Look, I get it. I’m Generation X, and if there’s anything we were good at in our youth, it was accusing other people of being sellouts. You think millennials on Twitter love to call people out? You weren’t around in the 90s when wearing a white belt got you branded as a tool of capitalist fascism (I still don’t know why but it was a thing). And we weren’t the ones who started it. Back in the 60s, the hippies accused Bob Dylan of being a sellout for using an electric guitar, and I’m sure accusing people of selling out has been going on since the first caveman cooked a woolly mammoth with fire instead of eating it raw.
But if you’re in any business for yourself, you need a personal brand, and unless you want to lose money, you’re going to have to suck it up. Yes, I realize how weird it is to shill for capitalism, but what I’m trying to get at is that you have to control the machine before it ends taking over who you are.
What taking charge of your personal branding means is that you take charge of your personal narrative. YOU get to define how you are perceived and talked about instead of other people who may not have your best interests at heart. How does this benefit your career and your business? It comes down to this: people love narratives. We gravitate to them. And that means a business or a person with a strong and consistent narrative gets more interest and attention.
When I talk to clients about branding, I always tell them to think of how it works for hip hop. In 1999, the New Yorker interviewed Kevin Liles about Lady Luck, a young rapper he was mentoring, and he said this about the other female rappers who were popular at the time:
“When you think about Eve,” Liles explained to me, “if Eve’s man was in a gunfight and he got shot, she would pick up his gun and start shooting at the other guy. L’il Kim would fuck that other man. Rah Digga would stab that other man. Luck would have a great time with that man, and then hit him in the head with a bat. So all of them have their own special qualities.”
In its own kind of sexist way, that is a pretty decent example of personal branding. It streamlines what people expect of you and helps you stand out from other people in the business.
Don’t think of it as limiting yourself, but rather pinpointing the attributes you have that make you special that you can apply to different skills and services. For example, I love discovering weird things that have happened in Asian history and pop culture, and I apply this curiosity and interest in weird trivia and items to my writing and my jewellery. That’s not my branding per se, but it’s the personal narrative that is the foundation of my personal branding.
If you’ve never done this before, I can see how it would be intimidating, and you might not know where to start but not to fear! I’ll be writing up some branding exercises that will let you practice looking for the narrative in people’s stories and identities to get you ready for yours.
Get started! Here’s Branding Exercise #1!