Door to Door: Brand You

By Pat Lynch

Everybody knows that cattle are branded. Some cowboy presses a sizzling hot poker into the cow’s hide, singes it with a logo that marks it as the property of the ranch. This cannot be a good experience for the cow. It makes an agonized sound and smoke rises from it.  When I was a child I saw this done in a movie and came away appalled. If I ever had a ranch, I vowed, I would not burn cows with a branding iron. I would spray paint their tails or something.
Later I came to understand branding as advertising, as identification and promotion if inanimate products. For example, General Motors branded itself as patriotic, and GM bigwigs said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the America.” Coco Cola had a secret ingredient and was the “real thing,” unlike its synthetic competitors. This was around the birth of the infamous Brand X, a weak, false, inferior product that could not stand comparison with Colgate or Kellogg’s. Corporations proclaimed their products were the best, Number One, chosen first by more doctors, dentists, housewives, discerning rich people (‘Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”), mechanics, gardeners, children, chefs, TV addicts, smokers, drinkers, hair dressers, drivers, fast food junkies, pain relief seekers and so on adown a litany of suffering consumers whose lives would improve if they chose these brands.
Then a friend, an East Sacramento neighborhood activist, went off to one of those mandatory work Self Actualization thingies. She thought she might pick up tips that would help her improve ways to protect the good quality of this neighborhood. To her surprise, guest speakers enjoined her to adopt certain mechanical behaviors that would win her jobs, promotions, and overall advance her personal trajectory through life. She was further surprised to learn that she too was a product that needed branding. ”You need to market your brand,” the speaker said.
At first it was disconcerting to realize that she was like a bowl of cereal, that they were all bowls of cereal, and the cereal that got itself into the most attractive package would be the one purchased, hired, elected.
Then came the Elevator Pitch. Suppose you find yourself on an elevator with a “target” CEO of a marvelous company. There are certain words you can use on a four fight elevator ride that will establish your brand, and make the CEO realize he/she needs to hire Brand You. Those words are Offer, Skills, Help, Strategize, Increase, Familiarize, Believe, Potential, Optimize and Profit. My friend sat in stupefied silence. But many others wrote down the words. If you Google “personal branding” you’ll find similar lists of ‘magic’ elevator words on countless marketing blogs, but you’ll have to pay to see them.
My poor friend, an authentic person who innocently assumed that education and talent were the keys to career advancement, does not usually chat with strangers in elevators, and has never lurked in a lobby waiting for a “target” CEO to press the UP button. She thinks of this as stalking. When she returned from her actualization seminar she said the whole thing seemed staged and superficial.
“Come,” I said. I opened the laptop and showed her the Internet world of Reputation Management Consultants (yes, the spin doctors of yesteryear are now your personal Reputation managers). I also showed her a site that promised to show how to construct “Your Own Brand Ecosystem.”
“My brand ecosystem?” she said. “Ecosystem? What the holy hell?”
“Swearing is bad for your brand,” I said. I toured her through a maze of Internet promotion. Online branding experts advised that we “build brand identity” by calculating how we want to be perceived by others and using certain language, gestures and expressions that enhance that perception. Here are some of the suggestions: “Create a logo”–(yes, a personal logo, as though you were a candidate running for office, and in essence you are); “Create a color palette” and stick to three colors (for your outfits, your business cards, your personal stationary); and, “Create all of your physical deliverables.” I knew this one would put her over the edge so I hastened to explain: it meant, maintain contempory grooming standards and manufacture a confident walk, a ready smile, an attentive facial expression, a poised pose. Physical deliverables. In better words, look as tall as you can. She rolled her eyes and I hit her with the last one: “Establish a unique tone of voice.”
“What?” she said. “I have to fake my voice too? That’s insane. That’s—
“You should have repeated my name twice in that last sentence,” I said. “You’re supposed to say the name of the person you’re talking to multiple times throughout the conversation. To establish intimacy.”
“What the holy h—“
“Stop. Where was my name? You should have said, Pat, do I have to fake my voice too? Pat, that’s insane. Pat, that’s…whatever. There should have been at least three Pats in your sentence. And you shouldn’t have said, insane. Don’t use strong or pointed language. You should have said, “Pat, I’m not comfortable with manufacturing an artificial tone of voice.”
“This is all so phony and horrible,” she said.
“This is all so phony and horrible, Pat. And don’t say phony. And don’t say horrible.”
Her shoulders slumped. She was beginning to know she would never fit in. I read aloud from another blog. “Your identity and self image are the tools of personal branding,” I quoted. “You need to develop a core identity.”
“I already have a core identity,” she said. “I had it when I was six.”
Ignoring her, I continued to read aloud because I was about to blast her into the branding stratosphere where her cerebral cortex would implode into bitty fragments of disbelief. “Stick to your brand in everything,” I read. “Even texting phone messages. If you use punctuation in your texts they seem less sincere.”
“What?” she whispered.
“Yes. No punctuation. No grammar. Smile continually. Don’t worry if you sound like an illiterate. Keep saying the name of the person you’re talking to, and make appropriate physical contact by lightly but repeatedly tapping his or her forearm. Hug when you meet, hug when you part. Hugging is critical. Double-hug when people are looking. Bond, bond, bond. No swearing. No intensity. No pointed language. No opinions. Be positive about everything. Unremittingly positive. And always have your physical deliverables in tip-top form. Got it?”
“How is any of this going to help me help the neighborhood?”
“It isn’t. But this is the way to brand yourself for advancement in the political and corporate world.”
She took a pillow from the couch, pressed her face into it and screamed. The muffled sound reminded me of the noise the cows made when the hot iron seared them for life.

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