Do you see yourself as a brand? A neatly packaged product tailored for public consumption. An objectified individual subject to the same processes of definition, simplification, promotion, enhancement, projection and – if necessary – damage limitation as applied to anything from a new shampoo to a more complex financial product.
Oh how we laughed when Stuart “the brand” Baggs made a brand X of himself on series six of The Apprentice. The good Lord milked the comedy gold for all it was worth as befits a man at the top of his game. But apart from the absurdity inherent in someone so young bigging/bagging up their achievements and providing good value to the gallery was it reflecting anything different than the party line defining any of our superstar entrepreneurs?
Alan Sugar – the young man of limited means turning a few quid into an industry from the back of a van by his own innate drive and business nous is still the abiding motif of any introductory media puff piece – combining his no-nonsense personality; an apocryphal tale and the secret of his success into a verbal shorthand for his life and work. It is a story that has considerable clout and legs beyond the basis in truth. Detractors might seek to describe it as defensive and self-reverential. However, Lord Sugar has been at least generous enough to spread the credit for his sustained success with other members of his workforce.
For us mere mortals who are not promoting our products, carving out a market share, or defending this year’s profit projections… just how much can we take from this with regard to our own lives, our employment prospects and associated chances for success? Does the kind of corporate-based PR employed to promote a company’s image and subsequent solvency have any lessons or important clues to tell us? Especially an ongoing campaign/identity that is very largely based on the projection of the qualities – inherent or enhanced for the common/company good – of a single strong individual. Sir Philip Green and Richard Branson are two other high profile figurehead businessmen who share the process with Lord Sugar.
Delving beyond the comedic aspects of talking yourself up to ludicrous proportions for the necessities of TV entertainment – The Apprentice is a production that has steadily descended into a business game show – there is considerable evidence that many now routinely follow a similar approach to presenting one’s self in the employment jungle. It is the approach du jour in a competitive employer’s market. Maybe not to the extreme of Mr Baggs – and in any case real life intervenes rapidly with the need for something to back up any contentions – but joking aside do we want to live online lives that are controlled solely by genuflection to this criteria? For this is rapidly becoming the price of perfect employability. Does selling one’s self have to be based on anything other than honesty and hard work or is this naive in the extreme when seeking to exploit the main chance and gain competitive advantage?
“All in all the choice is a bit brand X – (wh)Y – or Z(ero).”
Much is made of companies, organisations and recruitment agencies running searches through the labyrinth of social media to get at the real you prior to interview or job offer. Beyond expressions of exasperation at intrusion is it fair and does it get to the real you in any case? We are all constructs – sometimes multi-faceted – and social media can tease out just another side to the individual that is not present in other aspects of life. Sometime for good: sometimes for bad. And are those people who are able to assiduously keep on top of any hint of negativity in their social media profile/life and the generation of contentious opinions – or even any opinion at that matter – really telling it like it is. It can be viewed as two sides of the same coin – wonderful if you are looking to employ a PR trainee perhaps or for any other job containing these inherent presentation skills but highly suspect and suspicious in any other sphere. Can you trust an employee so skilled in the dark arts who by association have a personality – or lack of – to match. Doesn’t this all then become a game of convoluted second-guessing? And in a profession that values a creative approach are strong opinions or evidence of social involvement/conflict not a minimum part and parcel of the candidate’s desired profile? You might think so but in times of recession the opposite is often the truth.
If you subscribe to seeing yourself as a brand there are definite undeniable advantages put forward to this disciplining of your social media profile accordingly – not least control and ownership of You plc. But in doing so are we underselling ourselves and simply falling for the guru-like utterances of certain in vogue industry experts by applying the relentless lifestyle journalism short cut to success; the mentality of the next big thing? Little more than a continuation of political, age, sex, race, and social origin differentiation that legislation has sought to combat. Following fashion is just that – following – great if you want to employ sheep.
