Toward a Theory of Personal Branding (Part II: Blog to the Score)

Theorized: With only slivers of time, one can create good content and thereby expand one’s personal and professional brand.

Sometimes a personal brand gets built by accident. In late 2008, I presented to my firm leadership a trend report on social media. At the time, social media was poorly known. LinkedIn was a fledgling service and Twitter had not yet met Oprah. Most of the principals in our industry who heard me talk laughed nervously about how Facebook was where their teenagers lived. But when I delivered my trend report, something happened. The doubters acknowledged that this might be something big. I was asked to give the talk five, ten, 15 more times, to audiences representing a wide range of companies.

Four years later, I decided to start a blog under my own name. Although by this point I had developed websites, blogs, and social media campaigns for the firms I had worked for, I began to feel that I had to drink my own KoolAid: I had to create and measure social media for my own personal brand. While there is much work to do to develop this brand, there is one trick already worth sharing, and that is to work within a score.

What is a score in this sense? In certain forms of improvised dance, a score is employed to give dancers a structure to navigate through a performance. It is a set of rules or limiting factors. These limiting factors serve to wedge the writer (that’s me) into a spot where creating content is simplified.

The first aspect of the score that I designed (by accident) was effective yet radical. I chose simply to blog about my experiences, with no apology. This was contrarian thinking for a professional marketer, someone who has always spoken from the customer perspective first. Every day that I face the blog, I draw only from my unique anecdotes and stories. The difficult hurdle is continuing to believe that to do so is valuable. When I was a young writer in high school and college I heard a constant refrain, “Write what you know.” However, a decade or two in business has squashed much of that truth as I am paid mainly to edit the writing of others, whose technical expertise I understand only vaguely and whose core business is somewhat of a mystery to me, it must be confessed. The main value that I bring to the table is to write clearly enough that a typical client audience can understand the gist of the technical gems.

The light bulb went off again when I realized that drawing from my past, including my very recent past, would be valuable to my desired blog audience: other marketers whom I could inform or inspire. From the perspective of organizational development and human capital, I provide, as you do, as everyone does, unique accomplishments, beliefs, experiences, experiments, and the list goes on. Seeing this list so objectively suddenly made it easy to hoist stories up from the well. The anecdotes I have from my experiences are unique to me. Therefore they must be told, because not to tell them is to deny others access to that capital. It’s the product that is under development. And in the privacy of my blog, I forego the market, I relax about the market. I focus on product development. The product that is perpetually invested in by my own and others’ human capital: me.

Blog posts therefore, are pretty speedy to write. I recommend looking through sent emails of the past week or excerpting from almost any formal document you have contributed to. There is always a kernel of brilliant accomplishment to be found in the detritus of our work. The score is permanently inscribed in the blog’s categories: Accomplishments, Beliefs, Experiments. Stay within the score and hit publish.

A puny little blog like mine is hardly the end-all be-all for personal branding or organizational publicity. In fact, studies are beginning to show that a person’s presence across various social media services is what builds traffic because we inspire trust when we participate authentically in many conversations. We are trustworthy when we both listen and speak. Yet more evidence that in the era of social media, building and believing in our personal brand is of paramount importance.

Toward a Theory of Personal Branding (Part I)

Given: Success in many environments comes from a combination of old-fashioned hard work, excellent social skills, and a touch of flagrant self-promotion.

Let us consider flagrant self-promotion as an ingredient for success. Hard work is hardly a topic for much discussion: we know it’s critical. Haul yourself out of bed because the early bird gets the worm. (Though it often seems that the earliest bird gets the worm figured out, paving the way for the second earliest bird to obtain the worm and reap the big rewards!) Social skill-building for business is an excellent topic for discussion, and it merits a full treatment. One of my favorite topics of all time is networking tips and tricks and I very much enjoy helping individuals and groups explore the true size and breadth of their personal and professional networks. It’s awkward under the hot lights, but let’s be brave and take a look.

In order to be clear that building a personal brand is not the same as craving a spotlight, let us first consider a famous name who shun the spotlights when she is not working: Meryl Streep. Considered by some to be film’s greatest living actress, Streep rarely appears in tabloids and keeps her public appearances to a minimum. In keeping with this lack of gratuitous self-promotion, Streep has built a personal brand of seriousness and dedication to her craft.

