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Archive for the ‘brand ownership’ Category

We probably all agree: ideally, Olympic athletes should head to The Games clad in uniforms and gear designed and made in their respective countries. The miracle of globalization aside, The Games are still an international contest not only of athleticism, skill and sportsmanship but also of national pride. Over the course of the last century or so, the event has become the single-most conspicuous showcase of national and cultural achievement in the world. If the competition itself is about sport, the event in its totality is about much, much more. So yes, in an ideal world, every bit of swag carried by a team should come from its country. Hats, shoes, warm-ups, backpacks, they should all suggest to onlookers “this is us too. This is what we can do. Our country is cool like that.”

So naturally, it stings when a team arrives at The Games clad in uniforms made by foreign labor in a far-off country. It kind of sends the wrong message, doesn’t it? It kind of says “we could have made that stuff here, but we’ve decided to export our national pride right along with our jobs. Don’t tell anyone but we were too lazy to try to make it all here, and it cost too much anyway. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we kind of like cheap shit. I mean look at us! This beer helmet only cost me $9.99 for crying outloud!”

Not exactly what you would call a well crafted exercise in national branding.

It isn’t surprising then that last week, American lawmakers, after being notified that the US Olympic team’s uniforms had been manufactured in China instead of the good old US of A, decided to bitch and moan and show how disgusted they were about the whole thing:

Republicans and Democrats railed Thursday about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to dress the U.S. team in Chinese manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile industry struggles economically with many U.S. workers desperate for jobs.

“I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference on taxes.

“If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that’s what they should wear,” he said, referring to an athletic jersey.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference that she’s proud of the nation’s Olympic athletes, but “they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said simply of the USOC, “You’d think they’d know better.”

Can you blame them? No. Of course not. They’re right. My first reflex was exactly the same as theirs.

But then, I read this:

In a statement, the U.S. Olympic Committee defended the choice of designer Ralph Lauren for the clothing at the London Games, which begin later this month.

Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company, and excited to watch America’s finest athletes compete at the upcoming Games in London.”

Ralph Lauren also is dressing the Olympic and Paralympic teams for the closing ceremony and providing casual clothes to be worn around the Olympic Village. Nike has made many of the competition uniforms for the U.S. and outfits for the medal stand.

On Twitter, Sandusky called the outrage over the made-in-China uniforms nonsense. The designer, Sandusky wrote, “financially supports our team. An American company that supports American athletes.”

And right there and then, I realized something that, in my initial disgusted outrage, I had missed completely that the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded. Ah. Well, that changes everything.

Here’s an idea: if you want American-made uniforms (which is totally understandable, we all want that) then write your congressman and demand that the Olympic program receive adequate funding from the federal government. Then, as owners of the US Olympic program, we the people can legitimately have a say as to where the uniforms are made (hopefully right here in the US).

Otherwise though, it’s probably best to just thank the sponsors who are footing the bill for you and STFU.

Here’s the soundbite I would actually like to hear from those outraged lawmakers at some point: “We could have opted to hand over funding to the private sector and risk have the uniforms manufactured overseas, and there were certainly compelling financial reasons to choose that option, but we felt that the uniforms absolutely should be American-made. To that end, we voted to do the responsible thing, which is to provide adequate financial support to the US Olympic program and ensure that those manufacturing jobs remain right here in the US.”

But no. Instead, we get fist-shaking and finger-pointing.

In the same vein, I can’t wait for lawmakers to voice their outrage when they finally discover in a few years that US astronauts have to resort to hitching rides on really ugly and dangerous looking European and Chinese rockets instead of fancy American spacecraft. (What? We defunded NASA’s manned space program? When?!)

It’s almost as if US lawmakers are just now finding out that the US textile industry has all but been decimated under their watch in the last few decades. (Um, yes, that fancy golf-themed tie you’re wearing was made in Bangladesh, that crap suit you couldn’t be bothered to have taken in by a proper tailor was made in Vietnam, and those rubber-soled 2-for-1 shoes you think are so fly were made in China.) So a) thanks for protecting and supporting US jobs, asshole, and b) please, why don’t you shake your angry little fist on TV and lecture us all on how we need to buy American? Because coming from you, that’s just dandy.

