Wednesday 13 November 2019

Katie Byrne: Brand spanking you

Do we really need a personal branding strategy to succeed?

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

I visited a few yoga studios during a recent trip to Los Angeles, and it wasn't long before I noticed that the holistic scene in La La Land is very different to the one here at home. The yoga teachers in LA are celebrities in their own right... according to their Facebook pages anyway.

One teacher described himself as a "hot new star in the yoga community"; another said she was a yoga instructor/professional coach/mentor/communications consultant/nutrition expert/humanitarian.

They all had exotic-sounding names like Amanda Bankimchandra, as well as Instagram accounts full of bikinied backbends in foreign locations.

They work hard, though. In fact, these teachers sing for their supper. Every class is fresh, progressive and interspersed with at least 40 motivational mantras. This being Hollywood, they don't instruct. They perform. Likewise, they don't rely on word-of-mouth; they unashamedly self-promote.

When one of these teachers debuted his "Bruce Lee yoga sequence" - patent pending - during what was supposed to be a standard Ashtanga class, I began to understand the modus operandi.

This new wave of teachers have bought into the "personal branding" hype and their public profiles are as important as their standing postures. Granted, Los Angeles has historically been the ancestral home of many yoga schools, but not every teacher can become a "key influencer".

Of course it's easy to become hypnotised by a perceived sense of self-importance, especially if an expert on these matters has been consulted.

Personal branding 'gurus' advise us to work out what sets us apart from the competition before condensing it into a pithy little brand statement. They tell us that everyone is a brand these days - and this particular idea seems to have been swallowed whole by those in LA.

I stayed with an actress friend whose agent suggested that she become au fait with the principles of personal branding. "Is that not typecasting?" I asked.

Elsewhere, a friend who owns an actual brand berated me for not having my own podcast.

Personal branding is the buzzword of the moment, but the definition is opaque at best. Is it a fancy way to describe digital reputation management; is it another word for self-promotion or is it the career equivalent of Eircode?

More to the point, how do we set ourselves apart from the competition in an era when everyone is apparently doing the same? I've so far avoided all forms of personal branding and, admittedly, panic can set in when I see my peers' swish-looking websites and popular Instagram accounts.

Maybe I need to start taking photographs of my breakfast... Maybe I should start that podcast...

I don't get much further than that, though.

The trouble with personal branding is that it sends most sane-minded people into a self-critical tailspin. We dull our essence when we think too much about the things that make us special.

When experts advise us to "increase our relevance", the knee-jerk reaction is to wonder if we are relevant at all. As for writing about oneself in the third person...

"Define yourself or be defined" is the slogan of the personal branding revolution. The truth is that people will always make up their own minds anyway.

You can have the sharpest suit and the shiniest cufflinks, but people will spot the bald patch no matter how well you've smoothed down the comb-over.

Indeed, the very act of personal branding can expose our shortcomings. Take those with more slashes in their job title than experience on their CV. We're all wearing lots of hats these days, but does someone with eight job titles inspire faith, or do they remind you of those restaurants that offer 40-odd dishes spanning five continents?

Personal branding experts tell us to dig deep and uncover our most "authentic" self, but this practice is about as authentic as small talk at a work drinks party where the unspoken rules are: talk enthusiastically about your role; don't get drunk; don't tell rude jokes in front of the boss and network, network, network.

And what about vulnerability, fallibility and impetuosity? In short: all the things that make us human?

I want to hire that guy.

The other pitfall of personal branding is that you can promote yourself into a corner. Award-winners often say that the phone stopped ringing as soon as they received a gong - apparently potential employers begin to think of them as inaccessible.

Personal branding with too many bells and whistles can have the same effect. And to what end? It's one thing if you're pushing a product, quite another if you're simply trying to push your salary into another box.

Personal branding is about getting to know yourself better, and that includes your expectations, reservations and limitations. Sometimes it's just not worth it.

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