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A Plea to the Entrepreneurial Blogosphere: Stop Mimicking A-Listers & Other Brand Idols. Please.

by Abby Kerr

in Voice Values How-To

About this column

Your Right Person is listening. Learning to use your Voice Values ensures you’re speaking the same language. Create. Connect. Converse. (Convert.)

I saw one again over the weekend. A good friend, an entrepreneurial peer, sent the link to me with some wry commentary. Good Lord, I thought. How bad could it be?

And oh, it was bad. Horribly mortifying to watch, I’d describe it as.

A twenty-something, fresh-faced woman with a coaching business, contorting herself sexily in a video on the home page of her website to the thick, seductive beat of an R+B song. She gestured suggestively, she pulled faces, she stopped to deadpan lines at the camera about contacting her for a free one-on-one consultation session. With total sexual overtones. Swap out the copy scrolling across the screen and you’d almost think it was an online ad for, well — something else.

It was obvious that she wasn’t behaving “naturally.” She was putting on a marketing show that she’d seen play out before, but exaggerating it to the -nth degree, really trying to ‘commit.’ Good Lord was right.

The problem is, if I’ve seen one of these videos this year, I’ve seen fifty.

And for every fifty I’ve seen, there are probably 150 I haven’t seen. And there are probably 500 more women out there wondering how they can get their energy up enough to create something like this for their own site. Something hype-y, sexy, glam-my, and attention-grabbing. Something that says to the world, I’m here. I want you to watch me. I’m committing to my message. I’m a model for what’s possible for you when you embrace all of your gifts and your potential.

Ugh. Because my potential naturally means hair-swinging, lip-pursing, and goofy imitations of women in rap videos.

It’s time somebody says something. Here I am.

What I’m critiquing here in this post is the commonality of self-made marketing videos featuring entrepreneurial-minded women, earnest about building and promoting their work in the world, in which these women are:

  • dancing on video,
  • getting down to sexy club music, hand jiving and “booty popping” {yes, I just typed that phrase on my blog},
  • including a gag reel full of fart jokes,
  • making funny faces at someone ‘off-camera,’ as in, whoops! forgot this thing was on!

You know exactly what I’m talking about. If you read regularly in the entrepreneurial blogosphere or follow links on Twitter to so-and-so’s latest video, you’ve seen plenty of it, too.

First, let me lay out my biases:

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with the marketing style I’m describing. {Though I understand that’s up for debate.}
  • I take no exception to women using overt sex appeal to market their work {although it’s not a tactic I’d use and it’s not one that makes me want to buy}.
  • I take no exception to women or men dancing in marketing videos.
  • I take no exception to gag reels. {Fart jokes . . . eh.}
  • I take no exception to Jester brands workin’ their stuff like they got it. {Because they do.}

But I want you to really understand what you’re looking at here.

What we’re looking at with the proliferation of cutesy, hotsy-totsy marketing videos {most of them made by the under-35 and female set} is a stylistic trend.

It’s naked emulation of a very popular online business personality’s natural, effusive, Jester style as enacted through her marketing videos. Complete with occasionally R-rated humor and lots of sexy, girly energy. {Much of it done tongue-in-cheek.}

This style is so compelling for Very Popular Online Business Personality because it is her personality {or, never having met her, I’d bet it’s one very well-edited element of her personality}. In other words, it’s not a stretch for her; it’s within the range of her everyday behavior.

She doesn’t have to try very hard to make her videos so addictively watchable. {Even if you don’t dig her work, you’re watching her videos every week.} A good camera, a clever director and editor, and she can just bring it. It’s her and it makes her content go viral in the online entrepreneurial community almost every week.

BUT . . . if you are NOT a natural Jester, if you don’t naturally ooze sex appeal and have the ability to rally people around a call to action in a humorous, over the top way {while solidly driving your valid and well-modeled point home at the same time} — then this style is NOT FOR YOU.

Why am I calling out this one style, this one online voice {an expertly well-curated, stylized, and professionally executed voice}, and criticizing its imitators?

Because I see mimickry {unintentional and/or not} running rampant in the online entrepreneurial space. At best, we can chalk it up to naïveté and inexperience, and at worst — it’s an online business marketing travesty, a voice snuffer, and a brand killer.

When you stretch and contort yourself to fit into a marketing style that’s popular and widely applauded, but not at all naturally aligned with YOU when you’re market-ing from your sweet spot, you sell yourself out. And you sell your right people short.

You have a naturally strong style that is totally marketing-worthy. It’s the style that your right people will love and connect with. It’s the style that doesn’t pull the rug out from under your people when they meet with you over Skype for the first time and you’re actually who you portrayed yourself to be.

And it’s very unlikely that your purest, most powerful, and most sustainable marketing style involves bleeped-out swear words. How do I know that without even knowing you? Because only a reasonably small fraction of the online entrepreneurial community would actually swear on video, even if they swear offline in their private lives, or in the comments of other people’s blogs, or in their own blog posts. {Ahem.}

This is not about swearing. It’s not even about the validity of swearing as a conversational technique.

