As creatives, we’re always striving for perfection. That perfect combination of words, colours, shapes, routines or chords. But it’s elusive. And actually it’s a complete myth.
Diane Keaton owned it when she said;
“What is perfection, anyway? It’s the death of creativity.”
It’s not just the death of creativity either. It can stop you from starting something or doing absolutely anything because you’re worried about it not being perfect. Or that people might not like it. Perfection paralysis. It’s a thing.
So often, that leads us to doing the bare minimum. Staying safe. Living within strict boundaries that limit our potential. And all this does is create content that is formulaic, predictable and “meh”.
Audiences won’t engage with “meh”. They’ll see it, possibly read it or listen to it, but they won’t be pushed or changed by it. Content that is successful conveys to its audience something different; something that is REAL. It sparks something in people. You’re making them FEEL.
Take a look at Andy Murray. In his tearful press conference recently, he opened up honestly and said he didn’t know if he could keep playing tennis. It resonated with people everywhere. How easy would it have been for him and his team to keep up a “perfect” brand image? Everything is fine, Andy’s great. No worries here.
But they didn’t. It was raw. Relatable. Honest. Definitely not perfect. But that’s not the point is it? It was him. Being true to himself. And Andy Murray as a brand has unashamedly been that from day one.
So why are we all still so hung up on perfection in our content? And, actually, does perfection alienate your audience rather than encourage them to engage? For me, personally, I’m much more likely to engage with a brand or person on social media if they’re being authentic about themselves.
It’s why memes and fails are so popular on social media. Because we identify with it so much more. It allows us to connect in a genuine way, without pretence or fakery.
So how do you go about creating an authentic voice and content that includes vulnerability and let go of perfection? Will it be the death of your brand?
Learn the power of vulnerability
If you haven’t already, head over to YouTube and watch Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. It’s powerful stuff. And despite what most people think, there is real, raw beauty in being vulnerable. It’s something I noticed early on in business. I’ve never been ashamed of showing my true personality on a personal level. But the sheer terror when you launch a business of feeling like you have to be something you’re not, otherwise your brand won’t be successful, of faking it until you make it, well it was exhausting and quite frankly pointless.
It led me to attracting all the wrong sorts of clients, and the wrong kind of work. It was hideous. So what happened when I started unashamedly putting my real self out there in the business world? It completely changed the way I did business with other businesses and the people who I was working with.
Business relationships felt natural, mutual and respectful. My clients appreciated my honesty and openness and the feeling was reciprocated. Recently I was even lucky enough to write the term “Shit hot data” into some copy I was writing – my client loved it. This was a brand who, like mine, is totally comfortable being itself. No pretence. I’ve even made friends with a lot of my clients.
Often I hear people saying “Yes but it’s easy for big brands to be authentic, because they have so much more exposure and influence.” Here is where I call BS! It’s simply not true. Big or small, if you approach your content with a genuine attitude you will gain connections that are far more valuable to you than those based on the pretence of being “professional”.
It’s a shift that’s happening right now. Haven’t watched the Gillette advert yet? Firstly, where have you been? Secondly, it’s such an important piece of content. It’s divided opinion. It’s alienated a lot of their customers (I’m guessing the kind they didn’t really want anyway…). But here’s Gillette being vulnerable and admitting; “Yes, we have a part to play in the erosion of toxic masculinity. We recognise it and we’ll stand for it.” They’re bravely putting an authentic voice out there.
Vulnerability in your content, and your personal approach, has the power to carve out the most amazing connections to people and brands. That feeling that another business or person understands you. It’s not a unicorn, it does exist.
The myth of having your shit together
I don’t quite know how we got here, but the fantasy around brands having to be perfect seems to drive so many people into a tailspin. “We can’t launch the website until it’s perfect!” “We can’t admit we made a mistake!” “We can’t create anything that people might not like!” etc etc. Are there businesses out there still operating without a website? Yes there are. And we need look no further than what’s happening in the UK at the moment over Brexit to see what happens when brands and organisations can’t hold their hands up and admit they’ve f***ed up. And what does that lead to? Mistrust, lack of loyalty and complete disconnect.
Your brand, just like you, has a unique personality and it does not have to be perfect. It has to be REAL. And real does not have its shit together, trust me. There’s a reason why this graphic speaks to every entrepreneur. Because it’s true. Does this look like someone who has their shit together?
But if you asked them “How are things?” they would say “Oh yeah, great!” What’s behind this fear of showing your brand as real? Fallible? Imperfect? It really comes back to what Brené Brown talks about; shame. We’re ashamed on a personal level about our brand’s true self.
This comes from years of embedded culture around work and what is deemed professional. Most people would agree that they have a “work self” and a “personal self” – how sad is it that we don’t feel free to be just “ourselves” all the time? And that often spills into brands on an unconscious level, especially when you’re launching or running a business.
Businesses need to allow room to feel proud of their content, without shame, and be confident that it reflects the business and what it stands for. Not what they think people want. Often we feel pressure to change who we really are, to fit in with everyone else, but it’s about embracing the true nature of yourself and your brand knowing that it is enough. And putting that into your content with pride.
How do brands pull it off?
This is one of my all-time favourite adverts. And one of my all-time favourite brands. Nike could have chosen to slap a sporting superstar on this advert, with a trite message about greatness. Which would have left people thinking: “Yeah, but I’m not LeBron James. Or Rafa Nadal. I’m just me.” But they didn’t. They got real. They understand that the people buying their brand are not sporting greats (if you were a sporting great, you’d get given it for free!). But does that make them any less great?
They chose to appeal to their audiences’ vulnerability and say “Hey, it’s ok. We love you just as much as Rafa and LeBron. We value you. You’re enough.” It’s not glossy. It’s not slick. But it’s powerful. And you’re probably thinking right now that this isn’t really about Nike’s vulnerability is it? But over the last few years they have stuck their neck out into vulnerability to align with people and values that have alienated audiences.
Colin Kaepernick? This was a strong political statement. It had people burning Nike shoes and products. Nike chose to align with him, to get off the fence and claim their part in his story. Vulnerability. More recently? Raheem Stirling. This vulnerability has incredible pulling power.
So what’s the takeaway?
Head into 2019 with a commitment to putting a bit more vulnerability into your content. It won’t happen overnight, and you certainly won’t feel comfortable with it to begin with. But since when has anything good ever come from your comfort zone?