Category Archives: Branding

sticking your neck out, sometimes you get hit

Had an interesting conversation with a friend tonight. Lots of topics. Towards the end I found the conversation turning to Julia Allison’s lip dubs. And I respect that. Stick your neck out. Julia does that. I don’t know her, but my bet is if you were going into combat, you’d want that lady on your side.

“Trying to get up that great big hill of hope, for a destination.”

Ski Dub: 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Going On!?” from Julia Allison on Vimeo.

And when you stick your neck out, you get haters. Which sucks. But there it is. I guess I am still small time because my haters just send me anonymous facebook messages. As for Julia, I really hope this contract was a big one. Haters be damned.

PRSA Georgia Conference Presentation: The Personal Brand Era

Last week in Atlanta I had the privilege of speaking to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Georgia’s Annual Conference. My topic was The Personal Brand Era.

As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “we’re going through a gold rush of branding.  If you get talked about enough in all these social webs/blogs, you can build a brand.”  If the people working for you have a strong presence in social media, so will your company.  This means happier employees and a more profitable business.

My slide deck on the personal brand era is below:

Chron Post: The Personal Brand Era Cometh

The Personal Brand Era Cometh

In August of 2007 Tom Peters wrote in an article titled The Brand Called You in FastCompany magazine:

It’s time for me — and you — to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work.

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

Wikipedia defines Personal Branding as: “the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands.” A personal brand is how others perceive you. It may or may not reflect who you really are.

I find the evolution of Personal Branding similar to the evolution of advertising, initiated by Ogilvy, written about in a series of articles on the subject of positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and then distilled in the book Positioning. Advertising shifted from “product feature advertising” to “positioning” in which a product needed to occupy a position in the mind of the consumer to break through the clutter.

To put it another way, your personal brand is a managed account that has a very real effect on your earning potential, your legacy and your future employment.

So while I agree with Peters that The Brand Called You is important, I’d like to extend that thought and propose that in fact we are entering The Personal Brand Era. And it is an era that will be disruptive to the business status quo.  Yet, if managed correctly, the Personal Brand Era can be profitable for both individuals and the companies for which they work. The success of your personal brand and the success of associated corporate brands are additive; they are not a threat to each other.

finish reading The Personal Brand Era Cometh on the Chron

A Modest Proposal for Brand Colocation Fees

coke-a-colaIt is a common mantra in marketing that our brands live in the mind of the consumer. A recent television commercial for a major software brand quotes the Chief Marketing Officer of a major beverage brand saying

“Our brands are owned by the consumers who love them.”

Or as the Social Customer blog quotes:

You Don’t Own Your Brand – Your Customer Does
– Christopher F. Carfi, CEO of Cerado

Perhaps the first people to observe this are Ries and Trout in the book Positioning. That brands occupy a small space, a niche, a “creneau” as the French say, in your mind. The brands are in your brain and you can’t remove them. We can not remove Coke-a-ColaTM, MicrosoftTM, DisneyTM, GoogleTM, ExxonTM, SonyTM, NFLTM, The Super BowlTM, The Olympic GamesTM, etcTM, etcTM, etcTM from our minds even if we wanted to!

And brands, mine included, invest heavily to achieve this. To place our brand in your brain we use PR tactics and advertising. And to defend our brands against infringement or dilution. Now that we own a creneau in your brain we do not want someone else to come along and mess it up! That is OUR corner of YOUR brain. Don’t touch it.

You can NOT have a Super BowlTM party. That is a trademarked brand, albeit a government authorized monopoly functioning at the pleasure of the people represented. But that is another post.

If Chuck-E-CheeseTM starts offering Mickey MouseTM themed parties without paying Disney for use, they get sued.

That is a hypothetical of course but the point is that if one brand tries to access that portion of your brain encoded by another brand in your brain, then we have a legal battle of the brands. Fighting. Over a space. In your brain.

Disney and the NFL are fighting over a space in YOUR brain.

coke-a-cola-cupAnd who is paying YOU for the lease of the space in your brain? Who gave the Super Bowl brand-colocation rights in your brain? And if not, can you reasonably avoid the barrage of branding messages out there designed to write on that spot in your brain? Of course not.

