Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You are Not a Brand

Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him
—Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-82], American poet and philosopher

One of the buzzwords today is branding yourself. Or, to put it more succinctly, you are a brand. Tom Peters, a management consultant and writer, gave currency to the idea of Personal Branding in an article in Fast Company called, The Brand Called You. As the personal branding experts say, it's how you look, what you say and, most important, how you appear to others—the complete package.

Dr. Peters explains it best in the article, The Brand called You, which he published in 1997:
Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
Today, not surprisingly, there are websites, companies and magazines with names like Me 2.0 and Personal Branding Magazine dedicated to "packaging" people. Equally important, a whole cottage industry has evolved on this new method of self-marketing and self-promotion.

The next step might be coming up with a personal slogan and trademark, similar to what consumer-products companies have. Or to accept a tattoo for the company that you work for, as horrid as that vivid example is to most people. Such is the age of consumer marketing, where humans are expected to compete for attention in the same manner as do consumer products. When this happens, humans become abstractions, divorced from the whole range of human emotions and finer feelings.

That neatly fits into the explanation of how employers might view the people they hire. Workers, in a sense are purchased for a fixed period of time, says Prof. Paul Samuelson, a professor at MIT and an American Nobel laureate in economics:
One can even say that wages are the rentals paid for the use of a man’s personal services for a day or a week or a year. This may seem a strange use of terms, but on second thought, one recognizes that every agreement to hire labor is for some limited period of time.
—Paul Samuelson [1915-2009], American Nobel laureate in economics.
As quoted in Economics 1976 (10th edition). 

A Brand of His Own: A merino ram with a brand on his horn
Photo Credit: CGoodwin, 2008

Hence, the need to package and sell yourself as a personal brand. Without a doubt, I find this idea quite problematic, and morally and ethically bankrupt. I suspect, however, that I might be in the minority, particular among the younger generation who have grown up, and are proficient, with social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few social-networking sites.

If humans act like they ought to consistently sell themselves, likely a marketer's and human resources manager's dream, then humans might eventually look at other humans as a consumer product that could be bought or sold. It might sound far-fetched, even absurd. And, yes, I am exaggerating to make a point. But that's my concern, that we are traveling along the road to further erosion of human dignity, and where the respect for self becomes an artifact of another age.

We must fight against the unthinking conformism to false values, as this exercise in self-exploitation represents. Then, I will say this in protest, with all due modesty and respect, to whomever wants to take this to heart. You are not a brand. You are a human. You carry yourself with self-respect and dignity.

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