Of late, for some reason that is not clear to me, I’ve been getting lots of mail offering to help me ‘reinvent my brand’. One such mailer I got yesterday beseeches me to attend a programme where I will be trained to “brand my brand”.
Sure, these days you get spammed by all sorts of mails, from those promising to enlarge your penis, to those desperate to transfer a billion dollars to your account, to those peremptorily asking you to “revert on the business proposal”. So initially, I thought I was being mistaken for a consumer product of some kind, which perhaps needed a stronger branding. But my name does not (at least to me) sound like the name of a washing powder or a tooth paste, or….well, Sampath Condoms, anyone?
But then, as a marketing whiz friend explained to me, with a duh look on his face, Hey, you don’t have to be a condom in order to be a brand. You can be (and have to be) a ‘brand’ so long as you wish to sell yourself or any aspect of yourself to anyone anywhere in any market. And this applies to each one of you reading this who is there in the job market, and in the ever-expanding celebrity market.
Just as an exercise, why don’t you try segregating all the subtly self-promotional mails you get from your so-called well-wishers/friends/networking contacts? From newspaper articles they have written, to books they have published, to the awards they have won (and secretly sponsored), to the hot/cool people they have bedded, to the parties they’ve attended and taken pictures of, to the expensive holidays they’ve enjoyed, to the videos they’ve made of themselves shaking hands with Roger Federer – it is all one big ‘personal branding’ exercise. Or maybe not: perhaps they just figured, accurately, that you were genuinely interested in their personal milestones and they were only doing their best to assuage your hunger for the boring details of their exciting lives.
So, if you thought, like I did (and secretly still do, in the middle of the night, when my ‘Brand Custodian’ is not watching) that all talk of ‘personal branding’ is just gas, well, fart again! Sorry, think again. It does not matter any longer how good you are at what you do; nor does it matter how long you’ve been doing it (not even if you’re a brand of dentures); and it matters not at all if your ‘brand image’ is the exact opposite of what you really are.
What does matter is ‘perception management’. And if anyone knows the value of ‘personal branding’ in Indian politics today, it is the one man who needs it the most: Narendra Modi. He has hired the world’s most powerful lobbying and PR firm, known, incidentally, for its respectable clientele of war mongers. In what must go down as a brilliant case study in the annals of image management strategy, Modi has, in a short span of time, gotten the world to merge the identity of Gujarat with that of his own. So today, Brand Gujarat and Brand Modi are inseparable – and the visit to SRCC was all about investing the ‘brand equity’ of Brand Gujarat for longer term ROI on the national stage.
But brand positioning is not a simple art. As any PR executive will tell you, the whole process begins with what they call a ‘perception audit’. In Modi’s case, such an audit today would still throw up a giant bucketful of stuff that could dissolve into irrelevance even the most painstaking of brand campaigns. All the chemicals of Apco cannot wash the blood of the hands of a man who presided over what everyone knows he presided over in Gujarat in 2002. I don’t even have to say what it was – that’s how powerful Modi’s brand is, and here I am not talking about the ‘brand’ that he and his minions were trying hard to ‘build’ through his SRCC event. Unlike Rome, brands are built in a day. All you need is money to spend. Our brave new brand-enriched world is one of smoke and mirrors, where, as Macbeth’s witches famously observed, “fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
So here, off top of my head, is a list of entities that could do with some help in ‘reinventing’ their brand: the Indian army in Kashmir, politicians as a class, Delhi police, Dow Chemicals, Suresh Kalmadi, and that news anchor who keeps yelling on TV. Happy branding to you all!