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Mystery and Intrigue in Personal Branding According to Bob Dylan

authenticity branding lessons enigmatic strategy personal branding Jan 23, 2024

By Alanna Fairey

I was 11 when I heard Bob Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind” album for the first time. To say that it changed the trajectory of my life might sound melodramatic to some, but it always made sense to me. I’ve always felt a connection to his songs, considered him to be one of my style inspirations, and I still maintain that finally seeing him in concert last year is hands down one of my top 10 life experiences. Even though I don’t know him personally, I feel very aligned with him. 

This alignment with Bob Dylan might seem out of place, since I’m very much the opposite of him: I’m pretty active on social media, have been described as being ‘in-your-face’ extroverted (though I’ll forever maintain I’m shy), and have put a lot of effort into building my own personal brand.

Bob Dylan? Not so much. 

When you think of Bob Dylan, you might not imagine him as the face of personal branding. He’s mysterious, almost distant, not active on social media, and frankly, he doesn’t bother about algorithms or the ideal time for his social media manager to post on his Instagram. It seems like the opposite of what personal branding is.

However, he does represent personal branding—in a unique, less commonly associated version.

We live in a world where we as human beings feel the need to be flashy about ourselves, our work and our thoughts. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is a quiet power in having an enigmatic persona pushed out there in the world. And if that is what feels authentic to our clients, we absolutely help them harness that power in a meaningful way. 

In the world of personal branding, where transparency often reigns supreme, Bob Dylan’s approach to maintaining an air of mystery stands as a unique and compelling strategy.

The Power of the Enigma

At the heart of Bob Dylan’s personal brand is an intentional cultivation of mystery and intrigue. Unlike the conventional wisdom that advocates for transparency and open communication with your audience, Dylan's enigmatic approach has allowed him to remain a fascinating figure in the public eye.

  1. Shifting Identities 

Before Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, there was Bob Dylan’s impressive six decade musical career, marked by numerous reinventions and persona shifts. From the early folk troubadour to the electric provocateur and beyond, each transformation added a layer of complexity to his image, leaving audiences intrigued and eager for the next chapter. 

  1. Selective Public Presence 

Bob Dylan is probably the only person on earth who can win a Nobel Prize in Literature and just not show up for the ceremony. Why can Bob Dylan get away with this and not any other Nobel Prize winning Laureates? It’s simple: it’s because Bob has mastered the art of selective visibility. While he engages with the public through his music and the (very) occasional interview, he remains elusive, carefully choosing when and how to reveal glimpses of his thoughts and emotions. 

This elusiveness also translates to his musical performances. When I saw him in concert, Bob Dylan just walked on stage, sat at his piano and sang song after song, not engaging or talking to his audience the way most musicians do at their shows. He did, however, sort of acknowledge us when the concert ended by standing center stage and nodding, signalling the end of a good night and show. This selective public presence keeps the audience wanting more.

Lessons for Personal Branding

Truthfully, I have met with many of our clients who don’t feel comfortable talking about themselves on their social media platforms. Prior to becoming our client, they had never posted online. Even though they have trusted our process, these clients still want to guard their personal lives and control what parts of themselves they will share.

And that is perfectly okay. If this quieter persona works for Bob Dylan, it can work for these clients. 

Bob Dylan’s enigmatic approach offers valuable lessons for individuals navigating the landscape of personal branding, emphasizing the power of controlled revelation and the allure of maintaining an element of mystery.

  1. Authenticity Through Ambiguity

 Dylan’s authenticity doesn’t lie in oversharing; instead, it emerges from the deliberate ambiguity he maintains. Personal branding doesn’t always require a person to bear it all; sometimes, authenticity can be conveyed through the artful curation of what is revealed and what remains hidden.

  1. Crafting a Narrative

 Like a master storyteller, Dylan has crafted a very particular narrative around his persona. Personal branding, too, can benefit from the creation of a compelling narrative that sparks curiosity and invites the audience to become part of an unfolding story.

  1. Balancing Intrigue and Relatability

 While Bob Dylan’s enigmatic aura may seem distant, his music often carries universal themes that resonate with listeners. Striking a balance between maintaining intrigue and offering relatable elements allows for a personal brand that is both captivating and accessible.

If we found ourselves in an alternate universe and Bob Dylan reached out to Brand of a Leader to help him with his personal brand, we would happily do it. Is he the “typical” client that we see wanting to use our services? No, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get clients like him. And we’re not in the business of changing someone –– we would have a strategy tailored to him and his needs. Personal branding, to us, is about amplifying what’s already there.

Do we think Bob Dylan will have a change of heart and become a more open and personable individual with the world at large anytime soon? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

(I couldn’t resist, and I’m not sorry.)

Alanna Fairey is a Client Engagement Specialist at Brand of a Leader. She has a diverse background in fashion communications, branding, and writing. Connect with Alanna here.

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