But I digress.

Friendly tip to lawmakers: if you deliberately defund a program, that program has to go become someone else’s bitch. And here’s the funny thing about giving up ownership of something: it isn’t yours anymore. You gave it away. It’s kind of like dumping your girlfriend and then bitching about how the diamond ring that her new boyfriend gave her isn’t what you would have bought. Yeah. You’ve just become that guy.

If you want to have your say, then fund the program. Own it. Nurture it. Grow it. Be responsible for it. Otherwise, have a Coke, a smile and shut the proverbial fuck up. Or better yet, call up the sponsors who are generously footing the bill for your lazy, stingy ass and thank them for picking up the tab for you.

Instead of complaining about the made-in-China uniforms they paid for because you wouldn’t, you should be on your knees kissing their asses and sending them chocolates for Christmas. Because without them, you wouldn’t even have an Olympic program to complain about. And if you had done your jobs for the last 30 years, the Ralph Laurens and Nikes of the world would have had realistic incentives to invest in more manufacturing capacity in the US instead of moving those jobs overseas. Chew on that next time your pro-deregualtion, pro-private-sector-solution ass walks into a clothing store and decides to continue supporting the creation of foreign jobs at the expense of US ones with every dollar you spend there. Keep preaching economic patriotism and US job creation too, while you’re at it. What? Our Olympic uniforms are made in China?! Oh the humanity!!!

So here we go:

Dear Ralph Lauren, Nike and the rest of the brands sponsoring and funding the US Olympic program, thank you for what you do. Without you, the US probably wouldn’t be going to the Olympics at all. What could be better than American companies that support American athletes and put clothes on their backs? Thank you. You do more for these kids and the image of the United States than all of Congress put together. So don’t listen to their sourpuss bullshit and keep it up.

Grrr.

</rant>

Cheers. 😉

(Image courtesy of Kevin McNulty)

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Read Part 1: Assholes are bad for business.

I know what you are going to say: “Olivier, what’s up with the poopy-words all of a sudden? The other week, it was “assholes”. This week, it’s this. Didn’t your mom raise you to be a polite young man?” Answer: She tried. But sometimes, the polite version of a word just doesn’t do the job. Case in point: I could say “care.” Care about your customers. Care about designing the best products. Care about giving it your all every day. Care about taking your business into the stratosphere.

Care.

Except no. This isn’t about caring. This is about giving a shit, and yes, there is a difference.

When the word “care” no longer actually means caring.

“Caring” about something can mean a lot of different things. I can care about matching my shoes to my belt. I can care about the way my rainbow sprinkles touch the peanut butter ice cream but not the ball of Nutella ice cream underneath. I can care about maybe watching Curb Your Enthusiasm tonight, or waiting until tomorrow or next week. I can care about trying to sound pleasant on the phone, or maybe not so much. I can care about something if the conditions are right, and care less about it if circumstances change. Caring lives along a broad scale, as demonstrated by this awesome home-made graph:

But when you give a shit, that isn’t any kind of passive caring. Giving a shit means caring to the max. It means committing heart and soul to caring about something. Giving a shit is to caring what running a full-on sprint is to jogging. It is the storm to the light drizzle, the bazooka to the cork gun and the bear hug to the friendly nod. Giving a shit means you won’t sleep tonight if you screwed it up. It means you are going to take it all the way to the line. It means you are going to excel rather than settle for average… or mediocre. Giving a shit means you are driven by something more than a paycheck. It means you are driven by passion. And that, boys and girls, is some mighty strong secret sauce. Nothing can crush that. Nothing can get in its way.