{I happen to think it’s a wildly good one. Just ask my circle of close friends.}

This is about learning to express yourself online, in business channels, in a way that’s clear, compelling, and authentically you. {And that’s one A-word I will use online.}

In the interest of not making this post all preaching and no teaching, here are 3 ideas for how you can swipe the strategy you admire from your online brand idols and keep your own natural vibe intact {and your booty . . . unpopped}.

1. When something or someone online draws your attention, first say I can’t stop watching! I feel a little jealous, or pressured to do something equally interest-grabbing. Then ask yourself, Why?

Your answer might surprise you.

Perhaps it’s not because you actually want to lip sync on camera, maybe it’s because you have your own hidden talents that you haven’t expressed through your brand yet, or because you wish your latest content could get that many RTs, or because you haven’t yet seen a style of video-editing/sales page-writing/navigation menu-naming that impresses you more than this.

The value in knowing why you’re drawn to a certain style? It points you toward what you know is currently lacking in your own brand. {Even if yours will be delivered in a different style.}

2. Ask yourself why the brand creator would deliver such content, in such a place, to such people. Look at the actual format or delivery method this time, the platform {YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.}, and the intended audience, but not the style.

Is the video targeting blog post subscribers? Since a blog is a free information-sharing tool, the intent is to generate shareable content that will help build an audience and spread one’s point of view through the social media space.

Is the content creator asking you to share his content with your networks? Now he’s leveraging your audience for attention.

The takeaway here? All flash serves a purpose. Or at least it should. That’s strategy. And profitable businesses don’t do much that doesn’t serve strategy.

To apply this to your own business, think about your channels: Twitter and Facebook, your site, InstaGram, anywhere else your brand shows up. Who hangs out there? People who know nothing about your brand yet? Your most loyal, rarin’-to-go followers? Develop content to meet their needs in that space and deliver in a style that’s respectful of the relationship you have with them.

3. Notice yourself using your own brand language and being you with your clients. The elements of how you deliver that your right people pick up on — those are clues that point you toward the strongest and most sustainable style and voice for you.

Notice when your people say things like, I love it when you . . ., When you told me X, I was like Yes! That’s it!, I can always count on you to be X, Y, and Z.

The hallmarks of your personality, as they get translated through your brand, are what we call ‘style’ online. You know, as in, She’s got an over-the-top style, or His style is so refreshing.

Developing your own online marketing style is a work in progress, no matter what stage of business growth you’re in.

There’s no judgment on being new {a baby brand} watching and imitating a bigger, larger brand {a more mature brand} that has more reach, platform, followers. Imitation is the first way we learn. But at some point, something’s gotta give. It’s the facade.

With all due respect, I hate to see so many stylistic rip-offs of Very Popular Online Business Personality and other A-List entrepreneurial brands. It’s not serving the imitators, it’s not serving the imitated, and it’s not serving any of our clients to have so many half-baked brand concepts in the space.

Postscript: June 10th, 2012

Since this post was originally published on June 25th, 2012, Marie Forleo, a popular, successful online business personality who is widely imitated, interviewed her friend and fellow “A-Lister” Kris Carr, another voice that many entrepreneurial ladies in the holistic wellness niche find enviable. One of the themes of their conversation? Brand voice mimicry. Check out that part of the conversation here between minutes 14:24 and 18:24. If you liked my post, you’ll dig what they’re saying.

In the comments, I’d love to know . . .

What’s this about? Why do you think there are so many stylistic rip-offs of A-Listers?

And how do we get acquainted with our own strongest and most natural marketing styles?

Let’s keep this convo clean and peaceable and refrain from naming names. This is about having integrity in our own ideas and contributing to a productive conversation about branding and business. Thanks in advance!

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Calandrella June 25, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am all for learning and growing in business, but it does feel like we are in a rut of mimicry {rather than innovation}. My first rule of business: know thyself. And if you don’t, you best be finding out who you are because every iteration, every business model will be something that works for someone else but not for you. I have a long way to go in my own journey, but my focus for myself {and with my clients} is first inward. xo

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Hi, Laura —

It’s my observation & personal experience that entre/solopreneurship is as much about personal development as it is about business development. It’s an inextricably intertwined process of figuring out what works best and why — for ourselves and for clients.

I admire your holistic approach to working with social change makers. I know your focus is very much on the holistic person showing up in her life and in her work. No hotsy-totsy videos for your clients — unless that’s truly how they experience themselves at their best!

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Emma Alvarez Gibson June 25, 2012 at 11:25 pm

It’s hard to be yourself sometimes. We’re messes, we’re complicated, and it’s tricky to get far enough outside of yourself to find that identifiable you-ness to play up and invoke as necessary. Embodying someone else’s proven method can seem like a relief. That said, this phenomenon is deeply sad. In this space, as in all others, either you’re enough, and you’ll do fine, or you’re enough, and you’ll do poorly and need to find something else to do.

The commodification of “attitude + brains + beauty” is silly at best. There’s room for everyone — or at least we all keep bleating that there is (myself included) — and if there isn’t, then it’s a space race and only first place matters, no? Neither scenario requires that level of self-contortion. 

