the brash brand

I sit in Jackson Square, New Orleans, enjoying the grass beneath my feet and the palm above my head. It is February. Sitting in eighty degree weather in the charmingest of Southern cities makes me the luckiest New Englander in the world. I’m reading a beautiful book and glancing up now and then to take in the beautiful passersby.

Out of the blue I’m no longer engrossed in my own sunshiny piece of paradise. Instead, I am intently listening to a woman who’s speaking twenty yards away from me. Usually I’m great at blocking out voices – even lovely ones – but an unusual voice inevitably catches my ear. And this isn’t a lovely voice. This voice is trying too hard.

The woman starts by loudly introducing herself to a couple who are standing around, looking at the big Andrew Jackson statue. The man says something in response to the loud woman – he’s too quiet for me to understand – and she laughs, “Oh, people always think I’m selling something.” I think to myself, You must be selling something. Otherwise, why would you try so hard?

The woman asks the couple if they’ve ever been to New Orleans, and then she begins loudly answering their inaudible questions about the place. A sizeable group of people slowly gathers around her. Her content is fascinating: stories about how the city came to be, about the important people who made it what it is.

This woman is successfully competing for attention with live performers of all varieties, street vendors, a cruise ship piping zydeco. I wonder to myself, How is she gathering a crowd despite such an irritating voice?

But then it occurs to me. Her voice is perfect for this scenario. That couple probably wanted to walk away when she introduced herself, but she was so earnest in her desire to answer their questions that she held them there. If I were in their shoes, I would have felt bad leaving the scene.

Moments after I have this thought, she is leading her small crowd off on a walking tour of the city. So yes, she was selling something. Sneaky thing.

I think about it a little more, and I feel impressed by her. She was representing the brand of herself-as-tour-guide (don’t we all represent our personal brand?). Her brand is a little brash, a little in-your-face. It’s clear that she’s trying to sell something, yet she’s also powerfully earnest. She’s like McDonald’s, its bold red-and-yellow recognizable from miles away. In theory you might scorn the food, but as soon as you walk inside, you smell the fries. Of course you don’t mind eating a few fries, right?

Whatever your brand may be, I can promise you that you’re projecting it loud and clear. The question is this: does the brand you’re projecting match the person you are inside?

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