Navigating the identity market to find brand resonance: a phenomenological study of the marketing work of personal branding
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Trent Hennessey
This thesis introduces the missing voice of personal branders to describe how the marketing work of personal branding is undertaken in the identity market. To do this, it adopts a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to situate the phenomenon of personal branding in relation to macro-level trends in consumer culture, including the commodification and marketisation of personhood and the anthropomorphication (or humanisation) of brands. From this socio-historic perspective, it examines the lived experiences of ten participants with established brands in diverse occupations and organisational fields for a period of seven years. Using Bourdieun theory as an overarching framework, this research found that: (1) the field of the identity market was a contested space structured by six major intersections that the personal branders navigated relating to their marketisation, commodification, locus of work, brand authorship, visibility, and marketing ethics; (2) personal brand capital was comprised of economic, social, and cultural dimensions that were volatile, unpredictable, and difficult to convert; (3) personal branders drew on multidimensional, but fragmented sources of knowledge and learning to become habituated to the identity market; (4) personal brand demise/death was an ever-present threat associated with the alienating experiences of selling out, fading out, and burning out; and (5) the marketing work of personal branding was constituted by practices such as engaging in identity compartmentalisation, interdependent status games with other actors, discursive identity negotiation, and multiple market exchange modalities of selling versus gifting and sharing personal brands. The empirical, practice-based account of personal branding this thesis advances fundamentally challenges the knowledge claims underlying the influential popular press literature on the subject that has emerged since the late 1990s. In contrast to the personal branding movement’s assurances of efficacy, graduated and prescriptive processes, and codified marketing plans, this thesis supports that the marketing work of personal branding is more accurately described as tacit, ambiguous, informal, uncertain, and creative. The lived experience of being a brand is replete with conflict, failure, symbolic domination, and multiple forms of alienation. These findings not only revise the knowledge claims about personal branding for practitioners, but contribute to the literature on cultural branding and marketing work by re-examining theories about self-commodification, the role and function of personal brands in postmodern consumer culture, and the value of humanistic accounts of marketing work to address theory-practice gaps in the marketing literature.
Keywordspersonal branding; personal brand; human brand; self-commodification; self-marketing; marketing work; marketing practitioners; consumer culture theory
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