My double life: getting over “personal branding”

“I’m a slightly mad aristocrat and I’m okay with that”

In this Beg to Differ: a shocking personal revelation from the Big Differ, view who wonders if “Personal Branding” is too narrow to capture the range of authentic, and but playful, roles we play in our professional lives.

Yes, that's the Big Differ, DenVan, as the Captain of the Pinafore in 2006
Yes, that's DenVan as the Captain of the Pinafore with Meredith Matthews as Buttercup in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore at Centrepointe Theatre (Savoy Society of Ottawa).

Confession: I’m leading a double life

Yes it’s true. By day, I am indeed the mild mannered head of my brand strategy consulting company and the less-than-faithful blogger whose words you are reading right now (among other things).

By night, I am a slightly mad member of the British aristocracy – and I’m okay with that. I’m a Lord, a commander of troops, master of the Tower of London.  I oversee torture, beheadings, and a castle-full of sopranos. I find wives for dying men, support jesters on unicycles, drag rivers, and make sure Beefeaters stay off the bottle.

And that’s just this month. In the past decade, I’ve been a Japanese Lord High Executioner, the Prince of Darkness, the Captain of a warship,and a young Pirate apprentice.

Tough jobs all – and difficult to sum up on a resume.

Multiple personalities? Nope. Just one big ham.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m either a) delusional, b) addicted to role-playing video games, or c) an amateur actor and singer. Although my wife might wish for an “all of the above” option, the answer is c).

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to land some fun roles with a couple of great local musical theatre and operetta companies. And on April 21, I’ll be hitting the stage again with a small lead in Yeomen of the Guard (see the promo video below for details).

It’s fun; it challenges me; I get to make an audience laugh (hopefully).

And in this role, I will try to be true to the character I am playing – to the playwright and director’s vision, to my fellow actors, to the audience.

But is “actor” my “personal brand”?

Um, kind of? It’s a role I sometimes play that lets me play other roles.

Yesterday, in a Twitter chat, the topic of “personal branding” came up again. And as always, somebody threw out the line that “personal brands need to be authentic!”

But if you accept that there can be such a thing as a “personal brand” (which I don’t) this idea of “authenticity” comes to mean the same thing as “personal integrity” which implies “you must always play the same role, because your brand is who you are”.

A brand is not a person, and it’s not personal

This is true for corporate brands, professional reputations, and it’s true for the roles we play in everyday life. Being an “authentic” dad is very different from being an “authentic” consultant, or being honest as an actor.

In Social Media we play many roles depending on the app we’re in or the nature of the conversation. Even within this blog, I’ve played different roles: advisorcritic,  jilted lover, and poet. And I’d like to think I was authentic in every case.

In the corporate and product realm, one company can support many brands with different “authentic” personalities. Procter & Gamble can “be” Mr. Clean, Dolce & Gabbana, and Pampers to different customers – as long as each brand is “authentic” within its own brand role and, most importantly, within the expectations they build for each customer.

The play’s the thing

  • A brand is a role you play for a group of customers.
  • “Play” is an important word here – branding is a game with rules, boundaries, and expected codes of behaviour, so yes, play with integrity and consistency.
  • But once you’ve established those boundaries, there’s incredible latitude for growth and creative movement.
  • When you’re on the field, be true to the game. But learn to keep the game on the field.
  • In your professional life, keep your “brand(s)” at arm’s-length from your “self”. Your customers will be happier, and you’ll be more helpful.

So what do you think?

5 thoughts on “My double life: getting over “personal branding””

  1. Dennis

    Fun post and seeing a side of you that normally might not be shared with all. Is that not personal brand authenticity in itself?

    For me the definition of personal brand authenticity is more about the person than the role. I too play a number of roles other than consultant, but the whole me is what my personal brand is.

    Sometimes people will look to bring parts of those other roles to work because like you they are passionate about what they do in a number of areas and that reflects more of the person and their overall brand and they want to convey that.

    You say not to, or you do not feel comfortable with it. That’s okay too, after all you should not be expected to do something you are not comfortable with.

    Personal brand is resonating with more people because thel ines between professional and personal are blurring and many people are comfortable with expressing and sharing that. Those that are not then the notion of personal brand is not going to appeal to them.

    Much like all brands, they are not for everyone and they can make that choice, that is the beauty of branding.

    Just my toonies worth

    1. I’ll see your toonie and raise you another loony – particularly as a one-time resident of the Hammer myself.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a big fan of the idea of building a brand around a person – I do it for my clients and I’ve spoken on the topic and taught techniques in university classrooms. But I object to the discipline of branding becoming a proxy for self-help, professional development, or truly personal integrity – and I see that as the trend right now.

      To me branding is about creating a space where you and your customers can meet to share value – and in the case of “person brands” that space can’t be IN the person being branded; it has to be BETWEEN that person and the customers they want to address.

  2. I too have enjoyed getting to know YOU better.

    I bet you have certain core values that carry across your multiple talents and interests. Even when you are acting out the legacy someone else’s name stands for.

    I read some of your work when I can because it is smart. But I am often confused if you believe in brand strategy or not. Even in this post AND your last statement in your comment is the latest example.

    Think about strategy for those becoming or sustaining something remarkable, those are the referrals we get. Not a commodity or generic hire or one size fit’s all consultant at $200/hour – reading books and blogs is for them – but someone or a culture of people with desire to change conventional wisdom – those people ask for the brand manager. They are not interested in the authors of trendy self-promo, personal development personal brand”ing” for help. That is not what it is about and it is obvious most marketers and citizen journalist online don’t know this difference (personal or business brand).

    How many brand managers do you know on twitter?

    1. Thank Shelly. Yeah. We all make our choices – and while I don’t regret the ones I’ve made, I occasionally wonder about the ones I never got a chance to make…

      For the rest of my readers who don’t follow Shelly as religiously as I do, we were conversing on Twitter about an awesome conference she’s at and was encouraging me to attend: SOBCon 2010

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