From today's New York Times:
Branding and the 'Me' Economy
By ANAND GIRIDHARADAS
Published: February 26, 2010
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS — For Benjamin Franklin, it was “early to bed and early to rise.” For Dale Carnegie, it was the dictate “to do and dare.” For Stephen Covey, it was seven simple habits.
The gospel of self-improvement has taken varied forms throughout history and is perhaps America’s most successful export. But in the digital age, the idea of improving yourself is under siege by a similar-seeming but utterly different gospel: that of self-branding.
The Internet-connected class worldwide faces growing pressure to cultivate a personal brand. Ordinary people are now told to acquire what once only companies and celebrities required: online “findability,” thousands of Google hits and Twitter followers, a niche of their own, a virtual network of patrons, a personal Wikipedia page and dot-com domain.
“The Internet has forced everyone in the world to become a marketer,” said Dan Schawbel, a personal-branding guru and the author of “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success.” (Mr. Schawbel, 26, has more than 100,000 Google listings for his name, 70,000 Twitter followers and a self-styled niche as the “personal branding expert for Gen-Y.”)
The rise of the personal brand reflects changing economic structures, as secure lifetime employment gives way to a churning market in tasks. It suggests a new unscriptedness in institutions as we evolve from the broadcast age to the age of retweets. It augurs a future in which we all function like one-person conglomerates, calculating how every action affects our positioning.
The personal-branding field traces its origins to the 1997 essay “The Brand Called You,” by the management expert Tom Peters. But only with the rise of easy-to-use social-media tools has one-person brand management become practical. Columbia University and other institutions now teach it; training firms peddle it in India and China; Microsoft has sought to bring its precepts to the poor; PricewaterhouseCoopers this week announced a Personal Brand Week, providing free online tips for college students.
What distinguishes personal branding from other self-cultivation is its emphasis on reputation over talent, on “explicit self-packaging,” as the scholars Daniel Lair, Katie Sullivan and George Cheney have observed: “Here, success is not determined by individuals’ internal sets of skills, motivations, and interests but, rather, by how effectively they are arranged, crystallized, and labeled.”
As personal-branding experts see it, they are merely responding to new economic realities. It is no longer enough, they say, to join an organization and ride its brand for decades. Companies are outsourcing aggressively; globalization is creating and destroying industries more rapidly than before; the Web is fostering job-hopping; the recession is throwing millions on the street.
In this new world, personal branders argue, self-packaging rules.