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Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

May 2012 finally sound the death knell for all things “personal branding.”

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

You know what we used to call people with “personal brands” before the term was coined? Fakes. So here is a simple bit of advice for 2012: Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS. You don’t need it.

If you really want to brand something, focus on your business, on your blog, on your product. If your product is you, I hope your name is Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga, because otherwise you aren’t thinking clearly about this. A brand is ultimately an icon. Are you an icon? No. You aren’t. And if you ever become one, you won’t need to worry about building a personal brand.

Have I seen your face  pop up on billboard ads for Nike, Ford or Chanel? Are you on Wheaties boxes? Do you have your own action figure? Do designers call your agent asking if you would wear their clothes to award shows? No? Then you aren’t a product or a brand.

Let’s walk away from the professional navel-gazing industry for a minute recalibrate things just a tad. If what you’re after is improving your image and your odds of being successful in whatever your endeavor is, drop the personal branding nonsense and give these little tips some thought:

1. Talk less, do more. Let your work speak for itself. Michael Jordan didn’t spend all his time trying to build a strong personal brand. He practiced his craft. He trained. He worked his ass off to be the best basketball player he could be. It doesn’t mean you should stop blogging or granting interviews or making videos. It just means that the ratio of doing vs. talking should clearly favor the former over the latter.

2. Be relevant, not just popular. I know Klout is all the rage these days, but nobody gives a shit. No, really. What was Steve Jobs’ Klout score again?

Go solve a problem. Go cure cancer. Go create jobs for people in your community. Go fight against modern day slavery or spousal abuse or childhood homelessness. Go help Nike or Microsoft or the small bakery across the street build or do something remarkable. I guarantee that the closer you get to doing something relevant, the farther your mind will be from the latest popularity metric.

3. Reputation is more important than image. With a little work, anyone can create an online persona that exudes success and brilliance. Anyone. Image is nothing more than marketing. Here’s something you need to know: The people who will actually be in a position to help you in life understand this. You won’t fool them with superficial image design. They don’t care about it and know how to see right through it. Be what you say you are. Build a reputation for yourself. See #1.

4. Speaking of image, find a good tailor. You want to look good in person? Take whatever money you were planning on throwing at personal branding seminars or webinars and spend it on a good tailor instead. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes to look put together. Believe it or not, most of the time, H&M and Target will do just fine. The trick is in getting whatever you buy altered to fit you properly. A good tailor can make a $75 sport coat look like you spent $750 on it, so spend the $25 extra bucks on the alteration. Nobody cares how much you spent on your clothes, but they might care that you have sense enough to know how to wear them like an civilized adult.

What you should have tailored: Pants, dress shirts, jackets. Always. No exception. For men, everything you need to know about this can be found in Esquire’s Big Black Book of Style (usually released twice per year – in the spring and fall).

5. Just be yourself. If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you. Remember that thing about authenticity and transparency earlier? The more you have of the first, the more you can get away with the second. If you’re an asshole, the solution is simple: either work on that, learn to be a funny asshole, or spend less time on Facebook. If you’re a kind, pleasant, remotely interesting person though, just be that and everything will be okay.

If you’ve ever interviewed applicants for a job or held open auditions, you know the drill: Some people walk into the room and show you only what they want you to see. Others walk into the room and show you something real about themselves. Guess who stands no chance at all of getting a callback. Fakes need not apply. Trust is far too important a thing to gamble away on personal branding schemes. The more honest about who you are around people, the  more they will respond to you. It’s that simple.

The worst thing you can do for your career (and your relationships) is to try and build a personal brand.  It will get in the way of real success, of real connections with people, of real opportunities. It will distract you and divert your focus away from work that matters. It will warp your sense of self worth. It will flip your values upside down until what you care about the most is what you should be caring about the least.

If you really want people to know your name and take notice, go build something. Make something good happen. Create. Invent. Help. Rescue. Solve. Improve. Apply yourself to any of those endeavors and in time, you will earn some measure of respect and even perhaps notoriety or fame. That’s how it works. Jules Verne is known for his stories. Steven Spielberg is known for his films. Richard Branson is known for his success in business. Author. Film maker. Entrepreneur. Compare that to “online personality” or “social media expert.”

So here is wishing “personal branding” safe journeys and a heartfelt farewell in 2012. Thanks for visiting. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?

*          *          *

Oh, I almost forgot: Social Media ROI is now available in German! Check it out.

For the English-language Social Media ROI portal, click here. To buy it directly from Amazon, click here.

For the German edition of Social Media ROI, click here.

I’m kind of psyched about that.

