The Illusion of Personality Branding and the Danger of Personality Business

It’s a personality brand, not a personality business.

Running a business that incorporates some level of personality branding is like driving a car. You put yourself in the driver’s seat but you turn the steering wheel, not the car wheels themselves. You step on the gas pedal and a hundred tiny reactions make the motor whir & the wheels spin.

You are not the car.

The car still functions whether it’s you in the driver’s seat or your best friend.

There are two real dangers of personality business – as opposed to personality branding:

  1. You risk being the only engine of growth for your business.
  2. You risk creating a customer base of sycophants.

Let’s examine the first risk.

When you are the only engine of growth for your business, you can’t maximize your effort-to-results ratio. In other words, to get results, you need to put in a comparable amount of work. You don’t move forward unless you’re putting in the effort.

Your goal is find your sweet spot (click here for a guide to finding your sweet spot) such that all you need to do is flick a switch here or there to create big rewards for both yourself and your customers.

  • Do you have a product (program, blog, service, project, etc…) that generates new sales without advertising? That spreads exponentially through word-of-mouth from delighted soul to delighted soul?
  • Do you have systems or applications that automate as much of your workflow as possible?
  • Are your offerings progressive? Do they grow with your customers to generate additional revenue?

Now, the second risk.

This is an altogether more controversial statement. But one that needs to be made. There are too many businesses in this space that are driven by the desire of the customer to be more like the business owner. Are your customers working towards their own version of success or they working on being more like you?

  • Are they out to please you in anyway they can? Or are they willing to push back when they have a new need or a question about your vision?
  • Do they engage you in meaningful conversation or just want to be “doing things right?”
  • Do they apply your teaching, product, or solution? Or do they just keep coming back for more?

And in fact, these risks are interrelated. In an effort to launch a relationship-based, personality brand, many business owners – and rightly so – offer their services 1:1. Then, due to a marketing misunderstanding, they position the offer as essentially “spend some time with me” instead of “get xyz results.”

If your business is positioned to be about just spending time with you, it’s near impossible to not be the sole engine of growth. If all you’re selling is access to your world, you’ll be forced to create & recreate that world… and all the logistics that go along with it. It’s a slippery slope of of too much work, too much frustration, and too much energy drained.

You can be a role model without creating an atmosphere of “I wanna be just like you!” You can create offerings that sell your ideas instead of yourself. You can create a brand is driven by your unique talents, experience, and perspective without being a slave to a business that requires your 24/7 supervision.

Here’s a 3 point plan:

1. Sever the emotional attachment you have to your business. Yes, I believe in work/life integration. But I also believe that your business cannot thrive if you allow it to control your sense of self-worth or self-knowledge.

Just like being a mother or father doesn’t wholly define you, being your business can’t define you either. Personality brands blur this line but they don’t erase it. Understand where you stop and your business begins. Hat tip to Adam on this one.

2. Separate your work from your technique or ideas. Your ideas and your technique exist separate from the work you put into your business. Others can (and should) run with your ideas. Others can (and should) execute your techniques.

It’s easy to get caught up and assuming you are a necessary part of the equation. You are not. Unless you’re prepared to helicopter-parent your business (gosh, I sure hope you’re not), build a business that’s based on scaling your ideas or technique.

3. Save yourself from over-sharing. Some business owners like to leak their own gossip in the name of “authenticity.” It’s all out front because there’s little in the way of strategy on the back end.

Authenticity isn’t an excuse or a demand to air your dirty laundry. Authenticity is an opportunity ask potential customers to align with your values, the value you provide to them, and the vision you have for who they’re becoming as human beings. Hat tip to Ali Shapiro on this one.

The illusion of personality branding is that you’re selling yourself. The risk is that you find yourself sold to a business model that crashes into a tree.

Make your goal to be the confident, in-control driver of your business. Not the commodity being sold.

– PS –

Kick Start Labs is about to release a brand new resource on the basics of product development. If you’ve found yourself little more than a commodity in your business, it’s time to take a serious look at how you can develop a product or service that liberates you. Keep your eyes peeled – registration opens Friday.

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48 comments on “The Illusion of Personality Branding and the Danger of Personality Business

  1. something i struggle with…DAILY. how much is too much? how do i separate myself? i don’t want to be identified as my business. AAAAHHAGHGHGHA. help!

  2. This is essential advice for marketing etc,but in the arts it’s more difficult to seperate the maker from the made,as the object,or product,or process,is a very overt dance between the two. However open without being confessional,and approachable without becoming a doormat are two essential skills in a more YOU economy.

