As businesses big and small shift to the internet, millennials have become incredibly literate in the language of brand. Of course, there’s money to be made in "brand storytelling", as if that tech brand's origin really involved something more fascinating than a bunch of well-off engineering students wearing gray sweatshirts huddled over a laptop.
Job ads for tech companies always have some brand story about how they're the quirkiest, hardest-working team of heartfelt game-changers in the biz, passionate and determined to change the way men buy sandwiches or whatever. They're not just an ordinary office, they're a dynamo brand - kind of like how "employee" has been replaced with "teammate" and “writing” has become the placid, business-friendly “content" and words like "you", "we", "me" and "us" are used to describe both company and consumer.
These cutting-edge tech brands leveraged millions in investments not on the strength of a solid and reliable product, but because they've convinced some rich old investor guy that they're brand is so incredibly innovative. (Plus they remind that old rich guy of himself, back when he was just a young, sort-of rich guy trying to start his own company.)
Many of these big corporations famously don't even make any money, except for their investors and shareholders. But who needs a product - or even a profit - when you have a brand, right?
Companies, like governments, usually cultivate an image, often one that has little to do with their actual product or means of production. But now corporations have become savvy about promoting their "lifestyle" to an online audience, and corporate brands and identities have become personified parts of social media as well. (Remember how major brands were totally clueless about social media until recently, but now have "edgy" campaigns and personalities and people are like, “Whoa, Denny’s is so sassy on twitter?”)
Despite the lack of access to health care that goes along with it, we are becoming a nation of freelancers: bloggers, content marketing experts, web developers, photographers and personal brands, all ready to lend a personal touch to that multinational corporation's bottom line.
Millennials are forced to turn to entrepreneurship and crafting online personas to get by and sell ourselves in the new economy - there we find a shift in the mindset of work and identity. We are all potential “influencers”, both the consumer and the brand.
As a creative person, an artist or a writer or a performer - you are now simply a "creative" and your art, your style, and your quirks are your brand. Then, you can lend the power of your brand to an even bigger brand - as long as you stay on-brand, of course.
The problem with us being walking, talking potential brands is that a brand exists to sell something, not to encapsulate the complexities of life. Where does the word even come from but a ‘mark of ownership" like the one put on cattle, or god forbid, human beings. (Not to get too “Think about it, man!!!!” but you know, think about it.)
To be a brand, then, is to self-edit, because people are messy and corporations don't want that. And it’s no surprise that this fresh new way of thinking tends to reward young, white, conventionally attractive personal brands. Just like always.