Branding is Fear-Based B.S.

July 30th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

Branding, brand management, and brand strategy are rooted in fear and are completely unnecessary. This is true whether we’re talking about business, product, organizational, or personal branding.

The primary aim of branding is control. But people don’t generally like to be controlled. So branding is largely done at the subconscious level; if it were done at a conscious level, people would reject it.

Brand management attempts to implant subconscious associations that bypass conscious filters. But when people think about brand associations more consciously, they realize just how utterly worthless most brands are.

People may drink Coca Cola from time to time, and sales may increase when money is spent to program people to associate Coca Cola with drinking happiness or whatever. But when people think about this brand consciously, they realize that Coke’s branding is pure B.S. and that it’s really just sugar water and chemicals and caffeine. In the grand scheme of things, Coke is irrelevant and unimportant. If the brand and product disappeared overnight, it wouldn’t matter. We have plenty of other versions of sugar water to take its place. And if Coke’s competitors disappeared too, it’s certainly no big loss to humanity. We don’t need Coke, so the people who work in Coke’s marketing department must use lies and manipulation to make us think we do.

In branding circles Coca Cola is often lauded as a great branding success story. That’s the pinnacle of branding success? Being such a great liar that you’re able to convince people that sugar water is somehow important to their lives? Good grief!

Do you like being controlled? Do you appreciate having ridiculous associations like sugary chemicals = happiness programmed into your subconscious? Would you like to see more of this in the world? Do you want to spend decades of your precious life working for such a company?

Is Your Personal Brand Infected With Falsehood?

Now consider this from the opposite perspective. Do you do anything to maintain a certain public image? Do you censor what you share in order to gain the approval of others? Do you worry what people would think if they learned certain truths about you?

When we try to hide our warts, we inject falsehood into our relationships. No wonder so many people feel disconnected and alone. No wonder so many people are taking anti-depressants. They’re living false lives, hiding who they are.

Is it really effective to live this way? Should we continue to build brands that are increasingly fake?

If you believe that sugary chemicals = happiness, then what other ridiculous associations are coming along for the ride?

Do you believe that if you were to look more like a fitness model that it would make you more lovable? Do you believe that if you had more money, you’d be happier? Do you believe there’s any real fulfillment to be found in a life that doesn’t require courage?

Corporate branding, product branding, and personal branding are complete B.S. These are artifacts of industrial age, control-based thinking. If we are to create a more conscious world to live in, then we must reject branding as sheer folly.

But if we don’t have brands, then what do we have instead?

We have truth. Honest communication from real human beings.

Branding is Lying

A corporation isn’t a person. Neither is a product. Those entities can’t put out truth since they aren’t decision makers. Only human beings can communicate authentically. Humans make decisions, not brands.

When the name of a non-human entity is slapped onto a piece of communication, it’s a safe bet that the communication is infected with falsehood rooted in fear. Much of the time, such communication is pure B.S.

People communicate. Brands don’t. A brand is merely a mask that obscures good communication.

Human Beings vs. Brands

Steve Jobs was a passionate communicator. He was human and flawed and real. Some people reacted to his fiery style as if someone with his position and responsibility should care to smooth away the rough edges, polishing his humanity into a more acceptable brand. Maybe he should blend in some Gandhi and a little Mother Teresa.

Apple is a brand. Steve was a person. Would you rather hear from Steve or from Apple? Would you rather get an unfiltered letter from Steve… or one from Apple that was written by their PR department and approved by their legal department?

If you need to control people, and if you like dealing with others’ resistance to being controlled, then branding is for you. Otherwise you can simply ignore it. When someone talks about the importance of branding, just roll your eyes and ignore them. They’re spouting nonsense, and you know it.

Not-So-Quiet Desperation

Go hang out with some branding experts behind the scenes, and try talking to them as real human beings. Then you’ll see just how miserable and disconnected and stressed out they are. It takes very little effort to bring out the fear from a so-called branding expert. You can start by asking if it’s good for humanity to associate unhealthy sugar water with being cool.

Branding is so clearly rooted in fear that it’s not even funny, so the mildest of squeezes is all it takes to juice some fear out of a branding expert.

That said, I have a lot of compassion for people who’ve fallen into this trap. I know it’s very difficult for them to acknowledge the emptiness of this path and change course.

Try communicating as a person, not a brand. When you perceive that people are projecting false assumptions onto you, feel free to do your own thing and violate their expectations. If they bitch and complain, just roll your eyes at them. You’re a person, not a brand. There is no image that you must live up to. You are free.

Branding is Totally Unnecessary for Success and Happiness

Note that I write at StevePavlina.com, not FakePersonalGrowthBrand.com. My company name is Pavlina, and I really don’t care what that means to anyone. It’s just a label and doesn’t mean anything.

