Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

That’s My Brand

I have this running dialogue going on with Bon of “Crib Chronicles,” who besides being a wonderful writer, is doing post-graduate work on digital identity and cyborgology (!), which are fancy words for investigating social media in more academic terms.  I like to argue with her because she writes a lot about “branding,” even though she herself admits that she doesn’t like the word.

In the past, Bon has tried to explain branding like this —

branding is what is read on to you, how you are perceived, what you signify in the eyes of everybody else. it is not you, but a version of you. it is an act, and a group act, one that does not exist without a network of some sort to reflect and amplify it. it is ephemeral, a wisp on the wind. it is not about content or truth. it is about image and perceived capacity.

(own it, cribchronicles.com, June 8th, 2010)

This is interesting, but to me the concept of branding is over-hyped.  It is like reading a novel and focusing on the color of the character’s hat.  When I write a story, I worry less about the perception of others than the character’s interior life.  What is he thinking?  Why is he acting that way?  I am talking about that old-fashioned actor’s mantra of “motivation.”

I realize that I brand myself online all the time.  Some love me.  Others have unfollowed me a long time ago.  My blogging “success” or “failure” may be related to this “brand,” but who cares?  None of this is getting to the heart of who I am.  What makes me tick?  What is my motivation? That’s the interesting stuff.  I never take any of your “brands” at face value.

I like to analyze my motivations, just like I would with a character in a book.  It is a good exercise, and sometimes you can obtain surprising answers.

For example, tonight I am thinking about my last post.  Have you read it?  In it, I suggested this one day writing retreat on the day before BlogHer.

What the hell was I thinking about?  Why do I even suggest this?

Right off the back, you’ll notice that I said this “retreat” would be free.  Talk about a terrible business concept!  Clearly, this is not being done for the money.

OK, then maybe I am hungry for power or attention, molding this retreat in my own image, in an attempt to brand myself as a writing guru?

I don’t think so.  Dealing with bloggers is a pain in the ass.  I have no interests in running retreats.  I have had enough experience with you cranky people just putting on that holiday concert every year.  There’s very little glory in it.

I guess I could use this as a building blog, starting small, and then slowly making myself less available to the mob as I monetize my access to “the weak ties,” as discussed by Julian Smith, co-author with Chris Brogan’s of “Trust Agents:  Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.”

I wish I could tell you that was true.  I’d like to have such a clear-headed business mind.  My motivation is honestly so lame that I guarantee you that I will get trolls on this post because of it.

I didn’t like BlogHer last year.  It was too crowded and everyone was running all over the place.  I only got to speak to some of my favorite people for five minutes before they sped off again to some private party.  I’m not even sure I want to go to San Diego this year, but if I do go, I’ll ONLY do it if a few bloggers that I know come a day earlier, so I can have some quality time with them, talking about writing and blogging.

That was my motivation for the retreat idea.  I was too shy to ask others for what I really wanted in person.  Instead, I constructed an entire “retreat” as an excuse to get someone like my friend Schmutzie to arrive in San Diego a day early.

That’s my brand.

23 Comments

  1. Your “brand” consists of two parts: What you put out there, and how people interpret it. How they interpret your brand depends on a lot of factors – only part of it is what you’re putting out. And you don’t entirely control your brand. So while you might be trying to create a brand that is you as a nerdy, single guy just trying to reach out to ease his loneliness, that might or might not be how what you put out there is interpreted.

    The old term for it was “PR”; simply trying to mold others’ impressions of who you are and what you’re all about. Remember what Bon said: Your brand is “…is not about content or truth. it is about image and perceived capacity.”

    There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to concern yourself with “branding” yourself. It isn’t really important for many of us to control others’ impressions of us to that extent. But for those of us for whom the Internet and social media are our paycheck (and I use the “royal we”; my paycheck does not actually depend on how others perceive me on the net), branding is an important piece of the business model.

