I am not a brand.
I am not a brand. I am not a brand. I am not a brand. I am not a brand!
I have, over the past few years, uttered that phrase a number of times — aloud, under my breath, and in my head with some choice words inserted. Every conference, every social media event, every blog-get-together, every Big Name Brand Hosts a Something or Other for Bloggers, the advice is the same: Build your brand. Be your brand. Make sure everyone in your spheres knows about your brand. Become your brand. Breathe your brand. Brand, brand, brand.
I came to blogging as an overly emotional, extra whiny college student with too much time on my hands. I wanted a space to whine and vent about the mean girls and the jerky boys — but I also wanted to write from the heart, from the soul. 12 years later, I’ve got most of the emotions in check, I get enough whining from my children, mean girls and jerky boys number far less in my everyday life, and still, I just want to write from the heart, from the soul.
I come to this place to fill up the white space with the words that can’t always be said aloud, with the thoughts that don’t quite make sense until they’re put down on paper, up on the screen. I come here with a sense of urgency at times, desperate to share both the happy and the sad. I tell the stories of the lives my boys create with one another, the way they weave the canvases of their own lives into that of their brother, of me, of their father, of those around us. I write to remember both the good and the bad, the everything in between. I write because I know nothing else.
But yes, I admit to falling prey to the branding of it all at one point in the mid-range of this journey they call blogging. Shortly after our first son blessed us with his volume and his presence and I fell into the Mommy Blogging Track, people came calling. Not just people, but companies. Brands wanted to work with me, to send me free things — books and toys for my kid and food and on and on and on. Overwhelmed and, yes, flattered, I dug right in. I felt very, “Look at me! Look out how famous I am right now! Voted Most Likely to Be Famous, I am living up to what my high school classmates thought I would become!”
But nothing in life is ever free, is it?
My writing changed for awhile as I wanted to be acceptable to the marketing gurus, to the PR powers-that-be. I shied away from sharing the real me here in this space, left some of the darker sides of my journey in life for a niche blog that I kept separate from here… from me and who I was as a whole person.
And then, I decided I didn’t like the game anymore, or perhaps, being forced to play the game in ways that didn’t feel quite right. Being forced to write a “balanced” review when I couldn’t really think of anything I liked about the product began to rub me the wrong way. Other things — lack of pay for my time, lack of respect from the industry, lack of desire to be what they wanted me to be — began to chip away at my resolve to be part of the branding tribe. I slowly began to back out, taking a year off from reviewing anything that I didn’t purchase myself. After that point, I chose only to work with companies I actively use or through networks like BlogHer that understand that I’m me, first and foremost.
To further illustrate my lack of brand, I will pull from another example in my blogging life.
I had a good thing going with my other, now defunct blog, The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. I won multiple awards. I found myself on many “best of” lists. People recommended that blog as “the best birth mother blog on the web.” Meh. I don’t want to be known as one thing and one thing only. Yes, I’m a birth mother to one of the coolest girls in the world, but I’m also an everyday mother and a wife and an editor and a photographer and a runner and a billion and one other things. The niche narrowed me too much; the expectation that I couldn’t be anything other than that one thing in that one space constricted me to a point that I didn’t want to fill the white space with words and feelings and truths. Other reasons as to why I chose to shut it down after years of success abound, but the truth remains that I cannot be narrowly defined.
Do I feel that those bloggers who do identify as brands are “doing it wrong” or that I am somehow better than them in some way? No. I don’t roll that way; my world has never been black and white, all or nothing. I read and love many a blog written by an individual who identifies as a brand. I follow them, I subscribe to them, I enjoy them. They do things in a different way… and I learn from what they do and don’t do in their own spaces.
But I am not a brand.
I do not rely on editorial calendars, though I do jot down blogging ideas as I go through life. I do not look at the big picture of my blog as a business. I don’t want to be blog famous. I don’t need one million hits to feel validated. I don’t even really check my stats all that often anymore except to see what people Google to land here amongst the pages of my life. I do work with brands, but never in a way in which my personal integrity is ever compromised. I do host advertising on my site, but very passively; I pick out affiliate programs of brands I like and I work with the BlogHer Publishing Network. I do review things (lots of books), many of which I buy on my own. I do respond to PR inquiries if they match my interests; I also often reply with, “I’m not a good match, but you should email so-and-so.” My words, my time, my Internet space, my family, my self cannot be purchased with promises of shiny things or money or free goodies, even if those goodies come in the form of wine.
And, perhaps the best part of not being a brand: I never second guess myself when I write something “controversial” or “outside of the box of socially acceptable material.” I’m not going to lose a sponsorship or a spokesperson job if I cuss in a passionate post. I’m not going to get a slap on the wrist from a marketing rep when I talk about sex or politics or faith or farts or penis jokes or menstruation or whatever.
I share all of this to say, “HEY! COME LOOK AT ME! I’M BLOG FAMOUS!” I kid. Kind of.
What does success look like if you aren’t seeking out advertisers? How do you use your voice to make it have the resonance and reach you need to create the success that matters to you? Define the next steps of success without an editorial calendar or a business plan.
We’re speaking from 2:30-3:10 on Friday, July 26th and again from 10:30-11:15 on Saturday, July 27th at McCormick Place.
For more “I Am Not a Brand” goodness, please check out the manifesto type posts from the speakers on my panel:
- Michelle at Burgh Baby: I Am Not a Brand
- Dresden Shumaker: I Am Not a Brand. I Am a Voice.
- Veronica Arreola: I Am a Person, Not a Brand
These smart women all have different variations and personal reasons for taking the I Am Not a Brand stance. I encourage you to stop by one of our panels if you’ve ever had a weird feeling in your stomach when someone tells you that you need to focus on your brand, if you sit in a networking panel and think, “This isn’t me,” or if you have questions about how to work with brands when you don’t identify as a brand. I also invite those who want to tell us we’re doing it wrong because that could create for an encouraging and important dialogue between parties!
Feel free to leave any questions here you’d like the panel to address, or go ahead and discuss your thoughts on to brand or not to brand.