Pernicious Branding

Every month, I attend several ‘networking' meetings at which people introduce themselves and give a ‘spiel' of no more than ten seconds. Of course, they go overtime, but no one seems to mind. The ‘spiels’ all sound practiced, and usually end with a glib tag line. Something along the lines of Gerber’s ‘Babies are our business—our only business!’ Dorothy L Sayers had a good tag line at the end of her mystery novel ‘Murder Must Advertise’: Advertise, or go under!

Pernicious Branding

What I find disturbing is that I am beginning to see these people less as people and more as caricatures. One fellow with a video recording company had a very memorable tag-line: If it moves, we shoot it! However, I never did get his name, and I doubt I could pick him out of a line up. I don’t remember who is interested in what, which fellow likes the symphony, or which lady writes poetry in her spare time (things that are important to me). Next month, I’ll attend this meeting again, seated at the dining table with breakfast-eating businesses. Somewhere in the crowd are the music lover and poet I would rather remember by can’t identify. If we see each other at a different meeting, we’ll say, ‘the face is familiar—what’s your tag line?’

Of course, what we’re discussing here is branding, and I’m not enough of a businessman to appreciate the importance of this trend. I am far enough outside the commercial circle, and objective enough, to recognize that there are aspects of a ‘brand presentation’ that are necessary, but other aspects that seem ridiculous. I think of myself as a humanist, perhaps even a romantic. I want stories to have happy endings. I want people to be nice to each other, and for the sun to rise in the east, assuring us of good life. I want the way to be gentle and beautiful, the songs to be sweet (and while I’m at it, I’d like a puppy).

Instead, everything is ‘fast-paced’, with bullet presentations of skills and acumen that may have taken years to develop. As a society, it seems our attention cannot be held for more than a few seconds, and consequently vital information has to be packaged, streamlined, condensed, and fired off in hopes that the listener will remember.

I wonder what that demand for the most information in the least amount of times says about how much we value each other. What does it say about my sense of self-importance, and my regard for you?

I’ve noticed a trend toward branding in personal blogging as well. One of the social media sites to which I belong is full of examples of people branding themselves with esoteric titles, such as ‘immortalist’, ‘part-time voluntary worker, fulltime thinker’, or ‘karmalogist.’ Some come with tag lines filled with pseudo-profound philosophies such as ‘enjoy life, there’s plenty of time to be dead.’ I don’t know anything about these people, and based on the evidence provided, I may be better off. Somehow an honest and open description, even if it doesn’t fit into a few words, would be more illuminating and engaging.

Branding is not going to disappear because I don’t like it (or perhaps I just don’t understand it). When business trends begin to bleed into social media, I think we’re beginning to lose balance and perspective, or perhaps the word I want is ‘scope’. Certainly no one is likely to be engaged by an introduction: I’m an arranger of flowers, a lover of bird-song, and my dreams fly about me like leaves on the wind. Leave me your carpets, I’ll get ‘em cleaner than clean!’
At the same time, I don’t want to meet some sweet young creature at a dinner party who introduces herself as an ‘epulation aficionada’. (Brand-speak for ‘I enjoy good food.’)

It’s a question of balance.

When you meet potential clients or partners at a networking meeting, or some other business setting, how much of what you present is the business, and how much is the real you? Some potential clients won’t care if you like the symphony, they only want to know that you can defrag their hard drive. On the other hand, some clients are concerned about having a person with whom they can work (and build a lasting work relationship). Which is appropriate, and how do you know? Is a networking or other business meeting the best venue for this sort of thing?

Branding hurts—ask any steer. Is your brand hurting you?