Just be you, ladies. That’s all you need to be. You’re enough. Really! 

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Emma —

You said:

“In this space, as in all others, either you’re enough, and you’ll do
fine, or you’re enough, and you’ll do poorly and need to find something
else to do.”

Isn’t that just the truth? Either way — whether the business succeeds or fails or the brand is wildly approved of or wildly scorned — we each are enough. No house music necessary. {Unless you truly dig it.}

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Tamisha Ford June 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Hi Abby.  I guess I will be the first to break this comment space.  :-)  #1 is I LOVE the assertiveness in your voice here.  It is real, it is raw and it’s transparent emotion.  I have always admired that about you.  #2 is that my heart goes out to these “types” because I can honestly say I know how hard it is when you’re first getting started to not copy.  It’s insanely hard.  You and I had a convo once about the “behind-the-scenes mentor.”  :-)  I think this would be that.  So….let’s just put that out there – it’s tough.  You’re out there, trying to make it, and one of the biggest mistakes you might make is this very thing.  That said, I think there is a fine line between having a “brand model” and using its themes and design ideas effectively and straight up copying.  45 women can use red and white on their site, but how do YOU use it?  That is the question.  One thing I learned recently from a business coach of mine is to find your Unique Awesomeness Proposition – your UAP.  It is inevitable in ANY industry that you will have “competitors” or someone else in that same field.  But I think it takes a lot of discipline, learning, mistakes, and heart to find it.  It is not easy.  Finding your unique personality and learning to infuse it into your business is key, along with your personal strengths.  And of course, as you obviously know, in your copy as well.  I think this is a sensitive topic among entrepreneurs and especially women because we are emotionally invested into our businesses.  

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Tamisha —

You are right: it’s very challenging when you’re first creating a brand online to *know* what your intrinsically strong style is. It IS an iterative and generative process. Thanks for reminding us of that. {No wonder I’ve iterated so often over the past 2 years — hee-hee!}

My thought is that there needs to be more modeling of the PROCESS of brand creation and iteration, so that so many don’t get caught up in copying and imitating. What do you think?

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Tamisha Ford June 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

 I definitely agree with you.  I sort of see it as a vicious circle in ways.  Those are the very people who need a coach or a system and often times, the people they end up looking to are doing exactly what you’re describing!  It’s like the blind leading the blind.  It took me 2 years to find a coach that really resonated with me and who I trusted to completely transform how I saw my business and myself as it relates to my business.  When you talk about modeling of the process, to me that just means more of us being “real” about our experiences and willing to share them (aka, relationship marketing).  So many are only willing to share just enough and not how they REALLY got to where they are.  The more authentic and real we can be, the more people will actually believe us.  The more value we can give to others, the more we empower them to create their own value in their own way and the less they want to copy what we’re doing.  It is really funny how this works, but I’ve experienced it myself.  It is really powerful. 

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Glad you’re experiencing clarity around this for yourself, Tamisha. I completely concur that modeling the process — insofar as it’s valuable/instructional/inspirational for one’s audience and apropos to what you really deliver through your business — is helpful.

While I agree that a good coach {or any creative service provider, really} can be instrumental in helping people unlock their original approach, I always caution people to vet ALL service providers carefully, check credentials {and street cred/rep}, and invest modestly before going all-in. I’ve seen too many people’s brands misled and misaligned by coaches who took liberties and advanced their own agendas through the coaching process. You know all this — just sharing for the benefit of others reading. ;)

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Patty White June 26, 2012 at 12:39 am

I think when you’re young – sometimes not so young – and you want to be successful, sometimes the easiest thing is to try to be like someone you admire.  The path of least resistance on the surface.  Do this, be like this, you’ll be successful.  And it looks like fun!

Finding your strongest and most natural marketing style is difficult, especially if you are dealing with shyness – and I think that’s the case some of the time when I see the emulations – people trying to push past some personal barriers, it’s a little easier to be “like” someone else than to reveal your own vulnerabilities.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to work out being a Professional Flibbertygibbet into my marketing. :)

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Hi, Patty —

Excellent point you’ve made about shyness and not wanting to expose vulnerabilities being part of the path of the imitator. I think you’re on to something there.

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Megan Potter June 26, 2012 at 12:55 am

“You have a naturally strong style that is totally
marketing-worthy. It’s the style that your right people will love and
connect with.”

Truth. 

“Why do you think there are so many stylistic rip-offs of A-Listers?”Because they don’t know, or believe, your above point.You know, the interesting bit is that in imitating other people they attract the people who are drawn to someone with that nature.  And in the end they end up with a bunch of not-ideal clients, not loving working with them and thinking something is wrong with them or their business.  When really, the only problem is the message.

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Oh my gosh, Megan, isn’t that the truth?

I found myself in that position early in my biz. I wrote the first iteration of my web copy {I linked to the post about it in this post, as a matter of fact} in a voice that was about two steps off from my natural voice. I was unconsciously mimicking someone who I admired. I had so absorbed her vibe and oeuvre that it became indistinguishable from my own for a while and I lost touch with the fact that I was, in fact, ‘putting on’ a persona. And some of the clients I attracted during that time were not the best-fitting ones for me. They were attracted to the PERSONA that my copy embodied, but then *I’d* get internally frustrated during the co-creation process with them because of the different flavors of our work styles.

