Work it like a Brand

Some have it, others exude it, others need it: Storytelling.

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You’ve heard the story. Three youngsters quizzed about their futures. I wanna be a doctor. I wanna be musician. And you? I wanna be famous.

Before they went global, Spice girl member Victoria Beckham chose fame as her metric for being in a band. Like her, love her, loathe her, her yard stick for success was a UK leading washing soap, Persil.

Fancy that! Your role model isn’t an acclaimed singer, but an object in possession of that thing exuding brand value — a detergent, trainers, or luxury car like the Porsche. Take your pick.

“Laugh at it as you may”, writes Paul Arden in It’s not how good you are, It’s how good you want to be, “it’s this highly original imagination that got her where she is today”.

I worked in Soho in the 90s for an agency whose head was Jon Staton, a former head of TV at Saatchi and Saatchi. A brand was largely still distinguishable — a product, business goods, wanting a deep-in with customers for ROI. That’s not to say people too back then did not mimic brand features e.g. Madonna, MJ, etc., but we largely associated them with the celeb show business culture.

Today, it’s gone bat stir crazy. Many would like to be Victoria Beckham. You can’t get by a Medium and Linkedin article e.g Successful People Are Not Necessarily Smarter. They Just Do More Of This that doesn’t lean towards self help and self-branding. They are, a recent medium post said, the most popular articles on these platforms. Advertise and market yourself as that thing, a product or service that engenders core values, exudes a strong message you control, and survives by its core trust and relationships with customers.

Generally speaking in one digital corner are social mediasts, from YouTube, Instagram, Vine (whose popularity is waning) who’ve built up their self-brand. Pewdipie, Zoella, Casey Neistat, KSI, Yuya, Alexis Ren, elrubiusOMG, etc…(add here…..if you recognise the two on the right hand side below)

In the other, businesses (mortar and online) acquire brand status. Their CEOs too carry some stardust, though if you’re Oscar Munoz yours is as good as soot at the moment. Celebs, News Anchors, stars of film, track, entertainment etc and others (add here names of the below etc….) that fall into this category too.

But there’s one strata that tend to miss out on its potential. Those in further and higher education. Take journalism courses for example. You might tweet, blog, make movies, but chances are you’ve probably not built a strategy around you, courtesy of your course structure in the way companies approach the issue, as presented in “Characteristics of successful employer brands, by Professors Moroko and Uncles, and frankly why should you is a strong argument.

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The Dark side of Branding

I’m with you. I have a problem with the term. Mine comes from a place when businesses circa 1950s exploited and depth manipulated consumers. SMs back then were Symbol Manipulators, and the public were, as a strategy, purposefully addressed below their level of conscious awareness. Consider for example the phrase ‘a financial storm’. It infers an act of God, which is helpful to bankers who prefer to be blameless.

The brands relationship with its customer looked like it was empathetic, but it was an illusion. They bottom line was to sell at almost all costs and psychiatrists were hired to mine our irrational behaviour. Democracy, sounded great to the populace, but politicians using PR strategists skilled in behavioural economics sniggered at their electoral base.

Like many events, as the generations pass, unscrupulous or unorthodox habits become normalised. Today our landscape is littered with messages, we blithely shrug our shoulders at blissfully unaware that that simple, catchy message repeated again and again has worked. Just how did drinks loaded with unhealthy amounts of sugar become health or cool drinks? Why are diamonds a girl’s best friend, and how did they change Japanese weddings for that matter? How did we come to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald truly acted alone, asks Edward Jay Epstein in GQ magazine. Epstein’s book Inquest challenges the conventions of truth, resulting in his lecture: How unverified assertions become established in the public mind as conventional wisdom.

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If you’ve not read Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders, it’s time you did. If you’ve forgotten what he said, it’s time to reread and if you unfamiliar with the work of Dr Ernest Dichter, President for the Motivational, Inc. take a deep breath.

There are reasons to possess strong antipathies against the fag end of the word ‘branding’, but there are customary features in its psyche that are worth exploring. And if we can accept the employer’s brand and the work, of say, Siemens and their value proposition with staff, why couldn’t we consider in a tertiary institute the proposition that academically and holistically, this generation of students should see themselves as brands?

