To say that we live in an age of personal branding is stating the obvious. Check the headlines zipping across your display device, what passes for entertainment on your television (if you still watch one), and the increasingly blurred mix of pop culture pap and “real news” delivered to your Google Reader.
But hey! Who doesn’t love an engaging personality? Or for that matter, a distracting one we love to hate – or grudgingly, hate to love?
That we live in a time of promoting and fostering personalities is crystal clear. How many of us could say we “are” our products?
Sometimes, it’s an annoyance. Who wants to shake hands with a product over a social lunch or date, rather than a person?
At other times, it’s impossible to deny the power and usefulness of personality – if and when it delivers the goods.
Personality 10, Substance Zero
I may have been weaned on an ethic of “let the work speak for itself,” but making the work known – be that services, products, information or education – requires hooking us, and holding us. Personality is and always has been an advantage, but it must be the right personality for the job. An appropriate match.
We may disagree on how to define substance, but I’ll place many of our hottest pop culture icons in the Personality Column with a Big Bold check mark, and in the Substance Column with a glaring empty slot of, well… zip.
So what’s the story? Are these individuals smart, lucky, or both – turning outrageous or conspicuous behavior into bucks? Are we buying what they’re selling – even if it’s so much nothing? Does that matter a whit, as they laugh all the way to the bank?
I’m willing to admit that my guilty pleasure is Real Housewives. Not all of them, mind you, and certainly not all the time. But then I know I’m not the market for the ubiquitous “stars” (of nothing?), though I recognize there is a market, in which supply has cleverly created demand, and in the process, transforming (deforming?) our culture.
Personality… Plus Value
Then there are the personalities that come with the goods. As we welcome them into our bedrooms and living rooms via their bedrooms and living rooms, they may be growing a franchise of their own (and pulling in some bucks for someone, somewhere), but they’re also offering us a real product or service.
An article in Columbia Journalism Review caught my eye awhile back, featuring an example of personality plus… where a perfect fit of passion and playfulness delivers a valuable “product.”
In “Chemical Reaction,” the story of journalist Cara Santa Maria, who infuses her creativity and enthusiasm into Huff Post’s “Talk Nerdy To Me,” demonstrates an effective use of personality to achieve important goals.
About Ms. Santa Maria, Fred Schruers writes:
… her work as the writer, voice, and face of Huffington Post’s “Talk Nerdy To Me” — a weekly video series on science-related stuff that ranges from the topical (Tennessee’s anti-evolution law) to the evergreen (death) — meshes so thoroughly with her personality and passions (or are they obsessions?) that it’s nearly impossible to untangle the threads.
With a master’s in neuroscience and a zeal for research, Santa Maria was certainly qualified… [but] her mandate was “not just to alert people to important issues, but to make it fun, accessible, and playful.”
Nice Mask… If You Can Get It
This is the necessary toolkit of the effective broadcaster, the motivational speaker, the talented teacher, the charismatic politician. It is the performer in all of us, when required. But with our sensibilities so bombarded (and dulled?) by an abundance of masks and misbehaviors, isn’t it refreshing to remember that personality and yes, attractiveness, can work to our advantage and to excellent purpose?
Isn’t it helpful to be reminded that we should look for the goods beyond the branding, and the reality behind the bluster?
Marketing and Sales: An Old Game
Personality? It’s critical to our relationships. It facilitates meeting people. It helps us get ahead – when it suits environment and goals.
Personality and personal branding are certainly the norm on the social web, and an extension of the long-time practice of whatever it takes to sell: aspiration, inspiration, motivation, even consolation. That doesn’t make the cult of personality “good” or “bad;” it does, however, place the onus squarely on each of us to cut through the noise, see beyond the glitz and gloss, and look for genuine value.
Color me relieved to still know the difference between a cardboard facsimile and personality with a purpose – one that can embody, enhance, inspire, and inform. Personality to advance scientific literacy while “Talking Nerdy” to us?
That one – from me – gets a big thumbs up.
- How easily are you seduced by personality?
- Can you distinguish between fluff and “personality plus?”