Can we discuss personal branding and the power of authenticity?

by Craig McBreen · 33 comments · General


Olivier Blanchard ran a dynamite post a few weeks back titled, “R.I.P. Personal Branding.”

This well thought out piece and the point counterpoint nature of the comments caused me to think about the term, “personal branding” and the individual as an online persona. Authentic blogger versus contrived bit player. I concur with many of Olivier’s points and I agree with some of the countering commenters.

The post is certainly thought-provoking. Great stuff if you haven’t checked it out. And the commenting was prolific. Oh, how I love blogging.

His core message is that people are people, not brands. And there is no merit in turning yourself into a character or product. Unless you’re a cultural icon or you name rhymes with Okra, you’re really better off just being yourself.

The message that really resonated with me was this: “… this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are?”

First let me clarify.
This post won’t be about my hatred for the term personal branding
In all honesty, I could take it or leave it. I’m more focused on the importance and power of authenticity.

I agree with many of his points, but I often think arguments like this are simply a matter of semantics, bringing on a lot of misinterpretation and misunderstanding. And I’m not so sure I want to get bogged down arguing about the interpretation of the term, personal branding anyway.

If someone wants to stamp their online presence with the brand label, that’s okay. Personal Branding is the de facto term and it’s not going to change anytime soon.

My focus is on the importance of being genuine online.
YOU create a name for yourself by solving problems and providing something that is worthwhile and meaningful, right? Reassure me here folks. A few comments into this and I might fold like a cheap lawn chair.

Again, my point really has little to do with the meaning of the term. It has everything to do with you just being you.

People who value authenticity don’t want to deal with someone playing a part. They can sniff out the insincerity, which makes things distorted and fuzzy. They don’t like fuzzy. “They” being most people.

Seeking recognition by role playing or shouting is downright exhausting and maintaining that persona can be a pretty tough chore.

Can pretenders deliver excellence? Maybe so, but I often wonder how long they can keep it up.

Do fakes facilitate meaningful change? Well, what do you think?

We can never be 100 percent transparent and people do tend to embellish, but there’s no problem there, we ALL do it. You can certainly kick it up a notch and still be you. That’s fine. Just don’t bullshit us.

Don’t you think someone is more interesting and has more to offer when they are genuine instead of playing a role?

And again, how much energy is squandered pretending to be something or someone else? All that work detracts from doing the things that matter.

Just be yourself and “do.” The rest will come.

If you are so focused on creating a contrived persona, you’re not only misleading people who read you, you’re deceiving yourself. Being the authentic you and embracing your uniqueness is certainly the better route. And I honestly think playing a role just might just come back to haunt you.

We want you.
Those little quirks and personality traits that you see as flaws in the machine;
Well that’s what makes you interesting to others.

I often write about personal growth through practices like embracing uncertainty, incorporating creativity in your daily routine, and just learning to be comfortable in your own skin. These things don’t come about by playing a part.

Before any big changes happen you need to learn to accept yourself.

If you think you’re a little weird, well that’s great. That crazy, perfect little you simply rocks. Plus, haven’t you heard that weird is in?

If you think you’re too quiet. Well, let me tell you something. Introverts rock and they simply roll in the blogosphere. This place was setup for quiet types.

If you’re opinionated, even better. Write and see what happens.

If you’re a wee bit caustic. Well, that’s okay too. We can all be at times. Plus a little snark goes a long way in these here parts.

AND if you think you’re a little bonkers, generally quiet, opinionated every so often, and snarky as hell, that’s even better. That’s called being human and that’s what we love about you. Just check off “all of the above,” accept your humanity and get on with it. Or better yet, blog like a rock star. Just don’t let that rock star status go to your head.

Also, what about the long-term? Who knows how long this social media blip will last. Who knows where we’ll be many iterations down the road. The constantly evolving model is here today, and so gone tomorrow.

Those who can go beyond the screen and think less like a play-actor, but more like a real person with real connections, are the individuals who will have some staying power.

Do what you love. Be yourself. Put in the work.

Let the ego go and see what happens.

Trying to game the system is not a long-term solution. And whatever you do, don’t try to be someone else.

And like Olivier said, “talk less, do more.”

What is your take on the term, “personal branding?”

Are there exceptions to the rule of being genuine online?

Do you agree or disagree with me on the power of authenticity?

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie Kissell January 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm

You’ve covered a lot of territory here, Craig — very compelling piece!

