A couple of years ago, I did what I call an Online Message Review with a new client. Reading through several pages on her web site, I could pinpoint the language at the heart of her story. I could feel where her writing had the most energy, and where it felt like she was going through the motions.
As I shared my input with her, and we talked about her work, it was clear that she was being called in a certain direction. That her heart and soul wanted her to step out of her old, safe identity as a corporate coach who improves productivity, and into being more of what I now call a firebrand – into being a passionate advocate for calling out the maverick energy of people working within corporations.
“Gosh, Isabel,” she said as we wrapped up this single session, “you are better at branding than most people I’ve met who say they do branding.”I’ve never called what I do branding. I’ve thought about it, I’ve had a few URLs that testify to that. But I’ve resisted, and I continue to resist it.
Branding to me is a loaded concept.
Branding, as I see it, is the art of choosing how we publicly present ourselves to the world. The art of shaping how we are perceived by our choice of words, images, fonts and colors when we put up a web site, send a letter, or design a business card.But before we can make thoughtful, conscious choices about how we present ourselves, there is a much more vital bit of work that needs to happen.
And that’s to see ourselves, to recognize the magnificence of who we are, and to more fully own what it is that wants to come through us into the world.
And when we are in too big a rush to refine the public perception of ourselves and our work, we risk cutting short the diving deep, the exploring, the working through the rough bits of these big questions that allows us to find and name real clarity about who we are and what we bring to the world. We risk sliding ourselves into the mold of what already exists, and missing the nuances that define our magic.
Before we “brand”, we need to ask and answer questions that have nothing to do with business or audience and everything to do with who we are as human beings.
Because that’s where our magnificence lies.
That’s the power we have to move and transform others – individual and collective – through our presence, and efforts, and our words. When we write and speak from the place of recognizing and owning that who we are and what we have to share matters. That who we are (and therefore what we have to share) is remarkable and irreplaceable.
And when we shortcut the process of seeing and owning that, when we rush to get to the neat and packaged version of who we are, we dramatically limit the power we have to incite action and invite change in the world.
And we also constrain our ability to create work that gives us the opportunity to write and speak about the things we care most about. We short circuit our ability to speak to and resonate with the people who need that particular thing we bring to the table.
The rush to package and monetize our Being limits our growth.
At its worst, the cult of “personal branding” invites us to craft and promote an image of who we are that looks good and sounds good but which hides the richness and complexity of who we really are.At their worst, branding services push us towards an image we are assured is attractive and marketable but not fully authentic. An image that is sanitized and cleaned up and polished but which lacks real life or breath. Or that grabs hold of one aspect of who we are and locks in a story around that.
At their best, branding services take a first step to delve into who you are before crafting language, sound bites, logos, and choosing colors and fonts. But sometimes that effort to excavate is quick, rushed, incomplete.
I had one client come to me after investing quite a lot in a popular branding service. She was told her key word was “sparkle”, and was given some language and design elements around that. But she came to me because she still wasn’t clear herself what she did, why it mattered. She lacked the inner connection to herself and her work that she needed to step out in the world and write and speak effectively about what she didAnother client described the feeling that the business and marketing training she’d taken encouraged her to put forward what she described as a “cardboard cutout” of she was. To put forward this shiny, simplistic front of positivity and success that she now needed to live up to.
Branding is not a bad thing. Branding is vital for businesses of a certain size and shape. Businesses that have brick and mortar stores, or uniforms, who buy millions of dollars of advertising.Good branding can support small business owners, help them project a higher level of professionalism, if that’s important to what they do. It can make their visual impact more consistent and more attractive.
But for solo business owners who offer transformative services, services that often evolve through the lifetime of the business, it’s not the first place to spend your time and your money.
I think we need to spend less time worrying about our brand, and more time exploring who we are and how we want to express ourselves in this lifetime.
We need to worry less about how we come across and are perceived, and more time stretching into truer, more aligned ways we can put ourselves out in the world.
We need to feed the fire in our hearts, so we can step out in the world and burn brightly, trusting that when we are true to ourselves, the words and images will follow.