Brand me

Social media encourages, and even requires, personal branding. According to a leading self-help book on brand and image, your personal brand is “what people say about you when you are out of the room.” So I guess my brand is, “When is he going to get back with those coffees!”

Mark Globé identifies the prominence of the “portfolio career” in times of recession, ie a blurring between regular employment and freelance, and the mediatization of the professional individual. More than ever, you need to brand yourself.

Peeling image of a crown on a grey rendered surfaceThe idea of branding derives from consumer culture. Its legacy is in marks, signatures, cartouches, seals and heraldry, but brand is a modern, post industrial phenomenon, relying on mass production, commerce, marketing, corporate management strategies and mass media. The market savvy soap manufacturer stamps the company name on bars of soap before they come off the production line.

Perhaps thoughtful professionals should resist branding as a metaphor or signifier of identity; or perhaps branding can be reclaimed. Activists for the personal and local wish to democratise brand, to rescue it from the apparatuses of mass consumption and the promotion of elite products. Branding can belong to ordinary social situations and places — everyday concerns about identity and human encounter

The social function of branding is apparent when we think of how people identify with brands, put their trust in them, and become loyal to their favourite brands. People deploy signs, symbols, tags and tag lines as shortcuts to the assessment of the value of a thing.

Branded places

Groups of people identify with particular spaces and congregate there. Branded places can be meaningful, symbolic, alluring and support people’s desire to be in a place. Branded places provide a performance setting, set the mood, sometimes independently of the tangible, material, entertainment or informational resources that the place provides.

Artificial pumpkin in colourful, illuminated archwaySo we choose to work or meet in the locally or globally branded bar, park, cafe, library, fun palace, or airport lounge, because of what the brand offers, as part of the mood of the place. Brand features in meetings between friends and intimates, and small group meetings between clients and service providers, mentors and pupils, buyers and sellers, protagonists and mediators. In so far as a brand is a mark, it is a trade mark, with currency in the whole apparatus of social negotiation.

Brands feature in our rich and variegated experience of the urban environment and the “semiosphere.” Brand doesn’t only belong to Apple, Amazon, Prada and Waitrose. Nor do brands belong only to the companies that create them. People own brands through “culture jamming,” appropriation, and other strategies of subversion. Citizens have the power to appropriate brand for everyday use, by controlling, claiming and re-claiming brand.

Our project on branded meeting places assumed this collective, democratic and enabling aspect of brands, and investigated digital technologies for activating the branded aspects of a place. Branding has a strong social aspect, aided and abetted by the possibilities of digital social networks.

Brand contagion

It’s well known that brands form into partnerships, clusters and ecologies: Nike and O2, Cafe Nero and Blackwell’s, Qantas and Emirates. Has the BBC’s brand been sullied by the recent exposure of the Jimmy Savile “brand”? The recent exposés signal the sudden transformation of a personal brand from that of enabler to seedy pariah, and how one brand can infect another. Brands and their allegiances entail risks as well as offering security. Now that’s something else to frighten children with this Eve of All Hallows.

Thumbnail image of magazine cover showing joke on BBC test card


  • Coyne, Richard, Mark Wright, James Stewart, and Henrik Ekeus. 2009. Virtual flagships and sociable media. In A. Kent, and R. Brown (eds.), Flagship Marketing: Concepts and Places: 46-62. London: Routledge.
  • Mitchell, William J. 2003. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge MA: MIT Press
  • Purkiss, John , and David Royston-Lee. 2009. Brand You: Turn Your Unique Talents into a Winning Formula. London: Artesian
  • Globé, Mark. 2002. Citizen Brand: 10 Commandments for Transforming Brands in a Consumer Democracy. New York: Allworth
  • Also see article on architecture as brand by Lachlan Anderson-Frank http://www.architectureis.org/2012/10/23/a-brand/

Also see No way logo, Branded meeting places, Branded meeting places final report, Profile yourself.

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.


9 thoughts on “Brand me

  1. Great article. My interests are in the art world where there is plenty of branding going on, in both real and digital spaces. I am particularly keen to investigate artists’ social media spaces and how these dis/align in an institutional context. The digital fabric of all these spaces is both rich and overwhelming.