Thanks for making this important point.

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karen wallace June 26, 2012 at 1:25 am

Bravo Abby & thank you! I love how you’re taking this stance, respectfully and totally owning your own opinion. I think you’re modelling beautifully how to be authentic and real in this space.

It feel sad when I see the imitations – sad that they feel they have to do what ‘she’ (or he) does in order to be successful. I’ve been noticing this in the context of what we buy online as well (wanting to learn ‘their’ secrets so can replicate their success). 

You ask how do we get acquainted with our own strongest and most natural marketing styles? It is my belief it comes from within, first. Unless we know who we are and what we have to offer the world, it can be easy to imitate. I often prescribe a blackout – going offline to go within and really know who you are without the noise. It’s taken me a while ;) but I know I’m not ‘less than’, and don’t need to be anyone but me.

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Hello, Karen —

Your internet blackout idea is a wise one, especially for those who are really struggling to hear and connect with their own voice. The thing about style is, in the best case, it’s not something that’s ‘put on,’ it naturally arises and emanates from a place that feels effortless and easy. It can and should be edited and curated for impact on an online audience, sure, but if we feel we have to leeeeaaaaan out of ourselves to communicate strongly, then something’s off.

I appreciate you commenting here!

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Andrew R Long June 26, 2012 at 11:58 am

Who is this Very Popular Online Personality you are not referring to by name here? 

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Hi, Andrew —

In this case, the Who isn’t as important as the What, which is the style we’re examining here. {That’s why I felt it unimportant, and in fact, a distraction, to name the VPOBP.} Because style is so highly singular and personalized, the goal of my post and commentary is to encourage all personal brands with online presences to define and embrace their own style, not to imitate who’s popular and impactful.

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Naomi Niles June 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I caught a person copying my material and voice on two occasions. In both cases, they were not subconscious mimicry because I had ways to track them in my stats and by other means. Both times, I chose not to say anything because I sense that the person was feeling insecure and also I believe they are a kind person despite this.

This may or may not be the same person you are referring to. It doesn’t really matter who it is (I appreciate that you didn’t mention names).

Mostly, this issue saddens me because the world is so much richer when we are different. Being public on the internet can make a person feel terribly vulnerable, but it’s so important because the world is so much better when we share who we are.

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Wow, Naomi. I know how incredibly frustrating that is to see your stuff being ripped off by others — I ran into that lots, unfortunately, when I had my online retail store. {Sometimes I wondered if people *truly* didn’t understand plagiarism, intellectual property, etc., or just figured they wouldn’t get caught.}

One thing that’s true: those who succeed long-term always have a custom strategy that suits their unique style and serves their right people in a way that no one else does and no one else can. Those who imitate will never have the success of the ones they’re imitating. We each break the mold when we’re truly living into our most powerful gifts.

Thanks for sharing here and contributing to this conversation.

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Corrina June 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Fantastic post, Abby. Whenever I notice that little voice in me going, “I want to be more like HER”, I feel it’s the 11-year old who sat in school assembly, totally in awe of the 18-year old Head Girl on the school stage. And what was really happening was that I saw something in her that I knew  deep down I was (confident, beautiful, smart) but that I didn’t yet have access to. So I love how you’re pointing us to look differently – look at the idol and ask: “What is my envy or admiration telling me about ME? How can what I’m seeing in her give me permission to be more of ME?” Debbie Ford writes about us projecting our light onto others, as well as our shadow.

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm

“look at the idol and ask: “What is my envy or admiration telling me
about ME? How can what I’m seeing in her give me permission to be more
of ME?”

Yes! I believe it’s DLP {another ‘brand idol’ who is widely emulated/imitated in this community} who says something like: you are attracted to what you are aware exists in you.

I also hold that when we’re repelled by a brand or an online personality, it’s often because what they espouse is bumping up unpleasantly against a value that WE hold in opposition. For example, if I hold myself and my brand to a strong code of integrity, I’m going to be bothered by brands that play the Mystique card too heavily. If I’m a rebel rouser, I’m going to be put off by brands that are all about holding down the status quo. We’re all wired differently and that’s what’s cool about the possibilities for how we present ourselves online.

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Rebel rouser? Rabble rouser?

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Tommy Walker June 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm

BRAVO!

I think the ripping off of A listers is because we figure “hey if it works for them…” and with the women entrepreneur community especially, I think tapping into sex appeal is one of the easiest things (supposedly) you could do. 

Unfortunately, if it doesn’t come natural, it’s the women entrepreneur equal of becoming a stripper simply because you have a nice body. Not that I have anything against strippers, or women entrepreneurs either for that matter. To me, it’s just the easy way out. 

And it’s unfortunate, because I’ve met many female entrepreneurs who have a real natural talent, who have something legit to say, and by emulating the A list (and I think I know who you’re talking about) they’re shortchanging themselves and their audience. 