Since I don’t waste any mental capacity fussing over branding, reputation, and other such fear-based nonsense, I can communicate whatever I desire to communicate, and I can communicate it however I wish. I can invest my energy in creating instead of worrying about how people will perceive what I create. No PR person or legal department gets to tell me what I can or can’t say.

Whether you approve of me or not is irrelevant to me. I have no desire to live up to your expectations. I’m here to grow and create, and I love connecting with others who feel the same, but I’m not your guru. If you don’t like me, I probably wouldn’t like you either if I got to know you. But that doesn’t matter because we can still help each other grow, challenge each other, and do our best to co-create a world that we both like better than the status quo.

If there are some things about me that bother you, that’s terrific. That’s how real human relationships should be. My rough edges aren’t going away, and I don’t expect yours to go away either.

If you and I met in person, I don’t want to talk to your fake public mask. I want to connect with the squishy, swirling, chaotic being inside of you. That’s where your true beauty is. That’s the part of you that leaves me in breathless awe. And that’s precisely the part that branding experts will tell you to hide at all costs.

Even if we only connect via the Internet, I want to maintain a human-style relationship with you, not one that involves fake corporate branding and a sanitized approval seeking message.

Courageous Creativity Makes Branding Obsolete

You can’t control human relationships, so if you want more control, you must remove as much of the human element as possible. That’s what brands do. They replace the messiness of authentic communication with controllable falsehood. The only reason control is needed is because people are afraid.

Branding is a strategy for manipulating people with whom you’re unwilling to build real co-creative relationships. Co-creative relationships are messy. People fear the uncertainty and risks of real communication, so they resort to branding instead. But since branding is rooted in fear, it runs contrary to humanity’s ongoing conscious growth and evolution.

What about the need to satisfy investors? This is yet another fear. There’s the fear that people won’t invest in truly co-creative ventures, a fear that’s already being proven false with new social investment platforms like IndieGoGo and KickStarter.

It may be true that cowardly, fear-based investors who are afraid of losing money won’t go for a truly co-creative investment, but such investors are a headache to deal with anyway. You’re better off avoiding them. If you’re going to deal with investors, deal with smarter and more courageous ones. They do exist, and the wealthiest ones often have to set up foundations to make interesting social investments because there aren’t enough courageous entrepreneurs who are willing to do something truly worthwhile with their money. So much of the money gets donated to charities instead.

It’s delusional to think that control-based strategies are wielding good results anyway. As many entrepreneurs know, most financial projections are just silly guesses. People do the dog-and-pony PowerPoint shows to court investors, but they’re largely a waste of time productivity-wise. People only do them when they want to convince wealthy cowards to invest money in ventures they don’t understand. So the entrepreneurs lie with made-up numbers.

Passion at Work

I was recently informed that 71% of corporate employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged while they’re at work. They’re either not working productivity, or they’re actively working against their employer’s goals. So most employees are a waste of space. That’s what a fear-based approach gets you. That’s how excited people get about working for a brand.

Working for a company that sells sugar water doesn’t inspire people to do their very best, no matter how much the company tries to sugar-coat their message. Deep down those employees know their jobs aren’t needed. Conscious people just aren’t going to work very passionately to sell crap people don’t need.

If you want people to give their best efforts to a cause, you have to allow them to participate in sculpting how it’s done. They need to be able to paint something onto the canvas that comes from their own creativity. They need to do work that aligns with their passions. They need to be challenged and engaged.

This requires real human relationships, which brands cannot offer. People work hard for their passions and their relationships. But since these can’t be controlled, if you want people to do their very best work, you can’t overly control them. Yes, some structure is helpful, but not so much that people are disengaging due to fear, boredom, apathy, or resistance.

The next time you hear a branding expert talk about the importance of controlling your brand, challenge him/her to replace such B.S. with truth. Yes, there will be consequences if we replace fake brand messaging with actual truth coming from real human beings, but I think you’ll agree that a truth-based world would be a better place in which to live.

Brands Are Ugly. You Are Beautiful.

Fulfillment isn’t found in a can, a pill, or a cubicle. It’s found in living your passions, creatively expressing yourself, and growing through challenges. This is messy and chaotic and uncontrollable — and a hell of a lot of fun!

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to behave a certain way to gain the approval of others. If you try to live that way, you’ll end up ridiculously dissatisfied with your life in the long run.

Be disgustingly yourself. Let the consequences proceed from there. Each time you face a decision where you feel you must censor the truth, notice where the fear is urging you to go. Then you can decide whether you’re going to obey that fear and live a cowardly life or make a more conscious and courageous choice.

Branding is stupid, meaningless, and cowardly. We don’t need it. What we need is the courage to be honest with each other.



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