When I walk into a store and talk to one of the salespeople there, I don’t want them to “care.” I want them to give a shit. The chef in the kitchen, I don’t just want him to “care”. The customer service guy on the phone, “care” is just the price of entry. You want to make your company kick ass? You have to take it a step further. That politician I just voted for? Guess what: He needs to do more than just “care.” The surgeon operating on my kids, yeah, her too, what I want her to do is actually give a shit.

When you give a shit, excuses don’t work anymore. Falling short (failing) becomes less of an option, if at all. Giving a shit means you’re invested, and that is when I know you are bringing your A-game. You aren’t just there for a paycheck, the dental plan or the free tickets to Wally World every summer. You are there because you want to be. Because you give a shit.

Look, everyone acts like they care when you interview them. “Oh yes, Mr. Jones, I really want to work here!” Right. In six months, that new hire will be spending half his day complaining to their office-mates about you, about pesky customers and their temperamental complaints, about having to work late, and about how poorly he gets paid. When you walk by his desk, you won’t even catch a glimpse of the Facebook tab or the game of computer solitaire you just interrupted. That’s what “care” will get you. And you know what? You’ll be to blame. Here’s why: Because your company culture made them that way.

When I call a company’s phone number and get an automated message telling me “… we care about your call,” what that company has just told me it doesn’t give a shit. And since companies don’t think – people do, namely executives making decisions (like having a computer answer my call instead of a human being), I know that this wasn’t an oversight. Someone made a deliberate decision to communicate to me and everyone else who calls them that the people in charge of building the company’s internal culture don’t give a shit. Way to get things off on the right foot.

The importance of creating “I give a shit” cultures.

None of this is rocket science. If you hire people who aren’t passionate about what you do, about what your company is about, or even people who don’t particularly care about their profession save getting a big fat check at the end of the week, you are going to create a culture of mediocrity. If instead you hire people who love your company, who were fans long before the job ever opened up, you will get a completely different result. Likewise, if you hire someone who is passionate about what they do, they will probably not disappoint.

A few years ago, one of my then employees admitted to me (when her bonus didn’t seem as guaranteed as she would have liked it to be) that she was considering transferring to HR. Puzzled by that admission, I asked her to elaborate. She told me “they just make straight salary over there.” I studied her for a moment, and asked her “Don’t you want to do this? If HR is something you’re interested in, why are you here?” She sighed and told me “I don’t really care what I do. I just want a steady paycheck.”

This is someone whom, if asked, would have told the CEO that she cared about her job, that she was passionate about it, that she loved it. That’s the average value of “care.”

Nb: I made sure my team hit its targets that month and the one after that, and she did, in fact, hit her bonus.

People like this are everywhere. It isn’t that they are necessarily lazy. Some are, but some are just apathetic. Doing what they do is a job. A paycheck. Nothing more. They spend their day watching the clock. They are out the door as soon as their work day is over and not a minute more. This is not the kind of employee you want. I don’t care if you are managing a hospital, a restaurant or a global brand, people like this are poison. They are engines of mediocrity, lackluster service, and lousy customer experiences. And god forbid they should become managers, or worse yet, SVPs or C-suite executives.

Imagine a CEO who doesn’t give a shit, for example. Or one who at least gives the impression, through their actions or words, that they perhaps don’t give a shit? What would that look like? What would be the impact of that type of “leadership” on the entire organization? On the brand’s reputation? On decisions being made up and down the corporate ladder inside its four walls? What kinds of ripples would this create?

Ken Lay of Enron

BP's Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward

Now imagine a CEO who does give a shit. What would that look like? What kind of company culture would that generate? What kind of profitability and customer experience excellence would that drive?

Tony Hsieh of Zappos

Sir Richard Branson, of all things Virgin

Company cultures don’t grow from a random churn of interactions. They are engineered and designed from the inside out, deliberately, by people who give a shit. Or by people who don’t. The difference in outcomes between the two is typically fairly spectacular. We have all seen amazing companies falter under the direction of this CEO or that, solely based on their degree of giving a shit.

