I get it: Branding is a seductive idea. Who doesn’t want to see themselves as a fully realized, on-the-shelf product: say, a gorgeous navy blue patent-leather luxury handbag, with a willing audience clamouring for more of you, you, YOU! That’s the appealing part of “brandifying” oneself. But the truth is very few of us will ever see ourselves escalate to brand status. Tory Burch? Brand. Kate Gosselin of TV’s Jon & Kate Plus 8? Not so much. And that’s not just because of her dodgy hairstyle choices. It’s because it’s hard to become a brand, and it takes decades, as well as a suite of supporting products — books, TV shows, clothing lines — to make that come to life.
It’s much more helpful — in a packaging-yourself way — to think of yourself as a soup. Yes, a soup. A comedown, I know, but stick with me. A soup may be the practical opposite of a brand: dependable where a brand is sexy; endlessly variable instead of hard and fast. But the practicality is the point. In today’s topsy-turvy market, trusty and reliable, flexible and variable are the traits you want to have on offer.
Thinking of yourself in a more humble way will allow you to make very creative decisions about how you present yourself. Yes, those terms sound very “brand”-y, but even soup needs a can and a label.
Concoct your own flavour
Most soups are made up of three simple parts. The base: It could be earthy mushroom broth or squash purée. But as it relates to you, it’s your strongest skill set, where the bulk of your years of experience lies. Instead of thinking of “nurse” or “accountant,” think of the smaller tasks embodied by each, then the larger field — pulse-checking and spreadsheets; health care and finance.
The flavour extras are what gives a soup its personality and taste, keeping it from being a bowl of plain broth. Think about that squash soup; how many ways does it come to life? Curry! Apple cider! Shallots and ginger! These are your added extras.
Those oppositions create a memorable spark of flavour — and make you you. For example, I worked as the head of dining hall events in college. In that job I had to hire (and fire) friends, manage multiple events simultaneously and learn how to get all the plates down at a 50-table event in 11 minutes or less. When I ended up becoming a very young editor-in-chief running a wedding magazine, I suddenly saw how much that job had mattered.
And, finally, the garnish. I think of this as the “sequins,” that shiny distraction I want to eat first: the crème fraîche, a poached shrimp or a bristle of tortilla chips.
This is where you broadcast your latest and greatest, the newest ideas, the freshest learning. Maybe you have an arcane blog, or you’ve entered the air-guitar championships: These random tidbits would never be part of a brand — they’re too ephemeral. But today’s ephemeral is tomorrow’s operating system, and your garnish is where you showcase that you are not afraid of jumping in and playing around.
Now sell your soup!
Here’s a quickie rundown on me. My base is editing, packaging, marketing and managing (back to that dining hall job!). The flavour extras are public speaking; expertise on women, relationships and families; and a deep passion for storytelling and sharing life’s daily struggles and victories.
And the delightful garnish? My social-media experience at BlogHer and the digital-advertising fluency I’m learning! It’s this colourful, high-flavour part of a resumé that people want to talk about — but it’s the years of experience in your base that helped you get there.
Each of these three layers can stand alone, but they’re more powerful when combined. We might want to be that navy blue patent-leather luxury handbag, but then we’d be left having to think about what the hell to put inside. On the other hand, as soups, we’ve all been working with our special formula of ingredients all along.
Chatelaine expert: Stacy Morrison is editor-in-chief of BlogHer and the former editor of Redbook.