Personal Brand Insecurity

I have a branding dilemma and I'm not sure if it's something minor or a symptom of something major. Ready for this?

Should I use caps or lower-case?

You can roll your eyes all you want, but it's a question that's starting to bother me. Stay with me for a minute. The internet has plenty of presentation norms and I know what most of them are. At the very least I know that web pages for business executives have significantly different norms than chat messages between teens.

case for lower
but i don't want to use capital letters. lower-case is more relaxed; more personal. it's how i want you to feel when you come over for dinner. you might think it's the finest table and tastiest food, but i want you to wander around the house if you'd like, get something from the fridge, or laugh out loud. lower-case is more my style.

lower-case is also easier, which means it's what i'd rather do. same point, less time.

Case for Upper
But I don't want to use lower-case either - at least not for writing. When I read through a dozen comments on a blog and one is written in lower-case, I skip that one or else put a lower value on it. I can't help thinking the writer is less educated. How arrogant, you say. Well I'll add hypocritical, too, since I e-mail almost exclusively in lower-case!

Caps are also more professional and readable. I can imagine my second-grader trying to read a chapter book with no capital letters. Talk about run-ons.

A diagnosis
For you non-analyzing types, you can't believe this is anything but a joke. But for me, a writer and speaker who mixes with a variety of audiences, this is only partly funny. I don't toss and turn or seek counseling over it, but it crosses my mind subtly every time I log on and start to type.

This constant e-wareness of whether to use caps or lower-case is why I think it is a symptom of something more serious. See, I'm the guy who reads Henri Nouwen's books, like Reaching Out or The Genesee Diary, and says, "Henri knows me." I'm the guy who reads Brennan Manning's Abba's Child and passes it on to all my friends. (Notice the link? I'm passing it along. Check out the others while you're at it.) I think I'm suffering from a case of Personal Brand Insecurity and I'm sure it's affecting my work.

PBI isn't just about what letter forms I should use. It is about searching for who I am, trying to find my voice, and wanting to care less about people's impressions and more about what matters. In C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the demon uncle gives the following advice to his apprenticing demon nephew:

"The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the 'best' people, the 'right' food, the 'important' books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."

As I think about branding, advertising and all aspects of marketing, I wonder how someone like me could do it consistently and honestly while suffering from PBI. I applaud all of you who can.

Any advice? (About caps or lower-case, I mean, although PBI counsel is welcomed, too.)


pam at beyondjustmom December 10, 2008 at 9:38 PM  

Very interesting! I too have struggled with this. Lower case seems to be a "mod" thing to do, and I'm of the age where I feel right in between hip and not so hip. Or is "hip" even the right word--who knows? Capital letters are certainly more formal and standard, while lower case, to me, implies a bit of humility. Interesting that you felt it also implied less education.
So, I flip-flop. But for now, my blog titles are lower case, my writing has capitals, and I usually sign my name in lower case. What does that say about me?

Sam Van Eman December 11, 2008 at 9:11 AM  

thanks for the fun response, pam.

humility, hmmm. i forgot that years ago i signed letters, etc., in lower-case for that reason. it was my way of saying, "Soli Deo Gloria" - For the Glory of God Alone.

at least i was confident about it then. now my lower-case/upper-case issues are scattered and related, as i said, to my PBI.

i'll probably continue to flip-flop until i find myself!

take care.

Braldey J Moore December 13, 2008 at 10:52 AM  


and it's such a relief to talk about our insecurities. we're human, social creatures who care about what people think.

So, which comment did you like better? The upper or lower caps? Please tell me you liked my comment!

Sam Van Eman December 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM  

brad, i LOVED your comment!!!!! the way you stylized each of those capital letters, the way... ok, i'm done.

yes, it is a relief to talk about our insecurities. in fact, i think we need to because it helps us name them and even deal with them. for example, if advertisers don't do this, how will they know when their work is motivated by insecurity and when it is motivated by love. if i'm motivated by a boss's affirmation, i will be more willing to take on jobs that conflict with my beliefs. if i'm motivated by love, i'll be more willing to push against unethical practices in the office and stand up for what's right.

i can think of many personal examples of each of these, and the only ones i regret are the ones motivated by insecurity.

thanks for chiming in, brad.

Billy Coffey December 17, 2008 at 8:20 AM  

I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to things like this, probably because of all those English teachers I had in school. I always use capital letters. Though I will admit that at times I wish I would allow myself to be a little more unconventional.

Sam Van Eman December 17, 2008 at 10:21 AM  

c'mon, billy, you know you want to. all the txters are doing it.

Kevin D. Hendricks January 7, 2009 at 9:48 AM  

Especially for your posts, I'd go with readability and go with capitals. That's why we have upper and lowercase letters in the first place.

And it doesn't make you any more hip or relaxed or cool just because you don't capitalize the first letter of the first word of every sentence. If anything, it says to me that you're trying too hard. Let your content and your tone tell me how hip, relaxed or cool you are.

Let your type be, well, your type. Next thing we know you'll be trying to use different fonts to indicate how friendly you are--and trust me, that doesn't work.

Sam Van Eman January 7, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

thanks for stopping by, kevin. it's good to connect with you again.

i'll certainly keep my posts in the traditional format, because it looks better and because i don't want to sacrifice readability.

e-mails? i've been writing (most of) them in lower-case for so long that it's become a habit.

comments? i feel more hospitable writing in lower-case, here at least. it's like telling guests they can wear their shoes in the house if they want. not a big deal, but it makes a difference.

i do wonder if i should use caps when commenting in places i've never been.

are you listening to all this analysis? i can drive my wife nuts with it.

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