What’s a Brandividual?

by cv harquail on May 20, 2009

When I read that David Armano had “invented” the term “Brandividual” a few months ago, I muttered choice words from an array of Continental languages and berated myself for not having TM’d the word myself.

Back when I started researching the practices of employee branding and ‘wearing the brand’, I’d toyed with the idea of using the term “brandividual” to describe what we get when we train a person to act like the brand . But, ultimately, I passed on the term because it was a noun and not a verb. If Karl W. taught me anything, it was to go first to the verb — especially when your goal is to understand a process.

Shortly thereafter, when I discovered that Adam Vespi has been using the term brandividual for more than a year as the name of his blog and company, I was surprised that Armano hadn’t Googled the term before “inventing” it, if only to celebrate that beautiful thing scientists refer to as “parallel invention”.

Parallel invention is when two or more people come up with an idea at roughly the same time. Parallel invention occurs when a solution is just waiting to happen, because a confluence of trends has brought all the pieces together. DEEP SEA HARDHAT DIVER #8 "NO EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH" on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1242840477341.jpeg

What’s important here is not so much who can claim the term, but that we recognize that brandividuals are popping up all over social media. Fueled by Armano’s social and professional capital, the term “brandividual” now refers not not to customers (nor to people who are branding themselves ) but to people who represent a brand or an organization online.

So here’s a more formal definition:

Brandividual (n.): an individual employee who draws on her or his personal identity as well as the organization or brand’s identity, to represent the organization or brand in online relationships.

We might think of brandividuals as a mash up of:

  1. The ability of social media to make someone a minor celebrity simply for being both early onto a platform and charming,
  2. Marketers’ desperation to find new ways to convey their messages, and
  3. Individuals/stakeholders desire to make real and personal connections as well as commercial ones.

I’m intrigued by the “rise of the brandividual” and I’ll be presenting a paper on it next week, at the Reputation Institute’s Conference on Corporate Reputation, Brand, Identity and Competitiveness in Amsterdam. I’m not sure whether brandividuals are something ‘new’ or whether they are just a new flavor of sliced bread. I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting examples, and questions, and insights.

Have you seen, heard or read anything about brandividuals in action? Do you think this is something new, or  just a variant of employee branding, or celebrity spokesperson? What do you  think?

(Why this graphic? It was just interesting, and weird, and vaguely proto-steampunk. And, I didn’t want to use an image of Scott Monty. …)