Close to home, there are plenty of notable characters who work to maintain a personal brand. One well-known consultant wears a bow tie to each and every networking event. A female company president keeps her mane long and blond; combined with the feminine name of her firm, it suggests a welcome differentiation in a male-dominated field. A p.r. specialist at an architecture firm always chose yellow for her social media avatar backgrounds, which worked perfectly with her sunglasses and sporty updates to convey California-born freshness on the East Coast.

Business in general can be seen as having two essential parts: the product and the market. It’s simplistic, but it works well. A product is developed, whether a new invention or a fresh take on a time-tested service. Perhaps your firm was founded by an engineer: that person represents the product. The market has to be represented inside the company, too, whether by a chief of client service, sales, or marketing. Product and market.

In the case of a personal brand, the product and the market are one. When developing and promoting your work and persona, you must see yourself as product, which may be at some level objectionable. What is the product truly? What makes it/you unique? And of course, what does the market want? How does the market want to make use of your talents? Can these two identities fuse together successfully? A personal brand that accepts its true and dyadic nature has magnetism. It has a reputation that shines equally outward and inward. The velocity is spiral and increasing. With applied acceleration, it may go viral.

Change Agent in Town: Creative Initiatives

Many firms that seek to hire a senior marketing executive are looking for a change agent. The leaders often expect to soon be “taking our marketing to the next level” or acknowledge the deferred maintenance that has occurred to the collateral, website, or other key communications pieces. Here is an excerpt from a current proposal to a highly technical design firm:

“Relentless execution of the day-to-day must be balanced with creative initiatives that set the stage for growth. Based on a first pass at the existing marketing materials, one or more of the following larger initiatives would be considered.

  1. Visual Rebranding. This program makes use of the talents of an outside design firm to carry out a phased rebranding that includes office design (client areas), logo, stationery and business cards, website, and collateral. Doing everything together is more economical and cohesive.
  2. Digital Strategy Overhaul. This initiative brings on a sophisticated web design consultancy to bring modern capabilities to the firm’s website. In-house, a keyword strategy is implemented to connect the firm’s excellent blog to its website and brings engagement data to marketing staff who pass it to sales and business developers. [This program can be carried out separately from the above or wrapped into it.]
  3. Research Training. Creation and development of a comprehensive research program for all three offices, kicked off by an outside consultant. Given the firm’s expertise in highly technical sectors, it’s all the more critical to leverage information we have on clients and their needs to ensure our solutions are relevant and to close deals.

“After carrying out a comprehensive survey, addressing mission critical needs, and gauging relative interest in the above special initiatives (as well as others that emerge), it will be possible to sketch out a marketing plan and budget for the next three years.”

Half the money …

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.

John Wanamaker’s famous words. I have had two top executives ask me in person to determine which marketing techniques will definitely, actually work. Can I promise? As if!

Workshop Proposal Fails Despite Alliteration

I found out this week that my proposed workshop for the American Society of Landscape Architects annual meeting and conference this coming November did not make the cut. Here is part of the proposal:

Presentation Title: The Marketing Mix and BD Basics for Generation X
– Learn how marketing and business development are unique for Generation X
– Consider all of the marketing channels that are appropriate for a landscape architect
– Evaluate the marketing options for your particular specialty
– Experience a systematic sales process that feels authentic

Perhaps I was overly enamored with the title (“Mix”, “Basics”, and “Gen X” all have such nice X sounds). In retrospect the title was probably the only good thing about the proposal. The key error I made was a legal one. There really is no good way to talk about generations in the workplace without edging near age discrimination. Here is the dicey paragraph:

Often thought of as the last child born to the large families that grew directly out of the Second World War, Generation X can be challenged when breaking out of manager mode and into a rainmaker mindset. This presentation draws on the firsthand experiences of Boston area l.a. professionals …

The marketing essentials content could be repurposed a hundred ways, of course, so the effort is not truly lost. And surely alliteration inspiration will strike again.