Mom Was Right: Be Yourself.
When I was in high school, the lowest rung on the social ladder wasn’t dork, nerd, or even loser (words I take a lot of issue with as it is). No, the lowest rung was reserved for posers.
Posers were the worst because they were trying to trick people into liking them by being something they weren’t. While behavior like this comes from a place of vulnerability, even to the most casual eye it seems transparent and obvious. There is a fundamental and pervasive sense that living in a free society comes with the obligation to be an individual. Thus, when someone forsakes their individuality, their own tastes, ideas, behavior, taking on a false identity and wearing it to attract a specific group, we object, we cringe, and we turn our backs.
This applies to brands as well. Every brand has a voice and an identity that should be as unique as the people that work there. When companies embrace their true identity and project it outwards, amazing things can happen. Not only will people respond positively, but they will respond with loyalty. And it won’t be so hard to attract your base. By being yourself, by acting authentically, you allow the right people to naturally gravitate towards you.
We crave being shown something novel. Don’t try to be derivative because you’re playing it safe. That just makes us sad.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider Apple bright-red flattered. The most valuable brand on the planet also happens to be the most copied. A coincidence? Certainly not.
Apple in 1984 was the underdog, running a famous ad about “big brother” and the threat of conformity. They were about being different — embracing not just their own individuality, but all of ours as well. They were rooted in self-expression and empowerment. Their technology not only let you lead a better life, but a life uniquely yours. At the time, they were the scrappy startup competition to the behemoth computer empire IBM. They were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the Jedi Force going up against the Dark Side and their Death Star.
And we responded to that on an incredibly fundamental level.
Today, the underdog identity is still powerful for any company to express, but Apple doesn’t try to pretend that’s who they still are. They’ve evolved and have embraced new identities that come directly from the culture within. They’ve never tried to be something they don’t feel in their gut they already are. They’re probably the last company you could accuse of being posers, and it’s no mistake they also have the best brand loyalty and are the most valuable company on Earth.
But brands would do well not to copy the result. Instead, learn from the source, the process. Figure out what your brand is about, what you stand for, and express it truly. Don’t chase trends to remain relevant. Remain relevant by offering something so true it outlasts the trends.
Authenticity, in essence, is similar to integrity in the sense that it’s about something you’d be doing even if no one was watching. Authentic brands express ideas, behaviors, and practices so ingrained that they’d be visible in any incarnation of the company. Expressing your true self is powerful, and it’s attractive. It shows confidence, but more importantly, indicates an intangible quality that inspires others.
It can take time and patience to discover these bedrock principles that define your brand. So don’t rush. Once you have these in place, they’ll be there forever. Patience and staying true to what defines your brand is a virtue. Rushing to be something you’re not can damage your brand before it gets off the ground.
If you want to see a perfect (and comical) example of how cringeworthy posing can be, check out the twitter account @BrandsSayingBae. Don’t make the same mistake of the brands seen on that account and jump on Twitter to throw out hashtags in a desperate attempt to seem youthful and hip or anything you aren’t deep down. Don’t be the parent trying to party with the kids and expect that to seem natural or appealing.
“Be yourself” isn’t just a platitude, it’s actually the single best strategy for you and your company.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Grain, a creative firm in Saint Louis, Missouri. His background is law, film, business, and basketball. Not in that order.