the biggest brand misconception
HOW ONE OF MY FAVORITE BRANDS GOT IT ALL WRONG
I’d like to tell you about the most common (and detrimental!) brand misconception I‘ve ever seen by telling you about how one of my favorite brands got it totally, completely wrong.
Celeste Barber, if you don’t already know, is an actor/writer/comedian (AKA: the real triple threat). And in my not-so-humble opinion, the most delightful thing she does is parody western culture’s beauty and fashion industries via Instagram. Like look at this shit – one could let an entire afternoon slip by just scrolling her feed and snort-laughing! (Not that I’ve ever done that yesterday.)
I frequently use Celeste as an example of strong branding, and her brand is one I personally look up to as a writer and entrepreneur. But I was reading her book last weekend, and I did a very cartoonish triple take when I got to Page 232, Paragraph 9, which reads as follows:
The thing is, Instagram success seems to have a certain reputation to it. Insta models, influencers, they are all things that I’m not. I’m an actor and a comedian. I am so super grateful for this platform, but that’s how I see it: as a platform for my work, not as my profession.
I’ve started hearing a lot of things about my “brand.” “Did you say no to that because it’s not in keeping with your brand?” Brand? What? No. I just think trying to sell weight-loss tablets to new mums is bullshit, and I don’t want to do it. Never mind selling out and ruining my “brand”; it’s just a mean thing to make women feel like they need to look any different to be better at life.From Challenge Accepted! by Celeste Barber
Okay, yes, totally with you in the first paragraph, Celeste! Agreed. You can use Instagram however you want in your business, OR not at all. But the second paragraph? WHEW. As soon as I read it I could feel that knot form in my stomach – not the one about pooping but the one that signals I’m about to publish a very ranty (YET HIGHLY INFORMATIVE AND EDUCATIONAL, THANK YOU) blog post. Spoiler alert: this is that blog post.
To be clear, I’m not calling Celeste out. She’s wonderful and hilarious and Celeste if you’re reading this love you please come drink a cocktail on my porch and make fun of industries with me?! This brand misconception isn’t Celeste’s fault – it’s the mainstream branding industry’s fault.
Her second paragraph is a PERFECT example of how most of my industry peers perpetuate this brand misconception by convoluting what a brand and branding actually are. And that’s why I get so annoyed with it all! That’s why I write these long-winded blog posts! Not just to rant, but to help simplify the concept of branding so you can take full advantage of its power in your business.
Here’s my beef: “brand” seems to be a bad word now – complete with an exaggerated “ugghh sound” and a rather gratuitous eye-roll, of course.
And sure, there are some evil brands out there whose existence do more harm than good (hi ExxonMobil!), but the idea itself is not inherently evil. Having a brand, leveraging that brand, and capitalizing on opportunities that rise because of your brand doesn’t make you a phony. Building a personal brand doesn’t mean you bask in self-importance. Having a brand doesn’t mean you’re selling a packaged up version of yourself as a disingenuous commodity.
Allow me to clear up this brand misconception once and for all: you and your brand are not dissociated – your brand is merely the refined representation of you. Your brand values are your values. Your brand beliefs are your beliefs. Your brand message is your message. Your brand personality is the core of your personality. You can be you AND you can be your brand. You can say no to affiliate marketing weight loss tablets to new mums because it’s not in keeping with your brand AND because you think it’s bullshit.
And if you’re having trouble reconciling the two, if you’re so detached from your brand that you feel the need to defend yourself when someone makes an assumption about your brand, then your brand isn’t actually what you think it is.
The branding industry puts an emphasis on design choice and identity-inventing and performance-curating, and in the process it perpetuates the misconception that a personal brand is something you create that somehow transcends yourself. That’s outside of yourself. And if you buy into that, your brand will start to feel contrived, forced, and limiting really quickly because you’ll inevitably start making decisions based on whether something is “on brand” versus whether you actually believe in it or not.
Your brand isn’t a mask or a box or an umbrella or an aesthetic – it’s just an embodiment of who you are, what you stand for, and how you can help your ideal clients become who they want to be.