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?