goals are somehow misguided, and very often resort to judging themselves in the sense of doing things in a right or wrong way. Does this sound familiar to you? It sure rings a bell for me and my evolving personal brand (not my company, but me as a person). A few years ago I learned that there truly is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to your "path." It is simply a matter of what is healthiest for you as an individual. If you are restless, stressed, and angry from unenjoyable work, your body and mind will have a hard time maintaining a healthy condition. If you respond to tension by talking it out with a colleague or partner and strategize how to productively ameliorate the tension, you will feel healthier in your body and your mind will feel clearer. A matter of acting forward instead of covering up.
I knew as early as high school that I wanted to start my own business at some point, which is why - ESPECIALLY now - I feel in my gut that a lot of jobs in an office of some kind working for someone else would cause tension and restlessness in me. I help people navigate that murky, dark, scary place between fear and ambition, and what can be discovered there is a new understanding of unique story that is powerful whether for an individual or a large company.
So whether it is you stressed at work in the cubicle farm, crushing a PR at the gym, feeling awkward at a Christmas party, or telling someone you love them, understanding the why of your experience continues to define the brand story you express to the world every day. Like the hot brand that indicates the farm to which a cow belongs, show the world how you are a part of it.