A brand is a way to individualize products, and to productize individuals

Picking up from the comments on an earlier post, Don’t Productize Me, Bro

The firm Blackcoffee recently put together a neat little feedback page with the following request:  Please add your definition of brand, by finishing the sentence “A brand is…”  http://www.blackcoffee.com/blog/a-brand-is/     There’s a nice analysis of the responses they’ve gotten here: http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/2009/09/03/an-analysis-of-a-brand-is/   (hat tip to Gil Yehuda)

hello-kitty-skin-analyserHere’s a definition of brand that would cover the traditional notion of a “brand” used for companies and products, as well as the relatively newer “personal brand” meme:


A brand is a way to individualize products, and to productize individuals.







The statement is constructed to be value neutral, but I’d like to get your opinion: 

  1. Do you think the idea of productizing individuals is a “good” thing?  
  2. Are there particular instances where you think it’s helpful to use a branding strategy for a person’s professional advancement?  To what extent?
  3. If brands make inanimate objects seem more “personable,” and give those objects more of a “story,” more of a “special feeling,” a stronger sense of having an individual “identity” (or more “soul”), does branding a person have the opposite effect?   Or the same effect? 

About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on September 7, 2009, in Career, Marketing. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. i tend to shy away from posting comments every time there’s a business culture meets morality memes.

    but an informal poll on facebook?.. how could i resist! (hah!)

    If we’re talking about brands, good or bad refers to “produces the wanted result” or “doesn’t produce the wanted result”. Branding is a tool. a marketing tool. and the scope of the semantics involved remains in the marketing universe. as you said, value neutral. the reason for that is because in the marketing universe, there is no room for morality. (but not vice versa!)

    Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, etc.. all branded themselves (regardless whether some of them existed or not) in order to get their message across. Obviously branding is a time tested successful tool to get the job done. I’m not sure moral “good” or “bad” actually applies.

    i’ll take a stab at the question tho:
    a Brand is the marketable image of something.

    for certain items.. the marketable image is more complex than what the item actually is. for others, the marketable image is much less complex than what the item (person) is.

    if we were in a complete digital world, (and to relate this post to your previous one..):

    a Brand is an avatar.

    • You may shy away from these topics, but I’m so glad when you take them on, Nareg! Very insightful… I especially like your observation of how a brand can make something more complex or less complex than it actually is.

      The effect of a brand adding or reducing complexity does not follow along the line of whether we’re talking about products or individuals (despite the aphorism used to title this post).

      Sure, with effectively branded water, branded ice cream, branded mustard, branded brandy, the brand can add complexity and depth to these products. But some very complex products can be simplified by brands too — for example, the effective marketing of software, biotechnology, or the branding of a popular online social media platform.
      Branding of a person usually involves some reduction of complexity, though I can imagine a scenario where a brand adds depth there too.

      This ties in nicely with your point about “good” equalling “produces the wanted result” in the world of marketing semantics.

      To put it bluntly in relation to the previous post you referenced: Does taking on an “online personal branding strategy” increase a person’s chances of career advancement, or run the risk of making them look like a jerk?

      It’s like the difference between wearing nice clean clothes and being well groomed for your next date or job interview, versus looking like one of these guys:

  2. Like mentioned in your previous meme (not the old one), you have to know your target audience.

    There’s a delicate balance of standing out just enough v/s standing out in a bad way. Standing out just enough to let the personality come through. BUT, if the personality doesn’t match the brand/image, the brand ends up being “bad” (undesired result).

    If a client walks in with an expensive suit and tie on (you know where i work!) my paranoia senses start to tingle. “Why is he trying to project an image of “professionalism” to me? does he want me to trust him intrinsically, so he won’t pay? etc…”

    To me, this is the risk of “online personal branding strategy” and to some more extent, “branding people”. the possibility of misinterpretation is bigger than branding an object. Thus making it not as an effective of a tool.

