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When big brands and personal brands collide

The personal brand. It’s important to millennials, but what does it matter to corporate brands, and the people tasked with promoting them? As millennials are building their personal brands, they’re using products and companies to convey something about themselves. Tapping into this phenomenon could be an extremely successful and authentic approach to native advertising, but it also has risks.

To be successful with this approach, it’s important to understand how millennials are engaging in personal brand building and anticipate what shift is happening next.

Brand building

With social media leading the way, there is a strong pressure among millennials like myself to have a highly curated personal brand or online persona.1 It’s a reflection of who someone is, or who they want to be. There are even online guides that discuss how to create your brand and make sure it is consistent across social media platforms.2 It’s pretty serious stuff for some people.

In fact, some friends convinced me that I should pursue a fashion Instagram a while back. We figured that I’ve got a strong personal brand in real life and could be successful on social media. I gave it a go, thinking I could combine my love for fashion and tech. I picked out the handle, @basic_brat, and started curating my life through shots of outfits or inspiration. I even created a social media calendar for myself to follow. Posting a couple times a week, and giving shout-outs to the smaller boutique brands I loved, I found myself getting follows, likes, comments, and suggestions from them. It was thrilling. Just getting a like from a brand that I was wearing would keep a smile on my face for hours. I started gaining followers quickly and thought I was doing it.

I was becoming an Instagram fashion icon!

But I soon felt like it was too much work to curate my entire life. What if I wanted to post a goofy picture of friends? It didn’t match the minimalist brand that I was trying to create for myself, so I couldn’t do it. It became exhausting trying to dedicate my entire life to this effort and it started to affect my relationships. I would be fixated on getting the right shot – so focused on how to create this idea of who I was, or who I could be – that I ignored people talking to me.

At one point it even caused a fight with my boyfriend. I asked him why HE didn’t post more shots of us displaying our relationship for everyone to see and be jealous of. (Because what lady doesn’t like seeing a cheesy post from their boyfriend with #love?) The argument took an interesting turn when he admitted he was curating his life, and also wanting to curate the perception of me. He didn’t want to post a picture that didn’t show the interesting aspects of my personality. I was at a loss for words. How could someone else have the ability to curate MY personal brand?

Breaking brand

That’s when I started to realize that I wasn’t the only one curating. Friends, family, and even the brands I posted about had the ability to mold the perception of me. I started to become wise to the User-Generated Advertising ways and would roll my eyes every time I saw a brand shout-out. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one struggling with this shift in how social media was used to curate and build a personal brand.

Recently a young model lashed out against her own Instagram account.3 Essena O’Neill felt it was sucking the real and true experiences out of her life. She was more concerned with getting the right shot for the $2,000 per post than she was about eating that day, or enjoying her own school dance. Life was passing by and all she had to show for it was a collection of Instagram photos that skewed reality. She’s now focusing her efforts on speaking out against social media and is an advocate for “being present” in life.

So what does this all boil down to for brand consumer engagement?

There’s an opportunity to use influencers and advocates on social media, but there is a counter-movement on the horizon. Millennials are starting to see through the paid posts and influencers turned spokespeople. My advice: Tread lightly. Do everything you can to be authentic and original.
Focus on ways to help people build their brand with your brand’s support. Take a cue from West Elm. They have a successful hashtag campaign, #mywestelm, where consumers share their style and the spaces they’ve created with specific West Elm products. By inviting their customers into the spotlight, they’re able to validate the design choices of existing customers and provide new styling ideas for potential customers.

If you’re still unsure how to engage your audience on social media and use native advertising, we’ve got your back. Get in touch.