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The Rise of the Personality Cult in Marketing and its Pitfalls
Posted on February 22nd 2012
A smiling picture, a public reputation and an easy way to reach someone used to be the hallmarks of politicians and real estate agents. It also has become the badge of the social media marketer.
In a way there is a certain degree of inevitability to it. In the social media age personalisation is a drive which requires a certain degree of identification of a person and branding has to have some kind of consistent image to work with. All of which leads to the influx of smiling, engaging photographs designed to make each of us appear as appealing as possible.
In case you think that this is the exclusive province of the small outfit that does not know any better, the entertainer or the solo worker, think again. The multi-national, tiered business conglomerate known as Virgin has the smiling visage of Richard Branson as its very public face, Apple had come to be personified by the late Steve Jobs, Microsoft had Bill Gates, Facebook has Mark Zuckerberg (a.k.a. Zack) and MySpace had come to be represented by the perennial friend to all its members, Tom Anderson).
To this day banks, airlines and even supermarket chains are struggling to make us think of them as friendly, accessible and fun to deal with by hiring actors and personalities to act as their official personas. While the trend has always been there the accelerated uptake of social media and its demand for a more informal connection is now creating pressures that go far beyond the need for a public mouthpiece.
Social media provides a transparent and very visible stage where marketers need to project a large part of their personality in order to drum up business, stand out from their competitors and promote their services. While this has become the accepted and acceptable way of doing business in a social web it also comes with its set of pitfalls which are currently being overlooked.
1. The rise of the social media star. While marketers, by nature, should be outgoing, egregious and engaging as well as being good at their job the ability to successfully balance all this may not really be for everyone. There could be marketers who really understand what needs to be done and how to do it but are low-key by nature. There could be marketers who are just Ok at what they do but may be social lions. This is nothing new of course. We have encountered it before but back then it was offline and limited by geography. The social media global stage comes with a new set of dynamics and fresh challenges.
2. The locking into a public persona. The moment work becomes a public stage projected personas begin to act as they are real. We get then into the online equivalent of the staged reality show where exaggerated responses and over the top gestures have to be made in order to comply with the characteristics of a made-up persona. The moment that happens the truth we have come to prize will suffer and much of the revolution social media stands for will get replaced by the same-old way of doing things, in a newer stage.
3. An overlooking of what’s important. Personalities are either easy to hate or easy to love and very few fall in between. Personalisation works on the creation of an emotional response, which is why it’s so important in a social media environment, but it does not sit easily with a fair assessment of values, concepts and ethics. Steve Jobs was a visionary by almost all accounts. He also created a culture of fear within Apple and oversaw the creation of Chinese factories with working conditions which, right now, threaten to become Apple’s ‘Nike Moment’. The point is that everyone was too enamoured of his visionary status to actively challenge him on anything.
How we get past the pitfalls and play to the strengths offered by the emphasis social media places on personalities is also the litmus test of a society that is beginning to mature and use technology to work better, not just faster and more profitably.