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Marilyn Heltzer: I'm working on my brand

I hadn't given it much thought until Oprah announced that she's quitting her daily TV show, and there was a great uproar about what would happen to her brand.

Then Tiger Woods got into trouble, and the uproar switched to chatter about his brand. And the other night a TV commentator observed that the Republicans will have to define their brand before the 2010 election.

I used to think that branding was something that guys in the Old West did to cattle. But now I know better.

Branding is the Nike swatch, Coke's red and white, Target's target and logos all over the place. And I have discovered that each of us needs a personal brand. There's an entire industry of coaches who can help. For money, of course. It's particularly important if you're job hunting. You must identify yourself in a unique and special way.

One online expert issues this dire warning: "If you're not branding yourself, you can rest assured that others are branding you."

Well, we can't let that happen. Even if I'm long out of the job market, I know when I'm being branded. I'm pretty sure that the cashier at the grocery store sees me as a "gray-haired little old lady" as I fish for exact change in my pocket. Well, maybe not so little. But the rest for sure.

The Episcopalians I worship with no doubt see me as a fashion slacker, showing up in pants and a small rotation of the same sweaters every Sunday, while the other women my age are in their good wool suits and silk blouses. I even wore blue jeans one cold Sunday. Not a good idea.

At my granddaughter's charter school, I'm probably branded as a high-maintenance grandma. I try so hard not to e-mail the teachers because my granddaughter hates that. After all, she does have a mother. But I have go online and get her grade reports, and I'm led astray when a grade sinks. I just have to stick my nose in.

I'm pretty sure that the devoted nurses where my husband had IV chemotherapy saw me as a not-so-devoted wife. Other husbands and wives sat there on those uncomfortable chairs while the lifesaving drug dripped into their partner's veins. Well, my husband snoozed a lot of the time, and I got a lot of errands done. I did always pick him up, though. One day there was a guy there at closing time, looking for his ride. And I would say I'm a reliable driver, even though some who observe my driving habits, honed years ago, might say otherwise.

Can this branding be turned around through my own great personal efforts?

I'm working on it. I have resolved not to do that exact change thing. I'll lose 20 pounds so I can honestly be called "little." Or close to it. I'll dress better for church. I'll let our granddaughter sink or swim on her own. And if my husband needs chemo again, I'll bring my own chair, or demand a comfortable one. I will be a more congenial driver. I will abandon my Edith Bunker shuffle. Do you even know about Edith? I'll say "cool" a lot.

Or is that out of date already?

Let me tell you, it isn't easy, re-branding at my age, but I'm trying.