  2. I have debated going this year. Still don’t know. xo

  3. Last year wasn’t my favorite, either, for the same reasons (and more). This is why I always go at least a day early, and try to get my friends to, so that we can actually hang out before it gets insane. I’ll be flying in on the Wednesday. 🙂

  4. You meant me right? We talked for 1 minute. You missed seeing me right?! 😉

    I agree with the concept and theories of branding when it is a commercial website, a website that generates income which needs a target audience and therefore the identity of the blogger cannot waiver too much from the expectations of the presumed readership. For a personal blogger (for lack of a more accurate term), I assume, what you (not you, Neil, but a generic you) are putting out here is who you are. People are complicated. We behave differently towards different people in different social situations. (Here I am invoking Ervin Goffman, yes the old coot) and therefore it makes sense that a personal blog that externalizes a blogger’s internal world is all over the place.

    Or so I explain the lack of focus of mine…

    p.s. I am going to start buying lottery. If I win, I am going back to school to study and write about cyborgology. I am giddy with the possibility. It’s like virtual/online ethnography.

  5. Hey Neil,

    I do “branding” for a living. You know, for actual real-life multibillion-dollar brands.

    Here’s the deal about “brands”. People who want to turn themselves into “brands” miss the point.

    People are not brands. But brands try to be people.

    The moment you put a name on an object, you make it a little bit like a person. That’s natural.

    If I call my pencil “Shirley”, I’ve given it some human qualities. First, it’s female. Second, it’s probably a speaker of English. She’s probably older, since the name isn’t so common nowadays. She might have been your friendly, next-door neighbour.

    Now, If I happen to find these qualities attractive, I might buy this pencil over something named “Pencil A”. Or over a pencil named Irmengarde (too haughty), Buffy (too cute) or Angelique (too fancy).

    But more critical, they’re emotional qualities. That’s important for memory, and other functions in normal life. People who have lost the capacity for emotion from brain injury suffer in many ways; critical handicaps are that they have trouble remembering things, and making decisions. We anthropomorphise things around us, because it makes life easier.

    Since memory and decision-making are two critical parts of how we consume, marketing-types take a keen interest in them. That’s why we drone on endlessly about “brand personality”.

    But a funny thing happens when we make an object into a person. We demand that it behave like one.

    Its story has to be consistent. That’s how we tell if it’s honest.

    It can’t be flaky, or change its mind too often. That’s not trustworthy.

    It has to show self esteem; but shouldn’t be too proud or arrogant. Not boastful, or nor claim too much for itself. Again, we won’t trust such a person.

    We can smell shallowness, inconsistency and stories that ring false. The classic case is the Edsel. Nothing about the car rang true. You can sing jingles about an ugly car being beautiful, or a cheap car that looks expensive, or how its for YOU, yes YOU, but it is what it is.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpYpklXJKko

    Neil, you’re already a “brand”. More important, you’re what brands aspire to be. A real, live person.

    It really busts my chops when people talk about “personal branding”, or worse, Brand You. Why is a fake You better than the real you?

    The fake You, the contrived You, the networking You, the five-minute version of You. You, the real you, are wise to avoid it.

    You can only get the rewards from blogging that you desire, if you converse rather than spit out a sound-bite. If you open your heart rather than just open your mouth. If you share a story rather than a gag.

    Someone has asked if I’m interested in attendiong a travelblogger’s conference in Manchester at the end of March. I fear that the cynicism of the (wannabe) professional blogging community would make it excruciating. Still, I’m tempted.

    • What a thought provoking comment, M!

    • Don’t call me Shirley. RIP Leslie Nielsen. 😉

    • “…you’re what brands aspire to be. A real live person.”

      I love this insight so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

      Bloggers have seen the discussion among company folks about branding and authenticity etc…and they’ve assumed that success in their from-the-self endeavours requires they mimic businesses. But they already have all the authenticity and personality they need. What they need to succeed as a copy of a business is a product, not a brand. They already have everything they could hope to get out of developing a brand. And if they don’t want to sell a product then they don’t want to be in business.

      • Quite, Backpacking Dad. And bloggers are not the only ones who think that having a good “brand” means they can get away with an inferior product. I’ve dealt with many a corporate client who felt the same way. The Hidden Persuaders has a lot to answer for.

        Many online professionals like the idea of a personal brand because they think that they can control what others perceive of them. The moment you act like that, you’re done for. As Trish points out, no matter how much you try to control him, the other person is still in charge of what he thinks of you.