Why am I emphasizing that company cultures are engineered? Three reasons:

1. People who give a shit tend to hire people who also give a shit, and so on. Companies like this tend to hire carefully because they understand the importance of only hiring what you might call kindred spirits. Fans. Like-minds. They aren’t hiring as much as letting the right people into their little tribe of believers. When your entire company gives a shit, customers notice and become loyal. Why? Because they like that you give a shit, and they respect that. Besides, since you give a shit, you treat them well, which is more than anyone can say about companies that don’t give a shit about either their employees or their customers.

2. When customers like you (see 1. above), they tend to do a number of things: a) They love doing business with you, b) they do business with you as long as you keep giving a shit (which could be their own lives), and c) they recommend you to everyone they know, which in turn helps drive your business.

3. One CEO can make or break a company. Just one. Remember what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs left, back in the day? Should I mention some of Home Depot’s ups and downs? Show me a company whose CEO gives a shit, and I will show you a company about to bloom like a flower in sunlight. Show me a company whose CEO doesn’t, and I will show you a company about to race headlong into a very rough patch.

More than anything, customers instinctively know that they will eventually get screwed by someone who doesn’t really give a shit. They also instinctively know they will never get screwed by someone who does. This is important.

Even if giving a shit didn’t generate better design departments, better products, better service, better customer relations and generally healthier businesses, this point alone should catch the attention of CEOs, boards or directors, and investors alike: Consumer perceptions, trust, loyalty, these things matter in the mid-to-long term. Heck, they matter today. This very minute. Every single consumer making a purchasing decision right now is weighing one company against another. One will win. The others will lose. How are you feeling about your chances?

Leadership isn’t all about skills and experience. It’s also about attitude. And giving a shit, boys and girls, is a pretty important component of the sort of attitude we are talking about today.

The reciprocal effect of giving a shit.

Hiring people who give a shit, but not those who don't.

The above diagram illustrates the process of engineering loyalty and positive WOM (word of mouth) by sticking to a no asshole policy (see Part 1) and making sure you hire people who actually give a shit.

Note the jokers in red ink who didn’t really give a shit and are therefore not hired. The fact that they are not invited to spread their apathy and inevitable passive aggressive disdain to their coworkers and customers like a CSTD (Customer Service Transmitted Disease) ensures that your company maintains its edge.

Now let’s look at another kind of organization – one which doesn’t discriminate quite so much:

Hiring people who give a shit, and those who don't.

Note how in this alternate version, a company having allowed such individuals to breach its inner sanctum begin to spread mediocrity across their entire business, and how that trickles down into customer experiences and perceptions.

In short, giving a shit is contagious. From the CEO on down to everyone in the company and outwardly to customers. Positive attitudes and perceptions spread virally through recommendations, discussions and general perception. In the same way, not giving a shit is contagious as well, and it too spreads like a virus across departments, front-line employees, customers, and to their social and professional networks.

This is how reputations are both made and unmade, depending on what kind of culture you decide to engineer.

What are some of the obvious symptoms that a company doesn’t give a shit?

This is important, because these are common red flags. When consumers spot any of these (or several,) they know that perhaps your company doesn’t really care a whole lot about you, your loyalty, or your affection for their products or brands.

1. Customer service is outsourced. (Because nothing says “We care” like handing you off to total strangers working under contract for less than minimum wage.)

2. The recording says “your call is important to us…” which is kind of funny coming from a recording.

3. The company’s employees look at the clock more than they look at you.

4. The CEO, in the middle of a crisis, says things like “I’d like my life back.”

5. Outsourced social media accounts, especially when it comes to customer service functions.

6. When the product fails, technicians will be happy to “look at it,” and repair it for about 70% or more of the value of the product in about 6-12 weeks. This is usually followed by “you could just buy another one” type of “caring” advice.

7. False or misleading advertising.

8. The company spams your inbox, twitter feed, phone, or otherwise valuable channel.

9. The average customer has no idea who the CEO of the company is. Until they see him or her on TV, defending pretty bad decisions.

10. After several interactions with company employees or management, you begin to suspect that everyone who works there might actually be some kind of asshole.

