Over the years, I’ve made a point to keep as authentic and consistent as possible. No matter what the business or project, I made sure there was a lot of “me” infused so you knew it was from me. Branding is something that is a big deal within the business community. Everyone’s always asking “what’s your brand?” or “who does your branding?”. Well nobody “does” my branding. And in fact, in the past few months, I’ve had some different thoughts on branding. But what brought it to a head for me was listening to reality star Bethenny Frankel lambaste someone about her “brand” or lack thereof on Real Housewives of New York. Yeah, I watched it. I was having some down time so I tuned in. Don’t judge me!
Generally, I respect Bethenny as a businesswoman. Many find her repulsive, opportunistic and down right distasteful. Well, that’s part of her charm…or brand if you will. But the words that came out of her mouth left a bad taste in mine. I won’t go into details because really, who cares. But it did make me realize that for many branding is another way to pretend to be something bigger or better than they really are. Or in common folks terms, fronting.
Yesterday I went on my Facebook page and made some declarations about branding. I didn’t hold back. I put out there what was on my heart. After all, aren’t we supposed to embrace transparency and authenticity? I received some email from some concerned folks about my comments on “branding” yesterday. The consensus was that I had done such an excellent job in branding myself that my words concerned them. They took it as if I said nobody should have a brand. In fact, they took my words as me being anti-brand when that is really not the case. So I’ll clarify.
Branding is about the experience, not the perception
Yes, I stand by my sentiments yesterday. People spend too much time trying to weave this image of who they want people to believe they are, instead of sharing their story and how it relates to their “why” and “what“. Some people want to be the “go to person for X” so everything they do is crafted around X, sometimes even if they haven’t lived X. As long as that public face is straight lined and all about X.
Well, what happens when that person wants to do Y and later Z?
When you’ve spent so much time trying to “be” something and represent something, you stray further and further away from the core of who you are and why you do what you do.
First it starts out with giving advice. Then it moves to being an invited speaker, guest or writer on the subject. Then you’re well known for that narrowly specific thing (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Then it begins to devolve to where you can’t express yourself for fear of alienating people or losing audience. Next thing you know, you are no longer a free thinking individual with knowledge AND opinions, and become a poster child for one narrowly focused topic.
Think about it. How many of you have put in so much time building an incredible brand and reputation, then a controversial decision or conversation comes up where you speak your truth, and then get blasted? Ahh, what about the “brand” then? Where is your right to separate your business identity with your personal views and beliefs? Or your right to have your business dealings built on your personal views and beliefs?
When the S!$% hits the fan
I’ll give you an example (without names of course). A very popular business coach with tons of followers and a huge audience built a great company and following. This person was very active on social media always sharing a kind word, promoting whatever new call, event or whatever was coming soon, and giving business advice.
Then one day this person made a comment about respecting everyone but because of deep personal religious beliefs, they did not believe in gay marriage. To say the shit hit the fan is an understatement! People decided to boycott this person, vowed to never purchase another thing and called this person a homophobe.
All this person did was speak their truth and beliefs. It did not mean they would not acknowledge, do business with or connect with gay people. Just that they personally wouldn’t enter into a gay marriage. Brand tarnished.
There are plenty of examples I could pull from, but this one was a prime example of when personal and business brands collide. I don’t advocate discrimination or hateful ways at all. Hey who you choose to love is your business and has no bearing on whether or not I would buy from you or service you through my business. I’m not judgmental. But there are people that will which leads me back to my point. When you’re building a business brand you leave yourself little room to be your true self. Think about the guy who’s saying floor tile, and he gets the floor nicely done with every tile perfectly laid until he looks up and realizes he has tiled himself into this tiny corner of the room and can’t get out without damaging the existing tiles.
Creating such a narrowly focused brand can be rewarding and suffocating at the same time. People grow to expect certain things from you and watch out if you grow, evolve or decide to change. They want to hold you to that. Most people get caught up in this trap because they don’t want to disappoint the people who have supported them. But here’s the thing. If you’ve been authentically you, and have taken people along on your journey, they’ll be happy for you and most will continue to follow you on your new path.Sure you’ll lose some people along the way. But that’s OK.
When I transitioned from the recruiter lady into advising entrepreneurs and small businesses, it was a difficult transition. Do you know people STILL contact me today about recruiting and job advise even though I no longer do it? I’m grateful for that time in my life but I have evolved. I have had people tell me I could not change my brand because it’s just not done. Well I refuse to let anyone put me in a box of any kind for any reason. I believe in trying different things but staying true to who you are at the core. And at my core, I’m all about helping people achieve business growth and success in ANY economy.
As my life continues to evolve and opportunities continue to present themselves to me, I have vowed to never put limits on myself just to appease others. I am committed to continued, life long learning, experimenting and growing so I can better help the people I am destined to help. And if that means blowing a hole in the whole branding thing, so be it.
When you are true to yourself and your purpose, only then can you be of use to other people. Once you can do that, then you can truly create great experiences for your audience, community and customers. THAT is what real branding is all about.
Til next time,
Be You, Do You, Serve Others
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Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (www.empowerme.org), a Growth Strategies consultancy for high growth companies. She provides Strategic Business Growth consulting services to companies with high growth potential to assist clients in creating processes and strategies to effectively scale, run, grow and position their business for success. Check out her radio show Views From the Top on Blog Talk Radio & iTunes. Adrienne is also an avid techie dedicated to promoting diversity in the tech community. She is steadily building her empire one company at a time. And her company CurvyGirlCloset.com helps turn closets into commerce for the plus-sized fashionista. She is also a Mentor for the Straight Shot Accelerator in Omaha, NE, which helps guide startups into successfully launched ventures.