It is now fixed so I haven’t lost my last two weeks of blogging, and all of your comments, from yesterday’s Amazon Cloud server failure. In the meantime, life goes on. These are some posts I’ve collected this week, posts I want to recommend:
I’ve heard thousands of entrepreneurial stories, some extremely successful, many mediocre, or not successful. That combined with the extensive research my team and I did for this book leaves it clear to me that instantaneous ideas are extremely rare, in business, art, science, or you name it. Mozart was an exception. He was a prodigy. But for the rest of us mortals, it takes lots of small steps and constant iteration to identify big opportunities and problems.
My thanks to John Jantsch for pointing me to 5 Tips for Better Business Storytelling, by Jeanne Hopkins, on Hubspot. Very practical tips. I think story telling is extremely important, and not just for blogging.
Andrew Sullivan’s Look At Me When I’m Talking To You. Very disturbing. I’m guilty of this. Read it. By the way, has anybody else noticed how prolific he is? Like 10 blog posts a day?
Don’t get me wrong: I think the thinking behind it, the advice wrapped around the idea of personal branding, is excellent. I’ve recommended, for example, Dan Schawbel’s personal branding book Me 2.0 and I’m sticking to it. Dan has a great collection of real-world suggestions in that book. But I’m beginning to think I hate the term. And maybe some of what’s behind it.
Last Friday I read Personal Branding is Bullsh*t (cowardly * by me, not her) by Arienne Holland, communications director of Raven Tools. She writes:
A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.
She also objects to a magazine article recommending personal branding for employees of large companies:
If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.
This was already on my mind before reading that because of a conversation I’d had a few weeks ago with my daughter Megan, marketing manager at Klout.com. At the time I was talking about some of Dan Schawbel’s recommendations, and Megan shared that she didn’t like the term. She explained that recently in Why I Hate the Term “Personal Branding” on her blog:
“Worse yet, there’s the idea that this is something new. Personal branding is just a new way to talk about reputation. Well, you know what? Reputation is a much better word for that.
Personal branding implies you should be fake to make it (if you disagree, do let me know). Before you tweet, interact, blog, or walk down the street you need to think if it fits with the image you want to portray. Well, you know what, if there’s only one facet to your personality you’re not an excellent brand, you’re boring.”
She’s not objecting to the things we do as personal branding, at least not if it isn’t faked; instead, she is objecting to the term we use to describe it.
There’s a lot that I like about the whole field of personal branding, particularly the emphasis on actual people and authenticity and humans communicating with humans. But I admit, I hadn’t thought of the underlying meaning of the term “brand.” It does carry a sense of artificial to it, doesn’t it? It makes us think of Mad Men, advertising, consumer opinion research, and expensive image advertising like insurance companies and such, on a very large scale.
Are you the same thing as your brand? If so, then what’s the point?
What happens if you make light of your achievements, shun the spotlight, and pass the microphone on to the next person in line? Will this stunt your career growth?
I’ve worried about this for years. I used to deal with a guy who did very well as a professional expert, while knowing not much more than what he’d read the in a trade journal or two the night before a presentation. That never bothered him. And he did very well. And it kind of bothered me.
And then we have the new world order of personal branding, led by experts like Dan Schawbel, Jonathan Fields, Pam Slim, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, John Jantsch, and many others. Dan is the leading expert as defined by Google. Those others are great personal brands, acknowledged experts. What does personal branding say about humility? Can you get there with humility? (hint: some do, some don’t.)
I’d like to think that the world rewards people who let others tell their achievements. But does it? Can someone who doesn’t love the spotlight be a leader? A leader is defined by followers. What if you never take credit and stick in the background? Will your would-be followers ever find you? Will they give you credit?
A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We humans are frail creatures; we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well, is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility.
He goes on, in that post, to list ways to demonstrate humility in the workplace. Temper authority, look to promote others, acknowledge what others do.
And yet, much as I like this idea, I think it has to be tempered with reality. People are busy. People need to be told what they think. If you don’t take credit, somebody else will. Baldoni says:
Can you be too humble in the workplace? Yes. If you fail to put yourself, or more importantly your ideas, forward, you will be overlooked. Chances for promotion will evaporate, but worse you will not give anyone a reason to believe in you. All of us need not lead others, but those who do seek to influence, to change, to guide, and to lead their organizations, need to find ways to get noticed. Again humility comes to the rescue. That is, if you celebrate team first, self second, people will notice what you and your team have achieved.
Damn: paradox. Lack of a general rule. All of it case by case. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a conclusion there about doing the right things in moderation. What do you think?
The boom in social media, my happy association with some very smart Generation Y people, and a good book or two (Me 2.0, among them, and Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz) have me very intrigued with a broader application of branding.
I was taught to think of branding as a collection of visuals that should work together: logo, letterhead, signage, packaging, business cards, newsletters, websites.
More recently I’ve started to see it as something much deeper than look and feel; something as core to existence as identity.
