Category Archives: trust

I believe in you.

Luna and Bialy star in *I believe in you*

OK you know Julie and I have pet rabbits, right? Well when you share your home with rabbits “cute” is never in short supply. Breakfast is especially cute. I come down the stairs in the morning and they get excited – they dart around in their little pen (cute), they nudge each other excitedly (cuter), they stand on their hind legs and sniff (cutest), and sometimes one of them might even do a binky – a special little twisty twitchy hop that bunnies do (cuteness extremis). The point is they know what’s coming.

In the world of personal branding this is one target market that I have truly conquered. To the rabbits of the Cohen household my unique value proposition is clear: I am the bringer of parsley. There is no doubt in their tiny little rabbit minds. My consistent behavior in the marketplace has cemented my brand reputation. When it comes to the question of providing a leafy breakfast, every twitch, every binky says “I believe in you”.

So your product isn’t parsley and your market segment isn’t rabbits in the all-important 1-5 year old demographic. Maybe you’re looking for a job, or you offer consulting services, or you just opened a boutique… you know you’ve got something special to offer – are you hearing “I believe in you”? More importantly are you getting an “I believe in you” reaction? The bunnies never use the words, but their actions make it clear. And for that matter, it’s not what I say, but it’s the consistency of what I do that has won them over. (they may have big ears, but they don’t always listen)

Are your behaviors reinforcing your message or confusing it? Are your actions aligned with the brand image you are seeking?

The whole point of embarking on the personal branding journey is to focus what you offer that is unique and genuine, and then lower the barriers of understanding between you and the market segment that will find what you offer to be interesting, necessary and valuable. The first step is to believe in your own differentiation. The goal is an enduring and oft-repeated “I believe in you”.

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Social Media Marketing and Lemonade Stands

Ice cold lemonadeI get called “Big D” sometimes and I like to flatter myself that it is because I like to think big, however, I can’t pretend that my 270 pound, “more of me to love” frame might not have a little to do with that nickname.  So big guy, what’s your point? Well as an XXL type I’ve learned to distrust the one-size-fits-all approach in clothing and frankly, just about everything else.

I think there is one-size-fits-all epidemic in social media marketing.  There are too many experts and enthusiasts pitching solutions without regard to your business needs. I’ve got nothing against e-books, teleseminars, and online courses, but I get nervous when someone is advising that you do what they do and then point to things like numbers of Twitter followers or extensive lists of “friends” as proof of their effectiveness.  Truth is they might very well be effective at what THEY do, but unless you do what they do it may be a moot point.  Worse it can sometimes be harmful to approach your market with tactics that are out of alignment with you brand, products and services.

The point is different businesses work different ways, and the marketing that makes a success of one might make a flop of another.  Here in Atlanta it can get hot – it’s in the 60s in December today, and in July… forget about it! When it’s hot a big guy like me likes to have a little lemonade to cool off. Atlanta is a great town for a lemonade stand. Pick a busy corner, put up your stand, set your price and keep your inventory in step with demand.  The marketing approach is simple, easy to break down into component steps and therefore a very reproducible model.  You could extend it to fruit punch or sweet iced tea, however it is a lousy platform for selling enterprise software.  It’s hard to pitch 3 months of integration while sweating in the open air.  It flops for selling shoes – not enough shelves, too hard to relocate with changes in traffic patterns.  You get the idea.

If you’re enticed to jump in on the program of a social media marketer ask yourself if the one-size-fits-all formula they are promoting applies well to the services you provide. Are you in a similar price range? Are you prepared to apply all of their tactics? Are your purchase decisions made on an equivalent timetable? Are the ongoing relationships with your customers and prospects the same type of relationships that they are cultivating? Are their multi-level approvals/buy-in required to get the win?  Or can you just mix up a cold batch of product and sell it by the glass?

If the answers to these questions don’t line up well with the formula being offered, then you may be buying into magic beans – strained trust, wasted time and brand damage, not a recipe for effective marketing.

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Superheroes, a call to arms.

Love is my superpower

“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red ‘S’? That’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. THOSE are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume.” ~Quentin Tarantino

I love that quote because I believe that we all have something authentic to offer, something that makes us special, something that can make us a beacon to others if we would just let that light shine for all to see. However we don’t always trust that talent, that passion, that superpower – we hide it behind a job title, we bury it underneath professional conformity. We’re taught to fit in, not stand out, but branding is about standing out.  

Branding requires the risk of being noticed, especially when it comes to personal branding.

If you’re not noticed then your brand never has that seed from which to grow. You may be awesome, heck I’ll even go out on a not-so-skinny limb and say that you are awesome, but if we don’t know you and don’t know you for your awesomeness, well then we can’t help you and sadly we’re not going to give you the opportunity to help us.

My ambition, my purpose, my superpower if you will, is to help you to identify your difference, to give your powers names – so you can accept the mantle of your inner superhero. Yes, I’ve got a soft spot for the mavericks who were born on Krypton, but there are plenty of Earth-born humans who are mutating, who took the super-soldier serum, who’ve been bitten by radioactive spiders and feel that light burning inside. I see them all around me. I meet them every day, but they haven’t all yet come to recognize their powers or to trust them.

Kryptonite! Poisonous vapor of doubt. Kryptonite! Energy-sapping force of the dont-make wave (believed to emanate from meteorites made during the explosion of planet Me-Too). Admit it, it’s not easy to give yourself permission to stop being a face in the crowd. The life of a superhero can be super-risky, even super-embarrassing.

