[photo from Shutterstock]
The thing that bothers me most about branding, be it personal or otherwise, is the whole consistency item. When learning about branding in the 90's while I was at University, it was taught to me that going 'off brand' was a big no-no. Going 'off-brand' would confuse your customers, alienate the people who identified with your company and cause some major implosion to your company. Companies like GAP and Apple were upheld as being brand geniuses because we could look at a logo-less advert for 5 seconds and know instantly that this must be one of theirs.
I always questioned the value in that idea. Okay, so I recognize the 'look and feel' of this advert. Must be the GAP. And? I know that consistency is equivalent to comfort, but I am uncertain of the longevity of that particular strategy. GAP was awesome in the 90's and early 2000's. The consistency of their clothes - jeans, fitted sweaters, khakis and an array of colourful t-shirts - WAS comforting, but after a while it became so comforting that it became common, then commonplace. Now when someone is wearing an entire GAP outfit, people snicker behind their backs, implicating that person as a follower and unoriginal.
And unoriginal is no longer going to fly in the 'I-want-it-my-way" era of the personalizable, customizable, nichified, tribe-ified net. Choice is king here and the ability to craft a style based on a person's individual 'brand' is the key. Nobody wants to look like they stepped out of the window of any particular store any longer. Sure, the tee can be from the GAP, but the boots are from Fluevog, the pants are Hudsons, the sweater is vintage from a little second hand store in the neighbourhood and the scarf was a gift from my BFF who bought it in Amsterdam for me. All pieces become unrecognizable as any particular 'brand' and become part of a person's style.
But what of personal branding, then? Is that where it's headed. God, I hope not.
I've heard so much of the term 'personal branding' batted around lately in reference to people like Gary Vee and Julia Allison and Chris Brogan, etc. (they even have their names as their websites). People are lauding this exercise of creating a personal brand as the secret sauce to their success. I can't speak for them, but I know when I told a friend the other night that I was working on a book called 'Happiness as Your Business Model' and he responded to that by saying:
"Well, it's definitely on brand for you."
I cringed. It made me want to throw it out and write something like, "Taking Advantage of Your Customers for Big Bucks". I recoiled at the consistency of who I've become. Am I a broken record? Please, God, let me be more than a personal brand!
And I am. I know that. I may be consistent in my passion and what I believe in, but I'm terribly inconsistent in my actions. I talk of empowering customers, yet I'm the biggest sucker for a sales pitch you have ever met, spending most of my time impulse buying, then regretting. I may go on and on about women getting in front of parades and dispelling myths, but I'm incredibly anti-social most of the time, embarrassed to take credit or do any pro-active self-promotion (I've been lucky enough to have amazing friends and supporters who do this for me). I go on and on about how important relationships are, yet I am terrible at keeping in touch with friends, spending enough time with my family and getting out from behind my computer to meet new people. Yet, I really display the opposite. Nobody who "knows" me online would agree with how I've characterized myself here. Funny that. It's me. 100%. The teensy group of people I let in know this.
We talk about authenticity, but people rarely want to see the negative side of a person. When I've been truly honest - angry, sad, scared, belligerent, grumpy, negative, depressed or anxious (and I keep it under control, but I have terrible anxiety) - people get nervous. I lose followers. I get long emails from people asking me to stop being self-indulgent. I get messages from concerned friends saying, "Don't you worry about damaging your brand?"
And that's it. Do we want authenticity? Or do we want branding? One of the most memorable lines in a movie for me is from Magnolia, where Claudia says to Jim:
"I'll tell you everything, and you tell me everything, and maybe we can get through all the piss and shit and lies that kill other people. "
I love that line because I think it's what we all want to do, but are afraid to do it. We love people who represent the ideal, the perfect, the imperfectly perfect, the happy, the successful, the amazing, positive, go-for-it, wa-hoo in life. And I'm not saying those people don't exist. They just don't exist as much as we think they exist because there are so many bloomin personal brands out there that are inspiring the crap out of us that we lose the fact that behind the scenes, they are probably falling apart now and then.
Much like not wanting to look like we stepped out of a GAP ad, I don't believe any one of us wants to look like we stepped out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, either. We also don't want to look like we stepped out of an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, but real life represents all of these scenarios.
I don't have a personal brand, I have a personality - complete with crazy moments and drunken nights, super highs and heartbreaking lows. And every single one of those moments define who I am. Now. Who are you? A personal brand or a personality?