How can we be authentic without sharing TMI (too much information)? How can we be transparent, bring our “whole selves” to work, without appearing unprofessional? Copywriter and messaging strategist Tom Megginson encourages us to be authentic, but focus on our audience. Code-switching and filtering are two ways to maintain authenticity without compromising professionalism.
- Andrea’s Introduction
- Interview Transcript
- Andrea’s Conclusion
SUMMARY: PERSONAL BRANDING, Authenticity & TMI
Relevance to product branding & advertising
KEY TAKEAWAY: Consider your audience.
- As someone who’s been in advertising and copywriting for 30 years, Tom shared how he’s always thinking about his audience or his target market. This is a core principle of advertising and product branding. When communicating our personal brand, we need to do exactly the same thing; consider our audience.
Tension can be a good thing.
- Advertisers sometimes try to make people feel somewhat uncomfortable, to get consumers out of their comfort zone, and maybe to try something new. Similarly for personal brands, highlighting something that is unexpected and unique can make a person more memorable. Take the irreverent personas of some social media influencers.
Consider the focus group analogy.
- When the brand managers and ad agency folks are listening from behind the one-way glass, the deep, most valid insights are what’s said when the moderator leaves the room, and the focus group participants are brutally honest. Similarly, our authentic personal brand is what people say about us when we’re not in the room.
Product branding and personal branding have come full circle.
- Marketers personify their brands with human values and traits, and they encourage consumers to adopt relationships with brands. Meanwhile, here we are, as HUMANS, now adopting brand management and product brand practices to help us craft our personal brands. We’ve come full circle.
Code-Switching & Authenticity
We code-switch when we consider various audience “codes.” This is automatic. We are still being authentic.
- In a professional context, we talk with our boss differently than we might talk with a client.
- Personally, we talk with our parents differently than we talk with our kids.
- Code-switching means considering the topics we discuss, the formality of our communication, and even the medium.
We code-switch across generations.
- Based on demographic and psychographic research, there are stereotypes associated with the various generational cohorts:
- the formal Silent Generation
- the cooler but conformist Baby Boomers
- the cynical Gen X’rs
- the protected Millennials
- the inspiration- and validation-seeking Gen Zs.
- There’s no right or wrong culture. In fact, the younger generations are affecting us in positive ways, like encouraging us to talk openly about some critical, previously taboo topics, such as mental health.
We code-switch across media.
- Older folks may prefer the phone or face to face. Younger folks might prefer some media that some of us haven’t even heard of!
- We code switch depending on which social media platform we’re on. We share different things on LinkedIn versus what we share on TikTok. (Of course!)
Filtering & Authenticity
We filter what parts of our authentic self we choose to share in various contexts and for various audiences.
- We don’t change who we are. We’re filtering what part of us we’re sharing with different audiences.
- TMI, or TOO MUCH Information, is a misnomer. It’s not about quantity, it’s about the substance or the content of the information. And we filter out what is appropriate for the context, for the audience.
- Tom reminds us that we can mend our filter. When we speak out of turn, when we realize we said something we shouldn’t have, we can mend that filter. As Tom said, “Of course, the thing is, every time you do it, you learn.”
- LinkedIn profile – https://www.linkedin.com/in/tommegginson/
- That’s a Good Story – thatsagoodstory.com
PERSONAL BRANDING & AUTHENTICITY
- Podcast – How to Communicate your Personal Brand Online
- Podcast – Optimizing your LinkedIn Profile
- Podcast – Choosing the Ideal Media
Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
- Website – https://talkabouttalk.com
- Podcast – https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts
- Email – [email protected]
- Free Weekly Newsletter – https://talkabouttalk.com/blog/#newsletter-signup
- Andrea on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreawojnicki/
ANDREA’s INTRODUCTION: PERSONAL BRANDING, AUTHENTICITY & TMI
Well hello, and welcome to Talk About Talk. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!).
Are you an ambitious manager, looking to catapult your careers by improving your communication skills? Or maybe you simply have a strong growth mindset – you’re always looking to improve your communication skills, or perhaps both? Well, you’re in the right place.
At Talk About Talk, we focus on communication-skills-topics like networking, communicating with confidence and personal branding. You can access Talk About Talk across a variety of media or resources. There’s online corporate training, 1-on-1 coaching with me, online courses, the free weekly communication-skills newsletter, and, of course, this bi-weekly podcast. You can choose what works for you!
And by-the-way, I encourage you to subscribe to the free weekly communication skills newsletter if you’re not signed up already. It’s free, and it’s like getting free communication skills in your inbox once a week. You can sign up on the Talk About Talk website.
OK – Welcome to Talk About Talk episode number 71! Today we’re going to focus on a specific element of our personal brand – and that is – how much to share.
Let me quickly back up. What is personal branding? You can think of personal branding very simply as identity management or reputation management. But here’s the definition of personal branding that seems to resonate with people. PB is what people think and say about you when you’re not in the room.
We all have a personal brand. The Q is – how actively and strategically are you managing your personal brand?
