Personal brands are constructed entities, but that's okay: it doesn't mean they're fake. You can highlight certain parts of your personality or character in order to present a solid image; that doesn't make them less true. The only bad application would be to try to be something you're not, which is something to avoid anyway. Not only is this unethical, but it could backfire on you in a major way once people find out the truth.

A best practice is to be careful how you present yourself if you can't stand behind your persona. As a culture, we've become obsessed with the origins of what we consume, from media to food and drink. Celebrities are either criticized for being "fake" or revered for being "real." The truth, however, is somewhere in the middle: most famous people have an image that is (to some degree) manufactured. From Tiger Woods to George Takei to Robert Downey Jr., you're looking at manufacturing on some level or another.

What works for many successful personalities is to brand yourself in a way that appeals to a lot of people. Your brand is your reputation, and the foundation of your business or personal career. But many people, trying to put forth their best selves, make the mistake of engaging in deceptive behaviors. This is a risky and inadvisable approach. If you manipulate and mislead others or try to pander to an audience that doesn't fit with who you are, you risk being called out. This can end up hurting your image beyond the scope of that one issue.

The Dangers of "Faking It"

Simulating authenticity can backfire in a big way. Look at the backlash against "healthy" brands Naked Juice and Odwalla. These fresh, natural drink companies are actually part of the industrial conglomerates PepsiCo. and Coca-Cola, respectively, and when this fact came to light, health-conscious consumers reacted with displeasure, to say the least. PepsiCo. doled out over $9 million in settlements after becoming embroiled in a class action lawsuit over use of phrases such as: "100% Juice," "100% Fruit," "non-GMO," and "All Natural," among others. There was a perception of inauthenticity, and the corporate brand took a hit. The same principle applies when we're thinking about our personal brands.

It's difficult to get away with inauthenticity for long. The experiences that people have with you--whether direct or indirect--shape their perceptions and their expectations. If you consistently fail to align yourself with the image you're trying to portray, then sooner or later your audience will catch on. Deception might pay some dividends in the short term, but eventually you will find yourself stuck because you didn't develop the skills, character, and work ethic necessary to advance legitimately. It's possible to be authentic while still building an engaging narrative. Look at your unique abilities and the value that only you can offer. Highlight qualities that you actually possess and are proud of.

Authenticity vs. Storytelling

While authenticity is important, the idea of storytelling is key to a compelling personal brand. Many people want to present an idealized version of their life to the world. In order to be an effective storyteller, what do you share and what do you keep private? Is everything supposed to be public at this point? Some of these are questions only you can answer. Some people choose to share (or bare) it all; others keep their personal relationships private, but are more open about their work. It will largely depend on your personality, and your industry.

Have you ever had a chance to observe a friend or family member when they didn't know that anybody was paying attention to them? People often think that the best way of seeing the true version of somebody is to watch what they do when they think nobody's looking. Similarly, when people are considering doing business with a company, they don't just look at the business's website to get a sense of whether or not they are good fit; they also check out the owner. Some of the places that prospects will look include your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, guest articles that you've written, and places in which you've been quoted. If you run a small business, it's very important to build up your personal brand in order to build trust with potential customers. If they like what they see, chances are that your reputation will have a positive impact on your business, and your chances of acquiring more customers.

While your brand can precede you in a positive way, there are also drawbacks to having a strong online presence. If there's a YouTube video of you from college doing shots off of the bartender's stomach, that's probably not the image that you want to project. As you're removing everything that's objectionable, try to seed the Internet with mentions of yourself that establish you as a positive influence who is very knowledgeable in your field. You want to come across as helpful and authentic, and a thought leader in the area in which you want to be known as a subject matter expert. There are a lot of small business owners who stay small because they think small. They don't realize that they might truly be a thought leader in one particular niche.

If you have the ability to elevate yourself to a position of authority within your industry, why not take advantage of it? People are looking to hire authorities. Ideally, those that balance the fine arts of storytelling and authenticity.

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Published on: Aug 17, 2016
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