What I think it comes down to honestly is fear *and it’s not just women* but it’s much easier to make the duck lips and booty clap than it is to develop your own style. 

In order to REALLY develop your own style, you have to do a deep analysis of yourself. You have to know what your assets are, like are you a strong leader? Are you funny? Or should you stick to being pure information? 

And more importantly, are you talking to the right market? The “sexy lady entrepreneur” works, but only if you’re targeting other attractive, empowered women (or men, in which case they’re probably buying for the wrong reasons first) 

The truth is, many “real world” female entrepreneur types aren’t “sexy”. They’re busy. They’re focused on building their business. They’re focused on being taken seriously. They’re focused on making meaningful connections and building their business. 

I think once more of the “female entrepreneur edutainers” realize this, they’ll find themselves free of the need to “perform” and focus on what matters the most. The work.  

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Abby Kerr June 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Hi, Tommy —

Your points are well-taken. It’s true that this particular style I’m referencing is mostly produced by women. I’d say the stereotypically ‘male’ equivalent of this style is the I’m so cool, I work in my office on a headset with my feet up on a desk. That is, when I’m not ‘working’ from my ‘office’ on the beach in Fiji. Some people — women and men — can get way too caught up in peddling the vibe they think others want to see and buy into, and let the true value of what they have to offer fall into the cracks of their image.

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Natalie Peluso June 26, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Excellent post, Abby. What I’m really intrigued by with this discussion is the connection between who we are as “brands”, how we express that in copy and then how this changes once video gets thrown into the mix.

With blog posts and copy, it’s possible to craft a message that is both genuine for our business and yet designed to speak to our ideal audience. But video is much less forgiving because while we can get really good at “saying” the right things, most people are woeful at saying the right things “in the right way”.

When the culture is always “just be yourself” it gets very confusing on video – should I be my chilled out self? My serious, studious self? My late night soul searching with my girlfriends self? Or is it easier to think – my audience love this person, I dig her too, so perhaps there’s something in her style I should be taking on?

The irony is that the answer is yes to all of the above – if it is CONGRUENT with your brand, and recognizably you. (As you say, would someone be shocked to discover the real you on a Skype call? What a great litmus test.)

If your copy, your design and your presentation on vdeo are all congruent, then shazam – you attract trust, rapport, and an audience that resonates to the same vibration.

But I would applaud anyone that places a big emphasis on innovation, creativity and leadership, too. Even if your style IS like the guru in question, would you want to be – as screenwriters are always saying – “the same, but different?”

Big discussion and lots to say! Thanks for getting it out there. :)

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Aninha Livingstone June 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Thank you for your well thought out blog. I am currently enrolled in %$)(*&   and I am finding it quite challenging to find my own voice. In fact, since signing up, I have found myself dumbing down my newsletter, to make it quick and easy to read. I am in the beginning phase of taking what I like, and leaving the rest. I know I need to do something differently than I have been doing, and but I notice that I give away my knowing, thinking that she has the secret, only to find myself feeling empty. I think what I am drawn to is her authenticity, and that she has allowed herself to be so visible. So, that is my growing edge. What would it look like for me to allow my own authenticity to be more visible.

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Abby Kerr June 27, 2012 at 12:10 am

Hi, Aninha —

Thanks for your comment. I admire your self-awareness and want to acknowledge how challenging it can be to recognize and hold fast to your true center when you’re in the presence of a strong and compelling personality.

I myself enjoy learning from big personality brands simply as an outside observer — they’re great models and case studies. The challenge is always to bring what we’re learning back to our own singular community and integrity-check everything against what we know to be true for us.

Cheering you on as you identify with your own growing edge and figure out what authenticity looks like on you — and in the parts of you that get translated through your brand and into the world. :)

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Abby Kerr June 27, 2012 at 12:05 am

Hey, Natalie —

Thank you for such a thoughtful, nuanced contribution to this conversation. I think you excellently depicted the confusion over which version of our authentic voice “should” show up in our brand. It’s a many-layered question indeed, but there *is* light at the end of that tunnel.

Looking forward to more public convo around this! :)

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Brit Hanson June 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

A.M.E.N.

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Amanda F. June 27, 2012 at 11:54 am

So here’s the thing about the A-Listers: people look at their success and say, “Hey, if I replicate it, I can make that money/have that power/be that person.” I see it all the time with design clients. They’ll find a style that they’re drawn to… and then want to rip it entirely for themselves.

Obviously, that ain’t gon’ fly — ever. Finding your OWN voice is one of the most important discoveries for an entrepreneur to make; whether that’s your visual language or your writing style or even your marketing medium. 

Emma’s got a great point: being yourself is extremely difficult when you may not fit into the “acceptable” boundaries of biznez. But, at the end of it all, the only person you can be is yourself. Authenticity, integrity, and honesty rule the online world. If you’re smacking of mimicry, you’re going to be called out as fraudulent. 

True story.

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Abby Kerr June 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

“Authenticity, integrity, and honesty rule the online world.”