In this episode, we’re talking about navigating the tension between transparency and TMI. Transparency as in authenticity and as in bringing your whole self to work…. And then how to balance that with TMI or too much information. As in the risk of being perceived as unprofessional.
Let me ask you this: do you have rules about what to talk about or not talk about at work? What about what you talk about online? Do you have rules about what not to post on LinkedIn? Or IG? Or on TikTok? Do you talk about your family when you’re at work? Do you talk about your dating status? Why or why not? Hmm. These are important Qs.
As you might know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading and coaching about personal branding lately. SO these kinds of questions are top of mind. Recently I attended a Harvard Women in Leadership conference and one of the amazing speakers made an off-handed comment. She said: “Being open and transparent can be your distinct competitive advantage.“ OOO. Of course, I stopped dead in my tracks. “Being open and transparent can be your distinct competitive advantage.“ That’s worth thinking about isn’t it?
Then less than a week later I posted something on LinkedIn about personal branding. A gentleman named Tom Megginson, whom you’ll meet in a moment, responded with a comment that once again, stopped me dead in my tracks. Clearly, Tom has thought about this Q of transparency versus TMI. I immediately connected with Tom and invited him to be a guest on Talk About Talk. So here we are. I promise you’ll learn something here. I know I did!
So I’m going to introduce Tom right now and get right into the interview. Then. I’ll summarize at the end. This is what Talk About Talk listeners tell me they like, so that’s what you get. You don’t need to take notes, because I did that for you. So keep doing whatever you’re doing – driving or walking or housework, whatever. I’ll summarize for you at the end, and you can always access the episode shownotes on the talkabouttalk.com website.
OK – let me introduce Tom Megginson: As I said, Tom’s comment on one of my LinkedIn personal branding posts is what made me consider asking him to be a guest for this episode. But when I went to his LinkedIn profile, that’s what really nailed it for me! Tom calls himself a “Creative Director, messaging strategist, and seasoned storyteller.”
WOW. That is exactly the guy we need to talk too, right? And if you listened to the Talk About Talk episode about OPTIMIZING YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE with Andrew Jenkins you’ll remember there are 3 main things that you need to get right: Your headshot, our title and your background image. If you go to LinkedIn and check out Tom Megginson, you’ll see his headshot is a unique black & white (or maybe sepia) photo that shows him with a pensive look on his face. His title is what I just told you – “Creative Director, messaging strategist, and seasoned storyteller. And his background image is a corner of an ad he created for the Jane Goodall Institute, with the caption, “Cousin we need to talk.” And it’s autographed by Jane with, “Dear Tom, Thank you.” I was intrigued.
So I’m sharing this with you as an example of where your LinkedIn profile can open up opportunities. Specifically, those 3 elements (headshot, title and background image) can make a huge difference. It shifted me from considering Tom as a guest to asking him! And I’m so grateful he said yes.
Tom Megginson is a strategic messaging consultant at That’s a Good Story. As in thatsagoodstory.com. Cool name, right? Tom’s has been a professional copywriter for more than 30 years, 25 of them as a Creative Director in Canadian agencies. Tom is often called upon as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics including branding, social marketing, and public affairs advertising.
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: Personal Branding, Authenticity & TMI with Tom Megginson
Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much, Tom for joining us to talk about personal branding, authenticity and TMI.
Tom Megginson: Thank you very much, Andrea.
AW: As I was explaining to the listeners, we recently met on LinkedIn, and you responded to a post that I created about how to communicate your personal brand online. And you actually took the time to write a comment that ended up leading to this interview. I’m just going to read the comment here quickly. So you said:
“my personal brand is just the professional face that I’ve always shown to the world, now a bit more worn and wise than when I began my career in the 90s. Deciding what to show of myself is easy. What’s important, in my opinion, is to always ask oneself, is this TMI? And is this relevant to my audience?
So we’ve all seen or heard TMI, and we know it when we see it? But what is TMI?
TM: Well, it’s an interesting one, I’d said two things. There’s TMI, and there’s is this relevant to my audience?. And I think the latter one is probably more specific. Too much information means different things to different people. But what I’d like to start out with is to say – “is this relevant to my audience?“ is probably the number one thing that people should keep in mind. It’s really easy for us as human beings, when we’re in a one to one communication, even on a video screen here, as we’re having this interview. And to take the cues from the people, even when you’re doing public speaking, you see the people you’re talking to, you can tell if they’re bored, you can tell if they’re hanging on your every word. On social media you don’t see the people you’re talking to. And it’s very similar to me, to the way that we approach advertising. So I’ve been in advertising and copywriting for 30 years now. And in doing that, you’re always thinking about an audience, you can’t see. Because you are speaking on behalf of a brand, you’re speaking on behalf of a company as CEO, that kind of thing. And not being able to see the audience, you have to visualize the audience. And this is something that’s second nature to those of us who do this for a living, but it’s not necessarily second nature to everyone else. And so if there’s one thing I wanted to get across, it’s the idea of your audience and knowing your audience, knowing what their prejudices are, is going to be key to you getting what you want from them.
