Brands: not just for businesses anymore | January 25, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 25, 2013

Brands: not just for businesses anymore

Consultant teaches Castilleja seniors personal branding in the digital age

by Rebecca Duran

The rise of social media in professional and social situations has made deciding how to present one's self more important — even for teenagers, according to branding consultant Karen Kang.

As part of Castilleja School's Global Week, in which the all-girls school welcomes speakers for a series of lectures, Kang explained the importance of personal branding, which she described as a person's reputation and image. Kang, the founder and CEO of BrandingPays and author of a new book on the subject, stressed that building a personal brand is a practical pursuit.

"I want to dispel this myth that personal branding is narcissistic," the Palo Alto resident said.

Kang has consulted for more than 100 organizations and has given numerous seminars at business schools, including Stanford University.

She told the group of seniors that women can be at a disadvantage when it comes to the perception of them in the workplace. Some might not see them as stern enough or as decision-makers. To respond to this, she encouraged the girls to have presence in a room and to "own their space."

She said it is important for a person to decide how to present themselves, what messages they will present to their audience, their strategy and how they network.

"This is an opportunity for them to learn the tools for branding in a changing world," said Stacey Kertsman, director of the Awareness, Compassion and Engagement Center at Castilleja.

Kang talked about how she hired her intern, whose resume caught her eye because she was an intern for Disney and a blogger at a digital-media firm. She said that catching someone's eye is important.

Kang explained her own branding strategy, which is summed up as "bake the cake, then frost it." The cake includes the "hard skills" and the frosting includes the "soft skills."

Hard skills include being a strategic thinker or having clear, persuasive communication. Soft skills include emotional intelligence and social skills.

She said it's important to stay consistent with one's core values and to think about what brand attributes are being put out there.

She gave a local example of Hillary Freeman. Freeman, who was known in the community but not by the electorate, was elected to Palo Alto's City Council in 2001. She won with the most votes that year. Kang helped her develop an image as a politician.

"You can't be known for everything. You have to be known for something," Kang said.

She said people will have about 10 jobs in a lifetime, and it is important to reinvent one's self each time.

Going into college, "it's important to at least put a stake in the ground" and pick a major of interest, even if it will change down the road, she said.

Student Sarah Shen said the information will be useful going into college and internships.

Kang had the students try "elevator pitches." A 10-second pitch might include a brief description of what school they go to and where they want to go to college.

A 30-second pitch would allow for them to reveal more information, such as volunteer work or other accomplishments. A 60-second pitch would allow even more examples and might include hobbies. She directed students to walk around the room in pairs while giving their pitches, a simulation of trying to present yourself to someone in a short amount of time.

"They want to see a little of your personality, a little of your humanity," Kang said.

Afterward, the students said they felt challenged to make sure the pitches flowed and were memorable and to list things they were passionate about and to provide a context.

"It was exceptionally helpful," student Camille Townshend said. "Learning how to present yourself was a great opportunity. I'm definitely going to take it with me through the application process."

Students Gabriela Castro and Rebecca Pless echoed Townshend's thoughts, saying they felt it was a great opportunity to advance women and something they would never be taught in class.

"We don't have to be men in the workplace," Kang said, stating the importance of embracing all types of skills.

Editorial Intern Rebecca Duran can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Casti Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

According to my daughter who attended this, the entire class was stunned at how superficial and petty this presentation was. It was like a 1980's "Dress for Success" pitch, all about having the right clothes, speaking in "elevator speech" language, and having a "brand" (even a personal logo!). They found Ms. Kang's Tony Robbins-like "always be marketing yourself" message to be inappropriate for (and not representative of) Castilleja's Global Week, which is intended to be about big ideas and world problems. Thus, it is unfortunate that the Weekly chose to feature this particular speaker, rather than some of the marvelous and substantive speakers such as Craig Kielburger (Free the Children), John Matisson (The UN Afghanistan Project) Minnie Ingersoll (Google Ideas), and many others.

Like this comment
Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Sounds very superficial, I would rather have my kid learn to be sincere, then a pitch-man. This is not a value I want my kid to pick up. This is a petty article.

Like this comment
Posted by Badbadidea
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

It's more like what we have on Congress today! Seriously

Like this comment
Posted by we all brand, fool
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Kids do brand themselves. Have for years. Look at any high school yearbook, even yours. You may not think your kid brands herself, but she does, whether in your view or after she's out of your view.

Going on since well before Mad Men and the birth of 'brands'. You branded yourself in high school. Sadly, mine was long, scraggly hair stoner. (Amazes me how I turned out after that start.) With social media, everyone brands, consciously or not. Putting pictures of your kids, or your "world's greatest mom" mug is branding.

That bumpersticker of yours, whether Obama, a school sticker (parent of an 'x' student), or the coexist one, is a brand. The labels on your clothes are a two-fer: their brand, and yours. My refusal to wear branded clothing is obviously, wait for it, a brand.

in a week, we're all branded (GO NINERS!!!)

Kids brand. Don't believe me? Look at the following topic: "Popular clothing brands for middle school girls"


Case closed.

Now the question is: why not give the kids a little info about what they're doing anyway?

Like this comment
Posted by Why don't I use my real name
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I heard a trusted marketer once tell me we don't own our brand(s)...the people we engage own it and ultimately make the decision of what it is. Yes it is superficial but sadly unless there is a miraculous change in human nature any time soon (not likely), it will always be that way. Might as well use it to your advantage.

Like this comment
Posted by Just Sayin'
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2013 at 6:43 am

When Castilleja students already have a harsh reputation for being superficial and brand-obsessed, this article does not seem to do much in their favor.

Like this comment
Posted by Casti Parent
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I attended a sister session for parents, and while I can see why someone reading this article (or perhaps a cynical teen) might consider the class superficial, I didn't. "We All Brand" has it right. People do make judgements based on how we present ourselves. The idea is to give thought to who you are and how you want to come across to others, not to pretend that you are someone you aren't.

If you would like an example, read Just Sayin's comment and think about how s/he is presenting his/her self. Pettiness doesn't do much to garner respect for Just Sayin's personal brand.

Like this comment
Posted by friend
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 29, 2013 at 12:26 am

I thought my child presented herself as a complex person not as a simplified brand. There is no way of simplifying my brilliant complicated, growing child. She has no facebook account. She has no smart phone. She speaks, she emotes, she evolves.

Like this comment
Posted by Karen Kang
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm

The BrandingPays methodology that I presented to the Castilleja seniors was about branding from the inside out. That is, taking a journey of self discovery so you know your core values, strengths, personality and unique value to the world. Rather than an act of superficiality, good personal branding is founded on authentic values, delivers messages that support your claims and builds relationships with people that matter. If everyone had a strong personal brand, the world would be a better place. Each of us would be recognized and valued for our worth, and we would be found by those wanting to partner or collaborate with us.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.