This is a strange place to be.
With technology, we can be more connected and put ourselves in the world with far more ease than previous generations. The question becomes, how? There are plenty of apps and services to facilitate that, building and maintaining our own websites are getting easier and easier every day. But, that’s not really the question. The question of how is really about branding, how do we brand ourselves. Every single time we put something up on the internet, it becomes part of our personal brand. The personal being sold. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every pin, every tumblr reblog, this blog entry … it all gets generally categorized as part of the Thomas Rohde brand. But what does that even mean? I’m not a brand, not really. Although, I want to be if I want to sell my writing and my art. Suddenly, it becomes transactional. But everything else gets dragged into that brand and my personal is part of selling the art I’m creating.
Not too long ago, I decided to not renew my previous website domain: Walking To Bars. This blog still bears that name (as does its url). The question I ran into was, what was Walking To Bars selling? There wasn’t name recognition for me directly. The stuff that I create: my drawings, paintings and stories; none of them are titled or specifically about bars or the making of drinks or anything related to bars. The truth of the name, the background story and why I was attached to it, had nothing to do with the personal brand that I was creating. So, I let it go. But where does that leave me? I’ve been considering options for new domain names–the straight forward choice, my name, is not available. So then I need to define what my brand will be. Will it be ThomasRohdeIllustration? Or ThomasRohdeArtist? Or perhaps, not limiting it to just my graphic art, ThomasRohdeArtistAndWriter. Suddenly, the brand becomes more specific, but do I lose something with that length. My name is there, but so are a lot of other words that carry meaning with them. I’m tempted toward NovemberThirteen, because while the direct name recognition isn’t there, a personal connection is (it’s my birthday) and thematically, it fits the art I create (I feel like the art that I generate has an autumnal vibe to it).
But that’s a brand that I’m specifically creating. The rest of my social media plays into that brand, whether I want it to or not. Celebrities aren’t people with jobs that we think we want, they are brands on which products are based and sold. In a much smaller way (individually, quantitatively all of us add up to a much larger product) so are we. Everything that I post on Twitter or Facebook, whether it is about my art or writing becomes part of that larger personal brand, and then contributes to the brand of the social media service that I’m posting to.
I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m drastically curating my sharing. Although it would be a lie to suggest that I don’t already curate to some degree. I weigh reposting articles based on the response they might get (it might be a subject that I really believe in, but do I want to fight a battle over it on Facebook with my “friends list”), I choose which doodles to snap a photo of and then I choose which of the photos that I snapped to post on Instagram–but not before deciding on the cropping (or not cropping of the photo) and considering how a filter would portray the photo via the lack of filter (#nofilter exists for a reason). All of these decisions contribute to a personal brand.
This entry is very much me working out the details in a semi-public forum (*taps microphone* is anyone out there) and not an essay that will prescribe method and rules for successful branding (there are many out there that will have an air of authority to them, but I wonder if the information that they are regurgitating isn’t just hopeful thinking that the method being prescribed is correct because it’s the one that they use and are relying on to make their living).
We are in a time of change. In the U.S. we’re definitely experiencing it as (from my perspective) the Republican party is imploding from the loose coalition that it has developed over the years, the “conservative” brand is being challenged by the candidates running for office to such a degree that “conservative” no longer has meaning for the party (personal perspective: it’s a clown car of crazy–I have a hard time imagining any of them not breaking the country, let alone harming so many people–specifically women, current minorities, and the lgbtq community with their harmful policies), meanwhile on the Democratic party side (admittedly, my side of the tracks) I’m watching two candidates with subtle, but different perspectives, compete in a very tight (and contentious) race for the party nomination. I have my preference between the two (#feelthebern) but would vote for either of them. What the media reports, however, it that the supporters of the two camps are at each other’s necks, tearing the other down. I haven’t personally witnessed it, but as we know from the white male privilege, there is a lot of stuff that happens and that exists that we aren’t forced to notice and confront on a daily basis, so even though we don’t see it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Politics is only one arena in which we are seeing change. The field in which I earn my paycheck, theatre (specifically non-profit theatre) continues to change. We have to constantly address the art we are creating, the stories we are telling, how we are telling them, with what voices and experiences we are telling them, who we want to come see them, who is coming to see them, if we are able to increase the number of people that we get to share our stories with and how much money we can make from the people that we are sharing our stories with so that we can continue to exist and create and share more stories. Art always needs to ask who the audience is, because it is a conversation with that audience. We hope that it is universal, that everyone feels like they can share in the conversation, but still, there is a primary party that we are sharing the conversation with, first and foremost, because in art there is usually a specific experience that we are trying to relate on stage (in paint, in words) and the more specific that experience is, we hope, that it will bloom into a universal sharing of that experience, because we can recognize ourselves in the story being shared (regardless of whether our details are exactly the same, or not).
The center we find though, in all of the conversations, no matter how personal, is brand. It’s always been there, we just never had to think about marketing it: in a conversation who is the good listener, who is the over-sharer, who has the amusing stories, who is the sad-sack, who has the good advice, who shares advice whether you want it or not, who is in a great relationship, who is in a shitty relationship, who has recently been dumped and is having a hard time getting over it, who is consistently and proudly single–these are all personal brands. Within friendships and tight communities, we don’t really think of them that way, but now that everything is everywhere … well, it’s hard not to.
So, back to the beginning. I’m currently without a website. I’m starting to draw and paint again. Soon, I plan on digging back into my novel and rewriting it. And I’m thinking about what I’m brand online it and how everything I put up online connects to that brand.
More later …