11. Poor product design, characterized by lousy user UI/UX.

12. The manager, in an empty store or restaurant, still manages to blow off his only customers… assuming he is even there.

13. The company sells your personal information to third parties.

14. The CEO’s Twitter account, blog and/or Facebook page – all proof that he “cares,” wants to “engage” customers and feels that social media is “important” – are all managed and fed by a proxy, (or ghost writer) preferably working for an outside firm or agency. (Sorry Mr. Pandit, but you have been advised improperly on this one.)

15. More excuses than solutions, followed by buzzwords and lip service.

16. The CEO spends more time on the golf course than he does listening to customers.

And there you have it.

Three questions.

So the three questions you have to ask yourself are these:

1. What kind of company culture are my customers experiencing whenever they interact with one of my employees, colleagues, bosses, products and services? The kind that gives a shit, or the kind that clearly doesn’t?

2. What kind of company culture should I be building?

3. Once I cast aside the propaganda, tag lines, mission statements and sycophantic reports, what kind of company culture am I really building?

Be honest.  Are you setting the right example? Are you hiring the right people? Are you teaching them to give a shit? Are you rewarding them accordingly?

… Or are you banking on a mission statement to communicate to your employees that they should “care”?

Giving a shit is hard. So is kicking ass. So what?

Yeah, giving a shit is hard. It’s expensive too. It requires all sorts of investments: Financial, cultural, temporal, even emotional. (Perhaps especially the latter.) Giving a shit means that your business isn’t just about balance sheets and incremental basis points of change. It’s about creating something special for and with your customers. It’s about building the foundations of a lovebrand – like Apple, Harley Davidson, Virgin Airlines and BMW. It’s about investing in market leadership, in customer loyalty and evangelism, in your own reputation, and in the strength of your own brand. In short, it means investing in long term success, in stability in tough economic time, and in a demand vs. supply ratio that will always be in your favor. Giving a shit is an investment, yes, and not one that might immediately make sense to financial analysts, but one that pays off every time. It is the genesis of everything that ultimately makes a business successful: Professionalism. The endless pursuit of quality, of great design, of remarkable user/customer experiences.

The moment you lose that, the moment you start giving a shit a little bit less, the moment you start cutting corners, that’s when you start to screw up. When you lose that competitive edge. When you start sinking into the fat middle with everyone else. That’s when you start to lose. Before you know it, you’re stuck picking between BOGO pitches and worrying about price wars with foreign imports. I’ve worked with companies like this. You don’t want to go there, trust me. It’s ugly. It’s stressful. You wake up one morning and realize that even if you tried to give a shit anymore, you couldn’t. There wouldn’t be enough time. It wouldn’t make a difference. It might even get you fired. Everything you’ve worked for all your life is hanging on the edge, and it’s a long, hard road back too the top. Most companies never make it back. I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to never fall than to have to climb back up again, but either way, it’s a daily battle.

In fact, giving a shit is so hard that very few companies do anymore. It isn’t how the game is played any longer. “The customer is always right” is a relic of the past, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Have you listened to what people are saying about your company on Twitter and Facebook lately? Do you know what they are saying about your competitors? In a year or two, do you think companies whose leaders don’t give a shit are going to be able to compete against companies whose leaders do? If you don’t see giving a shit as a competitive advantage yet, as a differentiator, even as a normalizing agent, then at the very least see it as a matter of survival. The age of the “I don’t give a shit” CEO is done. Game over.

Time to make a change or two?

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Since it’s June, here are this month’s three quick little announcements:

One – If you haven’t read “Social Media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization” yet, you will find 300 pages of insights with which to complement this article. It won’t answer all of your questions, but it will answer many of them. If anything, the book is a pretty solid reference guide for anyone responsible for a social media program or campaign. It also makes a great gift to your boss if you want him or her to finally understand how this social media stuff works for companies.

You can sample a free chapter and find out where to buy the book by checking out www.smroi.net.

