Category Archives: networking

Explore the Humanizing of Brands – Why Now?

Gather and Talk
Recently (Dec. 2nd) I had the opportunity to participate in a terrific event all about the humanizing of brands called BrandsConf. Jeff Pulver brought a couple of hundred people together to gather and talk about this topic that has been brewing for a long time, but has just recently come to a boil. That got me thinking: Why now? What has accelerated these ideas that have been developing around brands for several years?

I think a big part of the “why now?” is this very human idea of gathering and talking and how technology keeps making it easier for us to do just that – easier, faster, and at a larger scale. We used to gather and talk around the campfire, the dinner table, the watercooler, and now we’ve added al kinds of new places to gather and talk: chat rooms, comment threads, profile pages, Facebook walls and Twitter streams. We’ll virtually convene and debate over fanboy flamewars, activist causes, and even which thermos is really worth 24.99.

Not Gathered, but Talking
There used to be a little more clarity about when you were having a tête-à-tête, versus making a speech, or gathering a consensus. Now a conversation might be all of those things at once: one to one, one to many, and many to one all at once – and throw in many to many just for good measure. You also used to know when a conversation started and ended, but when the gathering is virtual it can also be asynchronous, or semi-synchronous, dialog and document all at once.

This isn’t just semantics (although I really like semantics), a lot of the reflexes we have formed based on the way we gather and talk in the physical world are being stress-tested by these new modes. Capacity, memory, history, context used to be things we could reliably judge in a more visceral way. There is a kinship in the gut between our skills as pattern recognizers and our effectiveness as B.S. detectors.

Gathered, but Not Talking
But I don’t think our reflexes are quite a sharp as they used to be, not as a whole. You see we spent a lot of years gathering, but not talking, first due to the radio, and later the TV. Add cable and cheaper electronics and we even began to lose the gathering – we were separating and not talking. IMHO our dialog skills got a little bit atrophied, especially when it comes to brands. We got comfortable with brands being spoon fed to us like cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. Our brand conversations were at best about brands, not with brands.

Search Me
Sorry about hopping around, but that’s just how my mind works sometimes. I’m not as random as Clifford Stoll yet, but give me time… So what was I saying? Search me…

Well that’s how we used to use that phrase: “Search me” was a handy expression to say I don’t know, or I don’t have the answer. Now “search me” is a directive, a request, a precipitate of this idea that we have a personal brand. Search me means that I have an answer and I want you to check me out so you know what you’re getting. This is where I think we as individuals can learn much from what the big brands have refined over the years, ideas like focus, consistency, aspiration and segmentation. And why is this important? Many of us come to a world with muscle-memory that was built when conversations were things that happened with a tiny scope, that faded away quickly, if not instantaneously, and we’re bringing those reflexes to a world where nothing is erased, everything is searchable, and the only way to hide a blemish is to crowd it out – make it harder to find by drowning it in a sea of positives.

I think this is why authenticity is so important to building a personal brand – every day we are offered the opportunity and consequence of operating like one-person media empires. Yet without the resources of a major brand or a billionaire media-magnate behind us it is essential that we steer our ships carefully, thoughtfully and with purpose. Our authenticity is our compass. It’s how we find our way, how we get back on track when we get buffeted around by life’s hard knocks and gleaming opportunities. It’s also the one resource that we know we won’t tap out while we’re hustling to keep up with the big shots and the big brands with their deep benches and deep pockets.

The good news is, it’s a lot easier to get big virtually than physically. The micro-brand can go global. The personal brand that embraces clarity and focus, that can bring an authentic remarkableness to market, can indeed go global. Your flavor of weird, if it’s real, might just be your win.

Talk to Me
So certainly there are heaps of brand wisdom that the little upstart can learn from big dogs like Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, Coke, Harley Davidson, etc. But can the scrappy, squishy, touchy-feely, human being at the center of a personal brand offer anything for the big brands to learn. Can you teach a big dog new tricks?

Well I think just as we as individuals have some communication reflexes that aren’t quite caught up with the new modes of semi-synchronous, always searchable, un-erasable, gathering and talking, so too are the big brands faced with outdated approaches and behavioral biases built on assumptions from other modes of communication. The command and control, TV, print, radio, megaplex paradigm depends on cascading layers of one-way filters that allowed information to flow down and out, but prevented the vast majority of the upstream communication from getting back to the top. All of that today can be subverted with a single tweet. It’s not a wolf at the door, but a human, just a few keystrokes away, and she wants to talk – not be lectured, or given the latest spin.

The social innovations of today’s Internet have brought back the talk to the gather and talk and large companies will be wise to recognize that we are not just demographics, not just a count of households in a statistical strata, but humans at every turn and in every nook and cranny – we’re squishy and we want to talk.

Hear Me
With all this talking and gathering another very human need is revealed – the need to be heard. The personal brand bold enough to build a narrative on a foundation of authenticity wants desperately to be accepted and acknowledge for that very thing. The person who tweets a complaint about a bad bit of customer service, or a disappointing product experience also wants to be acknowledged, engaged and will react to the brand that does so in much the same way as they would react to a human acknowledgement.

So, Now…
The social technology has positioned us as individuals to realize the potential and responsibility of being a great brand, while also reminding big brands that they are surrounded by and suffused with humans. Their potential and responsibility will be revealed in how they choose to engage in a world of trackable, semi-synchronous, and squishy human-to-human communication.

That’s why now.

If you want to get a little more of the flavor of BrandsConf search for the hashtag #brandsconf on Twitter and check out my doodle-notes made during the event.