    Having said all that, I don’t know if you remember my logo on my business card.. but i have attempted to brand myself as well… something to get people to remember you physically can only be a good thing! 🙂

    • Nareg — Yes, the ‘ol Dentist Brand. Branding as a memory aid. That was one of the categories in Denise Lee Yohn’s analysis of the BlackCoffee challenge submissions:

      9. Some explained a brand functions like a memory tool.

      A brand is something people remember.—EV
      A brand is what you would want another person to remember first thing in the morning and think of just before he or she goes to bed.—Strategic Growth Advisors
      A brand is the scar left behind on a person’s brain.—Zach K.
      A brand is a concept seared into the mind.—Mark
      A brand is like knowing exactly what to reach for when you cut your finger.—Jordan Julien
      A brand is a product idea/vision that gets burned into consumers’ minds.—RcSim

  3. Daniel,

    Thanks for the link and your eloquent and concise definition.

    “A Brand Is” was created as an exercise in brevity. We wanted to get people thinking about how they would sum it up in a single sentence. Several post like your own have created even more value by continuing the conversation.

    Many thanks. I will be back to visit your blog often!

    Mark Gallagher
    Brand Expressionist®

  4. —————————–
    September 8, 2009, 12:01am, G Y wrote:

    First thought (practical): regardless if it’s good/useful – it may be a reality that people evaluate you as a product. And therefore even if you don’t think it’s good, you still might want to acknowledge it and pay attention to “personal brand”.

    September 8, 2009, 7:53am, Dan Spira wrote:

    Yes. Sort of like “personal grooming.”

  5. —————————–
    September 8, 2009, 11:03pm, A R wrote:

    Of course people are branded. They’re called “politicians”, “Hollywood icons”, “popular musicians”, and “paris hilton”.

    and the brand image doesn’t have to match the reality…. Coke may just be revoltingly sweet coloured water, but we both know/knew a father-and-son who’d never admit that and ascribe(d) a great deal of symbolism to it 🙂

    … and how many times do you see a (usually republican) politican elected on a platform, and the (usually uneducated) voter wailing, “but I’d never’ve voted for him if he’d said he’d do THAT!” when that was precisely what said the politician said he’d do. I remember with Mike Harris (an Ontario premier) who said he’d slash welfare spending by kicking people off, and then did so… or with people who adore Sarah Palin but if you asked them their views on everything from hunting from helicopters to sex education for their teenagers, they disagreed with what she stood for.

    September 8, 2009, 11:34pm , Dan Spira wrote:

    Heh, well said. Your comments remind me of the book “All Marketers Are Liars,” by Seth Godin. In there he talks about how brands convey a “story” that people identify with. Sarah Palin was branded as the down-to-earth “Hockey Mom” and people could relate to that. The company I do work for, rogenSi, defines the word “rapport” as “the reduction of differences on a subconscious level.” People select their leaders on the basis of gut feelings of rapport, and hockey mom trumps conservative public policy, I guess?? It’s sad, but it took the vicious attacks on Palin personally — not her platform — to counter the appeal of her brand. Ultimately, she and McCain lost on the basis of their image and brand association, not their policies.

  6. —————————–
    September 11, 2009, 2:00pm, A S wrote:

    did you see this: http://www.fastcompany.com/multimedia/slideshows/content/the-sartorialist.html?partner=homepage_newsletter ?

    • That’s a GREAT example of how the world of haute couture has appropriated the “personal branding” message… and a nice photo essay too. I’ve been targeted by ads on Facebook offering me “tips for enhancing your personal brand” which led me to advertisements for men’s suits.

      On this tangent: The wife of a friend of mine has started a business around “personal visual branding,” taking into account one’s clothing, hairstyle, make-up, etc. etc..: http://ruinstyle.com/

      When it comes to an online “personal brand,” the analogy to “personal grooming” is really only part of the picture, of course. Since social media involves content — sharing, discussing and creating it — a person’s “online personal brand” is also their “interpersonal brand” and their “intellectual brand.”

      That’s a lot of “grooming” to tend to!

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