    Posted by Giraf87 (@GinaFierlafijn) | October 27, 2012, 4:01 pm
    • Thanks for the insight. Some contemporary visual art even has the appearance of being all brand, particularly when it crosses over into graphic design. Perhaps the recent work of Gilbert and George epitomises this, but there must be many other examples less celebrated.

      Posted by Richard Coyne | October 27, 2012, 5:31 pm
      • indeed many artists (painters, writers, musicians) use facebook or twitter to ‘engage’. It is almost expected to have this channel of communication although many bigger names employ their social media bodies to write on their behalf. It seems to me, as you suggest heraldry or a form of cartouche. The social media avatars most definitely have that connotation. Thanks for the references, will follow these up.

        Posted by Giraf87 (@GinaFierlafijn) | October 28, 2012, 10:19 am
  2. This article makes me think about personal tags we use for self-description and friends classify in social network, such as Otaku, Yaoi fandom, Diaosi(Chinese buzzword “屌丝”) etc. In my opinion it’s a kind of self brand. The tags was first used in the practice of folksonomy techniques on the Internet. Then it becomes a popular action to self-categorization. Lengthy self-introduction and complicated description of other people turn into some key words. It’s especially useful for mobilizing the group of like-minded people, and getting personalized service. However, just like the brand, it will led us to some stereotype.

    Posted by Wang Jingyi | November 25, 2012, 1:18 am
  3. For marketers looking to reach growing customers, it pays to think the significance of brand. The brand is by no means an signal, but a icon represented the spiritual core of one enterprise. Rather than forms, brands is much more concerned with the meaning. For fashion women who pursue luxury products, the brands become symbols of their social status. For some youngsters seeking to live different from others, the brands which is not widespread among people will capture their heart. For some fans, they choose a costume brand represented or designed by their idols purely to show their supports to them. We can judge a lady’s personality by which perfume brand she use.

    Apart from showing one’s status grade or attitude, brands sometimes are used to spread a spirit. This can be embodied on their slogans. For instances, Jaguar’s “Don’t dream it. Drive it! ” reveal its active and desicive spirit. Through locating and digging out some inner feelings their customers share with the brand, it will create an emotional tie between the bussiness and the clients. Attached implications will make the brands seem more humane. Hence, with such a affectionate conversation with customers, stable and longtime relationships will be created easily.

    Undeniably, brand is of great significance to the promtion of corporations. Likewise, to be branded is also the aiming of some individuals and social communities in their efforts to build a reputation. For instance, once an peculiar event is spreaded online, they will soon be labeled with a “brand” by social media critics or some netizens. Being branded will accelerate the speed it porpularize. After the tides eased, the characters used to describle the events remain, becoming icons, even some cultural phenomena. To be branded will make something or somebody distinctive from others, hence make them easily to be remembered and thought of.

    In conclusion, we cannot emphasize to much on pondering the signifacance of brands,especially to those who yearn to acheive fame and become popular.

    Posted by Lian Tang | December 5, 2012, 10:03 pm
  4. The most important imperative for any brand is to be visible. To be seen. In as many places and in as many situations as possible. And yet so many brands are almost faceless, really making it difficult for them to succeed. Do not confuse above the line advertising with visibility. Visibility is about standing out every day, everywhere.

    Let’s me start with a great example of what visibility means by using Apple. The genius of Steve Jobs with the iPod using white cables to the earpieces while the rest of the industry used black ones. It was immediately obvious to anybody who saw you that you were using an iPod – even though it might have been out of sight in your pocket. The white leads immediately identified who you were. Up with the times – hip and happening.

    The importance of visibility has acquired a formal label – mere exposure effect. Just seeing something over and over again reassures us as to its credibility, size and implied leadership status, as well as trustworthiness. The brand becomes a safer choice than its competition, just by being seen over and over again. All of this happens in our unconscious, without us being aware of the process at a rational level.

    Posted by W Hattingh | December 13, 2012, 8:05 pm


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