AW: I love your answer. First of all, the TMI that too much, maybe a bit of a misnomer, right? Because it’s not about quantity, it’s about the substance or the content of the information. So that’s a great point. And also your point, which I’ve been saying in a slightly different context, when we’re thinking about our personal brand, we can take a lot of learnings about product branding. And you’re saying, here’s an example of that. Actually, when we’re managing a product brand, we’re always thinking about the audience and presenting ourselves for the audience, the consumer, the customer, whereas for ourselves, we’re not always doing that. So I think that’s an excellent point. And we should be doing that. So is TMI, always a bad thing, though. And speaking for myself, but most of us have been situation where we’ve said something and then gone. Oops, I think that may have been TMI it can we turn it into something good.
TM: I think it depends once again, on the audience’s definition of TMI. So there are times when it’s a good idea to make an audience uncomfortable, and get them out of their comfort zone. An excellent example is talking about mental wellness, and people saying they need help. Maybe their only network is an online network, including even LinkedIn. So and ask for help on LinkedIn, there might be some who consider that TMI, I don’t, I consider it very relevant. Other things when people talk about racism, experiencing racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, you know, we’re trying to have a civilization here. And we’re trying to stamp these things out. So personally, on my personal brand, I don’t mind making people uncomfortable about that. But there are other things that do make people uncomfortable. One of the big ones for me is about how a person shows themselves online, both in words and images. Generally, I find it has to do with the person’s age, although not always, people seem to blur the lines between the different social media. You know, if you go back to some of the earlier blogs, those were about confessional, you knew that your audience was your peers, we were psychographically aligned. You could be a little more unguarded. Also, I mean, things like Instagram, they’re fairly private, you know, you can control who sees what you do, right? When you get into LinkedIn, which is where we met, and which is what I’m mostly thinking about here. It’s very hard to control the sharing of your voice and image on LinkedIn. You can control who you’re connected with. But if the people you’re connected with comment on your post, like it, engage with it in any way, it often shows up in the most unlikely places. Those are the times when I think that as you are dealing with an intergenerational audience, you have to be or you don’t have to be, you might want to consider being cautious about playing into their prejudices about generational stereotypes. For example, I’ve seen some really great thoughts put out there by young entrepreneurs on LinkedIn, but they usually include a beauty shot of themselves. Sometimes the guys are flexing, the women are pouting, it’s appropriate for their generation, right? I’m absolutely not saying this is inappropriate. What I’m saying is, once again, know your audience know that if you’re totally comfortable with that being the brand that is seen by your potential employers by your mother, you forgot that was linked to you go for it, you know, fill your boots, as they say, in the Maritimes . But at the same time understanding your audience’s biases, you can make sure that the message that you’re presenting that you have control over that message,
AW: which might not be possible to your previous point, right. Okay, there’s so much to unpack there. Let’s talk about the age thing across generations. So I had this experience actually just a couple weeks ago, where a friend, actually a professional colleague of mine, was posting photos of herself wearing a bikini. And another one of my friends who’s a little bit older said, Wow, that is just shocking that she would do that. And I, I said, You know what, you’re not her target market. Like, this is this is her talking to her people. And she’s a very healthy person, and she was showing her beautifully healthy body. So why do you think it is that Gen Y and Gen Z are so much more open and prone to what we Gen Xers you and I might say qualifies as TMI? Why is that?
TM: Well, it’s interesting. I mean, working with market research, I realized that demographics are necessarily stereotypes. And stereotypes are both bad and good stereotypes allow us to code switch and be able to speak to people in their language, in a way that, like I said, is relevant to them. I just wanted to preface that once again, saying I’m not shaming or blaming anyone for their age or definitely not for their cohort. But there are clear demographic stereotypes that we see. They don’t apply to everyone, but they’re generalizations and I’m 50 years old. I’ve been actually writing professionally for 30 years now. I have worked with five generations. So the silent generation, my mom’s generation, the boomers, Generation X, which is mine was born right in the middle of that cohort, millennials. And now Gen Zed, whatever you want to call them. My son’s one, I have a teenage son in that generation. There are stereotypes that don’t apply to everyone, but which are studied by marketers. So if you look at the oldest, the silent generation, they are very formal. My former boss was one of them. They’re very formal, their suit and tie. They’re very guarded, extremely guarded. Their professional face is very much contrived. It’s conformist when that was reinforced.
AW: Right, if they didn’t do that you would be penalized somehow.
TM: Yeah, absolutely. We’re talking about the 50s and 60s here, then the baby boomers get to be more laid back you have Richard Branson cutting people’s ties off, because he didn’t think it was appropriate to have a tie. And there are a lot of stereotypes about being cool. You know, um, you know, riding a motorcycle, wearing jeans to work in this kind of thing. But my own experience with people born in the post war era, and you know, up till Beatlemania is that they are still very guarded. Some of the generational research I did for a client once they were talking about how, if you’re a baby boomer in office, you should be the first one there in the morning. And the last one who leaves how that is translated to what I’ve seen in my own career, is people are very shy about being vulnerable, or called out about saying the wrong thing about saying anything vaguely political. And this is the irony, right? Because we’re talking about the generation who were hippies or the me generation of the 70s. Anything that causes you to stand out is to be avoided. You know, it’s that that thing of the nail that sticks up?