Two – If you, your agency or your client plan on attending the Cannes Lionsfrom June 19-25, I am planning something a little… “unofficial” during the festival. If you are interested in being part of it, let me know.

You can send me an email, a note via LinkedIn, a Twitter DM, or a facebook message if you want to find out more. (The right hand side of the screen should provide you with my contact information.)

Three – If the book isn’t enough and you can’t make it to Cannes later this month, you can sign up for a half day of workshops in Antwerp (Belgium) on 30 June. (Right after the Lions.) The 5 one-hour sessions will begin with an executive briefing on social media strategy and integration, followed by a best practices session on building a social media-ready marketing program, followed by a PR-friendly session on digital brand management, digital reputation management and real-time crisis management, followed by a session on social media and business measurement (half R.O.I., half not R.O.I.). We will cap off the afternoon with a full hour of open Q&A. As much as like rushing through questions in 5-10 minutes at the end of a presentation, wouldn’t it be nice to devote an entire hour to an audience’s questions? Of course it would. We’re going to give it a try. Find out more program details here. Think of it as a miniRed Chair.

The cool thing about this structure is that you are free to attend the sessions that are of interest to you, and go check your emails or make a few phone if one or two of the sessions aren’t as important. The price is the same whether you attend one or all five, and we will have a 15 minute break between each one.

The afternoon of workshops is part of Social Media Day Antwerp (the Belgian arm of Mashable’s global Social Media Day event), and I can’t help but notice that the price of tickets is ridiculously low for what is being offered. Anyone can afford to come, which is a rare thing these days. (Big props to the organizers for making the event so accessible.)

The event is divided into 2 parts: The workshop in the afternoon, and the big Belgian style party in the evening. You can register for one or both (do both).

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

My advice: Sign up while there are still seats available, and before #smdaybe organizers realize they forgot to add a zero at the end of the ticket prices. :D

Cheers,

Olivier.

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By Geoff Livingston and Olivier Blanchard.

The Personal Branding Trap

by Geoff

Everyone in life wants to be loved on a personal basis, and received well professionally. When feelings of inadequacy arise — self esteem — it’s natural to look for solutions to improve a sense of worth. The most disturbing (and the least talked about) aspect of the personal branding movement is the promise that it can increase self worth through the intentional manufacture of an image.

Personal branding remains a popular individual career and online promotion strategy (as evidenced by the top of the Blog Tree by Eloqua and Jess3) in spite of significant criticism from the marketing profession as well as many employers. When a solution for such a soul-touching problem arises, it’s bound to become popular. And in that sense, personal branding is an idea that preys on individual pain and suffering.

Personal brand leaders offer plenty of justifications for their tutelage. They get paid for it, and receive national attention. In this sense, because the theory preys on the weak and is inherently flawed, their actions exploit people who want more in their lives, and want an answer.

This type of exploitation — intentional or as an act of innocent zeal — is no different than the quick road to riches offered by the likes of Bernard Madoff and his Ponzi pyramid scheme. It’s not OK to say, “it’s just a job.” Taking advantage of people in this manner at a minimum lacks mindfulness and its worse can only be described as malevolent.

For a variety of reasons already stated in other blog posts, personal brands provide employers dangers, and offer individuals band-aid solutions for deep problems. Whether it’s personal self esteem or professional reputation, actions demonstrate worth. Mood and worth follow action! One cannot think one’s self into feeling or doing better, they have to act their way into right thinking and feeling.

From a professional standpoint, that means stating what you want, going out and doing whatever it takes to get an opportunity to do that work and learning the craft. Then excel at the craft. Demonstrable experience (and a little luck) builds great careers. Presentation matters, but wearing a tie and understanding the nomenclature of a profession only provides an opportunity. Excellence in action preserves the opportunity and provides new ones.

Everyone wants to feel and do better. In 2011, let the marketplace and individuals turn their focus on substantive solutions that garner great opportunities and real experiences.

Read Geoff’s version of the post here.

