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Being Somebody Else's Brand Won't Work For You
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.
* Jon Spoelstra made a similar point in Marketing Outrageously. His point is even stronger: when you market like the market leader, you only add to their dominance.