The Personal Brand

In a sense, perhaps, I was wrong: Truefaced’s marketing strategy is doing exactly what it’s designed to do. It attracts people who are likely to extol it’s magnificence, and repels those who are likely to want to tear it to shreds. Yes, I am more in the shredding camp at this point. I do find marketing and branding kind of interesting, in their way, because Americans are kind of obsessed with them. A good writer can write a very decent book and if they’re fortunate, some people will read it. A good marketer can take a fairly poor book, and turn it into five books, a conference, a retreat series, DVDs, CDs, a guided journal, a campaign, a mission, an experience, a lifestyle. It’s impressive and appalling at the same time. I went and read an introduction to “personal branding.” They tried teaching us this stuff in college. They had us work on “professional portfolios,” for instance, and “professional appearance.” You’re supposed to have your own personal brand. Whereas originally a corporation was seen as a composite person, by analogy; in recent times, a person is seen as a small corporation, by reverse analogy. Since each of us is a small corporation, we ought to do the things corporations do, including consciously establish personal brands to help us stand out.

As an experiment, if I were to design for myself and my imaginary products a brand, what would it be like? Truefaced, which got me thinking about this, has a slick, corporate kind of image. We’re a reputable company; buy our products. Because of their message, they have awkwardly combined the impersonal but trustworthy corporate persona with the vulnerable teller of personal secrets. For me, it doesn’t work at all. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are being open, vulnerable, and unsure; or you are carefully crafting your image so that people will buy your product. Seth Godin’s website works, because he’s a marketing expert who’s carefully crafting his image, but he’s crafting it transparently, as a marketing expert. He has the premise that “masks” can be a good thing so long as they’re in some sense transparent masks — so long as the image and the thing are in some accord. He would probably argue that one’s public persona should be balanced by personal intimacy, but that whatever’s going on at the level of personal intimacy should not be confused with one’s public persona. Christianity isn’t part of his public persona, however. There’s no conflict, because his message recommends doing the sort of thing that he’s also doing.

There is a conflict in Truefaced’s persona, I would argue, and in the Eldridge’s as well, and perhaps also in Donald Miller’s. There’s an inherent conflict in thoughtfully marketed authenticity, wherein the authors choose to tell stories about themselves (like a Truefaced pastor who blogged about how he sprayed his neighbor’s dogs to try to get them to stop barking, lied to his neighbor about it, and never did apologize for the spraying or the lie, as of the public blog post) which can turn an unresolved lie into an interesting anecdote, where one’s readers are likely to congratulate them for their courage, when they’re in no real danger to begin with. Trying to market authenticity by telling stories of times you were inauthentic is like trying to market humility by being humble about all the ways in which you’re usually proud.

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