Personal brand fourth wall

Can Your Personal Brand Break the Fourth Wall?

The personal brand has never been more important. We have all been forced to embrace remote channels as our main means of communication. Face-to-face networking is currently not viable as a way of expanding your contacts, marketing yourself, or exploring and developing new leads.

This means having to rely on digital platforms or video communication apps, such as Zoom to network and communicate vital messages about your business.

The personal branding aspect of this is extremely important. This is especially true because there are more people communicating and competing through these channels.

How else are you going to differentiate yourself, if you don’t make some sort of individual impression?

But what should this involve? How can you make sure your message really resonates with your audience?

Defining the Fourth Wall

The fourth wall is a term that comes from the theatre. It refers to an imaginary wall between the actors and the audience. Even though the actors are on an open stage they pretend that the audience does not exist.

This makes the audience feel like it’s witnessing events close up, experiencing the immediacy of the moment.

At the same time, the fourth wall preserves the illusion of theatre.

The same applies to cinema. Here, we witness the narrative unfolding through a camera lens.

It absorbs us. We can feel as though we were present in the scene, but the scene does not actively invite our involvement.

This is the fly on the wall effect. We get to see people close-up, in scenes, conversations and interactions which we would not normally have access to in the real world.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Just as the fourth wall comes from the theatre, so there is the established theatrical convention of breaking the fourth wall.

This occurred regularly in Elizabethan and Restoration drama. Here an actor would break from the on-stage narrative to address the audience directly. In fact, plays could involve actors running into the audience, making asides to the crowd, and telling jokes to the audience.

In cinema, too, breaking the fourth wall has a long history, from Stan Laurel through to Michael Caine (in Alfie), and Woody Allen in various of his earlier films.

Most recently, on TV, we’ve seen this happen in Fleabag.

A Dramatic Tactic

Breaking the fourth wall works as dramatic tactic. The onstage, or onscreen, drama suddenly connects more directly, and personally, with the audience.

It transforms the audience member from being an observer into someone with a kind of privileged access, even if this is illusory and short-lived.

Addressing the audience directly in this way can strengthen the connection they feel between the narrative, its protagonists, and themselves.

But, like all dramatic techniques, breaking the fourth wall is only going to work if you execute it correctly and with both style and confidence.

Done well, and it is a striking component in a drama. Done badly, and it can have the opposite effect of diluting the power of the overall narrative, interrupting its flow.

How does the fourth wall, and breaking it, apply to your personal brand?

Attracting Your Own Audience

A key way you can attract people to your personal brand online and remotely is through content.

The right content can tap into your audience’s needs, issues and interests. It can help to build your reputation as someone who knows their subject.

But however much content you create and publish online, how can you make sure that it truly connects with people?

Are they just a passive audience, to whom you lecture, explaining your expertise? Or can your content help your personal brand break the fourth wall and appeal directly to them?

Your content should:

  • Explain
  • Educate
  • Entertain.

But it needs to resonate with your audience if it’s going to build connections with them.

So, it must also:

  • Empathise.

Humanise your communications. Make your audience understand that you’re like them, that you have your issues, needs and wants.

Your personal brand is more than what you do, it is also who you are, in your audience’s eyes.

Set the Scene and Set the Agenda

Writers must learn to set the scene to create compelling stories. The same applies the content for your personal brand.

How do you set the scene?

  • Define its purpose – what is it you’re describing, and what for?
  • Identify its peak moment – what is its main point, that you’re building up to?
  • Include conflict – what are the obstacles to the concluding the scene, and how do they impact on the narrative?
  • Reach a perfect ending – how will you resolve the conflict and reach a conclusion that satisfies your audience?

You have to hook the reader with your personal brand’s storytelling. If you craft your content skillfully enough, you can also set the agenda.

Agenda-setting theory comes from the world of social science. It describes how media can influence its audience by getting them to start thinking about certain things, even when they’ve not actually been thinking about them.

Various forms of news media are the connection between events in the world and the general public. The news stories these media choose to highlight can set the news agenda for the people consuming them.

News producers and distributors set the priorities of which stories they spend most time on. They set the order in which they produce them, according to how much influence this might have on an audience.

Similarly, when producing your own content, you can set the agenda. You must, of course, focus on issues you think your audience cares about. But once you’ve done that, you can order your content according to how you want your audience to perceive it.

This is a subtle process, not any kind of hard sell. You may be the expert in your field, but you must frame your expertise in such a way that your audience understands you’re empathising with them.

And when your strategies align, when the time is right, you step out and break the fourth wall, making a direct connection with your audience.

Couldn’t You Just Present a Video of Yourself?

If you film a video of yourself as a talking head, that’s addressing your audience directly, right?

This is true, and, obviously, by doing this you’re removing the fourth wall from the start.

But you must consider how much information you can get across in a limited amount of time, and whether talking to your audience continually is the best way of doing it.

Social media platforms such as LinkedIn are saturated with videos people have shot of themselves. But often they go on at length about a single issue, in a tone that instructs, advises or lectures.

Video is an important and popular channel for personal brand development, but it’s not the only one.

You can develop a more comprehensive and multi-faceted personal brand by exploring different kinds of channels. Using written content, you can explore ideas at greater length.

Is Your Personal Brand Making the Right Connections?

With the right content, you can break the fourth wall, and engage meaningfully with your target audience. For more information, email me at or call me on 07896711853.