Who You Callin’ a Brand? Women & the Branding Backlash
Forbes.com just published my article, “Who You Callin’ a Brand? Women and the Personal Branding Backlash.” I was inspired to write it after reading author Maureen Johnson’s recent blog manifesto, “I Am Not a Brand.”
For the article, I interviewed brand strategist Robin Fisher Roffer, who’s been a hero of mine since I read her book, “Make a Name for Yourself.” During our interview, Robin shared a wealth of helpful tips about branding yourself and your business.
Naturally I couldn’t fit them all in my Forbes article, so I’m posting a longer transcript here.
The Interview with Robin Fisher Roffer
One Woman Marketing: Have you experienced a personal branding “backlash” in your own work?
I wrote the first book on personal branding for women in 2000, and I’ve never had a negative reaction. I think since I wrote that book most of the people teaching personal branding out there are teaching it in a very creepy style.
I wrote “Make a Name for Yourself” because I had been branded something that I never dreamt. While attending an industry conference, I was introduced by somebody who was a colleague, a client and a personal friend as “the sweepstakes queen of cable television.”
When I got introduced that way I thought, “I’m a brand strategist! How did this happen?” Certainly I had done many sweepstakes in the cable industry. I came up with them and executed them. You know, watch the Discovery Channel and you could win a safari. That label completely marginalized all my dreams and all my talents in one moment. I
realized in that one moment that how we perceive ourselves isn’t always how other people think about us. They pigeonhole us. They put us into a box and they lock the key. And when that happens, we lose our joy.
I don’t know if it’s just Americans, but we love to categorize people, make a judgment, and that’s it. And that judgment is very hard to change.
I sat down and wrote a brand strategy for myself. When people asked, “What do you do?” instead of saying, “I’m the CEO of Big Fish Marketing,” I started saying, “I am a brand strategist for the digital age.” In one fell swoop I could say I’m cutting edge, I’m in media, I’m a brand strategist, instead of being what you want me to be.
OWM: Why do you think women are so hesitant to promote themselves as a brand?
Somebody had written that brands are slick, and they’re fake. In my book, people are not being made into commodities. We are celebrating what’s real and what’s authentic.
What brand marketing has taught us and how I apply it to women in our careers is digging deep to unearth your real soul, real reason for being. Your passion, your talents, your dreams. I recommend all this is poured in to defining who you are, in a very clear, consistent and authentic way.
I’ve never seen anyone say to me, “This is all fake and you’re just trying to put a mask on.” As women we need to remove our mask as caretaker and whatever we put on to survive in business, and get to the real you. It’s an opening to reinvent yourself, to achieve greater success in life and feel fulfilled because we’re being seen as who we are.
OWM: Do you think this ambivalence toward branding hurts women’s success?
I don’t think they’re ambivalent. Women have been told to be good girls, to play nicely and fit in. It’s not like the way boys are raised. The real leaders today, be them women or men, live their lives with conviction, and that’s why women need to shift so that we can create a level playing field with men so that we’re all seen for our potential.
Powerful branding all comes from the true nature of the product. The greatest brands in the world – Steve Jobs, Ellen – they are all brands and I would not call those people slick. They’re authentic, they’re innovative, they’re passionate. That’s what a real brand is. It has nothing to do with screaming from the rooftops, and putting on a mask and being someone you’re not.
OWM: How can women create personal brands without feeling like they have to live up to an image or be inauthentic to their changing nature?
The BS radar is so high right now because of the internet. The last thing you want to do is be fake. It’s important to reinvent yourself in this new economy to be relevant, but that comes from peeling the onion even more than you already have to arrive at your true nature and your purpose.
Don’t live up to an image … We’re branding ourselves as caretakers, people pleasers, these are all inauthentic masks that we wear. My process invites people to peel all these layers away to reveal their real true nature. That’s how you’re going to succeed.
The greatest brands practice the holy trinity of branding: authenticity, clarity and consistency. If you’re authentic and you’re clear and you’re consistent, you’re going to be very fulfilled and happy and successful. You’re going to be living your truth. The greatest brands do that.
Robin Fisher Roffer is the CEO of Big Fish Marketing and the cofounder of The Institute for Reinvention and Relevance. Her latest book is The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How To Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You.