Brand yourself like your life depends on it

logo in reverseWhen I was in high school, a movement had just begun. It became known simply as desktop publishing. Innocuous enough, but it changed everything. It essentially felled the walls that separated the professional from the amateur, the have’s from the have-not’s. Sure, it didn’t change everyone’s skill level. To this day, there are a lot of homegrown brochures, one-sheets and ads out there that, quite simply, suck. That’s not the point. It’s the enablement that matters. It opened the floodgates to a world of expectation of being able to create and contribute at every level.

Music has followed, as have movies, video and books. Along with or because of the Internet, we can all literally put our hands on the tools of creation and reach others who want what we have to offer, bypassing previous modes of distribution by creating our own. Or at the very least, hijacking the pathways that once required multiple levels of permission, acceptance and negotiation to bring what we have to light.

Now, branding is another realm that’s fallen into the hands and consciousness of the public. Whereas once, a jeweler might work her craft and put her creations in something beautiful only because it appeals to her personal aesthetic, today she’s talking about packaging jewelry for online sales as “opportunities for branding and customer loyalty”. She’s not Christian Dior or Chanel. She doesn’t have an ad agency. She’s a gal who makes and sells crafts and publishes about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I see this as a good thing. As an owner and operator of my own business, I’ve always espoused the importance of brand. It’s not just what I do, it’s what I believe in. You can look at it as a way to make sales, or you can see it as a calling for ethics.

We all have brands to manage. By the very nature of being here, being public, publishing, putting ourselves out there, we have created our image, formulated our message, segmented ourselves, increased our reach, extended our opportunities for customer loyalty, sought differentiated packaging. We’re branding, and branded, whether we like the word or not.

If you don’t like it, if it conjures up too many images of big business at a time when many of those very businesses are failing us, then pick a different word. Make it a statement to live up to. Something that carries a value judgment at a time when values and judgment are sorely needed.

It’s not your brand. It’s your reputation. And you better believe people are paying attention.