The usurpation of the American Dream and other predatory tactics

by Olivier

The concept of “personal branding” finds its roots in the ambitions that fuel the American dream, appealing to the masses of individuals who desperately want to “be somebody” and see in the socialization of media a chance to have their fantasy become a reality.

There once was a time when being somebody meant actually… well, being someone of note. People became well known because of something they did or because of the role they played in their culture. Heroes would enjoyed fame because they saved lives and accomplished feats of bravery. Kings and queens knew fame because their faces were printed on their state’s money and they basically owned everything. Musicians, authors and artists enjoyed fame because of their work. Scientists enjoyed fame because of their contributions to science and human advancement. Movie stars were famous because they were glamorous and often became vessels for cultural archetypes that societies need in order to function properly.

I could go on, but the point is this: Fame and notoriety once were the result of accomplishment and achievement, and for good reason. The same is true today, though a growing movement made up of “personal branding” experts would like to sell you on the notion that you don’t actually have to achieve anything to be famous, even if only a little bit. All you have to do is will yourself there and follow some simple steps – which you will find if you buy their book or attend their seminars.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Polishing your resume, having your shirts and suits tailored and having a professional online presence all matter. And I understand the need for “self help” books as much as the next guy, just so you can feel good about yourself while you clean up your act. But the problem with this “personal branding” thing is that it is essentially a lie.

For one, it promises something it cannot deliver: We are people, not brands. Unless you are Sir Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise or a celebrity whose image is bankable and worthy of being trademarked, you are not a brand, no matter how many times some consultant tells you that you are. You have no trade dress. You do not have a team of copywriters, attorneys, designers and marketing professionals crafting your every move. Ask yourself this: What are your brand attributes? Can you sell koozies with your face on them? Do you have a tag line? You are a person, not a brand. Be yourself. You can’t be anything else without bending the truth anyway.

If you want to earn respect and notoriety, turn your attention away from yourself. Go cure cancer. Go write the great American novel. Start a charity and work to put roofs over people’s heads. When it comes to building a reputation, the kind of self-serving digital navel-gazing encouraged by personal branding gurus is precisely the opposite of what you should be doing.

Second, if you aren’t that smart, interesting or even knowledgeable about your topic, all the blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates and YouTube videos in the world, all of the speaking gigs at conferences and events, and all the self-published e-books won’t change the fact that you aren’t that smart, interesting or knowledgeable. Lousy content doesn’t magically turn into gold just because you have built a “personal brand.” Along the same vein, calling yourself an “award-winning expert” if you in fact are not doesn’t actually make you an award-winning expert, no matter how much your personal branding guru insists that it does.

Third, the “personal branding” industry preys on the desperate and the gullible. It is no surprise that it shifted into high gear as soon as millions of people in the US started losing their jobs. What really fuels personal branding isn’t ego or vanity. The real culprits are necessity and despair. Why do people really fall for personal branding schemes? Is it because they are happily employed? Is it because they are happy with their careers or their bank account? Do you think that Steve Jobs and James Cameron worry about their personal brands? No. But Jack, a down the street neighbor who lost his job 14 months ago does. He buys all the books, attends all the seminars, takes all the online courses. There is no telling how many thousands of dollars he has spent on personal branding “thought leadership,” consulting and advice since then. Like snake oil to the ailing, personal branding promises career improvement and better opportunities to the disappointed and disenfranchised. In this, the personal branding industry reveals its true predatory nature.

If you need a better website, build a better website. If you need help cleaning up your CV, get help. If you have a book in you, write it. If you want to make a difference in the world, not just get praised for a lot of talk, go make yourself helpful. If you want to be known as an expert in your field, don’t just talk about it – go be the best in that particular field. It really isn’t brain surgery. But if your strategy for getting ahead is to build a personal brand based on the teachings of some “expert” in… well, nothing, perhaps you should consider the benefit of adding this tag line to your personal brand: “Part owner of the Brooklyn Bridge.” Now wouldn’t that be an achievement.

That is all.

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