Here’s a question: which would you buy, a product with a well-known label of inferior quality, or a product with an inferior label of better quality?
What did you say? High quality?
Sorry, wrong answer. You’re delusional.
In an ideal world, quality brands = quality products, and we’d all think rationally about making a quality/affordability trade-off, but this world ain’t ideal. The way branding is taught, the way personal branding is being promoted today, and the way we like to think of how we interact with brands has no bearing on what actually happens on planet earth as we know it.
Quick story: A few years ago, I was given a pair of Ferragamo shoes as a gift. They fell apart within a year. When I brought them back to the store, the clerk looked at me as if I had two heads: “Those can’t be less than a year old. Ferragamos don’t fall apart like that.” Yet they had. This led to a particularly frustrating conversation, me vowing never to wear that particular brand again, and the realization that when a store clerk can’t wrap her head around the concept of “defective product” because the ideal of the product’s “brand” prevents her from thinking critically, there’s a bigger problem.
Branding has become a thing unto itself, disconnected from the underlying source of product quality. And that’s a problem for everyone.
It’s dangerous when the quality of the most expensive product becomes rationalized to be “the best,” even when it objectively isn’t. When that happens, branding becomes an excuse to covet—to rub the fact that you “paid more for a product because you can” in other people’s faces.
Done right, branding takes a long time to develop. This is important and you need to think about this, because as branding becomes applied to people (as opposed to products), the possibility opens for people to get hurt.
On the surface, personal branding is fine. The world’s a crowded place, and brands are good ways to identify quality peeps. But the practical reality is, few people in the world have the patience to develop a real brand. We look for shortcuts, point to the overnight successes, and chase rainbows. And we soak up “personal branding” messages as if all we need to do is self-promote.
We don’t think of what happens to discarded brands, or how long it takes to resurrect a tarnished brand. We don’t think: “Gee, what if that tarnished brand were ME?!”
Yes, we need personal brands… but not in the way we currently think about them. Authentic is not just a buzzword! Authentic implies deep self awareness, and not only is that rare, but for someone without it, it takes a long, time to develop.
I’m going to guess, like 7 years.
And that’s after you’ve spent 7 years honing your craft and developing your expertise.
Which means, according to my math, you won’t have a viable personal brand until sometime in your mid-thirties (assuming you start your journey after college).
So, let me ask you again, only this time, about yourself: are you really about quality? Or has the whole idea of “branding” blinded you to the possibility of flaws in your product?
Be careful when you answer this time—we’re talking about you.
Jason Seiden is a career consultant for professionals and managers (http://jasonseiden.com/). He wrote the best dang career book ever (just ask him), called How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career, and is a master facilitator of the cranial extraction method of on-the-job performance improvement. And yes, even though we value the intrinsic worth of his writing, we pay him per post. That makes us part of the problem..