How to build a BAD brand

Maybe I read too much, but for the past several years there seems to be a completely out of control and growing obsession with personal branding. There are even generational gurus and mavens dedicating entire websites, blogs and books, along with countless citations in mass media publications on branding from A to Z for the X, Y, Z and beyond generation.

Regardless of the intended audience, most of the content is generic, repetitive and redundant. Yet based on the incessant flow of these materials one gets the impression that there is an insatiable demand for more of the same. For obvious reasons, many people are fed up with the silly buzzwords and superficial ideas being passed off as expertise on this logic-defying topic.

Branding balls: listen and learn from legendary musician, Lemmy
Branding balls! Listen and learn from legendary musician, Lemmy

Some of the advice seems to imply that the signs of someone who is well branded are a web domain, a logo or an icon, a catch-phrase and color scheme on a business card showing what that brand represents. And, of course the ultimate evidence of a true branding strategy is influence through blogs and social media activity.

The worst branding message I‘ve repeatedly encountered is the recommendation to “brand yourself as an expert.” Huh?

Another gem I’ve seen is “how to create your personality on LinkedIn” which is rather interesting because most people consider that a professional networking site, not a place where personalities are created. As if that is even possible!

Coming from the experts all of this sounds pretty swell though, right? Sure, if you are marketing a running shoe, carbonated beverage or automobile.

But, what if you are Fred in accounting? Not quite the same situation! No one wants to hear you spew out a pithy pivot table pitch or read your blog on balance sheets. If you really are the guru of GAAP. Just do what you do. Accurately and consistently. Your brand will take care of itself.

The sources of this concept attempt to give the impression that one can just whip up a brand out of thin air and act as if it reflects reality. I’ve even seen suggestions for people to model their brand after someone else they admire for being a success in their midst.

That particular idea makes me think of a bride tearing photos out of fashion magazines as inspiration before going shopping for her wedding dress. Or, maybe a person who visits luxurious model homes to get decorating ideas to mimic in their own home improvement projects. And, of course there is the example of a trendy celebrity hairstyle becoming a phenomenon amongst regular people.

Couture, carpeting and coifs are easy enough to imitate or duplicate, but borrowing a branding idea from one person and applying it to another seems rather suspicious and frankly a bit stalker-ish, if not entirely pathetic. Not to mention the absurdity of trying to fabricate a new persona as if starting over fresh under the witness protection program.

The obvious problem with all of this is that a person’s brand is essentially their reputation. Meaning it already exists in some form or another. It is reflected in how others perceive that person from the context of what they see, hear, observe and know from personal experience with that person, whether through tangible evidence or intangible gut feelings. There is no way a person can magically make that image vanish and replace it with their chosen brand of expertise.

Most people have enough instinct to sense when someone is trying to portray something that is less than authentic. And, more importantly, the people we tend to admire, respect and recommend for whatever reason usually have a level of credibility built from actual talent, expertise or personality that can’t be easily replicated.

True experts, geniuses or brilliant innovators don’t go around telling everyone that’s what they are, because they don’t need to. It just shows.

A prime example is legendary rocker, Lemmy. As the founder of Motorhead and a constant fixture in the LA rock-n-roll scene, he has been an influential force in practically every genre of music that mattered since the 60s.

There is absolutely no chance Lemmy ever gave a single thought to impressing anyone through wardrobe, grooming, playing style or stage presence other than to show up and do his thing. He has never shown any sign of an interest in “branding himself” or “creating his brand” yet he endures like only a few others from his era.

In the documentary film Lemmy, there is an endless parade of industry insiders and fellow rock stars praising Lemmy’s ability to transcend generations and musical tastes. If you haven’t seen the film, check out Jon Konrath’s overview.

Lemmy is the real deal and he has no need to prove his expertise or tell anyone he is an expert, because it is just obvious. Here is guy quoted as saying he remembers what it was like before rock-n-roll and he has managed to remain relevant in a highly competitive environment, by simply being who and what he is… Badass!

Article by Kelly Blokdijk ~ As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies, customized communication materials and compelling personal positioning campaigns to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!



  1. Nice post Kelly. Hopefully Authentic Branding becomes the vogue.

  2. […] How to build a BAD brand ( […]

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  4. Ryan said

    Very nice points here

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