So why aren’t you being paid a brand colocation fee, rent if you will, by brands that are occupying your brain? You are watching tennis with your kids in the room on TV and the GEICOTM advertisements places a freakin lizard and money with googely-eyes into your head. What’s in it for you?

Not much. You are just the real estate where brands live. And you get nothing for it.

Brand Colocation Fees: a Modest Brand Proposal

You should charge brands a fee to live in our brains. Lets think about it:

If the dude was sleeping on your couch for a day and then left, you call that a “favor for a friend” or a “minor inconvenience.” But if the dude MOVED INTO your house and stayed in that same spot in your house day after day, sooner or later you’d give him a bill for rent, right? So how is this different?

In fact the unwelcome-boarder analogy can be extended. Say that another vagrant shows up. The two proceed to fight over YOUR sofa in YOUR living room. Then if you mention either of them by name they SUE YOU! Yet aren’t THEY the interlopers? Have THEY not taken residence in YOUR living room? Aren’t they quite literally fighting over your sofa, disrupting you, in your house? Why do you put up with this?

Well I tell ya, in Texas, we don’t. No sir. We all have guns and drive pickup trucks and by golly we’ll chase them out screaming like Yosemite SamTM shooting at them as you run so far awaySM. By golly. Or we’ll charge them a fair rent. Either works. You gotta be flexible in a recession, right? So anyway.

The only reasonable conclusion is that a Brand-Colocation-Fee must be charged for the brand to “co-locate” in our brain.  A Brand-Colocation Fee (BCF) is the only fair solution to reconcile the years of free rent accumulated by these interlopers, these free riders, residing in and fighting over the sofas and man-chairs in our minds. Even that extra comfy chair your Dad always took when he got home from work. The brands want to sit in that chair too! It is only reasonable that brands must purchase the brain’s equivalent of the very fair and equitable NFL Personal Seat License (PSL).

And like a PSL is not a seat, just the rights to buy a seat, so too a BCF doesn’t guarantee a space in your brain, just the branding rights to that corner of your brain. If I have no need for a number-one-or-number-two creneau for aircraft engines, then you can ignore the brands anyway.

Hey, it’s YOUR BRAIN, right? RIGHT?

How to calculate the Brand-Colocation Fee

This of course brings us to three new challenges:

  1. How to calculate the appropriate BCF for a given brand and;
  2. how to collect the appropriate fees from a brand and;
  3. how to disburse the interlopers’ money to the brain-land-owners

First lets agree that the average consumer knows thousands of brands and has many many “positions” in her mind as a consumer. Each of these positions is unique and has one, maybe two brands, that occupy that space. Number one or number two.

Additionally brands are faced with a global marketplace and regional competitors. It is very confusing to track whose brain has recorded which brand. And so as not to be a burden to the brands, we humbly suggest that brand colocation fees should be modest on a per-person scale. But how do we manage this?

A Brand Colocation Fee Union (BCFU) to Manage BCF Collection and Disbursement

We need an efficient oversight committee to calculate and manage the collection of brand colocation fees. To take into account birth and death so Disney isn’t paying a BCF to a deceased account. Yet we, the brain holders, need equitable representation. We need in fact a Union to ensure our brain space is properly represented. But what do we call this Union? I propose a Brand Colocation Fee Union.

The Brand Colocation Fee Union, or BCFU for short, will manage the calculation and collection of brand colocation fees in a fair and equitable way for brands and the consumers alike.

Given this is a complex matter we further propose to put all of the Corrupt New York Bankers back to work creating brand lookup tables and more imaginary math to calculate a fair and equitable and defensible (and probably corrupt) set of rate tables.

The BCFU brand source tables should take into account factors including but not limited to:

  1. Some brands are welcome and I, as a consumer, will gladly waive the fee. Yes this means I am brain washed, but why else do open source advocates love the completely proprietary Apple brand? So sometimes the BCFU fee should be zero. We can sort the crazies using demographic data.
  2. Fees should be equitable and reasonable. Given the relatively low cost of many consumer products, say a Coke, an annual fee for even such a strong brand might only be one (1) US dollar per person per year (not consumer as even non-buyers carry the burden of the coke brand in their brain).
  3. Brands that insist on existing in our brains, but serve no purpose but to annoy, should be penalized! Just cause they bug us. Specifically brands should be penalized for advertising to the wrong demographic. Think “Head On” or “The Clapper” – two brands closely followed by Capital One, AFLAC and Geico for seriously-damn-annoying factor. These people should pay a reasonable person $10 per year.
  4. Political brands, as much as I hate to say it, should be exempt from BCFU fees when sending information for the service of their constituents. But should reasonably be charged a penalty for negative campaigning. After all, they are working to reposition a brand in your brain to a new position in YOUR BRAIN. Again, we leave this to the BCFU to calculate with their fancy economists.
  5. Crappy brands like Larry Flint or Girls Gone Wildthey owe me BIG. I want 1 million dollars per year for these stupid brands! But again, being a reasonable and represented person, I’ll defer to the wisdom of the unions when it comes to equitable brand taxation.

