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Brand Identity and Online Dating

In hopes of bringing my readers the widest possible range of information about brand identity, personal branding and modern marketing, I’ve decided to create a post series called “The Best of The Rest.” These posts are my take on the topics other experts, authors, bloggers and all around smarty-pants have written about. Here’s the first one.

Last year columnist David Brooks’ piece “The Devotion Leap” appeared in the Opinion Pages of The New York Times. The piece, about online dating, proffered some of our worst-feared stereotypes of singles. Namely, that most men are beastly pursuers of beauty over substance, and most women are even harder graders when it comes to looks — but it doesn’t matter so much. Oh, and almost everyone is racially biased.

Brooks’ assertions are backed up by research from such credible sources as the book “Dataclysm” by Christian Rudder, the co-founder and president of OkCupid. Brooks’ point of view is that online dating is more clever calculation than connection, sort of like discounting 10 pairs of jeans based on how they look on the rack rather than trying them on to see if they actually make your ass look fat or not.

Now what does all this have to do with brand identity, you might be wondering. Wait for it …

Well first I have to take a step back and tell you that last year, I got divorced after 22 years of marriage and was thrust headlong into the world of online dating. A place, although it was a voluntary state, I did not expect to find myself and was, to say the least, unprepared. The utter lack of manners, morals and especially meaningful conversation I encountered was a shocker.

To be fair I’ve had my share of good dates (fun, friendly, connected and flirty) as well as bad ones — one guy told me over an introductory café latte that “a woman’s feet are very important to me.” I’ve even had a few passionate relationships (yes, you can read commitment combined with hot sex here), but so far the one (or at least the next one, since I consider myself in between husbands) has yet to enter my email inbox.

So while I concede Brooks’ point about online dating being slanted toward a connection-deficient zone, I don’t think his conclusion that to fall in love, we have to “take the enchantment leap … and put forth our vulnerability,” is quite on the mark when it comes to Internet introductions.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of vulnerability and its critical role in love of any kind. It’s just that the type of vulnerability that would make an online connection more possible starts with disclosure not to other but to self.

For example, most people craft an online profile that is based on a personal brand identity catered to an image that produces a result, rather than authentic rapport. The datee essentially writes what they hope the dater will want to hear. This can include but is not limited to lying about age (I’ll admit to this one), weight, income, interests and height and claiming that decade-old photos are “recent, really.”

A whole coaching industry (books, videos, audio programs, blogs) exists telling women how to avoid the biggest mistakes that will make them look like low-self-esteem or overachieving non-wife material. These same experts explain how men can avoid being put into the wuss and winey category. Full disclosure here: I have hired some of these folks and read some of these books, and a few have been very useful.

It’s hard in the face of such performance pressure to actually be true to one’s authentic brand identity, but no real connection is actually possible without this. To even sort through the mass of men (and women) on a dating site, a profile needs to ring like a clear, true bell, calling out for the one it resonates with. The ones it doesn’t? Well, as my friend Ruth used to say, “Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

So be bold, be brave and be your true brand. In other words, be the you that everyone in your life that has ever loved you found worthy of love — just as you are.

P.S. I’m still shaving a few years off my age. So sue me.

This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, is due out from Entrepreneur Press in May of 2016.