The Plague of 'Personal Branding'
As lifetime consumers of media, our tastes are constantly refining.
These days, if it feels like you’re trying to tell me something, it makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me something. And I immediately begin to detach.
I first noticed when I was dabbling with video that people would “present” to the camera. I’d stop them and ask them to tell me what they were about to say and it would happen in the most natural tone… a conversation… rather than presentation (effectively advertisement).
Well I don’t go near video anymore, but my point is the same. The second we approach portraits from a place where you’re trying to tell me something you’ve lost my respect as a viewer of that image.
This is why I believe ‘personal branding’ is a disconnected plague of insincerity.
Your ‘branding’ is a fabricated extension of you and what your business represents. It’s important, of course, because it helps us define your product. But at best it’s a very rough approximation.
You, however, are a complete person with a unique story. And you are much deeper with far more context and relevance than ‘personal branding’ could ever hope to convey.
‘Personal branding’ generally presents itself as a smiling head facing a camera. Is this the degree of depth we are willing to expect from a portrait or headshot?
Looking at portraits, I want to be presented with a message from the very core. A message that resonates with me as a complex person, full of preferences and conflict and experiences. That is what we should expect from head shots and portraits… not a fraction less.
And it’s possible. For real people. Every time.
When I get the feeling from a portrait that you have something to say you get my attention and that is the biggest commodity of all. That’s what all businesses are reaching for.
Our brains are evolved to look for a challenge. Something unique… unexpected. We know very well that the familiar and obvious fades into the background very quickly. It is precisely one of the things our brain does best. Unfortunately, familiar and obvious is what most photographers deliver.
If the most important thing in business is to approach your audience (your potential clients) with them in mind, then most photographers are really missing the point. But when it’s done well, we frame the story the viewers tell themselves about who they see.
You see, a photo is not a one way street. That’s the real magic of photography (and the aspect most photographers ignore). It is not a passive experience to the viewer. We can’t avoid putting the face in front of us through the matrix of human, emotional interpretation.
The same applies when you’re in a room with someone. You are either building rapport based on some sort of familiar recognition… or you’re not. There’s rarely anything in between.
If you’re telling me something - like telling me ‘smiling’ - I am left with no way to engage with the image. If it requires no interpretation it will not demand the viewers’ attention.
Opportunity lost. And how many opportunities can anyone afford to lose, really?
This is all fleeting. The reactions we have to images are instantaneous. Forget seven seconds! We process way faster than that because we are forced to. I’m not sure where this whole seven seconds thing even comes from, but if you think you have someone’s attention for SEVEN WHOLE SECONDS in order to make an impression, you are completely deluded.
Go ahead. Do it right now. It even feels absurd to suggest… Look at anything in the room and count… 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000… It’s a freaking eternity.
Often, our images get a glance at best. But that’s all we need. These days we are wired to accept or reject in a moment. So we need a headshot or portrait that delivers instantaneous impact.
The only way ‘telling smiling’ is going to have any impact is if the viewer happens to be smiling in the moment they encounter your image. I’m not willing to gamble on those odds. Are you?
Go try that little experiment. I dare you.
Go and sit in a room full of strangers with a big fake smile plastered to your face and see if it resonates. It might if someone else is sitting there smiling too because one of the ways we build rapport is mirroring each other.
Otherwise, you are ‘that’ person on the train or in the waiting room that people move away from… often clutching their bags - or their children - just a little bit closer.
And what is your Portrait or Headshot? It is you when you can’t be in the room. It works the same way. Who do you choose to put in the room?
Your portrait is an opportunity for deeper interaction with you and your story. And according to the finest business minds out there, that is how we build business these days.
How much more vital to share something deeper?
This is not merely facial recognition. Computers can do that. I’m talking about a true recognition of values and intention… something fundamental. One of those aspects that only we - the incredibly refined, blunt objects called ‘humans’ - are capable of recognising in each another.
We don’t need to see your face or your ‘personal branding’. We need to see you. All of you… with all the sincerity, power, experience and intention that makes you, you.
Sounds daunting? I know. But a great portrait photographer will help you get there with proper coaching in front of the camera. And the closer you get, the more inspired you are to push further… Ultimately creating images of yourself you never thought possible.
Not the fabricated mask that is the ‘person’. And not even simply who you are… When done well, you begin to uncover - visually - who you know your best self to be… and who you hope to become.
That is the magic possible in every portrait session.
...And anything less is a crime.