If you Google the words “self branding,” the search query yields 39 million results. If you’ve never seen this expression before, you may wonder how there could possibly be 39 million links related to something you’ve never even heard of. Believe it though, because self–branding is now not just an industry but an entire business philosophy. We are living in the era of Brand You and Me 2.0.
Thinking Like a Marketer
Personal branding is an attempt to shape our personal identity and control how that identity is seen by others. Examples of this include Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter, among countless others. Websites such as Flavors.me exist almost entirely to make personal branding simple and accessible for those without programming experience. The thinking behind all this personal branding goes something like this: “My online identity must be managed and carefully tailored because (who knows?) someone may just Google me.” Some people are so worried about their web identity that they quit Facebook altogether (can’t let that potential employer see those old pictures of you at that frat party).
While personal branding hasn’t turned us all into little Don Drapers, it has taught us how to think like a marketer. We create a web presence. We use Facebook to create an elaborate and only partially realistic identity. We package and present all of our best qualities in an appealing way while simultaneously ignoring or downplaying our weaknesses. Most importantly, we learn what people need (or we even create that need) and offer ourselves as the solution. In the words of Peter Drucker: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Only now, we are the product and the service, and our customer the world.
How I project my idealized self onto the world - I am spontaneous (look at me running without a care in the world!), creative, adventurous, a visionary.
Thinking like a marketer has its benefits. A strong and well-designed personal brand will increase your job opportunities and make you a much more valuable commodity on the job market. Even the very simple act of listing and describing your best qualities will fill you with confidence and a strong sense of self worth. Personal branding and market thinking are not evils in themselves, but necessary tools in the modern economy.
Dangers of Personal Branding (The Big But)
Despite its benefits, personal branding poses great dangers to our personal interactions and senses of self. A carefully managed online identity can turn even the most personal interaction into a fake, carefully managed iteration of that identity. Life becomes a kind of game whose goal is personal advancement, often at the expense of others. Friends begins to mistrust one another’s motives. We revert to less personal, but more easily controllable, forms of communication such as e-mail, chat, and text messaging. The written word supplants face-to-face and telephone conversation as the preferred means of communication.
More dangerously, personal branding damages our sense of self and identity. We now have three distinct identities: a virtual identity, a business identity, and our real identity. However, these three identities can be split into two neatly defined selves: the actual and the idealized self. On the one hand are you as you simply are; on the other, you are as you imagine yourself – good at what you do, highly skilled, lacking serious flaws. When immersed in our idealized selves, we lose perspective on who we really are and how others perceive us. This poses dangers to our mental health, our relationships, and our daily interactions with peers and strangers. Personal branding helps us develop purely solipsistic visions of the world.