Be yourself: The new marketing make-wrong?

by | Jan 18, 2010

Recently my good buddy, Jen Louden, tweeted:

“If I read another blog post that tells me to just “be myself,” I might have to yank myself bald.”

I can so relate.
Being yourself is the new mantra in the world of marketing. And I have to say, the experts who are touting this have a point. After all, I’ve been teaching a version of this for 25 years.
So why am I griping about it?
Because as soon as being yourself becomes a shtick, it stops working.

What do I mean by being yourself becoming a shtick? I’m talking about what happens when you feel inner and outer pressure to emulate the voice and mannerisms of successful people in your field who have distinctive personalities.
It starts innocently enough. You read someone’s stuff and you think, “That is so cool. Fresh. And valuable, to boot.” Then you get the impression, valid or not, that this someone is, forgive me, raking in the dough.
Suddenly being authentic in that particular way is associated with success. So without even thinking about it, one of two things happen.
Unconscious mimicry

This is embarrassing, but true. I am a spontaneous mimic. I don’t mean any harm, but I can’t help but pick up the speech patterns, word choices, and rhythms of the people I’m hanging out with.
If you’re like me, it’s easy to fall into mimicking someone else’s authentic marketing style. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Your just-right clients want to heard from you, not a clone of someone else, however cool they may be. Besides, once you catch yourself you feel icky.
And that brings us to the second problem.
Feeling less than
Whether or not you go through a phase of mimicry, comparing your marketing to someone else’s is a losing game. You don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes with that other person, but you imagine they have it made. You, by contrast, do not.
And, to make things worse, you can’t even be yourself the way they can be themselves.
Notice, that concept doesn’t even make sense. Yet we can get tied up in knots because we fall short of someone else’s style of authenticity.
Is this making sense?
I’m talking about myself, doncha know, so I need to check in and see if you can relate. Even though I will be horribly embarrassed if dozens of people drop by the blog to tell me what a sad case I am.
But I digress
Being yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Look, being yourself amidst the concerns of self-employment is not easy. Who has time to be themselves when they’re dodging a thousand tiny slings and arrows? No one.
Then there’s the little problem of which self you are supposed to be. The self that shows up when you hold a newborn? Or the self that shows up when you have a hot date with your sweetie pie? Your self is not a static entity, and the harder you try to “be it,” the more inauthentic and confused you’re likely to feel.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The solution to all this is simple, if not easy. Forgive yourself for having mixed motives. For being both a loving, giving, skilled human being and a fearful, grasping impostor. As best you can, suspend judgment when you find yourself trying too hard to be yourself (or anybody else’s self).
Give that self a break. Then pick yourself up and begin again.