She was certainly not the first person I’d heard this from. I hear this almost everywhere I go where there are people talking about social media, and I feel that it is time that I rise up against it. In fact, I did, right there and then. I grabbed the microphone from her grasp and said, “I am not a brand.”
She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome … and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.
Just to be clear on this thing I am not, maybe I should define my understanding of personal branding. A personal brand is a little package you make of yourself so you can put yourself on the shelf in the marketplace and people will know what to expect or look for when they come to buy you. For example, Coke is a brand. When you see Coke, you expect a dark brown effervescent sweet drink that is always going to taste like … Coke. McDonalds is going to sell you inexpensive, fast food. The Ritz or the Four Seasons is going to sell you a luxury experience. BP will now be known as the brand that destroys the costal ecosystem of the southeastern United States.
And yes, authors sometimes have these “brands.” Nicholas Sparks is going to sell you a roman … love story, excuse me … where someone dies of cancer/similar disease at the end. V.C. Andrews will sell you something awesomely insane and creepy. Dan Brown will sell you a series of puzzles, facts, and clues leading to the unveiling of a huge secret. Tom Clancy will sell you something with a submarine or some kind of large weapon in it. You get the idea. I don’t know if any of the above actively works on his or her “brand” … (well, V.C. Andrews won’t, since she died in 1986 having written only eight books—her official ghostwriter has written over sixty more in her name since that time, which is pretty impressive work).
I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.
So there we were, grappling for the microphone, polar opposites in every way. And then I noticed that when people on the other side of the table were talking, the woman pulled out her phone and started reading messages. She didn’t listen to what the others were saying.


June 12, 2010