Have you ever worn a cape? It’s a tough look to pull off. Even Clark Kent can’t work that look because it clashes with the briefcase – it is not part of the costume, but when you dare to shrug off the Clark Kent disguise and reveal your authentic super self that’s when the cape fits – it’s not a costume it is a part of who your are. That’s when you’ll pick the color of that cape, stock your utility belt, build your secret lair… and name your powers.

“Look! Up in the sky… It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s you!”  Super.

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Branding with vinegar or without?

I’ve been meaning to mention a book that I really enjoyed: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. It examines some of the quirks in our buying behaviors and some of the types of judgments we make based on perceptions and preconceptions. This is an area where a brand’s mystique or prestige can have a big influence. There is a fun case study in the book where they went to a pub and offered a taste test of two different beers, but (warning: spoiler ahead) they were really the same beer with one of the glasses having a few drops of vinegar added – when people were told about the vinegar before tasting almost all of the participants preferred the untainted beer, however when the next group of participants had their turn they tasted the beers first, gave their opinions, and only then were told about the vinegar. Amazingly most of them preferred the vinegar laced beer. The only difference in the taste experience was the knowledge of the addition and the preconceptions most people have about the taste of vinegar.

What if we take this idea and move it to a different scenario: Imagine a handbag on the shelf at some big-box retailer, and then place the handbag with a new label in a high-prestige high-fashion boutique…. For many, the two bags represent completely different experiences – experiences which are governed by perceptions, peer influence, and aspirational values, rather than objective measures such as qualities of materials or workmanship.

What I find interesting is that I think the disruptive and democratizing influence of the Internet is encouraging a higher degree of authenticity in branding. Consider in my handbag example. Suppose some less than starry-eyed consumer notes that the big-box bag and the high-fashion bag are in fact identical in every way except label. The outraged consumer decides to write a blog post and publish pictures exposing the situation – the word spreads as readers of the blog mention it to their friends and link to the article from their own blogs and emails – maybe a consumer reporter picks up the story and investigates – Suddenly the high-fashion brand’s reputation appears tarnished, perhaps the big-box retailer’s cachet is slightly improved (less likely), but no matter what a pressure is applied to the brand-conscious high-fashion company to make sure that the next bag they produce exceeds the big-box bag by some measure that is meaningful to the brand cachet of the firm, be it quality, or cost of materials, or design, or originality, etc. It is a pressure toward authenticity, specifically an authenticity to the expectation promoted by the brand itself. Authenticity to the brand promise.

I think the concept of considering a brand as not a label, but an agreement between producer and consumer, a settlement between promoted values and actual experiences, is not only empowering, but is essential to the successful practice of branding in the Internet age.

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Fickle Findability

Yesterday my friend Sherry asked me if I would be interested in leading some discussions on personal branding at SoCon08.  Of course I was delighted and flattered, but it occurred to me that it might be useful to offer up a few thoughts to set the stage for the conversation:  What I wish to assert is that personal branding is something other than self promotion.  I don’t mean to be coy.  Certainly an increase in visibility is a likely byproduct of personal branding.  In fact, for many it is a highly desired outcome.  As a business person, I count myself in that number. However, the part that I find really interesting is the fact that it is getting harder to be invisible.   We don’t need to act like P.T. Barnum to be findable – findability is happening to us, and a little more each day. Being findable is not the same concept as being popular.  Many of the attendees at SoCon08 will be people who have embraced the idea of being findable, when popularity was never an overt goal. Being findable is part of how they build community, it flows from their desire to have and share a voice with those who would find that voice of interest.  Vlog, blog, or podcast, link profiles, or tweet@twitter and you are actively enabling your own findability, but it is happening passively too.  You shop online and leave a vendor a comment,  you’re spotted on YouTube by someone’s phone-cam while attending a conference, someone tags you and puts your picture on Flickr, or maybe a customer mentions you in her blog – you didn’t intend it, but you just got a little more findable.  Promotion, as I see it, is about trying to accelerate and control the findability, but the control is an illusion. (You might hang on to the bull for the whole 8 seconds, but are you really in control?) Personal branding is about choosing to participate, choosing consciously to add your voice to a chorus that may already be out there.  A chorus that is probably easier to find than any platform of your own.  So will you be in harmony?  Can you influence the chorus?  This I hope is an interesting place to start a conversation about personal branding.

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Social Media is Already Inside Your Organization…

….you just might not know it. Sherry Heyl writes an insightful post, Social Media Affects Every Department Within Your Organization, which points to the ever-broadening reach of social media and its power as a resource for all disciplines within the modern corporation. I think this is an important observation, but the post also implies an issue that I think should be stated overtly: the social media contagion has already infiltrated your organization. Chances are, even in the most buttoned-down and security conscious corporate culture, that social media is gaining a foothold. Why? Because the vector for this infection is people. People recognizing the power of communication on their own terms, people increasingly aligning themselves to transparency and authenticity in their choice of community. People like the Generation Ys/Millennials who have made distributed communication their natural mode of interaction. You can try to shutdown the blogs, vlogs and podcasts, you can ban the IP addresses of every wiki, but you can’t change the fact that every day the people you hire, the people who are already in your organization, are becoming acclimated to a new set of communication tools and are hitting the reset button on their cultural expectations for integrity, immediacy and empowerment. I think the call for smart companies is to embrace this new connected, community-oriented, and empowered corporate citizen and do what is necessary to learn from the best of their skills, to nurture environments that will attract and retain the top talents, the most effective distributed thinkers. The challenge will be to adjust the top-down management styles and to educate this new employee on the ethics of corporate communication in a world where information is permanent.

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