Yes. Those who aren’t in integrity get flushed out eventually. No one is too big to fall. Meanwhile, vet those you admire and promote, people!

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Brit Hanson June 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

A.M.E.N.

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Abby Kerr June 28, 2012 at 11:03 am

I hear you, Brit! :)

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Clare Herbert June 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

Wonderful post, Abby. I really enjoyed it. As an early stage entrepreneur, I am very nervous of subconsciously imitating the brands and people that ‘speak’ to me. My intention is always to express myself truthfully in my personal voice, seeing the world through my unique lens. However, reading articles that I wrote a year or more ago I notice echos of other people’s voices. It’s one of the reasons that I invested in a Voice Reading from you. I’ll continue to strive for ‘more me’ in my work.

Thanks for this Abby, it really made me think. C

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Abby Kerr June 28, 2012 at 11:05 am

Hi, Clare —

Just the fact that you’re conscious of wanting to show up as YOU and that you *care* goes a long way. I think some people aren’t very conscious of it at all, hence the unintentional {or intentional} mimicry.

I, too, read back on stuff in my own archives and wince. Voice development is a part of our growth and the cool thing is, others can find value in what we ourselves know we’ve outgrown. We’re *all* along our own growth curve every single minute. :)

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Kate Swoboda June 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Ha! I noticed the videos, too, but wondered if I was the only one. ;-)

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Abby Kerr June 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Oh, no. Nyet. Not the only one. :)

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Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef June 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Thank you for writing this one, Abby. I’ll be sharing my with Secret Sauce seekers (I’ve got a crew of students currently trying to figure out who they are and how to bring THAT to their marketing).

I think what you pointed out (the copying) happens for two reasons: 1) it’s hard and takes time to do the real work of finding YOUR voice; and 2) so many people want instant gratification these days that they look for shortcuts, recipes and blueprints for knocking things out of the park on the first try. 

My favorite line from this post: The value in knowing why you’re drawn to a certain style? It points you toward what you know is currently lacking in your own brand.

That’s. HUGE.

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Abby Kerr June 28, 2012 at 9:35 pm

“The value in knowing why you’re drawn to a certain style? It points you
toward what you know is currently lacking in your own brand.”

Hi, Tea! —

Yes. And I’d add that it’s not that we want that *style*, per se, but we want the *effect* that we suspect it’s creating. The effect can be created through multiple styles — we have to find what works for us and our audience, inside of the singular relationship we have with them.

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Kola June 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm

the thing is, it takes alot of strength to be openly authentic. being real sounds appealing but it comes with the price tag of dealing with rejection and ridicule. I don’t think most people are equipped to handle that. (it’s really funny that i found your blog today because i blogged about something similar just last week)

Cheers,
Kola

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Abby Kerr June 28, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I agree, Kola. It can feel like a big risk to put ourselves out there and hope for approval, buy-in, shares, support.

Glad to know there are others in the blogosphere working with these same ideas! :)

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Erica Holthausen June 29, 2012 at 8:14 am

While I do think that a great deal of mimicry is fear-based, I also think the stylistic rip-offs are a natural part of discovering your own personal style of presentation.

I’ve often heard it said that entrepreneurship is the most powerful personal development tool out there. And I agree. As a business owner I am completely free to explore my own point of view. I’m allowed and even encouraged to be my true, authentic self. As children, we are rarely encouraged to be who we truly are. Parents may have some expectations, but the peer pressure from other children can easily squash the quirky bits. So, as an adult, we start to explore. And that exploration often starts with mimicry. We see something we’re drawn to and we want to try it. We want to play with the idea.

The real key is making sure that once we’ve tried it, we really evaluate it closely. Is this the real me? Does this reflect who I am? Does it feel right? Does it resonate? Can I tweak this to suit my style or is it really just not for me? What can I learn from this? Why was I drawn to it?

I am susceptible to writing styles. One reason I always did well in school, and later as a freelance writer, is because I could adjust my writing to fit the style of my teacher or editor or anyone else for that matter. These days, I’ll occasionally find myself writing in the style of a book I just read — adopting some of the language or patterns of speech. I need to try them out. I need to taste the words, roll them around on my tongue and see them on paper. Most of the time, the trial is short-lived. But sometimes these experiments really do change the way I think and speak about my work. When that does happen, something that started as mimicry becomes an integrated part of my personal style and that little girl who had to hide some of her quirky bits starts to smile just a bit more broadly!

Thank you, Abby, for such a wonderful, thought-provoking post!

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Abby Kerr June 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Hi, Erica —

Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful comment. You’ve made such excellent points all the way through and I find your POV to be a truly compassionate take on what it looks and feels like to explore and iterate one’s voice.

I agree with you: sometimes we discover our own voice hallmarks and traits by first noticing them elsewhere, and later integrating them in a way that feels authentic to us. The intention and the impetus originates from an authentic place, though we’ve gotten a charge of bravery from first seeing someone else speaking powerfully on their own behalf. Great distinction and I’m glad you made it!