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Looking for work? Get fired!

These days I’m often asked to speak to career groups. There are a lot of folks in transition these days and many have never experienced a job climate quite like the one they find themselves in today. It’s a tough spot. One piece of advice that I often hear given to job seekers is to treat the job search like a job: set goals, have a plan, give yourself a quota of activity to accomplish daily, and don’t fall into a rut of inactivity. All good sound advice, but there is one vital piece missing: this is not a job you want, in fact this is a job from which you want to be fired!

Getting fired?! It’s appalling, embarrassing, humiliating… unless it is getting fired from the job of being an “A” Number One Unemployed Job Seeker. There’s nothing humiliating about losing that job title. So what do you do when you’re TRYING to get fired? Well naturally, you break some rules. But you don’t just break them quiet-like – you make some noise, you call attention to yourself. If you want to get fired you have to get noticed. Get noticed breaking the rules.

There is a dangerous rhythm that the job seeker can fall into: a cycle of online searching, sending resumes, filling out application forms, and visiting career groups. It can feel like a job, it can feel like progress, but if you’re not getting results it’s not progress. Break the rules, change the pattern. Get noisy. Start a blog, become a twitter networker, pick an issue in your industry that you care about and take a stand, do it vocally, don’t be benign. Instead of standing in line at the career fair, break the rules – organize your own event. Instead of waiting to get the sales job, break the rules – bring your target company a customer – you’ll get some attention, bring them 3 and you’ll get hired.

These days being good at what you do, being qualified and experienced are only enough to get you the opportunity to stand in line. It’s not differentiation, it’s another resume in the pile. Get out of line, break the rules, find another door, or a whole new line. These are risky times to play it safe. Get passionate, get creative, and by all means when it comes to the job of job seeking, get fired.

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Another Diva Toolbox article and a few questions

I had a nice chat with Janet Powers yesterday – Janet is the Diva extraordinaire behind Diva Toolbox™, a site which has been gracious enough to post a few of my scribblings – the latest being The Title That Used To Be Your Brand. Janet shared with me some of the stats on my past articles and asked if I might be interested in joining their growing family of podcasters under the umbrella of Diva Toolbox Radio (a BlogTalkRadio partnership).

I love the Diva Toolbox™ motto: “Within you lies the ability to do anything. Find it.” I think it is a great thought for everyone. The mission of Diva Toolbox™ is to “empower, educate, and entertain women”, but that is a message for men and women alike. I’m delighted that according to Janet my posts have been well received in the almost entirely female Diva community so I’m strongly considering taking her up on the podcast concept, but I feel that what I do here isn’t exclusively for one gender, nor would my content necessarily change for the audience.

Since you know I’m an advocate for listening to your community and asking for feedback on your brand my questions to my readers of this blog are: Would you like to not just read, but listen to some of my ideas too? And if so, do you think the Diva Toolbox would be a good vehicle for that conversation? Please tweet me @davidscohen or post a comment with your thoughts. Thanks!

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A visit with The Passionate Entrepreneur

I recently had a great time visiting with Kenneth Brown, The Passionate Entrepreneur. Ken is a multi-media machine so I was delighted when he invited me for an interview session on his BlogTalkRadio podcast. You can check it out here:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/e3c/2010/02/12/what-is-your-personal-brand

I’ve actually been considering giving the BlogTalkRadio format a try, perhaps even doing some live “Brand Therapy” sessions to give listeners some insights into what I call the Whole Brand ThinkingTM process. I’d love to hear from you if you like the idea, or if you think you might be interested in being the subject of such a session.

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The Portable Personal Brand

Is your personal brand portable? Is your message easy for others to carry and spread?

Sometimes we get too caught up in our own message – we labor over the words, trying to get the nuance just so; making sure we get the essential essence of our value proposition; delving into details; artistically articulating skills, services and strengths… only to find out that everybody else refers to you as “the guy with the funny hat”, or “you know, that lady who sells real estate”, or “the dude with the stale coffee breath”.  It happens.  But there is a lesson to be learned here: if you show up often enough people will remember you, but are they remembering you for what you want or for what they find convenient?

What if you could combine the two?

The portable personal brand is about getting known in that straightforward, easy to identify, easy to remember way, but also in a way that points people toward your value.  You can’t do this with  a complex message: “Oh you know Dave, he’s the guy that went to art school after getting a math degree, and went on to startup companies and then built a career in marketing, blah blah blah…” It is too much. I can’t remember it all and I lived it, how can I expect someone else to carry all that info?  And even if they could what would they do with it all?   But if I give myself a label, “the brand therapist”, and tell people one thing I can do, “help people brand themselves to get more business” then maybe, just maybe someone might remember that.  Maybe then, when someone meets a person with a murky message who is not getting results, they  will say “Oh you should talk to Dave, the brand therapist, he can help you”.

Simplicity is portability, but there is a trade-off:  there is more I can offer, but I have to leave it out otherwise it is distracting and cumbersome. There is certainly more you can offer than will fit in a sentence or two, but it is unreasonable to expect people to remember it all.  And if it isn’t simple it won’t function as a trigger.  When you network you will meet great people who are willing to help you, don’t you owe it to them to make that job easier?  Equip them to help you with a simple way to understand your value. Build a portable personal brand that makes it a reflex to relay people to you who need your help.

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    Caitlín Mowbray"I adore your doodles... I swear looking at those bunnies lowers my blood pressure, calms my mind and makes me smarter. Who needs meditation when there are bunnies?"
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