I’ve never been a big fan of the term, “personal branding”. As a matter of interest, it’s actually confusing to me. When it comes to online marketing, “business branding” makes more sense. But as you’ve mentioned, best not to get into a battle of wits over semantics.

Sometimes creating a “persona” online CAN work — and work swimmingly.

Take Andrea Vahl, for example. She’s created the persona of “Grandma Mary”, a cranky and witty character who helps the older crowd traverse the good, bad, and the ugly of social media. She’s a big hit and she plays the part like a pro! Of course, it’s worth noting she has a professional background in improv. So even though Andrea is branding herself as someone she’s NOT — it’s working like a charm for her.

Can the rest of us follow suit?

Count me out. I’m me — and that’s all you’re going to get, folks — complete with imperfections, blogger’s block, and bad hair days. :)

In closing …
Nothing trumps authenticity.

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Craig McBreen January 25, 2012 at 12:59 am

Melanie,

Thanks! Hopefully I didn’t cover too much. ;)

Embellishing to a certain extent can work for most of us, but I really did want to highlight the power of authenticity. And all those quirks I mentioned at the end of the piece … I think embracing things that make you, YOU give any individual power and longevity in this here blogosphere.

I’m not familiar with Grandma Mary, but would venture to say her “persona” is obvious to everyone who reads her stuff. Sounds like a great idea to me actually. :) I’m writing about people spending most of their time working on their brand vs. actually doing something. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest … I really wanted to focus on the power of just being yourself.

I’m glad I can count you in. ;)

Thanks for the visit.

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Shakirah Dawud January 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I wrote a piece in response to Olivier’s, about how I disagreed at first, but agreed with his point behind the semantics because I agree that the term itself really is just a semantic one. I think being yourself–which is human–is what creates the “know, like, and trust” that people prefer to do business with. The best part is, you don’t need to *be* your brand in order to be human.
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Craig McBreen January 25, 2012 at 1:02 am

Shakirah,

That’s why I loved the original post. There really was a point counterpoint series of comments that just kept coming. We could argue the term all day and some people would never give ground. I don’t want to do that.

“I think being yourself–which is human–is what creates the “know, like, and trust” that people prefer to do business with.”
–Exactly! :)

Thanks for the comments!

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Bill Dorman January 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm

So, I shouldn’t have written the insurance post? Do you think it was misleading and trying to make myself out to appear much cooler than I really am?

I’m trying personal branding; that is why I’m going with billdorman instead of Bill Dorman; kind of like Madonna or Cher….oh wait, those are chicks; do you think I would have to shave my legs too. I’ll be Madonna doesn’t……….just sayin’……..

Game the system? Hells bells, I’m doing good if I show up. I still don’t know squat about SEO, linking with effectiveness etc. The scary thing, this is the real me; this is as good as it gets. That’s why I have to hang around smart people like you so it somewhat appears I know what I’m doing.

Personally, I prefer to at least know what I’m seeing. If I know you are embellishing stories but you are doing it for emphasis and not because you want us to believe it; I’m cool with it. If you are a piece o’ crap green booger and totally change from what you led everybody to believe you were; no thanks, I’ll just mosey on down the road.

I think their is great power in authenticity and that’s my story for today.
Bill Dorman recently posted..Thoughts to ponder and it’s not SOPAMy Profile

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Craig McBreen January 25, 2012 at 1:14 am

Hey Bill,

Nope, sorry. ;) Seriously, you might be one of the most authentic guys online, and you keep giving me crap, that’s why I know it’s the real Bill Dorman. ;)

Somehow billdorman doesn’t roll off the tongue like Madonna or Cher. Wait a minute, did I just say that? Careful with the visualization folks.

You keep saying these things, but we all know that you know what you’re doing. Didn’t I learn to network the Twitterverse by watching you in action? I think somebody said you had mad skillz.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. We can all spice things up a bit, but it’s all about spending most of your time working your brand vs. actually doing something …

… A big dog and pony show with nothing behind it. If that is the case you’ll be revealed for the green booger you are.

Thanks for stopping by, Sir!

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Jack January 25, 2012 at 1:21 am

I am not the real me or this is not the real me. I am not him or he is not I. I am the eggman, I am the eggman, I am the Walrus.

Kookookachoo.

First Dorman and now me- aren’t you the lucky man. ;)

Well, I do use a different name than I normally go under but aside from that I am pretty much me.
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Craig McBreen January 25, 2012 at 3:09 am

And John Lennon wrote that one on acid :) I remember the interview, but I think he was actually talking about idols and such.

