How to Keep Your Personal Brand Authentic With the 90% Rule

Jun 04, 2020
Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash


My stomach churned the day after a call with a writer I admire. He was diversifying and had a challenge. Advisors told him he needed to go through everything he had created and check that he was happy for it to represent him. As he talked about authenticity, I nodded along and completely agreed. Yet I wasn’t sure I was living up to my words.

If you had to review all your work, would you be proud of everything? For future fans to stumble across it? One simple rule guided me through this and it can help you too.


The 90% Rule

Rate your ideas out of 100. You give top marks if the message truly aligns with you. Think Nelson Mandela writing about ending apartheid or Steve Jobs about the benefits of the iPhone. Zero is like a fish talking about how to climb trees.

Continue with everything over 90%. The rest can wait.

I repurposed this idea from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. While he focuses on time management, this is about what truly speaks to you. Yet 100% is an impossibly high standard to hold yourself to. We don’t want to be perfect but we do want to be exceptional for our passion to shine in what we make.

It doesn’t need to save the world, but you need to care.

Score everything on this scale before doing the hard work. Don’t just go through a list in the order you came up with it. The best way is to practice idea generation so you always have options to choose from.


It Is the Long Term Strategy

You might have short term financial gain from content you don’t truly connect with. Yet how long will it take for readers to sense the lack of heart in the story? Even if it’s an instructional article, you can tell when someone loves the subject and went above and beyond. Maybe you think you can fake this passion, but for how long? It’s exhausting being someone you’re not with strings of 50%s and 60%s.

You may find yourself getting lost with what is strategic rather than what matters. They did this and got a million views, why shouldn’t you copy it? Because everyone will try to copy. It’s the basis of perfect competition in economics. When someone makes supernormal returns, others notice and flood the market. This stops anyone from succeeding because there’s too much competition. No one in the world can beat you at being you.


Your Voice Is Your Niche

You might think the 90% rule will reduce your potential topics but this isn’t true. You’ve got layers and thoughts in all different kinds of areas. Passion isn’t a rock stuck in place, it’s more like a river that can flow in all kinds of novel ways. I love both karate and yoga so both pass the 90% threshold for me. Your voice is your true niche.

PewDiePie has 105 million YouTube subscribers and most of his videos are about gaming but there’s a lot off-topic too. “I Did Something Awful in Minecraft!” comes straight after “Big Ed And His 90 Day Wife BROKE UP?!” Both videos have over five million views. When you’re relatable, people want to hear your thoughts on different ideas.


Delete Old Content

Leaving old things up that you know wouldn’t pass the 90% test is vanity. Some writers and vloggers have thousands of posts. What would possess someone to scroll through all that? Maybe someone looking to find something to incriminate you. Do you want to be like James Gunn who was brought down by a ten-year-old tweet?

Those with less malicious intent may find it by searching or random recommendation. They may have no idea who you are but their first impression of you is not a true picture. If the first thing I read from someone is a rant at a colleague, I’m probably not going to click on anything else of theirs.

Distorting the message of a previous post is unethical. It creates a problem for the people who shared or liked it. Your completely different point is now on their record and can get them into trouble if it doesn’t represent them anymore.

Keep backups in case you ever want to refer to a point you made but be ruthless if it doesn’t meet your standards. I deleted some of my posts about politics myself. They were low moments and didn’t reflect the tone I want to communicate in.


Repurpose Ideas

I never delete ideas from my bank. You shouldn’t either. You never know when enthusiasm could strike and send the score flying. Inspiration could come from a conversation with a friend or something new you’ve learned.

The awful scores of under 30% can still be useful. You can flip the content and you might be motivated by this subject. For example, you might have watched a video about how to make money on YouTube and thought you could do it too. Then you realized you don’t make any money on YouTube!

But what about if you made a video on things you’ve tried that hadn’t worked? This is still practical as a warning for other creators.

I consider scanning my idea bank as productive procrastination. I rescore anything I have changed my mind about. It’s a great exercise when you’re in a creativity hole. Something might jump out and be your big idea!


Every Interaction

The 90% rule doesn’t just apply to your flagship content but how you interact with others too. You want to act in a way you can be proud of. If you preach peace and love but attack other creators in the comments section, something is not right! It can be overwhelming but it’s the nature of the modern world. Anything can be analyzed and betray your brand.

This is true even when the interaction isn’t on a public forum. It’s not difficult for someone to screenshot your condescending reply to their email and post it on their social media. It’s fine if your brand is based on this and your fans love your brutality. For others, this will spoil their reputation even if they’re pristine in public.

When I started writing, I used to comment on people’s work and share my articles. Someone called me out for my selfish behavior and my face flushed with embarrassment. They were right and I knew I had to be more thoughtful with my actions.


Play Story Roulette

Deleting sub-90% articles isn’t a one-off task then you move on forever. The mere fact you’re reading this means you are willing to learn and grow.

When your views change, think back to whether you’ve left something online you now disagree with. Delete it and move on. I expect in a year, I will cringe at some of what I’ve written. If it doesn’t meet future me’s standards then it will be cut.

One trick is to play roulette with what you promote to your friends or audience. Every day tweet something by using a random number generator. If the color from your face drains when you see what you will be promoting, it’s probably a sign it shouldn’t be up anymore. There will always be articles you love the most but there shouldn’t be ones you’re ashamed of.


What You Need to Take Away

Behind all these words and fancy marketing techniques, you are a person. The greatest compliments in my young career were from my first ever podcast interview. People told me I was exactly how they imagined me to be. If you can stick to the 90% rule, I hope your fans will feel this way about you too.

Maintain all your content at 90% or above including private interactions. If anything doesn’t reflect who you are anymore, delete it. In the long term, you can only succeed by being you as no one else can beat you at this. Play content roulette to test if you’re confident in all your work.

Remember everything you have out there represents you. If it’s not a hell yeah then it’s a hell no. Wherever your path takes you, build it on a foundation of hell yeah.

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day!

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.