AW: Yep. Or the tall poppy syndrome, if you stand up, you’re gonna get chopped down, right?
TM: Yeah, that’s it, tall poppy. Yeah. So fast forward, people born in the late 60s and 70s, even up to 1980. Then Generation X the stereotype of our generation is cynicism. The stereotype of our generation is a certain anti authoritarianism, I would say. So we’re kind of in between course, every generation thinks it’s all about them. But to me, we’re the ones who really needed to learn what I mentioned earlier, which is code switching you In the boss’s office, you sit up straight, you speak formally to them. You are in a the office of a fellow Gen Xer, you got your feet on the desk, you’re slouching in the chair, you’re you know, whatever. And then the next generations come along. It’s not that they’re fundamentally different people, it’s that their cultural experience of growing up has been very different. So when you get into the Millennial generation, they grew up in a different environment, their parents were boomers, their parents were very old Gen Xers early Gen Xers.
TM: The thing is, they grew up in a very different era, culturally, there’s this idea of protecting children of encouraging children, which is great, but the negative stereotypes people make jokes about participation, medals, right? jokes about not keeping score, and soccer games, the stereotype says that people have been told you are awesome, nothing that you do is wrong. So while our generation was busy trying to be cool to the millennials and be formal to, to the boomers, we had folks coming in, who immediately expected to have things be about them, which is great. I mean, I’m not gonna say anything bad about that. But at the same time, I did find that people were, in general, less able to take criticism. And that, to me is a red flag. Because what that red flag says is that it’s going to be harder to learn how to adapt, how to fit in, not to conform, but how to adapt to different people. Anyway, so here we are today, you know, the new generation coming up, you know, the oldest of them are in their 20s now, but there are things that I don’t really have a problem with, but don’t speak to me, like inspiration posts, validation. And by validation. I don’t mean, you know, you’re validated because you’re a woman or because you have a disability. I mean, just, I’m not feeling great today. Can you tell me how great I am. And I see that more on Twitter, but it bleeds over into LinkedIn.
AW: I’m just gonna say I’ve seen that on Instagram. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
TM: Yeah. Well, it’s a culture and there’s no right or wrong culture. But this is where we get back to the audience. For example, I am a guest lecturer at colleges sometimes, and I will say to the students, hey, you know, you want to get networking, send me a connection, I’ll connect with you, you know, because I can give you start. And so as soon as they’re connected to me, they’re also connected with those five generations. They are connected to people all the way up into their 70s. It’s not, I’m not saying to them, stop being yourself. I’m just saying be aware of that. I was talking to someone the other day, and it occurred to me, I don’t think that personal branding is a construct, I don’t think we construct our personal brand. What we do is we filter it. That’s a really important differentiation for me, you know, I try to be authentic all the time. I filter myself, I’m different on Twitter than I am on LinkedIn, I have filters, I have a client filter, I have a talking to students filter, I even have a filter for talking to people of different ages, because I have to be aware of a 50 year old white man, you know, I reek of privilege, I want to filter that with at least some kind of acknowledgment of self awareness. So filter sounds funny now thinking about like Instagram and tik tok and that kind of stuff. Talking to judges like a cat. But you know, but I mean a literal filter, I mean, not showing 100% of yourself to everyone, because you can’t do that. Anyway, we do it in real life. We do it when we’re visiting our parents, of course. And being with familiar coworkers is not the same as we’d be at a professional mixer, which is what LinkedIn is. So that’s what’s really important to me, it’s just get the filter, right, figure out who your audience is.
AW: That reminds me, I have to tell you this quick story. I was on LinkedIn, I think it was about three years ago, at the time. And still now I’m also a painter. And so a lot of my connections on LinkedIn are also our artists, and many of them are marketers. And I remember this experience I had where one of the marketing professors that I follow posted a really cool video, it was like a visual puzzle. It’s hard to describe it. But the video ended up showing something that wasn’t what you thought it was. He had like 2000 likes on it or whatever. And I thought that’s beautiful and insightful. And it’s creative, and all these things. So I reposted it, and I got some likes and some positive comments. And then this guy lambasted me who I used to work with, like 15 years ago, and he said in the comments publicly to me, he said, shame on you, Andrea, you should know, this is not Facebook. This is not Instagram. This is not where you post your pretty pictures. And so I immediately went into messaging privately and said, great to hear from you. Thank you so much for your comments. By the way, I’m an artist and I’m still a marketer, and as far as I was concerned this is relevant to both of those audiences. And by the way, I don’t know if you noticed this, but it was originally posted by a professor and liked by 1000s. And I don’t understand what the issue is. But I respect whatever. And then he lambasted me again. So I blocked him.
TM: Well, at that point, I mean, at the end of the day, you can scroll on. You can move on. I think there’s starting to be a change of conversation on social media about this saying, you know what, just because someone’s wrong in your mind, you don’t have to engage them. I would say the example you’re giving that’s out of line. Once again, I mean, do what you want to do have the brand that you want. I have friends who, their business is fitness, their product is their body, I get it. Or other, you know, artists, absolutely. They want to show their art photographers, sometimes the photography is a little saucy. Okay, that’s okay. That’s their bread and butter. Right? That’s their brand. If they’re showing a bunch of saucy photos, they’re probably not looking to photograph a stodgy CEO.
