cocktail napkin notes about personal branding

1, Branding is a culture-wide idiom now for meaning-making. It provides the terms by which we conceive of and interpret the artistic, the authentic. It suggests the means of self-production, how to reflexively grasp the contours of the self and set goals for its elaboration. No longer dictated by tradition, the self can be conceived along the lines of a firm, with no limits to its growth or its lines of business.

2. Branding is a commodified and reified form of meaning, always already conceived for a market; it is meaning that is given coherence by the anticipated market. A personal brand is a deliberately commodifed form of self that anticipates the market’s verdict to guide its development. Branding is meaning abstracted, decontextualized, reified. It is meta-meaning, an emodiment of the possibility to mean, with nothing particularly significant about the specific meaning evinced by any particular brand. The specifics are arbitrary; what matters is the market share and attention and loyalty it can garner, not what it putatively says.

3. Naomi Klein, recalling her No Logo in a Baffler article, notes that “creating meaning was the new act of production” for companies in the new economy — reminiscent of Coca Cola’s CEO declaring the beverage maker a “media company.” As manufacturing jobs went abroad, the creative-class strata of jobs remained, the elaborate facets of brand management, marketing and design.

4. Brand equity is much more concrete and relevant to decisionmaking now, with the internet designed to measure it and actualize it, defining it with precision as a quantity (a number of hits, or followers, or searches, or what have you) rather than as nebulous balance-sheet estimate, or a vague quality of good will. Brands, thanks to the internet, are becoming means for rationally measuring communicative impact, for eradicating the nebulous guesswork of traditional marketing. Branding is embodied persuasion, the attention economy’s equivalent of hard currency.

5. Brands are measurable concrete clusters of meaning, and their reach (the attention they can secure across a population) is a kind of brand equity that can be used to make rational calculations about risk and reward. It attempts to assimilate the mysterious process of self-fashioning and soulcraft into capitalist calculation, the sort of logic verified by social experience as “true” and practical and “realistic.” It is not “realistic” to not regard oneself as a brand. It is an impractical romanticism, to be ridiculed.

6. The personal brand seems capable of capturing and controlling the risk we face in identity formation, giving us a calculus by which to proceed. This empties the self of its effervescent spontaneity, rendering it practically flexible instead; it can always be judged in terms of brand strategy regardless of the level of calculation in the moment. Retroactively, experiences are made to seem like brand-building ploys; anticipating this, we strategize more and more, let that frame of reference subsume more and more intimate and private behavior.

7. Wilde’s link of socialism to unlimited individualism suggested this line of thought: Personal branding may be a manifestation of what the fabric of everyday life would be in a socialist society, in which it would incumbent on every individual to make explicit and manifest what his unique capabilities are, so that society could make the most use of them. There would be no hiding in corporate structures in meaningless wage work, no separating the work self from the private self. One would have to be an inveterate self-promoter to secure the social resources to fulfill one’s potential, or to even develop the potential, expand the scope of ambition. Personal branding is an attempt to define one’s unique blend of traits and interests as undeniably socially necessary. We need to justify our right to exist through some social code, some language which would most likely resemble branding. Self-marketing will not be eradicated but universalized in some utopian conceptions of socialism. Self-exploitation would supplant capitalist exploitation, which may be why some view digital sharecropping, volunteer free labor and the like as a revolutionary practice.

8. With the infiltration of the branding metaphor into our concepts of identity, branding can be misapprehended as one of the surest routes to self-knowledge — the way to get to know oneself is to trace out one’s abilities in terms of a brand and brand equity. This sort of thinking produces a reinforcing feedback loop. It seems empirical, the real self, socially validated and tested, supported and understood, not conjectural or provisional though certainly not fixed. Branding is a hermaneutic for identity and its social impact. It delimits the self to social impact and makes that impact interpretable.

9. Wrapped up in mediation and symbols; in the tenuous self and not the structuring systems that shape its form, its everyday reality. (?)

10. Brands are the total breakdown of communal collective identity, of relational identity. The personal brand obviates even the possibility of a “role player” sort of identity as in a traditional community. The personal brand grows itself on a balance sheet, and it is not limited by the context of a particular community. Like capital, it is theoretically infinite, which is why it appears preferable to the communal identity.

11. Ideas and innovation, immaterial wealth is credit coded in symbols and promises that steal material wealth from the future.

12. Flight from industrial materiality is a way of robbing the future, deferring materiality’s limits (?)

13. Gamification seems like a another way to cement personal branding template — leveling up, quantifying skills, doling out measured rewards, etc. Game mechanics are analogous to personal branding techniques

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