The paradox of creating an Authentic Personal Brand
Personal branding has a bad rap and its is not difficult to understand why. The term seems contrived, too sales-y. Often, a brand is something manufactured - its all about advertising and selling. And we as consumers often question the authenticity of constantly maintained brands. Even personal branding's definition is slick - a way to market yourself and your career as a particular brand. However personal branding has become pervasive and so has the latest buzzword advice: Be authentic! Create your authentic brand!
How can your personal brand be authentic, if you have to create it?
Brand YOU should not be about creation, but rather recognition. So what is recognition? Personal branding is not about deciding and creating how you want to be perceived, but rather a process of working to understand what is real and authentic about you. And its about understanding if the way you are perceived - your reputation - is really you. Does it show your unique value? Are you in control of how and what others know, see and hear of you - how they understand you and your value? None of us like to be identified by a single dimension of our identities. You are more than one set of assumptions and expectations attached to stereotypes and titles. You should be the one in control of who and what you are - the person behind the data, the resume, the title, the interests, the photo, the comments.
Today, creation is mostly only about seeing all of the good bits. And just like branding and advertising for many products, I find this too good to be true. There is a lot of talk and advice about purging information - old posts, photos, past roles - in efforts of creation and re-invention. This means we only see a curated version of the most flattering images, the overly positive information - the story highlights. In an effort to create what becomes a common “authenticity”, you end up with staged, predictable, agreeable, bland and… unoriginal. You are not really being yourself if you spend time and focus on creating ‘photo ops’ and sound bites. This form of narcissism ends up narrowing you completely - back to a stereotype. A generic brand.
Authentic personal branding starts with the real you. There is no need to create or re-invent a personal brand for differentiation, just being your ordinary self ensures you will be unlike anyone else. It is the story, the journey, the lows as well as the highs that differentiate you from everyone else. Your history, combined with your likes, hobbies, communities, family, feelings and experience is the reality of you…something that actually gives you interest and character, and a way for others to understand and connect with you.
What you can do is work to recognise authentic you. What you can create is the best way to demonstrate who you are. Understand what fits you best, what you have to say. Create the best way to deliver it, the best way to present yourself.
So don't focus on creating your authentic brand, live your story.