Where will it end? Run of the mill lie-detectors? Hair and urine samples? Genetics? DNA? All applied by more extreme reference and personal checking agencies whose mistakes now readily go unknown or unpunished. Ultimately it is yet another doctrine from on high where we participate by being sucked into the task convenience and information structures of others. They might say that anything that helps them place the right person is sound economics and that only those with something to hide balk at the perceived intrusion. But then they would – wouldn’t they?
Anything worth finding – extremist views, hacking, fraud, criminality etc is likely to be perpetrated more often than not by people who are skilled at disassociating themselves from the crime in the first place. So where does that leave us – and them? Do you want everything you present; every throwaway tweet online to be held against you by some more than your jobs worth Big Brother?
It is understandable that in straitened times this approach has come to define much of the engagement between candidates and recruitment agencies/employers. On the one hand you could see the process as expedient and common sense – much as another step on from a clean, concise and appropriate CV. On the other hand it could be seen as making someone else’s job easier at the expense of yours – combined with the propensity toward computer compliant buzzwords and the peripheral attempts at psychological analysis defined by the altogether overarching superficiality of the initial parts of the employment process. A CV might be a clean little expedient package that feeds the self-importance and work practice of the oh so busy recruiter but a human being is a mass of contradictions, a ball of complexity far more disruptive for any brand to contain. Are we heading for the cult of no personality? The time to wave goodbye to personal roughage: less of a brand with nowt taken out and more of a brand with no name.
A successful brand is like an oil tanker; turning the juggernaut or changing its course is not easy. A smoothly streamlined brand smacks of control – not real people. A human being inevitably has – or should have – a degree of difficulty or else where is the humanity? There are certainly other contributory factors to be explored: Britain has a problem with the broadly creative and concepts of the intellectual. Add to this the fact that pigeonholing of people’s capabilities is such that you can’t step out of the box – and nowhere is this more evident than in the job market – and the complexities leading to the current state of affairs are exposed.
Branding is a front; a superficiality; a commercial exercise: a construct which seldom is truthful – taking the food industry as an example… how often is farm fresh or country-cooked or Gran’s special recipe the real story? More often than not this heritage, this half or patent untruth of production can be traced to an industrial unit in Wolverhampton in conjunction with an advertising agency in Central London. Should individuals then seek to emulate this white lie?
Branding enhances products but it’s a sad person who lives their lives via brands… perhaps if you do it is time to take a step back as you sincerely have a problem. They’re not a religion, they’re not even a lifestyle as such… they’re not your best friend: they won’t save the planet because of the overwhelming ulterior motive that they want to sell you something. Sure they can augment but theirs is not to define. Like advertising in general it follows what already exists – it doesn’t innovate or truly create. They can endorse and promote to an extent but ultimately what most seek in a brand if they are conscious of entering this psychological agreement at all is a good product that does as it says; the reliability that what it claims for itself will be carried out and the expectation that if it does happen to all go wrong – attentive customer service with real polite human beings. Brands can make life easier but they don’t make life. And no amount of social media attempts to cosy up can cover the inherent paucity of involvement.
“Branding enhances products but it’s a sad person who lives their lives via brands…”
Brands are important in that they have cut a huge swathe in our hugely commercial societies; defining how we are expected or are allowed to interact with the commercial world and business in general – in many ways the processes seek to add humanity like some wonder ingredient, albeit hugely flawed and weak one-dimensional realisations to these processes. Do we really want to live any aspect of our online – or any other aspect of our life for that matter – afraid to utter something that is out of step with some faceless employer who in turn hides behind his/her brand?
This burgeoning employment approach combined with the economic trough could perversely increase what it aims to discover – encouraging unscrupulous candidates to see fit to lie or artificially enhance their profile reasoning that it is based on an industry of half-truths and blatant lies.
Personal branding is a useful exercise if it makes the individual aware of strengths to be enhanced and areas to stress but if it encourages the me too of the high street, net and business then don’t turn yourself into a tool of branding. Or a tool for that matter. It’s the differences, the grist, the rigour that really count and not the company clone. Though if you believe this you might get to expect a few hard knocks along the way. All in all the choice is a bit brand X – (wh)Y – or Z(ero).