Doorman just likes to have fun, and so do you. That’s what makes you guys so cool … oh, and authentic.

You might use a different name, but you are just about the most honest person I’ve read. If you’re making it all up, you’re a genius!

Thanks for dropping in. Bill’s was kind of a drive-by. ;)

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Bill Dorman January 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I was throwing my McDonald’s trash out the window in your front yard as I was speeding by………..:)
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Craig McBreen January 26, 2012 at 12:32 am

As long as you’re not a big dog and pony show. But I wish you would use the fast food place with the earth-friendly wrappers.

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Jack January 26, 2012 at 12:15 am

I like to think of myself as a mad scientist. Cue maniacal laughter.
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Craig McBreen January 26, 2012 at 12:35 am

There’s a mad genius among us. ;)

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Ralph Dopping January 25, 2012 at 1:50 am

Ha! Craig. Nice post, man.

I am a big proponent of the personal brand but I hear you. It’s just a label but you nailed it with the authenticity piece. On the “internet” people can choose to be whoever they want to be but like you said it gets you nowhere. Be yourself. Yup, that’s the way to be.

I don’t normally do this but here’s a piece that dovetails nicely (and I happened to have written it – ouch, shameless indeed)http://theviewfromhere.ca/2012/01/05/what-does-frank-zappa-know-about-branding/ I hope you enjoy the parallels or am i deluding myself? ;-)
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Craig McBreen January 25, 2012 at 3:29 am

Hi Ralph,

Thank you, Sir!

I don’t have a problem with the term, that’s for sure, but I’m a big proponent of being yourself, since I often write about leaving that protective shell and getting uncomfortable. I just think wearing that mask is B.S. and frankly too much work for the individual.

I really like your points in the post about doing business with people you know and trust, not going against your values for monetary gain, and your uniqueness … that gives you power. Bravo, Sir.

Thanks for the comments and good to see you again.

You Are What You Is. ;)

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Hajra January 25, 2012 at 8:09 am

Hello,

First, this is too much to take in at 10 in the morning..especially given that I have a week before I join my new job and have just dragged myself out of bed.

See, I am being authentic.

An online persona can work. Maybe I can make myself up as a character just exclusive for the online word. It might give me a thrill, it might be interesting, it might bring in some cash if it really works. But then, isn’t that okay to a certain point. I mean just imagine it as a writer making up a character in his book. He gives it characteristics and traits which is something he might be totally unable to relate to; but that is his creation and it works. So, if it is a similar situation wherein a character is needed to be created, then it might be understandable to an extent.

Also, let’s take chat rooms across the web world. It is interesting to see how people are actually “selling” themselves there or “branding” their characteristics just for some minutes of personal pleasure. Again, it is a personal branding that is doing its work. People are not genuinely authentic. Someone who claims to be Brad Pitt might just be your average next door guy. No authenticity. But it functions. Many people know that that is one place where authenticity is a crime but chat rooms have huge demand.

Personally, for me it depends on my “motives” of being here. If I have a business to run, a brand to proclaim, then I HAVE to be me. Because if I am going to put up any act then it might be too much for me to handle. There is a limit to how much of a show you can actually put up. And if you are being true to others, you aren’t really being true to yourself.

And yes, I am this talkative and irritating in person. Or else, the 10 o’clock coffee just went directly to my typing fingers ;)
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Craig McBreen January 26, 2012 at 12:52 am

Hi Hajra,

Sorry about that! ;) And, yes, thanks for the details.

Sometimes the creation of a character works in this context, but I’m wondering how long someone can keep it up. And it’s more about false promises than anything. If you’re marketing just to become popular, what is behind the facade?

I haven’t been around any chat rooms, but I guess a false persona is the standard operating proceedure then? To me, that’s just playing really. I’m not sure if I see any false promises there unless the guy claiming to be Bratt Pitt leads some lady on. Someone might pretend to be Snooki, but I think that would just scare everyone away.

I am really talking about business more than anything. The business of blogging? Well maybe those parts of a business which are supported by social media and blogging. In that case, you better not be a phony.

When you typed this you were fresh off your 10 o’clock coffee. Right now it’s about 5:00 pm and I’ve just finished a major project, so am in that post-project, groggy state. I honestly want to type this and get home. :)

Thanks for the very insightful comments and hope to see you again!

