Is Consistency Really What Makes A Creator Brand?
Even though consistency is the rule when it comes to creator output, how can moments when consistency breaks down actual add to what makes a creator brand special?
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about creator brands, consistency, and what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, “humanity.” Maybe it’s because I completely missed my Thursday deadline for publishing this newsletter this week, and I’ve been thinking about how you recover a missed habit, or maybe its because I’ve been interested in what makes a creator brand different from a corporate brand, or maybe it’s just because it’s been a long week and I’m trying to figure out how to be a little more kind to myself. Either way, if you’ve ever found yourself exhausted by the creator treadmill of content production, this one’s for you.
Exhausted by Continuous Creator Self Improvement
For the last months, I’ve been writing about roadblocks creators face. Most of this writing has attacked roadblocks like procrastination or distraction with the the zeal of a scientist and self-help guru rolled into one. I’ve leaned on endless scientific studies, psychology books, and self-improvement strategies. And to be fair, many of us (myself included) are looking for strategies. We don’t want to be stuck, unable to realize our dreams of becoming the best creator we can be or just the best (insert identity here) we can be.
But sometimes, staying up late and trying to finish something to hit a self-imposed deadline as a creator (ahem publishing this newsletter), knowing every strategy in the proverbial book, you just find yourself lacking any motivation whatsoever. Continuous improvement can, simply put, be exhausting and perhaps even self-defeating. So, when can you celebrate inconsistency and how can you do it gracefully?
The Difference Between Corporate Brands & Creator Brands
This week I was listening to an interview between Kara Swisher1 and brand designer Debbie Millman, when Millman made a distinction between being a brand and being a person. Millman is well known for designing many iconic corporate brands like Burger King & 7Up and has been podcasting for almost 18 years, building out her own well-known brand in the process.
And yet, Millman is very outspoken about her dislike of our current state of “people-brands”:
What people I think forget is that brands don’t actually exist until we make them. Brands are manufactured entities that people can draw and create with imagination and innovation and technology and so forth. They’re not really real in the truest sense of the word, “real.” They don’t have a moral compass. They don’t breathe air. They don’t have a living, beating heart. They don’t have souls or feel pain or feel pleasure. They’re manufactured. People can own brands, and they can direct brands. They can enjoy brands. They can play with brands...
But to be a brand takes all of the sort of glorious humanity out of being human out. You become then this manufactured thing. And all the things that are so wonderful about being human, changing our minds, being messy, being inconsistent, all of those things are the things brands try to avoid being.
Trying to be a brand is trying to be a manufactured version of yourself. And to be fair, that’s actually a big part of conventional wisdom around successful creator brands - consistency, niching down to specific topics, developing a unique voice.
Even when I think about Millman, I recognize that she is, in many ways, an established and successful creator who must have followed at least some of this conventional wisdom. She has over 95k followers on Twitter (and even more on other channels), multiple books to her name, courses, and an entire portfolio of projects. While at her level, or so the wisdom goes, consistency might not be quite as important as it was when she was starting out, I wonder where’s the line between a successful personal brand strategy and burnout?
Why Being A Manufactured Creator Brand Leads to Burnout
In the last 2 years, I’ve been consistently bombarded by articles about creator burnout.2 From Tiktok to Youtube to podcasting creators, people commit to strict content schedules in order to stay relevant, and yet it’s inevitably unsustainable. Peter Yang3 recently wrote about causes of creator burnout in collaboration with the company Vibely and provided these main causes:
All these reasons are fairly recognizable to most of us, but the solutions are less clear. I’ve been exploring ways to help creators monetize and productize as a means of getting off the “hamster wheel” and “making a living.”
But I’ve also been wondering, how do you build a product or community or anything other brand extension for a creator that doesn’t have to feel like a corporate brand? What are the principles that you design into that experience to keep ensuring that these products feel human and personal and not just manufactured?
Humanizing Creator Products
What would differentiate a creator-based product from a general product? One blueprint for this kind of approach is indie/ bootstrapped products. They often put their own story front and center as they build in public. They also bake in relationships into their product features and product communications by:
Maintaining a personal connection on-goingly (videos, looms, chat features within the product)
Involving their community in their feature roadmap and feature timeline or via conversations
Communicating values throughout their product (explaining why they’re prioritizing one feature over another)
Communicating break downs, outages, breaks in personal terms as part of the reality of building a product
I’m continuing to explore and brainstorm ways to tell personal stories within a product, communicate values, and fundamentally design products that feel different than those of faceless startups and corporations. If you have any great examples, send them my way!
In the meantime, have a great rest of your week. Let me know if you liked this issue or want to chat more! And, I will remind myself (on this Sunday which is not my regularly scheduled Thursday), that sometimes humanity is just as valid as consistency when juggling your obligations as a creator!
‘Sway’. “Opinion | How Instagram, FedEx and Wordle Hook You.” The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2022, www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/opinion/sway-kara-swisher-debbie-millman.html?showTranscript=1.