AW: I love your comment, I have to say you’re going to be quoted on this the filtering, filtering like I am, who I am, I am authentic. This is 100%. me, but I am filtering. I think that’s really an empowering perspective, right? Because it’s not changing who you are. But it is filtering what part of who you are, you’re sharing with the different audiences. And I also love your comment about code switching across generations. And I’ve, I did some previous podcasts and newsletters on choosing which media is appropriate. And then I got all sorts of emails from listeners and telling me stories about you know, like, an older gentleman sent me an email, and he told me the story about how he had a big contract to award and he told the sales guy like three or four times, Call me, call me and the guy kept emailing him back and emailing him, what else do you need to know? What else do you need to know? And he’s like, this is the last time I’m saying this, pick up the phone and call me. And the guy never did. And he just he awarded the contract to someone else. So part of it is you know, your personal brand and what you’re sharing about yourself, but then this code switching between the generations even not just what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it across what medium, right?
TM: That’s exactly it. I mean, we all make mistakes, right? We feel strongly about something and we make the comment, we probably shouldn’t. And that’s where the filter breaks. Oh, geez, I just put that on LinkedIn.
AW: I was just gonna ask, do you have any stories?
TM: My mistakes are usually about expressing an opinion without thinking of the audience that are receiving the opinion and how they form ideas about me, I live in a world of NDAs, non disclosure agreements. So I’m used to being under a regime of having to watch what I say. But at the same time, I mean, sometimes we just get mad. And I would say, that’s where I need to, you know, mend the filter is sometimes I you know, might speak out of turn or that kind of thing. Of course, the thing is, every time you do it, you learn. And you know, the best thing your friends can do for you is give you feedback privately.
AW: Yeah, feedback is such a gift, isn’t it?
TM: It is and especially through your peers telling you and being more open to vulnerabilities, you also adapt, and everyone adapts. Like 10 years ago, I can’t imagine somebody talking about their struggles with depression. And now you can talk about something like that. And people are like, you’re so great. Good for you. Yeah, I’ve struggled with that as well.
AW: I’m nodding my head. Sorry, I just had to jump in and say …. I interviewed Nicole German who founded the Maddy project, and it’s #shinebright. And her daughter died of suicide. And she’s all about talking about it talking about mental health and, and you know, inviting the kid who lives three doors down who always seems to be alone over for dinner and talking about mental health openly within your house and with your friends. And it’s amazing. It’s that’s an interesting point. It’s not just generally that we are becoming more transparent, maybe the filter is widening for the younger generations, right? But also there are topics specific topics that we are much more open about than we used to be
TM: It’s great, isn’t it? Like they’re affecting us all. They’re moving it, they’re moving it up the generations. And so there’s the positive effect of people being more open and more vulnerable. I mean, that’s, that’s wonderful. It is.
AW: So I attended an online Women in Leadership Conference recently, and at the beginning of the conference was a keynote speech by this amazing woman who I believe is in her 60s. And she’s, you know, at the pinnacle of her career of anyone’s career, this woman is absolutely phenomenal. And she made a comment that really stuck with me. Someone asked her a question that’s similar to the topic that we’re talking about right now, about authenticity and bringing your whole self to work. And her response was, I encourage you to use authenticity as your superpower. Yeah, and she’s she Like, you know, in her 60s, like I said, What do you think of that – making your transparency part of your brand?
TM: And that’s fantastic. I mean, that’s, you know, we’re talking so much now about empathy. You know, empathy at one point would have been seen as weakness. And now empathy is seen as strength. Empathy is seen as a superpower. Empathy is something that brands which living things desperately wish they could convey.
AW: That’s a great point, you’re reminding me of Brené Brown and all the vulnerability stuff, right? And she said that when she talks to some people on the airplane about what she does, then she would say, Well, I’m a researcher, and I study vulnerability. And depending on the person, and whether they’re familiar with her, and with the construct, they either think that vulnerability is this negative thing to be avoided? Right, or it’s a strength, and because her whole thing is about it takes courage to be vulnerable, and there are so many benefits to it. So it depends on a variety of factors, right? It depends on your personality. depends on your profession. And to your point from the very beginning, it depends on your audience.
TM: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s funny too, because I mean, every time I don’t know, when I first heard the term personal branding, I think it was probably 15 years ago, or something like that,..
AW: I can tell you what it was. 1997, front cover of Fast Company magazine, the “Brand You” article by Tom Peters, I can guarantee you that.
TM: I remember that.
AW: So do I!
TM: Wow. So you know, the idea of what a corporate or product brand is, has changed a lot over the years, where we got to, I think, which was a good place, which is a brand is like a person, that the term I’m going to use is really nerdy. But in evolutionary biology, they talk about exaptation. So an adaptation is when evolutionarily, you know you have opposable thumbs. And exaptation is when something that you developed for a different purpose is repurposed.