    • This is the most interesting commentary I’ve read today. The notion of personal branding has always made me squirm with discomfort.

  6. I want to hang out with my favourite bloggers and eat pizza and have academic conversations. But I also want it to be unstructured and organic. And in a beautiful setting. Kind of like a blogger’s version of The Big Chill, or something.

  7. That is a motivation I totally understand. I went to BlogHer last year, and I met about 7 or 8 people that I really wanted to. And then I hung out with those 7 or 8 people for the majority of the time, didn’t really connect with anyone else I wanted to, and left wondering whether it would have been easier to just organize a weekend meetup (somewhere cheaper) with those same people.

  8. PS There is actually a writer’s retreat happening before BlogHer. It’s for women. http://womencreatemedia.com/

    • “women create media” sounds fantastic and a good way to network with professionals. And cost, $75, is pretty reasonable for the event. My idea was much more grassroots, without any speakers or agents, and no cost at all. There wouldn’t be much advice from those already in the industry, so wouldn’t be as useful to that extent, just peers pushing each other like nagging mothers.

  9. I love the quote from cribchronicles because it is so redolent of cultural criticism jargon. I find academic-ese sexy because-hey!-it engages my brain. I also love the Honourable Husband’s comment because it too engages my brain. I guess part of my brand is brainy.

    I’m not going to BlogHer’11 because I didn’t go to BlogHer’10 because each year they get, IMHO, worse and worse for all the reasons that you said. I would travel to San Diego to have this level of a conversation with you and others.

  10. You are the only brand I like, Neil. 🙂 and I might just go to the retreat, see all the lovelies there and save my money for sea world (such a sucker for the walrus and beluga whale over there). Would that be okay?

  11. love this. love you. So glad and proud that we are friends.

  12. i love that subWOW brought up Goffman. i don’t work formally in sociology so only just discovered him but thought, i should read more of this. apparently yes.

    i think the problem with the word ‘brand’ is that i can talk myself til i’m blue in the face and people will still think i mean the directed, commercial, squeeby “branding authenticity” stuff. the stuff that assumes a linear goal, rather than…well…a big ol’ mess. which is more what interests me.

    so maybe you’ve finally killed the word for me, Neil. you’ve definitely proven to me that all the back & forth in the world is not enough to get a smart & willing person (you) over his preconceptions about the term. so…hmmm. field research. you’re a fine lab rat, friend.

    you were much discussed in NS last night. and photos were taken with your name on ’em. if i go to San Diego, i’ll be there for the early workshop.

    Jane, you can come find me sexy anytime. 😉 i’m sexier – or at least way more full of cultural critique jargon – over at http://theorycribchronicles.com than at the original blog. but you are welcome to my delightful smorgasbord mess of a brand in all forms.

  13. Hey there, Neil. I for sure have the BlogHer bug, but if I’m going to get “time off” (from family) for that long and spend all that money, I have the gnawing feeling that it should be at a writer’s conference (I’m looking into the one at Wesleyan in June.)

    I don’t know . . . BlogHer sounds like more fun (in theory, not from this post!)

  14. i love this post. 🙂

  15. I was interested in going to BlogHer to meet the people I like online, but the more I thought about it the more certain I was that I would come away disappointed for the very reasons you mentioned. A small gathering with free flowing conversation is way more my speed, since blogging for me has been about creating meaningful connections. So I was delighted to attend exactly such a gathering (with Bon, no less) and it was everything I wanted, except too short. 🙂

  16. This is such a great conversation- I thought about it alot a few years ago when I first “built my brand” and then BAM! Everybody in my life got cancer at once. Well, not ALL, but my mom and MIL, and all the sudden I didn’t want to write about rock and roll and freedom and identity and all the shit I cared about before. I wanted to write about fear and loss and chemo and medical marijuana and the fleeting drops of time we call life. Then I realized those are actually the same. So I wrote what was real, and it kept me alive through trying to keep them alive. (And they both totally are! Yeah!!!)

    When I named Women Create Media, I really struggled with calling it that because I actually would love and welcome any man who would like to be a part- Neil, OF COURSE you are so included- but just went with the prevalent chromosone I figured would be in town- but with that said, seriously, boys, if it speaks to you as an event, come on in. xoxo, Lindsay

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