The Problem With Branding
- September 05, 2019
- Esther Followwill-Johnson
Every script an actor gets has a briefly defined role, so that they have some sense of who they are going to portray. This synopsis is known as a “type.” All good actors know their type, as it helps them and their team understand what roles to go out for, and what they’d be most likely to book. For instance, you might be the mushiest, sweetest guy in the world, but if your body type and presence is more like Count Dracula, you’ll most likely be type-casted as “the villain”.
If I were a character, it would read:
Esther Followwill (late 20’s/early 30’s)…
Now. How would you fill in the blanks? My hair color or body type? My martial status, job title, my personality or temperament?
This is all fine for the film industry… but have you ever noticed how easily we type-cast people? We subconsciously assess who they are, and place them in ranking categories of importance or relevance to our own lives.
Have you ever stopped to consider how weird that is?
Ok, maybe it’s not always a bad thing. In passing we casually refer to someone as “my health nut friend” or my “entrepreneurial boss-babe friend” or the “really godly” friend, etc. We all do this. And from a practical standpoint, I get the utility of branding someone. It helps identify what their unique voice is in their industry. What do they bring to the table that differs from their peers? Branding strategically can be used to great benefit.
I just want to pause and think about how it is detrimental. People are multifaceted, complex beings and bring far more to the table than anyone else’s limited perspective has access to. Branding by its very nature, limits someone. It puts them in a box. And that might be appear differently to different people.
For example, to some friend groups I’m “the married/mom friend” or to the kids I coach, I am the “actor/public speaker.” To many I am considered the “conservative friend.” And (you may hardly believe this) but in certain social groups, I’m considered the liberal-progressive friend. Just a few months ago, I was in a development meeting where I was called a tree-hugging hippie!
None of this offends me at all. Because if you can take a girl like me and come up with that many categories – then how someone views me says so much more about THEM than it does about me.
That problem with branding is that it becomes a way for people to make you feel SAFE. If they can identify your type, your role, they can “peg” you. They feel they can gauge your potential, and decide how/when it is most valuable for them to engage with you. Or essentially use you to benefit themselves or their own growth, rather than learning about your process and life just for the sake of it. But people aren’t safe. We aren’t always predictable. We deserve the right, the space to have a few tricks up our sleeves that break us out of the SAFE molds people want to put us in.
I try to resist branding myself in any one way. I don’t have one skill set, one career, and I don’t really fit into any one number on the Enneagram. See, I do a lot of things. But I am not those things. I’ve loved singing and performing since I was 6. I still do both often. But I am currently learning and working on new things, beyond what is seen.
Maybe it’s child development (hello, I am a MOM after all!) or how to make flower-pressed pasta. Who cares what it is?!
The point is, we shouldn’t assume that because the flag someone is waving is an all-consuming passion project, that it is someone’s identity. Or the only thing they bring to the table.
An actress friend of mine recently worked around the clock as a producer on a show. But inside she was itching to be seen as more than a producer. She was dying to be onscreen, and didn’t want that cast & crew to pigeon-hole her as only on the administrative side of things.
Life is long. This current chapter might deserve 100% of someone’s commitment without locking them into that space as an identity. Or as the description of their “type.” What someone is present to now isn’t the whole depiction of their being, but a worthy element of it.
So, the creative in me wants to metaphorical shake my fist and insist “do not box people in!” Don’t try to limit someone by summarizing their “type. In doing so we miss out on many aspects of what someone might bring to the table. Maybe it is worth just showing up in their lives and watching.
Don’t type cast people in their own lives. People evolve. Just because you don’t see all the facets doesn’t mean someone should locked into the original idea you had about them. Humans are much more fascinating than that.
The most loving thing we can offer others (and ourselves) is the permission to be both SURPRISED and surprising.