AW: Okay, love that word. So exaptation, it’s outside, right?
TM: So an exaptation, what branding does is we have this built in software that lets you read other people. So you and I are talking to each other, and we’re giving each other visual cues. And there are books about how to read body language, but the fact is that it’s our operating system. Yep. So what a brand wants to do, is a brand wants to appear to your social instincts, as if it’s a person, as much as a big brand, like Coca Cola can say, you know, oh, we tastes really good. No, it’s, it’s the brand, it’s an old friend. So the exaptation, what brands are doing is they’re tricking our brains into thinking that they are people. What we do when we create a brand, is we’re actually creating an artificial personality. And so that’s why I find it kind of ironic, where we’ve gone full circle to saying personal branding. As I said to you on LinkedIn, I’m just myself, this is me, um, you know, I’m getting older, and I’m getting wiser, I hope. But you know, I’m also limited by being older, you know, my son cringes if I try to use his slang and stuff, but the brand just happens, the personal brand just happens. The question is, Are you the same when you’re talking to one on one to a friendly person or group of people? Or are you talking to a group who you don’t know? And you don’t see? And how do you brand towards them? And that’s bringing it full circle to that’s what advertising does, right? That’s what branding does. You but it’s like doubly blind, because you’re creating an artificial personality to appeal to a bunch of people you can’t see, you know, unless you have research on them. But anyway, I’m getting a little esoteric here. But it’s very relevant to me. I mean, the bottom line is, you have this in you to refine your personal brand, to alter your personal brand to make your personal brand work for you. A lot of it is just gaining the confidence to understand not only who you are, but how other people see you. So I mean, it, maybe it just seems too easy to me, because this is what I’ve done for a living. But I also think that people can learn this, I think that people can learn these insights and take them away. And you know, those of us in advertising, it’s a lot easier because we’re used to seeing this, we’re used to doing this, but anyone can benefit from it. think in terms of the audience, always the audience.
AW: So I have to say, again, I think that that general message is so inspiring. I know from talking to some clients, particularly younger clients, I would say who feel overwhelmed about establishing their personal brand. And you need to think about filtering what you’re communicating based on your audience, and particularly pay attention to code switching across the generations. And when you were talking about stereotypes, and you know, there’s pros and cons and I was thinking I say this all the time to my kids like you wouldn’t survive if you didn’t stereotype to some extent. So stereotyping is not really a bad thing. It’s helping you judge the situation and how you should act and what you should do. Discrimination is bad. That’s different, right? I think that that’s really empowering. I wanted to ask you about my working definition that I have for personal branding. So if I’m starting off a workshop, I say, so what is personal branding? You can think of it very simply as identity management or reputation management. But it’s really what people think and say about you when you’re not in the room.
AW: So how does that relate then to product brands? Is it the same thing, what people think and say about the brand, when? Well, the brand could be in the room or not? Actually, right?
TM: Well, let me let me put it this way. I’ve been in a lot of focus groups. If anyone’s ever attended, or on either side of the philosophy, focus group, people sit in a room with one wing mirror, they can’t see the people watching them, the client, the agency, you know, the market research firm, are in a darkened room, watching the focus group, the focus group know they’re being watched. And there’s a moderator who goes in and ask them the question. So we people seen this on TV, even people not in advertising can visualize this. What they don’t know is that when the moderator leaves the room, the agency especially get right up close, so they can hear what people say when the moderator is not a room. Yeah, we get our best insights. And it might sound creepy, but we live in a world of social listening. And when the moderator is not in the room is when people speak the truth. Ah, that’s an overstatement. But you know what I mean, people speak in an unperformed way, at least they’re not performing for the moderator. And it’s really interesting, because sometimes they realize the agency’s on the other side of the glass, but they forget where they’re so when the moderator is not in the room, they don’t realize we’re listening. And that’s when they start to say, Oh, boy, is that ever terrible? Like what? Yeah, what were they thinking? Yeah, and there’s good stuff to hear, right? You’re saying, yeah, this is this is the best feedback.
AW: I actually remember that happening, being you know, what, the dark room on the other side of the one-way glass and looking in, and, you know, you can almost like snap your fingers and say, Oh, they forgot, we’re here, listen to what they’re saying.
TM: They totally forget you’re there. I mean, it’s just like in psychology, right? You don’t want to, you know, you’re trying not to affect the subjects. But so you can make that a metaphor and say that your personal brand is what they say when the moderator is not in the room.
AW: Oh, I love that. I love that. That’s, I’m gonna use that. These are great quotes here. So I have one more question to ask you before we get into the five rapid fire questions.
AW: You may have heard me say this, or you may have seen that I wrote this, that it occurred to me when I was thinking and writing about personal branding, that personal branding is very similar to actually your credit rating?
TM: Yes, I heard you say that? Yeah,
AW: yeah. So because of the fact that it exists, whether you manage it proactively or not, that people have access to it, they have access to your personal brand, obviously, they have access to your or institutions have access to your credit rating, and that you can choose to strategically manage it or not. What do you think about that metaphor? I guess it’s not a metaphor. It’s an analogy.