    • tara gentile says:

      Pauline, I don’t disagree that understanding your work as art makes it more difficult to detach from it. However, writers, coaches, even strategists & marketers tend to see their work as art. The imperative remains the same: you can’t have a thriving business if you see a one-in-the-same relationship between you and your business/product. We all need to do the hard work of creating a the fine line that allows us to leverage our vision & talents.

      • I get your point Tara,and I think that Andy Warhol,Jeff Koons,and Damien Hirst are brilliant examples from the art world that exemplify what you are talking about here, but just right now looking at the car analogy that you opened your post with,love her though I do, I would be nervous about handing over my paintbrush to my best friend,standing her in front of my painting and asking her to “finish that!” :-)

        • tara gentile says:

          Fair enough! But would you feel comfortable having her work a trade show booth for you? Handle customer support? Rep your production work to boutiques, galleries, or museum stores? Too many people think that because its their art, no one is capable of driving the business. Not so!

          • Not this particular friend,I love her to bits but she couldn’t organise a piss up in a Brewery!
            Seriously though Tara, I’m totally with you on the need to get out of the studio and into the world,so much so that I am launching my first online art Ecourse at the end of this month from my base here in Ireland,made on a shoestring,but fully cognisant of the fact that content is king. Everything I have learnt about how to do this ,I have picked up on the Internet courtesy of smart, gutsy women like you and others that I have found along the way. I am all for empowering artists to bypass the gatekeepers and take themselves and their work seriously,and I am very very grateful to the American women who are driving what is nothing short of a revolution in online education,from the grassroots up.<3

  3. Thank you for discussing such an important, and often overlooked, aspect of business building! The personality question is a real concern in our brick-and-mortar business, and something we are discussing at length — to avoid — regarding our next business.

    • tara gentile says:

      Yes! Katie, I agree this isn’t an online-only problem. (Btw, I’m so tired of writing about online-only business – if I don’t think it applies broadly, you probably won’t find it here anymore.) This is a big problem in Silicon Valley right now – founders and VCs are becoming demigods. It’s not helpful to the buying public AND it’s not helpful to those businesses!

  4. Every time you write a post, my brain can’t stop thinking about it for days! So I wonder if there might be a 4th point in the 3-point plan about reflecting back onto your people & setting an intention to make them brighter with everything you write & do. So even though you & your personality are always going to be there, the intention is to reflect back out onto your people. So, for example, the purpose of a service is to get them results, and part of that means measuring the results. Or a product exists to make THEM brighter & to free them up to be more themselves. And the purpose of one type of blog post is to spotlight someone else’s successes, how they applied the material. You know who rocks at this? Ramit Sethi. He’s constantly asking ‘how did you apply this,’ and then profiling people & their wins. I tell myself I’d do the same thing if I had a humongous list & clear offers, but I could totally do a smaller version of this. I need clearer offers! Thanks for all the brain food!

    • tara gentile says:

      Hi Kelly! Totally agree – Nilofer Merchant talks about shining a light on people in the community/customer base/audience as an important part of social business in her book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era. It’s a great opportunity to reinforce “possibility” AND to deflect some of the idol worship that is a natural byproduct of a personality brand.

  5. Jenny Good says:

    I agree with point 2 regarding separating work and technique. As for pulling personality away from the brand, I respectfully disagree on several of those points. In an environment where consumers are being bombarded with unparalleled amounts of marketing noise, the energy and personality of a business is more important than ever, in my opinion. Product-centric marketing has given way to a consumer-centric perspective; connection with like minds is a part of that global shift. One need not sell her “self”, but infusing her deliverables with the essence of who she is, is key. It becomes part of the value delivered to the consumer. The “how” is dependent upon the “what” but no less vital to the success of an entrepreneurs efforts. Your personality is not enough to be the sole point of sustaining your business but without it, you’ve no business at all.

    • tara gentile says:

      Jenny, that’s my point exactly. The problem is that so many people have confused personality branding with selling themselves. A business that is based solely on your ability to deliver is unsustainable. Instead, you have to be the driver of your business – and your personality, your values, and your story are central to that role.

      Unfortunately, too many aspiring entrepreneurs have been enslaved by their own businesses due to a lack of understanding around personality branding.

  6. Hi………
    I would like to say thanks a lot for sharing this useful info, Glad to be a part of this blog. Hope i stay and learn more about Personal brand.

  7. Glad to be a part of this great community. I like this blog so much.
    Hope i stay and enjoy here. Thanks.

  8. Kate England says:

    Food for thought!

    Another aspect that can be tricky with personal branding is that it might not allow you to evolve and grow as a person.