The Brand: What You See Is What You Get

Ann Friedman has written a piece for TNR that will be of great interest to all of us who have had to grapple with the idea of a personal “brand.” It’s an occupational hazard for bloggers, clearly, though back in the day, before corporate models completely conquered journalism, it was called a “voice.” But as Friedman, a “self-employed freelance writer,” observes, “branding” has become kind of unavoidable in a free agent economy where even regular employees (at a certain level of visibility, anyway) are expected to contribute something distinctive to the Corporate Master’s reputation and allure.

So Friedman shares with us the hilarious and sobering tale of her own wrestling match with “branding,” including a full-fledged (if “truncated”) brand-enhancing session with a consultant who, characteristically, gave Friedman a free sample of her wares in exchange for being mentioned in the article. Even branding experts need to work on the brand, doncha know.

And that gets to the sort of apes-on-a-treadmill aspect of the branding frenzy that ultimately discourages Friedman from taking all the high-priced advice she’s secured:

With the rise of social media, more than ever the brand really is YOU. And a lucky few have seen their careers advance along with their personal profiles. But in the long term, [branding pioneer Tom Peters] may be wrong about the advantage a brand provides. Blogging, tweeting, posting to Facebook and Instagram, optimizing your personal web site and LinkedIn profile to explain what makes you unique—none of this is enough to distinguish you from anyone else, because everyone else is also doing all of these things. Branding yourself might be easier than ever, but it’s getting harder and harder to stand out.

Well, personally, I find it easier to remain “authentic” (a frequently used word in the highly artificial world of branding) by letting people absorb my unique characteristics organically, rather than spending time each day trying to figure out how to improve the lefty-cracker-Christian-bloviator-with-a-surprisingly-good-vocabulary brand. For that matter, WaMo’s “brand” is a bit difficult to capture in a few words, too, though most regular readers have a sense of the things we do well, whether it’s higher ed journalism or “pragmatic” political analysis or insights on how government does and doesn’t work. Like Friedman, we’re not entirely immune to the logic of “branding,” but for the most part, what you see is what you get.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.