I Am Not A Brand
Gino Fanelli

I’m sorry to read that you’ve chosen to believe that brand-building is about creating some fakeish veneer designed to make you more appealing and marketable. If I’m reading you right, I’d like to help shape your perspective.

That slick/veneer/fabricated notion has gone out the window in the last 10–15 years. Before that you had carefully constructed images. Think Andre Agassi if you know tennis. In the 90s he was the ‘rebel’ and his brand was built on that, which was included in marketing campaigns for cameras and other things. Long hair, flashy clothes, aggressive tennis. That was brand building back then. Be anything and people will buy it.

Today, thanks largely to social media, it’s incredibly difficult to build a fake brand. You can no longer hide from the media and carefully craft the narrative in the time and place you want to. Your footprint is everywhere so who you really are becomes apparent, real quick. Today, as we are closer to Andre as a person through his personal interests and extended footprint, we see instead a very thoughtful, introspective guy who comes across almost introverted although he’s approachable. OK, no more hair to build around, but there are just too many data points out there to the contrary of that brand that you can no longer use it and build around it.

When you consider both this social media dynamic and the contemporary sentiment of Millennials, you start to understand that authenticity now plays a big role in branding. You can’t fabricate easily anymore. Your ‘brand’ has to be more closely connected to what you really are, because society sees right through the BS much more readily and easily than in the past.

If you hope to have a career in almost anything you pretty much need a brand. Because you are a product. And you have to be able to explain what your product is and what features it has. Quite simply your brand is what you would want stakeholders to think when they hear your name. Your background and reputation must provide a clear projection of what an employer is getting when they hire you. Key characteristics of your brand are not only authenticity but also consistency. For example, if you think you are ethical and want to tell people you’re ethical, then that’s a part of your brand. You will need to be ethical. At all times. If you compromise it on the regular then your brand (ie reputation) decays. Then you can no longer claim ethics as a part of your DNA because you haven’t clung to it with unwavering ferocity.

If you as a product can’t lay claim to any features, benefits or characteristics then you have no brand….and you maximize the chance no one will be interested in you.

Your brand doesn’t have to be widely desirable; mass appeal is only a side consideration and by no means a starting point. I have a blog, and in my ‘about this blog’ section, I openly state I have little interest in having a million followers. I go deep into subjects of marketing and entrepreneurship in ways that are yes thoughtful but also alienate the cohort that wants lists, quick fixes and other forms of empty calories that they think might change their lives. I’m a niche product but I don’t care, because if I can help or influence 10 people in my life I’m stoked. That’s my own success metric. My blog is of a clear and consistent brand. And I can lay claim to it.

So, yes, you are a brand. A brand is what you say you are. Are you generous? Are you intelligent? Are you caring? Are you well-researched? Are you random? You are without a brand if you cannot state, explain and substantiate what you are…and pretty much only babies get to claim that level of blank slate. The strength of your brand — whatever it is — depends on the extent to which you accumulate data points to support it. Worry less about how many people subscribe to it. But, I strongly advise that you know what you are, and importantly, BE what you are. Failing to do that will only serve to confuse and possibly alienate those who have to decide if they want you as a part of their personal or professional universe.

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