Contentions: Describing your work

The way you describe your work is incredibly important. Not only is it how other people know what it is you do; it’s also a chance to show what you believe in, and to make the case they should believe it too. 

For example, Debbie Millman distinguishes between the image of “personal brand,” and the realities of “reputation,” “character,” and intellectual honesty. While some people may have learned to use the business-fied term, “personal brand,” to communicate that they want a stronger reputation (no doubt they’d think Millman has a great personal brand), the thinking becomes muddled along the way because the umbrella term “personal brand” is so big.

I ran into a similar conundrum with words like, “content marketing,” and “thought leadership.” On one hand, many prospective clients approach me with these terms in their minds, and an end goal related to these terms. On the other hand, I don’t love the word association that comes with either; for me, “content marketing” comes with contrived positioning, SEO, and inventing problems for readers that your product solves. It all feels gross.

By contrast, its opposites—authenticity, building relationships with communities, intellectual honesty—all resonate with me much more. There are genuine business opportunities here, and frankly, that’s how people have always worked even before the internet.  

“The industry” deciding to use a name you don’t like isn’t a superficial situation. There’s a whole cottage industry built on category creation, which is a fancy business term for creating a new name. It’s no small feat.

A new name means a new definition, new lore, and new values and philosophies. Imagine adding a new word to the dictionary. 

You can use that opportunity for yourself too; describe your work your way. (For me, I spent years coming to realize that “branding” describes my approach to work much better than “content marketing,” and “demonstrating expertise” communicates it way more clearly than “thought leadership.”)

When you do this you’ll notice something interesting; the right people start approaching you, and with the directionally correct context. 

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