I used to work in the marketing department of a computer memory company. One day on the sales floor a giant banner appeared that read, “HAVE THE KILLER INSTINCT!” I had an idea what that meant, and it had something to do with knowing when to close a deal. But the metaphor was horrible. I had to be the one to go to HR and talk to the nice older lady who happened to be the only other liberal I knew of in the company, and explain why this would be offensive to our customers: if we were the carnivorous predators, they were the slaughtered prey. In short, we had a sign announcing that we considered our customers chumps to be preyed upon.
Sometimes it’s tough to use marketing and advertising terminology without inadvertently dehumanizing both the buyer and the seller.
In the definition above, a brand is a product that is made by a company. The company isn’t a brand, let alone the people behind it. Cheetos are a brand, made by the company Frito-Lay, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. Pepsico has 22 major brands, and the CEO is Ramon Laguarta. Neither Ramon nor any of the people who work for Pepsico are themselves brands. A brand is a product, not the person or people who are responsible for it. Even in the case of a celebrity endorsement, the celebrity isn’t the brand, the product is. George Foreman is not a brand, George Foreman Grill is.
What has the world of obsession with money, marketing, self-promotion, and selling out come to when we are given wholesome advice from WordPress on how to improve our brand? Somehow a blogger became a brand. Now, before I launch into this, I gather most people want these kinds of helpful promotion tips, that it works in mutual self-interest between them and WordPress, and I am an outlier, perhaps even an eccentric, or a fool (others might say I was a philosopher of armchair sorts).
Soooo, this post isn’t for everyone who’s happy perpetually selling and being sold to. It’s a dog sell dog world, and the general populace is fine with that. If you want to be a brand, and want to know how to maximize profits, click away.
I got this loving tip in my email today, and I gather nobody even suspects there’s anything possibly strange about it.
How to Cultivate and Convey Your Online Personality
Your brand voice has the power to draw your desired audience’s attention — and convert them to customers.
Your voice is now synonymous with a brand voice, and your ultimate objective is to convert your audience into customers. NO! Goddammit, everything is not about milking the living F out of everyone for cool, hard cash. This reminds me of the study that showed that millennials, as a group, can’t fathom the concept of selling out. Marketing, advertising, and self-promotion are now so intertwined with people’s conception of reality and how the world works, and so accepted as just how things are, that it’s impossible to untangle them. I’m guessing the people behind this new campaign are younger than me. When you live long enough you can span more than one or two zeitgeists. Decades have different feels about them. You can study the 60’s, but if you weren’t alive then you probably can’t know the real texture of it. I was born in ’65, and I remember a time very well when money was not only not everything, it was merely a necessity, and tainted with evil.
But when we conceive of creators as a brand, we encapsulate their contribution in terms of revenue generation. Everything becomes a means to and end, which is always money, and there is nothing more valuable than money. In this context, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, Toni Morrison’s novels, and Van Gogh’s paintings can be best understood in terms of numbers on a spreadsheet. Jesus is a brand. The Buddha is a brand. Enlightenment is a brand.
While we all need to have money in order to survive, our voice has a much greater intrinsic purpose, which is to communicate, share, engage, and provide intellectual and emotional substance and sustenance to our audience.
Humanize your brand to establish an emotional relationship with your visitors, gaining their trust and paving the way to business growth.
This strikes me as bizarre. I’m not sure what trust has to do with blogging. I’d think if anything it might have more to do with valuing your content. We are supposed to cultivate trust in order to take advantage of it. This reminds me of the tobacco ads that would gain our trust by telling us that doctors themselves smoke cigarettes.
I might also want to challenge people’s preconceptions, or share uncomfortable truths. This means not always playing it safe and shrinking from the possibility of being controversial or offending someone. If you are a brand, than the customer is always right, and everything you do is calculated to garner revenue. If that were my purpose for writing, or making art, I would do far better to spend my time doing just about any other money-making venture, including temp work, working for minimum wage, mowing lawns or delivering newspapers.
Define Your Look with Brand Guidelines
No! Never! I’m an artist, by Gad! I have my own aesthetic which I’m not going to sacrifice for someone else’s guidelines that are only geared to maximize profit — and short term profit — at all costs.
Meanwhile back in reality I used to have ads on my site, which I didn’t have a choice about. In fact you have to pay to remove them, which I’ve done. But at one point I’d made over $75 in ad revenue, which brought me dangerously close to being able to collect the money, which you can do when you reach $100. Suddenly I was notified that my blog was blacklisted from making a profit because it wasn’t “family friendly,” which also meant I wasn’t entitled to any of that $75. Nevertheless, ads would still appear.
Well, of course my site isn’t family friendly. It’s not for kids. It’s not X-rated or anything like that, but it’s for adults and sometimes grapples with the human condition, which is not always going to be a rosy affair. So, for me, making my voice into a brand would also mean self-censoring, changing my content — and it would have to be a new blog — and, well, finally going in to get that long overdo frontal lobotomy.
I do get donations, and I have patrons, which I greatly appreciate. But it is voluntary, and because people value my content. I’m not trying to trick anyone, or lure them in. I’m not strategizing how to get more money. I feel the best way to get customers, if that is the goal, is to have the best product, and I’m using product as a convenient metaphor here. Content would be a better, but more elusive word, and it should have quality. When I think of other people’s art and music, most of which I can access for free over the internet, I don’t see products made in order to accrue revenue: I see gifts to humanity which come from people, and not brands. When I was working a full-time job I would buy CDs and even make yearly donations to my favorite free-form, commercial free radio station [WFMU] out of appreciation for the music which made my life richer. Nobody needed to hoodwink me. I just wanted the musicians to keep making music, and the radio station to keep playing it, and to show my appreciation.
When a person, their thoughts, writing, art, and their blog is defined as a brand, that person and their content are reduced to a mere mechanism for generating revenue, and more likely than not for someone else (ex., I would make a tiny fraction of the revenue for ads served on my site).
Do you want to know what someone looks like when they are a brand?
I am not a battery in someone else’s matrix. I’m an individual, a point of light, and my own perspective and portal on the universe.
How else could WordPress have presented their helpful ideas? I think we switched out the banner on the sales floor with something to the tune of, “KNOW HOW TO MAKE YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY!” I’d ditch the term “brand” and instead just talk about how to offer better content, give it more of a personal touch, and facilitate financial transactions. You can read between the lines for the crass commercialism, instead of making it the (unintended) headline. I am terrible at self-promo, networking, and marketing, and could use some tips, but when I’m defined as a brand, I flee the building clutching my integrity.