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Leadership, Vision & Your Personal Brand Architecture

Hard to believe but it's been 18 years since Tom Peters wrote "The Brand Called You," first published in Fast Company, August 1997. Who can forget his call to action:
"To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. It's that simple — and that hard. And that inescapable."
As a young sociologist trained in labeling theory, I understood instinctively that in the end you are what the world labels you.

It wasn't a far cry from the messages I'd gotten in school, and in synagogue: Preserve your good reputation above all else.

But there was something else, that Peters didn't articulate. I felt it in my bones, but didn't have words for it in marketing terms. Sociologists call it role conflict: the problem that arises when one part you play on the stage of life clashes with the others.

I personally felt role conflict all the time, especially after I got married. I felt:
  • Squashed into the little-girl image that my parents had of me.
  • Mushed into the role of a religious "young married" as envisioned in my world.
  • Crammed into the stereotype of a hippie sociology grad student in a secular school.
  • Ignored by a workplace that divided women-as-mothers into "staying at home and not working (!)" and "career mom with a nanny or daycare."
  • Invisible in the alternative economy of freelancers and telecommuters, whose virtual work was unreal to the vast majority of people.
  • Misplaced in a government job where one literally lived and died by the system, the forms and one's various ID numbers.
After studying organizational development and brand architecture for a bit, and after being exposed to enterprise architecture through my husband, my perspective mellowed and matured as I realized that the "problem" was not just in my head. It was real.

To address it, I needed to develop my own personal brand, and update it all the time. At first nobody knew what I was doing, much less what I was talking about. The closest they could come was "self-promotional," and "Why are you in the Google search results unless you're blogging all the time?"

The relief came in building up a narrative that made sense to me, and then in filtering my own work activities through that lens: brand specialist.

And then LinkedIn happened, and the ease of personal domain-building. Even my interns have personal websites to serve as resumes.

At work, brand architecture became more and more of a focus. Because role conflict in one's personal life is the same kind of conflict that takes place in a company, when there are pieces and parts that do not fit, but which are mashed together without much conversation.

It is the skilled brand architect who acts as a kind of organizational development specialist, helping to pick apart the different parts of the culture that play unique and important roles, naming those parts, and putting them back together again in a way that makes sense to all the players.

Thus in a company context we talk about the "house of brands," the "branded house," "brand endorsements," and so on. These are not just labels for products, but for the way the different parts of the organization interact.

People's personal lives are just as messy as organizational ones. But in one's personal life we rarely talk about brand architecture at all. In fact I don't think I've ever heard anybody use the latter term to describe how a person organizes their life with clarity.

And so what we need to do now is talk not just about personal branding, but also personal brand architecture as an intentional activity.

We sometimes talk about "personal mission statements," but this is different. This is the decision to label the different parts of one's life in very clear terms, decide which ones will be subsumed to the others and which will stand apart, and intentionally craft the story that ties all the pieces and parts together.

It is an act of leadership to take charge of one's life, much as it is laudable to decide how you want your personal brand to appear. Too many people just let life fall back on them.

To develop one's personal brand architecture also requires vision. "What do you want on your tombstone?" was a catchy tagline for Tombstone Pizza.

When you look back on the landscape of your life, what will the unique elements be? How will you explain them? How will somebody else write your obituary? As a worker - as a partner - as a parent - as a friend?

Maybe these are depressing things to ponder. But they are inescapably necessary, and even empowering.

Think of your personal brand architecture as an elevator speech in development.

If you had to fit not just a tagline but also a diagram on the back of a 1 x 2 business card - what would it say?
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All rights reserved. Photo credit: barnyz via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions my own.

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