I have been interested in brands since the early 90’s, when I studied my first degree in Advertising, Media and Marketing. I remember writing about the importance of brand consistency and use of strap lines, using the examples of NIKE ‘just do it’ and Cadburys Caramel, where one should ‘take it easy’.
More recently, I have focused upon personal branding and in particular, the use of Story. I have engaged in many discussions, both on and off line, about personal branding and I have not as yet been able to reach a comfortable conclusion.
For entrepreneurs and business owners working in the ‘helping’ professions (coaching, mentoring, therapy, training), personal branding is perhaps inevitable. The old adage that people buy from people they like is central in this instance, especially if what is being bought are the personal skills of the business owner. How can one not engage in personal branding, when people are engaging and investing predominantly in the person?
In fact, sometimes people convince themselves that personal branding doesn’t matter, that it’s all about the business brand and that the two are separate. I’ve heard some compelling arguments for this and yet I still am not convinced. A business that is borne from an individual, that they have given ‘birth’ to, will invariably carry the traits of it’s parent. Some of this may be conscious and some may be unconscious; in much the same way that we have a nature/nurture dynamic in human beings, so too in our ‘brand-child’. As such, I struggle to let go of the notion that personal branding is synonymous, when it comes to entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Much of the discussion about personal branding seems to centre upon the tenet of congruency and whether a person is or should be telling ‘the whole-true-self and nothing-but-the-whole-true-self’, which has been further coloured by the popularity of ‘authenticity’ in business nowadays. I’ll admit that I am a bit of a truth seeker and can ‘sniff out’ what is meant in a message, hidden behind a glitzy bit of ‘good’ copy. In fact, it’s a bit of a bug bear of mine. If I believe that someone is being disingenuous in their presentation, in the quest for client procurement, inside I am saying “No, no, no, no, NO!”.
I don’t think people mean to do it. They are selling a ‘lifestyle’, they may even have been coached to…..and after all, it is no different to the big brands on television is it….?…..encouraging us, through their advertisements to buy this, achieve that, be like them. In those instances, however, the illustration is depicted by an actor….or endorsed by someone, usually a celebrity, with the desirable qualities. This is where for me, the personal/professional interplay is illuminated. IF said celebrity engages in anything that betrays the desirable qualities, this is a risk to the brand. Often, said celebrity is eliminated from any association with the brand. Haven’t we seen this many times?
So, there are some obvious faux pas activities that perhaps we would all agree upon as being brand-detrimental but what about the more subtle acts of disingenuity? The acts that lead to a perception which may secure clients who may not have been secured if the truth had been portrayed. So, let me break it down:
1) Pictures in the smart new car (or showing off anything) and implying that the entrepreneurial lifestyle led to its purchase, when in fact it was bought on credit.
2) Images of serene places where the ‘laptop lifestyle’ takes place but it was just one random day, not an ongoing experience (and implying that it is).
3) Offering ‘discounts’ when you have NEVER sold same product or service at full price (and probably never will).
4) Referring to ‘clients’ who have not actually ever paid you a penny (they are not your clients).
5) Presenting a lifestyle at a moment in time, then revisiting at a later date (when clients have been secured) and saying ‘hands up guys, it wasn’t quite like that, let me now tell you how it really was’. Ok, so this may become part of YOUR success story but what of the people who believed what was presented at the time?
These are five examples that I can think of – if I thunk hard enough, I’m sure there would be more! The big question is, does it really matter? Do we really care? Am I being too nit-picky? After all, no one is lying, are they? It’s no different to what they do in commercial branding, is it?
In commercial branding, we are not expecting to see the behind the scenes drama, are we? We WANT to see the good stuff. We don’t want to see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the products, do we? We want to see the glamour, to be taken to a place where anything is possible, don’t we? Even when we know that reality has been sprinkled with some magic dust, even when we are established cynics, we know the game and we (somewhat) happily play along…….don’t we?
I am not sure that I am any closer to a resolution here, almost 1,000 words later (one of my longer blogs). However, I do feel better, having got a few things off my chest and onto paper….so that next time a ‘branding’ debate takes place, my opinions are clear, even if my position is not.
Until next time.