At the risk of sounding like an overzealous MBA here, I ask the question about branding in earnest. Let me fill you in on a bit of background before I get into buzzwords. You know, about the synergy my dynamic approach is creating on international markets.*
I have got a big year of conferences coming up in 2013 and, being the big boy that I am now, decided that I was going to do these conferences well and actually talk to people and try to appear interesting. This past year has been something of a watershed for me and my whole academic empire, online and off. I’ve switched projects/supervisors/committees (offline) and I have been doing double time on social media (you’re lookin’ at it). As a result, I feel like I am actually on my way to somewhere good in terms of what I am thinking about and creating; this must be what it feels like to be confident in the work one does. With all of these changes and my need/desire to insert myself into the discourse of my field in a meaningful way, I decided that I’d get some business cards printed up to expedite this process in a small way. I’ve had business cards before for non-academic jobs, but they never felt earned. Sure they were professionally designed and everything, but I saw them as the culmination of nothing and the only thing I liked about them was my name in bold blue lettering. The rest of the information contained on those cards was based on falsehoods. This is all a roundabout, albeit slightly melodramatic, way of saying that I wanted to present myself professionally in the best way possible. I have been working really hard at being good at the stuff I do and I needed my offline persona(e) to blend well with what I present online and in other forums. This is what led me to thinking about my ‘brand’.
In short, what the hell was/is my brand? I am in the midst of the qualifying process for my PhD and have been for quite some time now (truthfully, I am sick of this stage and I just want it to be over) so I am still largely finding my footing in the field. I have a fairly good grasp on what my project will look like, though change is inevitable. For now, however, I feel fairly good telling people that my area of sub-specialty is Victorian pornography with an emphasis on the publication history/print culture of that genre. My aim, however, is to boil this down so as to be quite specific yet succinct. I want to explain my research using a few words as possible. This, I believe, will have a large impact on what it is my ‘brand’ looks like.
The other factor in this equation is my online persona(e). I have the pluralizing ‘e’ in parentheses because I feel like I sometimes present more than one side of myself and my work online. This blog, for instance, focuses more on the processes of PhDing rather than the research itself, though this may change as I get deeper into it. At this stage, everything I’m doing serves as preliminary research that will help me do my ‘real’ research later. I try my best to present a professional face but I just can’t be that guy all the time. I am and was — much to many a grade school teacher’s chagrin — a class clown. I have learned to tame that clown and make him more appropriately timed as I’ve aged, but sometimes it still gets the better of me and I end up saying dumb things. I’m sure this will have some sort of an impact on my career at some point, but I like to think it’ll be beneficial to have a sense of humour in academia, considering the current job numbers. The other aspect of online personae is, of course, the ubiquitous academic Twitter account. I’m quite active on Twitter and I have tried to follow the advice about giving glimpses of yourself in your tweets rather than focusing just on your research. In fact, I have just today learned of this brilliant discussion led by @professor_dave about how academics ought to use Twitter. The advice seems to be, simply put, that you need to be an actual person, not just a one-track research or self-promotion machine.
So, as far as building my brand, I think I’ve got a pretty decent start. I’m still designing those business cards and, if you’re at either the Erotica, Pornography, and the Other or VSAWC conference this year, I’ll be the guy trying to look natural as I talk to people whose work I admire as I awkwardly hand them out. If you get one, hang onto it: it’ll be a collector’s item some day.**
*Other buzzwords I didn’t have room for: *insert technology/businessy thing here* guru; exit strategy; growth; grassroots; groundfloor; relatable: intellectual capital. I will do better next time.
**And by “collector’s item” I mean, of course, things that I put a lot of thought into that will turn out to be retrospectively quite embarrassing.