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Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

The topic of “what is a brand” or “what do we mean when we say brand” comes up pretty often, so I am always on the lookout for a clear explanation of the term… or at least an explanation that can help frame it for people who aren’t 100% clear what brand really is. (Is it a logo, symbol or mark? Is it a promise? Is it a marketing gimmick?)  Depending on whom you talk to, you might get a completely different answer.

This time around, let’s have Tom Asacker share a few insights on the subject:

A brand is not a logo, and branding is not a communication strategy. A strong brand is a strong bond, and branding is your business.”“To those with a dated, mass-market mentality, branding is still all about image and awareness. It’s about tag lines, logos, cute little animal mascots or clever jingles. It’s about spending megabucks on Super Bowl commercials, hiring celebrities to sing your corporate praises, and covering cars with advertising banners. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that awareness is unimportant. (…) But, does well-known equal strong? Not any longer. The rise of the global economy [and] the rapid adoption of the Internet have ignited commercial innovation, and put an end to those days forever. Today, like just about everything else, brand logic has been turned on its head.”

“And please, don’t get hung-up on the word brand. Today, the word brand is shorthand for the gut feeling people have about something, some group, or someone. It’s a kind of Platonic Ideal, which stands for the essence of a business, school, organization, person, or even place. If you add up the tangible and intangible qualities of something – the gestalt – and wish to represent the meaning and distinctive character this greater whole conveys to its audience, today we call it . . . brand.

“Think of your brand as a “file folder” in your audiences’ minds (not a perfect metaphor, since memory is malleable, but stick with me anyway.). When they’re exposed to you (e.g., through advertising, design, a salesperson, word-of-mouth, etc.), a feeling is immediately filed away in that “brand file folder.” As time passes, much of what your audience has filed away – the details – will become inaccessible. However, they will remember where they stored the folder: in the front (positive feelings) or pushed to the back (negative feelings). Given the sheer volume of brands trying to find a place in your audiences’ overloaded “brand file cabinets,” you must not only get their attention and be relevant (a file folder labeled with your brand name), but you must also get it placed in the front of their file cabinet (elicit strong, positive feelings of intense personal significance).

“(…) Despite what the Madison Avenue folks may tell you, the strength of your brand lies not in the fact that you own a folder with your name prominently displayed on it. Repetition does not create memories, relevance does. The strength lies in your folder’s position in your audience’s file cabinet (the emotions that linger in their memory). The strength lies in the bond! So make your brand about feeling, not just familiarity. Make it about shared values and trust. About honesty, vulnerability and presence. A brand is not simply a promise. How can it be, with everything changing at breakneck speed? A brand is a living, breathing relationship. Revel in the messy world of emotions and create a brand that’s about leadership and differentiation; about customer insight and radical innovation; and about clarity of purpose, passion and a sense of humor.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wow. Is it really Friday already?

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New York City street, by Olivier Blanchard 2005

Jack Spade’s words of brand wisdom from an old issue of Fast Company finally made their way to me again last week when I found a box of old issues in my garage. Jack’s advice is as relevant today as it was then:

1. The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.
Even if you have 10,000+ employees and offices on all seven continents, never, ever start thinking or acting like a big company. Once you become corporate, you become detached from your customers and there’s no interest in that.

2. Never believe anything you have done is successful.
Challenge yesterday’s assumptions every second, every day. Understand that no matter how good they may make you feel, last year’s successes are in the past. Your job is to build your company’s next successes. No company stays relevant long by resting on its laurels, so don’t.

3. Brand consistency is overrated.
The brand doesn’t have to look the same, but it has to feel the same. An element of newness and surprise is important for any brand.

4. Brands should have some mystery.
Customers should never understand the whole picture of a brand.

5. Your people are your product.
They are the vehicle through which everything happens, and they define what you put out.

These five points probably aren’t the sort of thing being taught in most business schools. On the contrary, if these subjects are even addressed, I’ll bet that in most cases, the exact opposite is still being preached as gospel: Brands have to be consistent. Capitalize on your successes. Brands should be crystal clear. Yadayadayada.

The truth is that there is no cookie-cutter methodology. Look around. How many major brands are crashing and burning even though they play by the rules? (Perhaps BECAUSE they play by the rules?)  All you can do is build up your toolbox with old and new ideas, with conventional and unconventional wisdom… and learn how to use the right tools in the right circumstances in the right way. The rest is just about inspiration, vision, and fun.

Act small. Look forward, not back. Know exactly who you are. Make sure to always keep things fresh. Don’t lay all your cards on the table. Care. Focus on human needs.

Not a bad start.

Now take these little bits of advice and see if they apply to your company. Which ones apply? Which ones are you missing the mark with?

Welcome to a whole new work week. 😉

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