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John Falchetto January 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Ah the authenticity debate!

The way I see it we are all living a persona, the story we tell ourselves is that persona.

Authenticity is probably a word that’s the most abused these days.
We can’t avoid being authentic online or off.
Who we are and the story we tell shines through.

As for the labels like “personal branding” it’s just that, another label.
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Brian Driggs January 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

Agree with John on this one. (Not that anyone else is particularly disagreeable, by any means.)

There is a segment of the population which knows me as “Captain Halfass.” They know me as getting way too drunk in Ohio parking lots, almost getting tazed by Houston PD, and “eyeballing” piston ring end gaps in an otherwise $3,000 high compression engine build.

When these people see me mention anything remotely close to personal branding, they call me on my bullshit. Dino (not Dogan) in particular, whose uncle and Abraham Overholt were what nearly led to my riding the lightning in the passenger seat of a freshly detailed, black Mazda RX-8, courtesy Houston’s Finest.

This is perhaps the first time I’ve come out with these stories beyond the security of a scarcely-known discussion forum dedicated to less-than-mainstream Mitsubishi products, but it just goes to show – brand is almost entirely a function of what we DO.

Doesn’t matter what I say I am. I prefer “Next Level Gearhead,” but I’ll take writer, author, publisher, community builder, innovator, or knowledge management administrator, too. Still, I can blog about KM, interview gearheads around the world, and talk about what it takes to be a real automotive journalist until I’m blue in the face. To some (of the most important) people, I am still that guy what half-assed his own engine rebuild and blew $3,000 up on the side of the road.

Be. Do.
The best is yet to come.
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Craig McBreen January 26, 2012 at 4:04 am

Brian,

Now I know you as “Captain Halfass.” :) Funny I never thought of you that way. It really sounds like you’ve lived a slightly dangerous life. Reminds me of my twenties … Just kidding. ;) You now know what happens to you when you get too drunk in Ohio parking lots.

Now rigging something together I understand. Even fudging a little, but “eyeballing” piston ring end gaps is out of my comfort zone. Getting tazed even further out.

Interesting what you’ve written here. I used to frequent a forum called temple of vtec and while the majority of the content was about cars, there were some pretty amazing stories and flame wars going on all the time. And I suspect, … a lot of fakes. I didn’t know any “Captain Halfasses” but I did have a few interesting exchanges.

“Next Level Gearhead” works, but so do the other titles. And I did say, titles, not brands. :)

Anyway, I’m just trying to tame the B.S. out there.

Brian, it amazes me. I post something about branding and get a story. Now you’ve got me and I want to google “Captain Halfass” and see what I come up with. ;) Extremely interesting to say the least and I really appreciate you coming by.

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Brian Driggs January 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm

“Dangerous life?” Haha.

I’m about as dangerous as milk and cookies for Santa. It’s just that, in the company of good friends, the walls come down, trust goes up, and I take more risks. (Something to which I think we should all aspire.)

You prompted me to Google “Captain Halfass.” Thankfully, it’s a fairly popular moniker. I don’t show up until page 2 or 3, and even then, I’m only advising others to prevent CH from showing up in their garages.

Oh yeah, and your mention of Temple of VTEC suggests you might be a gearhead. We should discuss that. You’ll be getting email in the near future.

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Craig McBreen January 27, 2012 at 12:10 am

Just hope you don’t get labeled with that moniker for life. ;)

Thanks again, Brian.

Craig McBreen January 26, 2012 at 4:16 am

Hi John,

I don’t feel like I’m living a persona, but we could get into a whole new discussion here and extend it to perception vs. reality. I really wanted to focus on the fact that you don’t have to fake it to make it.

The story we tell does shine through even though I think many filter themselves because they want to be seen a certain way online and off. Of course we all do this and we all embellish to a certain extent, but I’m more focused on the con artists out there with a dog and pony show vs. most bloggers I know who are genuine. I also wanted to focus on people accepting themselves as they are.

I agree with you on the de-facto terminology for sure. “Personal branding” is just that, another label.

Thanks for coming by, always great to see you here!

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Deeone January 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Authenticity Rocks, Craig! :)

I’m totally with you on this one, bud!

I think that once we truly understand what personal branding is, we will become better able to find out what ours will be. I loved how you broke down the different personality quirks and shared why each of them works in the blogosphere… and even in “real life”.

