Jueves 23 de Noviembre de 2006, Ip nº 180

It's a brand-you world
Por Jeninne Lee St- John

Turns out I'm a Mini Cooper. By nearly unanimous vote, my friends, family and colleagues say that if I were a car, I'd be a Mini, a BMW Z5 or some other convertible roadster. Not to, er, toot my own horn, but that means people see me as small but bold, stylish and full of energy.

It also means that people connect with me on an emotional level--at least, so says William Arruda, creator of the 360Reach personal-branding questionnaire that was used to ask people how they view me, my strengths and weaknesses. Arruda is not some New Age self-help shaman. After two decades of promoting corporate brands like KPMG, IBM and Lotus software, Arruda founded Reach Personal Branding six years ago to help ordinary people figure out how to market themselves. With about 1,000 clients a month, he's a leader in the growing field of personal-brand consultants, who help people pitch themselves in the job market and the dating arena. Part life coaching, part management consulting, personal branding applies the language, philosophies and strategies of Madison Avenue to the brand that is you.

Treating our personalities as products reflects an increasingly competitive society in which the best way to stand out is to develop an engaging--and easily defined--image. Companies and celebrities have been doing it for years. Now it's the average guy's turn. "For a long time, parents discouraged their children from worrying about what others think. They didn't realize how shortsighted and stupid that was," says Mark Leary, a social psychology professor at Duke University who studies impression management. "We need other people to think well of us."

Personal branders use your online identity--the links that pop up when you Google someone and details on sites like MySpace--as well as tools like the 360Reach exercise to determine which core attributes will sell your brand most effectively. Among mine, apparently, are "creativity" and "interest in all things." Those may sound like daily-horoscope insights, but Arruda says they can be packaged in a way that could help me get a new job. "We could show the diversity of your work," he says. "We would perhaps give you a tagline: 'Curious about Everything. Passionate about Writing'" for my résumé and for a personal website I would develop.

Other branding consultants use similar methods. "The majority of kids coming out of college are essentially generic," says D.A. Hayden, who did p.r. for clients like Volkswagen and the Washington Redskins before co-founding Hayden-Wilder last fall to help college grads land their first job. "They need key brand attributes and to be able to talk about them to employers." Rob Borden, 25, who graduated from Middlebury in 2005, paid $2,950 for Hayden-Wilder's "Illumination" package. During his initial fake job interview, which was taped, Borden sat stiffly and said "um" a lot. He rambled without direction. But as Hayden and her partner Michael Wilder got to know him, they learned that Borden had opened a landscaping business in college, captained an NCAA-championship lacrosse team and was deeply interested in land development and conservation. They drafted a marketing plan around five qualities: a passion for commercial real estate, strong business experience, leadership abilities, organizational skills and a sparkling wit when he isn't nervous. In interviews, Borden hammered away at those key points and, after meeting with about eight companies, landed a job that he loves in a commercial real estate firm.

It may be easier to overhaul the image of a twentysomething than that of someone older and more set in his or her ways, but baby boomers are also finding benefits in a brand makeover. Alan Cole, 48, has been an investment adviser in Atlanta, Texas, since 1989. Exhausted by the strain of keeping up with various investing strategies to serve his diverse client base, he hired Peter Montoya, whose firm, based in Tustin, Calif., specializes in marketing independent financial advisers. After identifying Cole's core values of family, church and hard work, plus his affinity for fishing, golf and travel, they came up with a focused brand for him: wealth planner for active retirees. Now Cole says he is "working with fewer clients, but they're more profitable." His revenue is up more than 30% over last year's.

There's a fine line, though, between putting your best self forward and creating a new self that could be found out in the end. "Trying to be more authentic based on a professionally crafted personality makeover is a contradiction in terms," says Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State. That contradiction is a particular risk for online daters who pay consultants to transform their lives into compelling advertisements. Fran Hartman, a bubbly New Hampshire widow, had posted a Yahoo! Personals ad touting her fondness for seafood and back rubs, and herself as "a young looking 66 year old grandmother. I still work as a courier for a lab company. I love to feel wanted and needed." But when she didn't meet a suitable man, Hartman, now 67, paid New York City--based PersonalsTrainer $159.95 to polish her narrative. Her new entry begins "Whether listening to Merle Haggard while driving in my courier vehicle or settling in for some fried clams and a good conversation at Bob's Clam Hut, you will always find me with a smile on my face and a ready-hug for new friends and old." The new story generated more responses from prospective mates and "made me feel like I walked on water," Hartman says. "And it was very much me."

But the new package was missing some of the less appealing traits Hartman had originally included ("There are many things I need to be taught, which means you had better have the patience to teach me what you want me to learn"). Consultants usually spin such flaws positively: Hartman's profile now says, "Learning new things is a passion!" As for me, according to my 360Reach feedback, I'm seen as "a bit self-righteous" and "too judgmental," but, says Arruda, that would be useful if I wanted to be a columnist: "You would put your portfolio together of all the articles you've written that take a stand and discuss topics that might be controversial." Still, it's important to keep the goal--and the spin--realistic. As Duke's Leary says, "People can't be better than they are in the long run."

  02/11/2006. MSNBC News.