Strengths Finder tells me that all of my strengths are guiding me toward the vocation of a starving artist. As fate would have it, I am a writer and photographer by trade, which happen to be on the less lucrative side of the career scale. These particular creative endeavors are solo gigs and consequently require a certain level of self branding and self promotion simply to stay afloat. For photography, this looks like taking photos, sharing those photos, and letting people know that I can and would like to photograph their weddings. But for writing branding a little more sticky. I write for Jesus, about Jesus, and through what I would consider His divine inspiration. So for me writing is about obedience more than it is about anything else. And in obedience I’ve sauntered into the arena of Christian publishing these past few months and have been surprised at what I’ve learned. More than editorial tweaks, and more than theological and conceptual vetting, more than being committed to prayer, I’ve been told that I need to build my platform before I do anything else.
Consequently, I’ve spent a sizable portion of each week studying, researching, and learning about the elusive entity that is branding and why/if it really is essential for someone like me. Here are a handful of working definitions for self or personal branding:
“Personal branding, is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization”
“Your Voice + Your Vision + Your Visuals = Your Brand”
“Our brand is a result of how we see ourselves, but ultimately, it’s what teaches others how to see us…It’s how we treat our own brand that teaches others how to treat us.”
“You are your brand”
No shocker that self branding has a lot to do with self—particularly how we, ourselves, are perceived by others. This is not all bad in the right context. For business purposes, branding is necessary and beneficial which I will write about in a post to come in the next few weeks. But for an individual, specifically a Christian, branding might be neither necessary nor beneficial.
Self branding is, at its core, controlling the way people perceive us. This concept is not new, (shout out to the Pharisees); we just have new avenues through which we present ourselves. Since most of these new avenues do not involve face-to-face interaction, we have a new level of control over people’s perceptions.
This year I have been told time and time again that if I want to be a writer, then I need to build a platform. Your platform, I’ve learned, refers to the number of people who follow you on social media. Everything I’ve read on this matter tells me that to “build my platform” or in other words “increase the number of followers” I need to boost my visuals so that my feed will be attractive to my target audience. This will enable me to engage with my followers, speak their language and address their needs, keep them entertained and win their favor, and ultimately convince them that I’m worth following.
So. Many. Words.
Target audience? Engage? Entertain? Win? Convince? Followers?!
As a friend of mine noted, building a name for myself, a platform, feels a lot like the rebuilding of the temple in Haggai. The Lord was upset with the people who focused more on building homes for themselves than on rebuilding the house of God.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I make take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little…Why? because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of your busies himself with his own house” (Haggai 1:7,8,9).
Lord, am I busying myself with building my own name instead of building up yours?
Let me be frank, I am not worth following. But I know a guy who is. I didn’t step into this dance to say, “follow me,” but rather, “follow Him.” But I’m being told that before I can make much of him, I need to build my platform, my name, my brand, basically, that I need to make much of myself and my name so that I can make much of Jesus.
Therein lies the issue with all of this self branding— it places all of our focus us and what we do, how much people like us, and ultimately how they perceive us rather than on how they perceive God. More often than not, it says look at me instead of look at him. This concept—branding to build a platform— insists that we pay attention to how to acquire and maintain the favor of men, a concept that God warns against all throughout scripture.
So the question becomes whose praise am I seeking?
What name am I exalting?
To whom am I pointing?
And who is getting the glory out of this?
Yes, there is something to be said for pretty photos and a congruent insta-feed and all the vibes and feels. Branding is not altogether a bad thing. I just know myself and know that if I’m not careful and surrendered before the Lord, my brand and my platform will become my focus and I might accidentally overlook the Lord while I busy myself with “serving him.”
So to the creative believers, be reminded that our brand is the seal of the holy spirit, that the gospel sells itself, and that all we are and all we do is to point people—the masses and the individual alike— back to Him. We can trust that He is more concerned with getting His message out than we are, and He will get it in front of whomever he wills. May we not grow weary in doing good, and may we like John continue to, “write these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4).