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Jen {The Wholehearted Life} June 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Thank you thank you thank you! I’ve been cringing to myself (and my husband) for a number of months…the mom in me has wanted to take so and so aside and provide some guidance but the new entrepreneur in me has said no ….someone else will do the message better justice. Which you have. So again ~ thank you!

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Abby Kerr June 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Jen, I hear you. The ironic thing is that what looks and feels like overexposure or even lack of dignity to us probably feels {or seems} very empowered or righteously individuated to the person acting it out. Not saying that to be condescending to the imitators, but only to point out how we each interpret what we’re seeing differently.

Glad this post struck a chord with you!

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Jen {The Wholehearted Life} June 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm

1000% agree. But I see too many DLP and MF (and others) wanna-bes…*that’s* what makes me cringe. The great thing about DLP and MF is that they *can’t* be imitated successfully (imo). Yes ~ it is about finding your style and voice and even at 42 I’m still reinventing myself. I get it. I try things on for size and cast aside if it doesn’t feel natural. What I cringe at is the unnaturalness of it all…no matter how much you call yourself and what you do authentic…it’s not if you can’t do it naturally. It gives authenticity a bad rap and that’s unfair, lol. But to your point…it may just be my perception that it’s unnatural :). I can own that, lol.

Such great dialogue around this…learning lots from all the comments!

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Paul Zelizer June 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Abby,

Really appreciate this post.  And, I resonnate with this line the most: “Developing your own online marketing style is a work in progress, no matter what stage of business growth you’re in.”  Honestly, I’ve done some out of integrity copying (not of the booty popping type but more of the hyped up energy than is my authentic style) that I used to beat myself up about.  Then, I found my compassion and now the self talk is more like: “Of course.  You didn’t really know how to market from the heart.  You’ve learned a bunch from those experiences.  Just stay true to what you know to be true for you NOW.  There’s no need to step out of integrity anymore.”Just wanted to share that in case any other readers might have found her/himself straying from their deepest integrity in this whole confusing marketing with integrity thingy …Warmly,Paul

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Abby Kerr June 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Oh my gosh, I love your contribution to this conversation, Paul.

Yes: we have ALL have ‘acted’ or are still acting in some ways in our marketing and branding. It’s a natural part of figuring out who we are in relationship to our brand, our business, our self image as entrepreneurs, and our prospects and clients. As some of the readers pointed out above, there’s so much personal development that goes along with business development. They happen concurrently and often what we’re working out personally shows up in our marketing in one way or another.

I love the way you catch yourself and reframe for the present. This year has presented me with many opportunities to realign my own stuff, too, so I appreciate the work you’re doing. :)

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Jalanda James July 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Wow! Way to call people out Abby! 

I’m a NYC Videographer and I get requests all the time for people to create videos like Marie Forleo or Danielle LaPorte. 

Both are super high energy and it looks natural for them. But on others you are right, it can look utterly ridiculous. 

Like right now, Danielle has a white background, closeup, quick edit video that totally represents her brand. When another woman tried it, it was off. 

I like to shoot people just being themselves. Some are soo funny it hurts. Others are dry as hell. But that’s them. So in the end, yup just be yourself with a little oomph. Cuz truly flat, looks uber boring on camera;-).

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Abby Kerr July 3, 2012 at 12:02 am

Thanks for adding to this convo, Jalanda. You’ve got an up-close and rarefied perspective on this issue. I’m curious if you jump in during the meet-and-greet with clients and encourage them to see where the process takes you both during filming and editing, so that their *own* strongest voice can be unfolded through the piece rather than pre-committing to a certain style that may not be so them. Would love to hear about how you negotiate this one! :)

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Laura Simms July 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Well said, Abby! Thanks for the reminder that we’re all always works in progress. 

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Abby Kerr July 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Thanks, Laura! And *that* is for sure.

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DK Upshaw July 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I’m a YouTube animator who’s not getting as many views as she used to.  I’ve been tempted to copy other YouTube animators who still get lots of hits, most of them being young males.  But then I stop and think, “What am I thinking?  I did NOT become an animator to be a copy of someone else, no matter how popular whazzizname is!  I’ll find MY audience!”  And I will, too.

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Abby Kerr July 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Yes, you will, D.K.! Glad to hear that this post inspired some renewed confidence in your unique point of view. Thanks for commenting. :)

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Desiree East July 11, 2012 at 2:37 am

Hi Abby, Thanks for a great post and I appreciate the insights from others in the discussion. The most challenging thing for me IS, in fact, finding a way to still be the ‘authentic me’ without thinking I need to mold into ‘something else’ that my target audience wants to see…on a personal level, finding my voice has never been a challenge, and I find that things flow better when I am genuinely who I am. On a business level (especially online) I definitely feel more challenged — and vulnerable, for that matter — because there is always the *business side* of me thinking, “What do you think your target audience wants to hear/see?” I am constantly questioning myself. It’s a balancing act, meeting your clients’ needs— without compromising who you really are — has been a great lesson, and one that always evolves with time…

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Abby Kerr July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

You’ve articulated it so well, Desiree. I think as solopreneurs, many of us actually get too caught up in ‘sounding like myself’ and we forget that solving problems and offering solutions in a clear, human way is the most important element of business communication. In my voice development work with clients, I emphasize the *relationship* we want with our readers, prospects, and clients just as much as the personality we want infused into our brand. Business is relationship.