With an individual, it’s the you that you and the world create together: not just your resume, not just you as you are for your family and friends, but you as you appear to others on the web, in your writing, the way you dress, your behavior at meetings, the way you speak, the way you deal with other people.
With a company, there too it’s what you and the world create together. Aside from the obvious trappings above, it’s your location, your space, the way you treat customers and employees, the decisions you make about pricing and service and product development, decisions you make about finance and investment and payments and receipts. It’s your accumulated integrity or (heaven forbid) lack of integrity.
Several religions incorporate a consciousness of a soul or something like it, that carries a person’s life deeds around on it like a permanent record. I was taught a Roman-Catholic-in-the-1950s version that had to do with sins as stains on the soul. I see it now as more of a Zen-Karma-like thing. But those two, and your idea of the same, don’t really contradict each other.
And I like that idea as it applies to companies, particularly your company and my company, small businesses, and personal businesses. Every small decision you make, every interaction with customers, every product detail, every financial transaction, is your brand. Cut corners, cheat people, stretch the truth, and it changes your identity as a company. Your accumulated brand, over time, isn’t what you say it is; it’s what you actually do that affects people and the world.
I am not just asserting as true something that I’d like to have be true. I’ve seen it in business over and over again. And I see it more than ever, these days, with the new business landscape making our businesses more transparent every day. Reviews, tweets, comments, it’s all something like word of mouth but magnified, like word of mouth cubed.
You want proof? Me too. All I’ve got so far is the increasing evidence that green environmentally and socially conscious companies do better on the stock market, in the long term, than the opposite. And lots of anecdotal evidence about companies that treated customers well, or badly, and were paid in kind.
To me it used to be about well-known experts whose names became brands in an almost-traditional business sense: Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tom Peters; they were experts whose names sold books and speaking engagements. Lately my view of personal branding has expanded as I start following John Jantsch, Anita Campbell, and Pam Slim, for example; bloggers, tweeters, authors, and experts.
I like to think that my favorite experts, my favorite personal brands, are authentic. Guy Kawasaki really is an investor, really was an Apple evangelist, and believes every word he says. Seth Godin has built his remarkable name around remarkable marketing. John Jantsch lives for Duct Tape Marketing, and Anita Campbell for Small Business Trends. These are real people.
And, whether you like it or not, you too are a personal brand. Much as I dislike the phrase personal branding it’s not just for big names any more. It’s for just about everybody who has enough online access to be reading this post.
Whether you like it or not. Which brings me to Me 2.0, Dan Schawbel’s new book — due out today — on personal branding.
Reading Dan Schawbel on personal branding is something like a mirror image of a mirror. He has a great personal brand. He’s always on Twitter, often on major business blogs (not to mention his own) and is frequently quoted in business magazines. And he’s only 24 years old.
Like his book, and his quick career success, Dan is completely immersed in the realities that have grown up in just the last few years: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on.
It may be that being young wasn’t even an obstacle, in his case, because that whole world began on college campuses (mostly) and then spread to the old folks like me. So of course he’s only 24. How could he not be?
And he’s got some very good advice to share. Beginning with his main point, the “like it or not” truth about it. Personal branding is no longer an elite concept reserved for a few big-name authors, columnists, or experts. The new world of the 21st century, with social media and Web 2.0 and Google and friends, makes it a fact of life for just about everybody. He tends to focus a lot on the Gen Y college student looking for a job and starting a career, but he would, wouldn’t he. There’s a lot of specific, detailed, real-world advice here about how to get your first job and manage your career, in the context of social media, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and friends. And a lot of what he says applies just as well to an old guy enjoying his journey into social media. I had to chuckle: what is “Me 2.0” to Dan is something like “Me 11.0” to me. I’ve been around longer.
I still hate the phrase. Personal branding sounds to me like white suits and pink ties and gold chains. I wish we’d called it personal footprint, or something like that. Maybe just engrave the phrase “this goes on your permanent record” on every keyboard.
When I started in journalism close to 40 years ago, one of the better teachers suggested that we also keep an ego file, always, of things we’d written. Today it’s almost reverse — Google and friends keep the file of things you’ve written, whether you like it or not. And Dan points out that you should think about it ahead of time, and make sure you like it.
He tells some good stories: Facebook stupidity, for example — the guy who was convicted for a crime from evidence he posted on Facebook, and the almost-urban-myth of the woman who skipped work because she was “sick” but posted her free-day fling on Facebook.
Much more important than that, however, is a well structured review of how the new world almost requires an awareness of personal branding. Unless you’re outside that new world you can’t escape it, and you can, with some good thinking and organization, manage it. Visibility is there.
Some key points that apply to me and my baby-boomer friends as we enter into social media:
Authenticity: You can’t fake it for very long. You have to actually be yourself, or the effort to be that other person is overwhelming.
You have to live with who you’ve made yourself to be in things that show up in Google and friends.
Better to think about it and organize it — like a standard profile, picture, and personal statement — than to let it be random.
It’s amazing to me that Dan is only 24 years old. But maybe that’s the point. He’s onto something.