There’s nothing more awesome than being able to be true to YOU. People like an individual better when they sense their genuineness. A person who knows who they are and aren’t afraid to be themselves is like a refreshing walk on the beach on a dewy morning; their true personality is like the brush of the ocean mist being blown off every wave. Just like that exact experience, one can certainly tell when someone is offering an imitation of themselves.

I honestly used to suck at it, personally; but when I finally tapped into who I am and accepted the fact, I was then better able to show it to the world.

Personal branding actually came easier when I dug “Me” out. :D I’ve never really done well at conforming, but I use to allow what people thought about me to steer what I showed them of me. Three years and countless close calls later, I think I ROCK my personal brand. :D

But you’re absolutely right, all it took was being real and honest… oh and don’t forget consistent! :)
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Craig McBreen January 27, 2012 at 3:37 am

Hi Deeone,

This topic can be a bit polarizing, but I do want to really focus on the power of authenticity. It’s a big one with me.

I brought up those quirks, because I like to see people accept themselves. Open up a little. You know what I mean, right? I know you do. ;)

“People like an individual better when they sense their genuineness.”
–Agreed! By the way, that was a very creative second paragraph there. Love your comments, Deeone.

I honestly used to suck at IT also, so can relate. I had a bit of a “digging out” process and I also used to try to be someone else, quite often. Sounds like you and I are similar in many ways.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I think you knocked it out of the park, Sir!

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Deeone January 27, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for the humbling compliments, Craig. :)

I’m glad you enjoy my comments, because I really enjoy commenting over here at your place; and have no intentions of slacking up. So I guess you’re stuck with me. :D

Your personal brand and personality shines through each post and response to the feedback to your post, it’s for this very reason that I believe readers continue to come back (outside of the great content you present); case in point your response to me.

I really appreciated your response and the connection, my friend. And I look to only connect even further with you in 2012. Wishing you the all the best. Cheers!
Deeone recently posted..The 7 Keys of Greatness: What makes the Great great?My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 28, 2012 at 1:08 am

Hey Deeone,

You’re most welcome. I really do appreciate you coming by and leaving such great comments. Almost five months into blogging and it’s sure been a trip.

I appreciate the kind words. I’m trying to be as real as I can when I write and it really does mean a lot when someone comes by and takes more than a few minutes to type out a reply. Most people here do and that is great!

Glad I’m stuck with you, man! All the best to you too!

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Jens P. Berget January 27, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Craig,

That’s an awesome post, and a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, especially since I’m starting my first business. I’ve been thinking about productivity, being happy at the same time, earning money, and at the same time, being myself.

I’ve been thinking that I might have to change a bit in order to earn enough money. But I’m not seeing myself as a brand, although my business will be all about me. I believe it’s better to focus on I am the business, rather than the business is me (if you get my point).
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Craig McBreen January 28, 2012 at 1:02 am

Hi Jens,

Thank you, Sir!

When being productivity, happy and earning money, it’s important to just be yourself, eh? The website / blog and whatever comes with that is your brand. You, Sir have a reputation … so yes I agree with you!

Thanks for stopping by and have a good one. Thanks for the email too! Really appreciate that!

Craig

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Hamish January 28, 2012 at 7:40 pm

“This above all: to thine own self be true,”

If you can’t be yourself you’re faking it. Call it a persona if you prefer – but you should really be yourself, in my opinion at least.

The trouble with adopting a persona – and you can see this even in professional entertainers – is that, over time, you eventually become a pastiche of yourself.
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Craig McBreen January 29, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Hi Hamish,

You’re right. When a character is so hard to keep up, it all becomes a hodgepodge of sorts over time.

There’s a lot of commitment keeping a sideshow going strong, huh?

“This above all: to thine own self be true,” Indeed!

Thanks for stopping by, Hamish.

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Ari Herzog February 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Why is it requisite to include an adjective, Craig? Advertising is advertising, public relations is public relations, and branding is branding. Why create silos with personal branding, business branding, government branding, automobile branding, etc.?

Once you remove the adjective, you accept all branding for what it is: boosting awareness.
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Craig McBreen February 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Hi Ari,

I don’t think it’s necessary to attach “personal,” to the terminology, but like I said, I really have no problem with the term. We’re stuck with it anyway :)

And I would say it’s best to boost awareness by being you and doing what you do best, not turning yourself into a character or product. Unless of course, you’re a cultural icon. ;) In blogging, the blog is the brand, not you.

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