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Chris Zydel July 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

Hi Abby,

Really great post. I’m so enjoying your exploration of brand and voice and what it means to be truly authentic. 

This issue regarding mimicry is so interesting, because the A-Listers ARE tapped into a cultural zeitgeist of what is popular, for whatever reason, in the moment. So right now there is a lot of energy around “booty popping” and being a sexy, gangster, bad-ass potty mouth … or some version of that. Like you said, this persona comes NATURALLY to the folks in question… they are a personification of the current cultural ideal … which is one of the reasons they GET so much attention. But if you’re not the cultural ideal, on some level you know it. Which can be very painful, because it brings up so many issues around shame and not being good enough.

And I think that’s what is at the core of the problem around folks trying to be something they’re not. It’s so very risky, and incredibly vulnerable, to put yourself out there AS yourself, not knowing if anyone WILL actually respond. And if they don’t or not enough of them do or it doesn’t happen fast enough the shame can threaten to take over and no one ever wants to feel that. 

 

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Abby Kerr July 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Hi, Chris —

Thank you for this thoughtful addition. I think you have it exactly on-point, here:

This issue regarding mimicry is so interesting, because the A-Listers
ARE tapped into a cultural zeitgeist of what is popular, for whatever
reason, in the moment

“A-Listers” have achieved that status, *in part*, because they’re tapping into or are on the forefront of a cultural movement. {Of course, it’s also through hard work, business chops, the ability to network and leverage relationships, stage presence, writing or performing ability, and some damn valuable and shareable ideas.}

Great point!

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Chris Zydel July 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Well, yes, all that too! (-: 

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Laura July 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm

So freaking true! Well done and very, very funny. Bright observations!

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JNewellMedia July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Before I really knew who Marie Forleo was I began to experience some weirdness with bloggers the moment I mentioned that I had a background in dance.  The really funny thing is that while I have a very similar background to her – from New York, live in Jersey, and the dance thing – I’m very much unlike her in terms of personality.

After a rough break into the online world I felt that just because Marie and I shared the above qualities that I was being compared to her from the get go.  That is completely daunting to someone just starting out!

I feel like this becomes more of a social experience rather than only brand-related.  There is a whole eco-system of who’s who now because of social media and unfortunately, middle-school ways have entered the marketplace.The incredible thing is that unlike the ‘mean-girl’ stereotype the ones ‘at the top’ really want everyone to succeed.  It will really take individuals changing their social behaviors for this to really come into effect on a large scale because our culture is entrenched with really poor social examples.  This is what makes Marie stand out so much – she is setting a new example.So are you Abby – but with that will come those who want to follow you.  There will always be those who choose to be followers but as long as leaders focus on inspiring other leaders this community will grow.

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Abby Kerr July 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hey, Jessica —

One issue I see with the ‘entrepreneurially minded blogosphere’ {my phrase, not yours}, is that so many get tunnel vision and develop the inability to see and gather inspiration from other worlds. In fact, there’s a whole huge blogosphere and Twitterverse *beyond* those of us who are running creative businesses and blogging about marketing, content strategy, and solving B2B problems. It’s when we start looking around too much at each other that we lose vision and possibilities feel limited. That’s when the copycatting and mimicry — both unintentional and intentional — comes in.

I’m not sure about the middle school mentality of this particular marketplace, but I *do* know that as in any microcosm, like tends to attract like. If we hang with positive people who are focused on doing their great work and providing value to customers in a respectful way, most of the time, the friction of ‘what other people are doing or thinking’ {again, my phrase} ceases to matter.

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Patty Bechtold July 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I’m a first timer here, drawn in by the title of your post. I think there’s a deeper reason why people mimic A-listers: because A-listers often tell a story (and create products) that covertly hint that if you do what they did you will be successful like they are. It’s an ancient tale that has entranced people throughout the ages. I’m not sure who you’re talking about here; if it’s Marie Forleo I can see the archetypal Jester, but I think it’s blended with the energy of the Magician/Guru. I see variations of the Magician in most A-listers.

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Abby Kerr July 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Hi, Patty!

Welcome. Very astute observation: in her brand story, I agree that Marie’s got some strong Jester flair, but I wouldn’t say it’s her dominant archetypal story. However, from an imitation standpoint, Jester is definitely the ‘edge’ that her mimics pick up on.

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Melanie DewBerry July 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

I think I love you.
Authenticity has to be the rule and it takes courage, tenacity and desire to find your voice, your brand, your you. It’s not going to be formula or what someone else is doing. It’s a beingness that is you.
I’m guessing many of these women aren’t sure of their own voices. I know because I’ve coached many to know and own their voice. I could go on and on and I feel like you’ve nailed int your responses. I simply wanted to give you a virtual hug for this post.

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Abby Kerr July 16, 2014 at 8:41 am

Hi, Melanie —

Thanks for being here, for reading, & for sending encouragement. Virtual hugs back to you!

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