Have you ever noticed how some ideas or activities can get caught up in the causality dilemma? Not sure what that is? Well, you probably know it as “the chicken or the egg?” Certainly, it’s not often that we need to ponder what came first. Yet, there are aspects of our careers and business lives that can benefit from considering causality. Personal branding is one of them.
As I would frame it, the causality dilemma for branding is this: Does “your brand” find its grounding in the carefully crafted word picture you present to the world, or in the social truth you live every day?
As personal branding has become mainstream, there’s been a flood of advice on how to create, or build, yours. These days, it’s not just brand strategists who promote the importance of branding, but also career coaches, resume writers, social media strategists, and other experts. Lots of people are jumping on the “brandwagon.”
As you might expect, the spectrum of advice ranges from on-target and useful to misguided or superficial. Even detractors have offered advice; namely, personal branding is loathsome, so don’t do it. Yet, the consensus is that you need to have a personal brand, leading more and more people to buy in.
And why not? Building a brand is generally perceived as the hallmark of success in business. It is believed to offer a differentiation that supports competitive advantage. But does it really?
Actually, creating a personal brand, like everyone else, risks looking like everyone else. And just like everyone else, you increase the likelihood of “accentuating non-essential distinctions…cloaking sameness as differentiation.”
“In category after category, companies have gotten so locked into a particular cadence of competition that they appear to have lost sight of their mandate – which is to create meaningful grooves of separation from one another. Consequently, the harder they compete, the less differentiated they become.”
So, increasingly, we live in a world where we don’t see meaningful differences between offerings like cars, cereals, or cell phones. Equivalent features foster sameness, not distinction. In many ways, we also face this herd mentality with personal branding.
The Right Question
Of course, this raises the question of what characteristics promote our differentiation? But maybe that’s not the right question. As Professor Moon suggests, we need to stop thinking of differentiation as a tactic. Instead, she observes:
“Differentiation is a way of thinking. It’s a mindset. It’s a commitment. A commitment to engage with people – not in a manner to which they are merely unaccustomed, but in a manner that they will value, respect, and yes, perhaps even celebrate.”
As I interpret this, true differentiation emerges from interaction. It’s a conversation. So, it’s less about static attributes and more about responsiveness. The right question, then, becomes what are you doing to attract, interact, and ultimately connect?
Different works only to the extent that it fosters attraction and supports connection. No attraction, no connection. [Tweet This]
If we re-imagine personal brand as personal attraction, we get to play to a different standard. We get to go beyond the tools and templates of image creation. We get to sidestep any contrived cleverness that can be perceived as fake. We get beyond the need to establish aproxy. We get to show up as who we are, quirks and all. Said another way: We’re more attractive when we show up as a person, not a brand.
In short, living truthfully drives the brand. It’s fosters attraction, interaction, and connection. It comes first.
Cross posted from Success Reimagined.