TM: It’s an analogy. And I can give you I can give you a marketing equivalent, because you know, you were there to I was there, we got to actually shepherd clients onto social media. And there was a real reluctance to go on social media, because the culture is that any criticism is bad. So what we always said to them, they’re already talking about you. Don’t you want to be there? So that’s like the credit score. It’s like, yeah, reputation exists. People have opinions of you the most, you know, the the quiet person who doesn’t talk to anyone, their neighbors still talk about them.
AW: Yeah, that’s true. Oh, my gosh, I love all these points. And you also reminded me of googling yourself and how particularly older, again, back to your code switching across the generations, older people, oh, I would never Google myself. That’s what narcissists do. And I’m like, other people are googling you. As you know, in a professional context. I know that when I meet people, they’re googling me. Right? So you got to manage your digital footprint, even social media.
TM: Oh, yeah, I have a I’ve had a Google News alert set for myself for over 10 years.
AW: Good for you.
TM: Oh, yeah, well, but you know, shout out to Tom Megginson of Yorkshire, I get all of his stuff.
AW: Okay, we’re gonna move on now to the five rapid fire questions. Are you ready?
AW: First question. What are your pet peeves?
TM: I’m a creative person. My pet peeve is really bad writing. And I don’t mean spelling mistakes. I mean, poor communication online when people aren’t expressing themselves. Well, I wish I could help them.
AW: Okay, question number two, what type of learner are you?
TM: I’m self taught. I actually dropped out of university, taught myself to do what I do. I learned by reading and I learned by listening and I especially learned by conversation.
AW: Wow, that’s impressive. Question number three. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
TM: This is a really funny one. So a few years ago, I was having a catch-up coffee with a very good friend of mine who told me she was very introvert and I said, you’re introverted? We’ve always been really open with each other. And she said, Well, my husband says, you’re an introvert, if your idea of relaxing is to be by yourself, if your idea of relaxing is to be with other people, you’re an extrovert. And I said, Oh, geez, because I’m really comfortable around people around strangers, whatever. But I need my me time. So maybe I’m both.
AW: So here’s the question. Where do you get your energy from? Or maybe an easier question to answer is, do you feel more drained when you spend the day alone? Or do you feel more drained after you come back from, you know, a big dinner party or something?
TM: Oh, definitely the latter. I mean, it takes a lot of psychic energy to be on, especially most of my socializing has a business aspect to it. So we were talking about those filters. They’re exhausting.
AW: Okay, so I’m gonna diagnose you as a social introvert, you are introverted, because you get your energy from being alone in your thoughts, right. But you do enjoy the company of people and you’re not shy.
TM: Yeah, that totally works. I mean, just think about how many actors and stand up comedians are incredibly insecure. I don’t consider myself insecure, but I do need my alone time.
AW: Oh, interesting. Okay, question number four communication preference for personal conversations?
TM: Well, I would say that I always prefer face to face. I’m most comfortable with face to face for all the reasons I told you about, you know, just being able to really connect with the person. However, I’ve gotten very used to text. I think I like either texting personal message. I like writing. I like communicating with people in writing. I don’t spend a lot of time on the phone anymore. I talk to my mom on the phone.
AW: Last question. Is there a podcast, a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most lately?
TM: It’s really hard to say … I’m not a follower. I don’t subscribe to any blogs or newsletters. I’ve written blogs. I’ve written for podcasts. I’ve done all this stuff. But I don’t actually subscribe to anyone. I allow my network to curate it for me. So you know, people will say Did you hear this podcast? This one’s really good. So I’ll listen to that one. The nice thing about that is I don’t get locked in.
AW: Yeah, that’s true.
TM: That’s true. But I will subscribe to yours.
AW: Oh my gosh, that question is not meant to be fishing for subscriptions. Honestly, I’m just I’m just… Okay. Is there anything else you want to add? About TMI or anything?
TM: Not really. I mean, I think we’ve covered a lot of stuff. I just really, really enjoyed talking to you here today. I mean, you know, you talk about conversation and learning and this is exactly the thing I like to do. So thank you very much for your time and for putting me on your on your podcast.
AW: Okay. I was supposed to thank you first! But Tom, the feeling’s mutual. I love this conversation because I learned, I did learn a lot and a new perspective on TMI and authenticity, and it was great and I hope we can stay connected.
TM: Fantastic. Me too.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
ANDREA’s CONCLUSION: PERSONAL BRANDING, AUTHENTICITY & TMI
What an amazing conversation, am I right? You could probably tell I enjoyed that interview. Thanks again to Tom.
And thanks to Tom, I have a new word. EXAPTATION. As in an adaptation with a new purpose. Exaptation is a trait or feature of an organism or a taxonomy that takes on a new purpose. An example that comes up frequently to illustrate exaptation is bird feathers, which were originally evolved for temperature regulation and then enabled flight.
Whoa. How did we end up in an evolutionary biology lesson? Well, Tom introduced us to the idea of product and personal branding coming full circle. Marketers were using human traits to personify brands. And now we humans are adopting brand marketing frameworks to develop our personal brand. Yes, we’ve definitely come full circle.
