We often talk in the marketing world about positioning, meaning the place that a brand occupies in the mind of the customer and how that is different from competitors. But each of us humans is essentially a brand as well. As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”.

My heightened interest in Brand Carrie appears to be caused by what a friend recently termed as a “mid-life awakening” – a need to better define my priorities. After many years of living life without really thinking about what I was doing or where I was headed, it has become apparent that a change may be necessary. So, I thought it might be useful to apply some research skills to my own life. While I am still in the initial “excavation” stage, I’ve made an interesting observation: I have been intuitively using an evolving series of brands for self-identification.

“I am a part of all that I have met.” – Lord Tennyson

I’ve always interpreted this quote as being about people, but it could just as easily mean products or brands. There are brands that have been truly influential in identifying who I was or what I wanted others to think about me during specific life stages. And, these brands have changed depending on what was going on in my life (and in my head!) at that point:

  • In my teen years, where a brand’s badge value was crucially important, I begged my mom for Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. I had to lay down on the floor to get those jeans on, but they were critical to fitting in to the teenager jungle.
  • As a young adult, I unconsciously looked for brands that aligned with my developing values and beliefs. I was willing to pay for quality and performance, but didn’t want to stand out too much.
  • When motherhood came along, it meant buying Graco car seats and Gymboree and Baby Gap clothes. Not too trendy, not too expensive, but insuring my acceptance into the middle class moms club. Belonging had become important again.
  • As my kids got older, I started running, and almost immediately got sucked into purchasing running gear, lots of running gear – shoes, clothes, accessories, gadgets – from brands like Saucony, New Balance, Nike, Garmin… Now, you don’t need all of that to run, but it definitely helps you identify as a runner and feel as if you are part of the “club”.
  • After a number of years, “Carrie the runner” started looking for running brands that went beyond function (though that was still important) to those that helped me feel good, express myself, and to a certain degree, get noticed. Sparkle Skirts and InknBurn have become go-to brands, but I sometimes wonder if they represent the end of a stage…has my running run its course? What will my next identity be, and what brands will I discover to help me define that identity?

One of our basic desires as humans is to feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves – a community of like-minded individuals, a tribe with the same objectives and goals. But, we still need to be uniquely us. We buy brands that we can relate to, that support us in our interests and beliefs, that help us represent ourselves to the world, whether we are 100% sure about who we are (or want to be) or not.

What role have brands played in your self-identification? And, what does this mean as you think about how others want to show themselves to the world?