As per usual, I’m deviating from the expected path. During our last online class, I was asked to share some of my key learnings from the perspective of a person who teaches personal branding. Technology wasn’t in my favor, and I think it might be for the best—for I think I tend to be much more articulate in print than I am verbally. In this blog post, I hope to explore my motivations behind taking this course, what I’m getting out of it (learning), and what I’m observing. So with that introduction, here goes…
Why Am I Taking This Course?
I was very much on the fence about taking this course—not because of the course content, but because of the timing. For most of the third quarter of my BGI experience I planned on using the summer to launch a few products, solidify some speaking engagements, and believe it or not, catch up on some sleep. From the first time I heard about the Social Web for Social Change course and upon meeting Sir Christopher Allen (I don’t know why I chose to address Christopher Allen as Sir, but it just feels right. So I go with it), I knew I would want to take his course at some point. Looking at when the class would be offered next year, I came to the conclusion that this summer would be the best time for me to dive into the course. So, here I am, last one to register, and taking this class for credit. Thanks Patrick for the gentle prodding.
Several people have asked, “Why are you taking a class you could probably teach?” Well, the honest answer is I don’t think I could teach this course. I honestly cannot think of a person more qualified to offer this course at BGI in terms of content and pedagogy than Sir Allen. And don’t get it twisted, I am in this to learn just as much about how to teach as I am what to teach. There’s so much to learn in both respects.
What am I getting out of this course?
I’m learning how to run a course
I’m learning quite a lot in this condensed summer course. The course is, for the most part, very organized. Given the fact that we are in the middle of a platform transition and a technology beta test, there seems to be a certain level of consistency I feel many would not be able to exude. However, every time I need to look at the upcoming assignments, I find myself in Gmail searching for “Alex.” Besides that though, the delivery is pretty crisp and it’s obvious that the teaching team has put a great deal of effort into not only the selection of content but the design of the class.
I’m learning a lot about psychology and the people in this community
Psychology has always played a major role in the fields that have formed my educational and professional background, which consists of business, marketing, sociology, communications, and DJ’ing. There have been so many adjustments and changes for me throughout my relatively short journey at BGI. I’ve found myself in a completely new environment, with different types of people, and a different way of living. I never thought this city boy would ever be studying business in the middle of the woods. Although I find myself at home in most of the classes I’ve taken here, none have come so naturally as this one. After all, social web for social change is kind of what I do.
I have been deeply impressed with the community of individuals taking this course. I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to watch people like Michelle V.–a person who admittedly hated the idea of putting herself “out there"—create some of the most entertaining video I’ve ever seen. Technology is a scary area for many people, and watching how my classmates are accepting the challenges it poses with such patience and grace is a motivation in itself and a testament to the type of people BGI and like-minded institutions attract. I've said it more than once, but I made my decision to come here based on the group of people in which I knew I would be immersed.
Marketing and branding are almost universally misunderstood terms
For years now, I’ve been engaging in an internal battle about whether or not I should use the terms marketing and/or branding when I describe what I do. I feel this way because I am completely aware of the negative connotations associated with these words. Marketing is often thought of as sales, advertising, or manipulation (manipulation in the negative sense). Branding is often thought of as merely visually representing one’s identity, or worse, creating a false persona for the outside world to believe. Let’s set the record straight right now. I hate these associations just as much as anybody. The reason, however, that I continue to use these terms is that I want to try to preserve the authentic meaning and integrity they have when used and practiced appropriately and ethically. Nobody should have to continuously look for euphemistic words to describe something that is already accurately captured by the correct term. Doing so would be even less authentic.
So I understand when I hear the internal issues and challenges my classmates are facing when they try to write, talk, or present about themselves. In fact, I appreciate that. As a class, we are apprehensive about sharing our gifts, talents,and values. We don't want to come across as know-it-alls, arrogant, or overconfident. It’s this quality that I think keeps people humble. The fact that you’re asking the questions you’re asking means that you are concerned with how your behavior affects the people around you. Don’t let go of that. But (yes I said but) also keep in mind that your story is also worthy of being told. In order to make the difference you want to make, you must be able to clearly articulate who you are and what you're about. Being braggadocios is not the way, but allowing yourself to be in tune with your strengths, talents, and uniqueness is critical to paving your way.
So, what is personal branding?
A brand is not what you portray to the world. A brand is the collective sentiment people hold when they think, hear, see, taste, or otherwise experience a service or product. You do NOT own your brand. Branding activities are not an attempt to be fake. Branding activities showcase your true values. What do you find important? Who are you really? What is your unique value proposition? What is it about you and your talents that distinguishes you from the rest of the world? What purpose do you hope to serve; feel compelled to serve? Keep these kinds of questions in mind and branding will help guide decisions that are not portraying who you want others to think you are, but instead reflect, in a very authentic way, who you really are.