Now, let me summarize this episode with 3 key insights for us to consider:
- Code switching
- the Relevance to product branding
The meta theme, the one key takeaway here, is to consider your audience. When you’re consciously communicating your personal brand, for example when you’re in an important meeting or when your boss’s boss asks you how everything’s going, consider your audience. Then code-switch and filter as appropriate.
So the first key insight is
- We do this automatically all the time anyway… In a professional context we talk with our boss differently that we might talk with a client. And personally we talk with our parents differently that we talk with our kids.
- I loved Tom’s point about on code switching across generations. He highlighted that based on demographic and psychographic research, there are stereotypes associated with the various generational cohorts, from the formal silent generation, to the cooler but conformist baby boomers, to the cynical Gen X’r, to the protected Millennials, to the inspiration and validation-seeking Gen Zs. Tom highlighted that there’s no right or wrong culture, and in fact the younger generations are affecting us in positive ways, like encouraging us to talk openly about some critical, previously taboo topics, such as mental health.
- So depending on which generational cohort you’re communicating with, you might want to code switch. This cod switching might include the topics you discuss. The formality of your communication, and even the medium. Older folks may prefer the phone or face to face. Younger folks might prefer some media that I haven’t even heard of! And that reminds me, we code switch, we share different parts of our personal brand, depending on which social media platform we’re on, right? We share different things on LinkedIn versus what we share on TikTok. Of course.
- But it’s all true to us. It’s authentic. That’s where the second key insight comes in: filtering.
- Again, this point relates to understanding who your audience.
- Let’s back up. We are complicated beings. We have many many interests, hobbies, circles of friends, personality traits, and so on.
- By leveraging this concept of filtering our personal brand, we can be authentic. We don’t change who we are. We’re filtering what part of us we’re sharing with different audiences.
When Tom made this point about filtering, I realized that TMI, the TOO MUCH information, might a bit of a misnomer, right? Because it’s not about quantity, it’s about the substance or the content of the information. And we filter out what is appropriate for the context, for the audience.
- Tom says that the number one thing Q to in mind is, “is this relevant to my audience?“
- He also reminded us that we can mend our filter. When we speak out of turn, when we realize we said something we shouldn’t have, when we receive feedback, we can mend that filter. Adjust it. As Tom said, “Of course, the thing is, every time you do it, you learn.”
The last point here is how we can leverage insights and frameworks from product branding to personal branding. Of course, I knew this, as someone who worked in Brand Management and who has conducted research in consumer psychology, but Tom added some intriguing new insights.
3.Relevance to product branding & advertising
- To start with, an important distinction between product and personal brands, Product brands are constructed. Obviously, right? Well, some would say that brands are co-crated. But I digress. The point here is that when it comes to personal brands, here’s what Tom said: “ I don’t think we construct our personal brand. What we do is we filter it. That’s a really important differentiation for me, you know, I try to be authentic all the time. But I filter myself.”
- This might be one of the most important points from this episode. If you’re thinking about your personal brand, seeking authenticity, considering whether something is appropriate to share, think of filtering which elements of your authentic self you want to share.
- And there’s more in terms of the relevance of product branding:
- As someone who’s been in advertising and copywriting for 30 years, Tom shared how he’s always thinking about his audience, and specifically an audience you can’t see. Because in advertising, you’re speaking on behalf of a brand, you’re speaking on behalf of a company. And you’re always thinking about your target market. These are the core principles of product branding.
- Tom also brought this up how advertisers sometimes try to make people feel somewhat uncomfortable. They seek to get consumers out of their comfort zone, and maybe to try something new. In personal branding, I’ve heard this articulated in terms of creating a tension. Highlighting something that is unexpected, unique and certainly memorable. Take the irreverent personas of some social media influencers. Great point.
- Also from the world of product branding. I loved Tom’s point about focus groups, when the brand managers and ad agency folks are listening from behind the on-way glass. The deep, valid insights are what’s said when the moderator leaves the room, and the focus group participants are brutally honest. So our truly authentic personal brands are what people say when the moderator’s not in the room.
- At a broader level, Tom also mentioned how it’s all come full circle. As the word of brand management has become more sophisticated, marketers treat their brands like people, personifying them with values and traits and encouraging consumers to adopt RELATIONSHIPS with brands, similar to how they have relationships with people. Meanwhile, here we are, as HUMANS, now adopting brand management and product brand practices to help us craft our personal brands. We’ve come full circle.
Let me finish with this quote from Tom, that sums up much of our conversation. He said:
- “You have this in you to refine your personal brand, to alter your personal brand to make your personal brand work for you. A lot of it is just gaining the confidence to understand not only who you are, but how other people see you. So I mean, it, maybe it just seems too easy to me, because this is what I’ve done for a living. But I also think that people can learn this… you know, those of us in advertising, it’s a lot easier because we’re used to doing this. But anyone can benefit from it. Think in terms of the audience, always the audience.”
Well, said, Tom. These are the words of a wise messaging strategist.
That’s it! I hope these personal branding insights were helpful. Please let me know. And if you think listening to this episode might help your friends or colleagues, I hope you’ll forward it to them.
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