By Chris Koch - Leading Voice Coach for The Voice Advisory
‘I don’t have a brand, but I do have a voice.’ - Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook, author of Lean In.
Surely in an environment where personal branding is the mode du jour, this is a bit radical coming from the COO of Facebook? But she’s not pulling punches. Sandberg’s take is that personal branding commodifies, or turns individuals in to products to be bought and sold. ‘Crest has a brand. Perrier has a brand… People are not that simple. We’re not packaged. And when we are packaged, we are ineffective and inauthentic.’
However in Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture (a fabulous scholarly treatment of branding), Sarah Banet-Weiser suggests personal branding is not quite the same as commodification. She points out that branding involves creating and consistently communicating an identity and a set of values which attracts and retains customers. Its popularity has to do with the relationship with authenticity, the idea of becoming 'more of who you are'. Hard to see a problem there – and yet it’s also not that simple. Inevitably, even personal branding that genuinely takes the above approach, operates within a branding culture that depends on strong stereotypes and often commodifies the person. So if authenticity is important to us as individuals, personal branding can be useful, but ambivalently so.
Somewhere between these two perspectives, there’s a consistency of values-driven behaviour we’re aiming towards. There’s a good reason for that. At it’s best, that’s what we mean by ‘personal brand’.
But maybe there’s an even more useful focus, which Sandberg is pointing to. No matter how we work on our personal ‘brand management’ to allow for adaptive change, ‘brand’ can never provide us with the mercurial responsiveness that a free voice does.
A free voice is effectively the channel through which our body, mind, feelings, intellect, are expressed accurately, with passion and precision. What better way to ensure true, moment-to-moment authenticity, than to free, and then to rely on our voices.
‘I don’t have a brand, but I do have a voice. It is a voice that I used to help build a company. It is a voice that spoke out on women. It is a voice that sometimes gets things wrong. And it’s a voice I now use to talk about grief and try to break some of the isolation I felt. If you think you are building a personal brand, you will not have the career you want because you will not be authentic. Don’t package yourself. Just speak and speak honestly, with some data behind you.’
And if personal branding’s still your thing then let your brand be your own, free, voice, the root of both your personal and your professional authenticity.
To help free your voice get in touch with us atThe Voice Advisory