My niece was avidly describing her last hours days spent at motivational speaker Tony Robbins London gig. He spoke non-stop for several hours, she says. Her main takeaway from her $1000 fee she describes was the very embodiment of you being the brand. Control your destiny, and it’s all in our mind, she told me — Descartian philosophy, which we long abandoned as core subjects to our enlightenment.

The Bright side of Branding

Branding in education would be to do with:

  • Values, the ethical line, what you believe in.
  • Storytelling — a cognitive understanding of the spectrum of story forms such as journalism, PR, and marketing acknowledging their similarities and how they’re separated by motivations.
  • Understanding you’re selling and who the audience is.

Some of the above can change, like your audience, others, such as values remain deep in your core. Yet there are issues to resolve. Student life is transient, it’s about experimenting and finding yourself, a time to make mistakes within a safe environment framed by pastoral care.

Making mistakes you’d agree isn’t helpful to building brand values. However, you have to experiment, and generally we all start from zero. Hence, through tutorials, being aware of ethical lines and critiquing beliefs this could be integral to building a platform for personal grounding. Branding too in an academic environment wistfully conjures up insouciance, vacuity, and self aggrandisement. Education is the acquisition of knowledge. To be branded in this environment is to be acknowledged for your academic achievements as a Hawkins, Warren, Einstein, or Greer.

However, there are reasons to consider its well crafted delivery. The workplace still has magma driving through it at disruptive pace affecting the jobs market, which is increasingly, says Mckinsey and Co, being lost to automative processes. There is a talent shortage across digital and few graduates will hold down a single job in life’s job timeline. Slowly and methodologically next gen students are becoming job jockeys, like their ground jockeys they can ride any equine, and like their deck equivalent their audiences follow them them through life. The institutions who work with a charge’s potential brand quotient may be positioning them not just as earners, but conscientious team-working entrepreneurs.

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The Tech-Education Divide

The issue from the doodle above is this. Tech innovation is rising faster than than those equipped with its knowledge to deduce and create, build its theories towards new knowledge. That deficit in further and higher education can be addressed. Take Mobile Journalism as an example. I could teach you, as many others can mobile journalism, the shooting and editing on your mobile in less than an hour. But there’s a deeper underlying conundrum. That education you require will often the skill. What often gets overlooked is the social and philosophical variables.

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Mobile Journalism wasn’t the first to introduce the idea of intimate filming. You could look to Alfred Eisenstadt working for Life Magazine in 1936 and many other forms since, such as broadcasting, cinema verite (watch this film I madde from an interview with the father of Cinema verite, Robert Drew), and videojournalism (watch this film here).

So what then in mobile journalism offers a unique value proposition and with this new tech can look to developing new ideas in story form, to, perhaps overcome the simplicity of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, which is much favoured by Hollywood filmmaking and broadcast journalism. This and related questions require a deeper approach to studying in which the learning process should also include interrogating conventions. Why? Because audiences, cultures, and products can change over time. We’re back to branding.

I was filming in Chongqing in China on a University lecture tour to students, and more recently in Russia here. In each case, I tried to break down with the students and delegates, storytelling as a brand practice — understanding the spectrum of narratives used in journalism, PR, and cinema, in order to fashion and motivate an individualistic style. I made this story with a student Yi in two days.

All brands start from nowhere, even the sveltely designed Porsche by Ferdinand Porsche. A car whose sinewy lines remind me of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venusbeauty that is about form and shape as much as about a way of thinking, which the maker believed in. Porsche may well have been responding too to the status quo, the sturdiness and convention of Ford’s brand, particularly in reading his thoughts at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. No doubt the depth men of marketing also dreamt up a slogan or two, but there is an ethos it captures.

So to answer the opening question #is that you? Brand Me? Really! It could be. It could just be.

Here’s my short film I made of a friend’s Porsche, and if you’re interested in hearing more about creativity, innovation and branding, here’s something that may interest you.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has worked in industry for 25 years and has been a lecturer for 15 setting up and running the Press Association course transforming British regional newspaper journalists, working with students using his honed experimental techniques, and presented at numerous conferences e.g. Apple store ( see here) Online News Association New York and SXSW. His interests are in innovation combining multiple disciplines in 360, drones and VR.

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Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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