The Art of Self-Promotion (Is Not What You Think)
People who think they need to “sell out” to attract an audience often needlessly make themselves uncomfortable while failing to achieve their objectives.
It’s all about your personal brand, right?
Ask someone about the value of attracting an online audience, and they’ll tell you it’s about personal brand. It’s similar to early in my entrepreneurial career when people said the point of marketing was to “get their name out there,” as if that would magically bring the business in.
The term “personal brand” dates back to a 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine that I recall vividly, as I read it just before making the leap away from the big law firm. The cover story was “The Brand Called You” by Tom Peters, and the gist was that in the new economy, you needed to be a “brand” unto yourself.
When you read the article, the only salient piece of advice is to be distinctive. That makes sense because Peters effectively borrowed from Chapter 23 of the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout – “Positioning Yourself and Your Career.”
(Yes, the term personal branding was a reframing of someone else’s idea from a different context. Just in case you didn’t know that “thought leaders” such as Tom Peters do such things. The messenger is the message.)
And how does one build a personal brand? Self-promotion, naturally. That’s what good marketing is all about, right?
The problem with “self-promotion” is right there in the two words. A focus on the “self” may be human nature, but great marketers and Leading Experts overcome our base nature to serve others as a way to achieve our goals.
“Promotion” is a small subset of the psychological discipline of marketing, even as some consider discounts and coupon codes the only marketing they need.
The truth is that a personal brand is a wonderful benefit of having an audience, as long as you understand that building that personal brand is not the primary objective. Good marketing is actually focused on people other than yourself, and so is attracting an audience.
The other flaw in this line of thinking is that you can “build” a personal brand in a way that’s separate from the people you hope to influence. Whatever brand you have can only exist in relation to other people.
Let me make an analogy from the realm of music and art. In the documentary Moonage Daydream, David Bowie shares this insight:
The artist doesn’t exist. The artist is strictly a figment of the people’s imagination.
In other words, the audience’s interpretation of an artist is determined by the connection sparked by their work. The same is true with anyone whose content or persona is followed by others.
Regardless of objective reality, you’re “authentic” if the audience thinks you are. They determine your credibility. And the psychological influence of authority exists only in the perception of the audience, regardless of your actual level of expertise.
That means your personal brand exists only in the minds of others, just as your reputation is what others say about you when you’re not in the room. And that means what you provide to others matters most, even if it’s only in the most shallow sense.
It’s Still About Values
One of our primary recurring themes in the Leading Expert Methodology is that connecting with your ideal prospect is about reflecting shared values. Understanding your own values is therefore crucial if you want to communicate in an authentic way (that the prospect, in turn, perceives as genuine).
It’s helpful to think of values in two broad initial categories. Just as with motivation, these two categories are intrinsic and extrinsic:
People with a strong set of intrinsic values are inclined towards empathy, intimacy, and self-acceptance. They tend to be open to challenge and change, interested in universal rights and equality, and protective of other people and the living world.
People at the extrinsic end of the spectrum are more attracted to prestige, status, image, fame, power, and wealth. They are strongly motivated by the prospect of individual reward and praise.
So now you understand the appeal of the Kardashian family. Upon their rise to prominence over 17 years ago, they were labeled as being “famous for being famous” thanks to the notoriety and wealth of patriarch Robert Kardashian (part of O.J.’s “Dream Team”).