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Branding.  For years, it was a term associated almost exclusively with consumer products, from the mundane like soap and toothpaste, to luxury watches and cars.   Later, service firms got in on the act, and now the career management gurus and regular people and politicians, have joined the branding tidal wave.

As is the case with some other perfectly good words, we have also taken to adding a prefix, as in “rebranding.”

It’s a Monday, people are beginning another busy week, so let me get straight to the point:  you can rebrand an established product, even a company.  You can even rebrand a politician and then re-elect them more often that not, if you hold your nose and look at the lesser of the evils — his or her opponent.  But you cannot rebrand a person.

When it comes to you and me, the term brand is nothing more catchy than a new way of saying REPUTATION.

When you do something stupid and then try to cover it up, or deny it to the heavens to avoid accountability, posit a ridiculous explanation for consistently bad behavior, or if you fail to deliver on performance expectations, you can, in a moment of esoteric largesse, proclaim that you have damaged your brand, as if somehow that makes the behavior or failure a little less real.  But the truth is you damaged your reputation.

I am not embarking on a campaign to change the career management phrase book.  I will continue to use that term as well when I talk to early and mid-term careerists because there are times that the phrase is helpful in making a point on strategy.  I think the use of the word brand is OK as long as we don’t forget that, at the root of it all, we are really talking about one of the most fragile and critically important aspects of who we are:  our reputation.