Abby Kerr has written a great piece called “A Plea to the Entrepreneurial Blogosphere: Stop Mimicking A-Listers & Other Brand Idols. Please.” (She also wins an award for the longest headline that still works.)
I started to reply to it and the reply got windy, so I thought I’d pull it here both to share the comment with you and so that you go read her post.
She ended it with a question:
“What’s this about? Why do you think there are so many stylistic rip-offs of A-Listers?”
What’s this about? People want to copy what works and they see it working for somebody else. The natural thing people think is “well, if it works for her, it’ll work for me.”
When it comes to branding, that’s dead wrong and it’s actually the reverse: because it works for them, it won’t work for you. (Click to tweet – thanks!) When you emulate them, in the best case, you remind your audience of who you’re emulating,* and in the worst case, you look like a fool.
Looking like a fool is okay if you’re actually a fool. Don the floppy hat and start juggling – it’ll work for you.
But, in most cases, that’s not what people are trying to convey. It’s particularly troubling when people are trying to convey sincerity and authenticity by being like somebody else.
While Abby specifically references one brand being emulated, it’s obviously not isolated to that brand. If I see another Chris Guillebeau emulator, I’ll attempt to jump out of my 11 story window (before I realize that it’s not worth the effort).
Notice that there’s a huge difference between covering the same memes, themes, and content domain and trying to wear someone else’s brand. Sure, talk about entrepreneurship, travel, productivity, the lineage of Ewoks on Tatooine, or whatever. But do it your own way, because if all you’re doing is talking about the same stuff the same way that someone else is, you’re not really adding value to the conversation. I’d rather just get it from the original. (As hard as I tried to write like Merlin Mann in my early days, it just didn’t work for the same reasons.)
There’s also a big difference in noting what’s working for somebody else and trying to incorporate it into your style and just mimicking their style. Be careful that you watch your own lane, though, for it’s often hard to tell what’s actually working for somebody else and what they’re just doing. And remember, when it comes to branding, the fact that it works for them is something that you should be cautious of because it almost excludes it work for you.
In a previous post, I’ve said Do Your Thing to Rock Your Brand. I’d like to place more emphasis on the “Your” aspect of that piece this time around. Don’t do somebody else’s thing – they’re already doing it and you’ll never be able to do it better, as they’ve got the lead on you. Do Your Thing to Rock Your Brand.
On a personal level, trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting. I’ve been doing this for years and I inevitable see the actors get tired of being a character that’s wholly different than who they are. It takes a lot of confidence to be better versions of yourself day in and day out, but in the end, it’s the only sustainable route. The same is true for weirdos, too.
Bravo, Charlie. I’ve often thought that entrepreneurship is the fastest road to self-actualization – especially if you are building a service-based versus product-based business. You either figure out who you are and be wildly successful at being you OR you emulate others leadership style, business model, central message, etc. until you stall out. It’s an evolution for sure. Glad that AbbyKerr sparked the conversation and I appreciate you furthering the dialogue.
@lcalandrella Thanks for the comment, Laura! Entrepreneurship is full contact living, especially since it forces you to work through a lot of your own stuff as well as taking on stuff you’d never imagined. It’s really hard to do all of that when you’re making someone else’s moves.
Andy Riegler Andrews | Enlightened Marketing says
This is so true… I think it’s important to watch what the most successful people are doing and reverse engineer why it’s working for them – but when you implement it yourself, it has to speak to your own authenticity, credibility, and expertise. It’s important to think about the reasons WHY something is working for a certain brand – it is a laser focus on a certain problem? Is it the way the brand encourages interaction? – instead of focusing on a certain look or marketing tactic.
SO true! One of, if not the most important thing businesses must remember!
Just came across your site via this post. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems pretty obvious to me why people emulate the A-listers: because the A-listers sell products (and appear to make a lot of $ doing so) that covertly hint that if you do what they did, you’ll be successful just like they are. It’s an old story (and hook) that people have been entranced by for ages.