Next Steps in the Battle to Win Back Your Mind (or at least charge rent for the space)

To recap, given Brands exist in OUR BRAINS. we should charge a fair rent.

We propose to call that brand-rent a brand colocation fee (BCF). And, being American, we wish to outsource the hard part to a union called the Brand Colocation Fee Union (BCFU).

What are your thoughts? Which brands should pay the most? The least? Which politician or law firm can get this started for us? A brain-space space-race. Our new bureaucracy, the BCFU, surely wouldn’t let us down?

Personal brands, being human, can not truly be consistent.

Reading Gwen’s post Leave it at the Alter about personal brands got me thinking.

hans-haacke-blue-sailPerhaps our online personal brands are really pseudonyms for the Umbrella Corporation? A protective wrapper than includes a “a highly-trained security force capable of rescue, reconnaissance, and para-military operations” division. And one sub-corp that makes band aids for the kids when they skin a knee so we also get some good PR for our radical transparency.

So for the sake of argument, let’s assume that personal brand are the umbrella. Yet humans, like Tara, are very diverse creatures. We cycle through roles as Goffman’s Symbolic interactionists. From wikipedia:

…people act toward things based on the meaning those things have for them; and these meanings are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation.

A fancy way of saying we act differently in different situations when we play different roles. As a speaker I am outgoing. As a person, not so much, testing as an introvert.

The fundamental flaw with personal brands and radical transparency is brand consumers can’t handle this dissonance. Yet a human will always be a messy puddle of emotions and role playing and bluffing and reality.

Specifically brands are strengthened as they move towards one (1) thing in the mind of the consumer. Positioning is about the internal brand singularity. From Ries:

The Law of Singularity: The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness. What is a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect. It’s as simple or as difficult as that.

THE leading energy drink. THE best violin. THE fastest sports car.  Get it?

So real brands CAN be consistent. Coke-a-Cola is “the real thing”. Personal brands, being human, can NOT truly be consistent. Unless we hold back and show only our personal-brand-act in all public channels.

Steve Martin has an act, but that isn’t him. The fact that he inherited a personal brand of his name simply means he must live a double life, or triple life, of cover ups. Or risk not being true to the personal brand “Steve Martin” which surely isn’t him. (when did he stop doing stand up?)

So yes we have a personal brand. But they will never be as strong as a real brand.

And on that note, personal brands are horribly unfair. Think about it. People with no marketing training are compelled to come up with a brand name for all social software channels. But unlike companies that can trademark a brand; they typically don’t. And companies can buy their domain name. But how can an individual reserve their personal brand on every new social web site? So even IF an individual comes up with a great personal brand, they have no formal method of protecting it. Completely an unfair challenge to the individual. Yet there it is.

Great post on personal branding Gwen! Clearly you got me thinking. Thanks!

The image? Hans Haacke’s Blue Sail. It is every changing and completely dependent upon the fan as part of the installation. Just as our personal brands are completely dependent on how others perceive them. Whether in person or through social media. Our brands are singular and exist in the mind of the consumer, correct or not, if we wish or not, they just are. Sitting in a spot in their brain. And that is a tad bit unfair…

In Defense of a Personal Brand – I Rename this Blog

futbol in a vineyard
futbol in a vineyard

Technically I specialize in online marketing. Hence the name of our firm is Schipul – The Web Marketing Company. So it is funny that I am just now (finally?) updating my blog away from to to be consistent with my current personal brand. It is funny, but it is not without precedent. I have made more than my fair share of branding mistakes.

In fact “Schipul” as the name of the company was an accident. It was simply that I couldn’t come up with a brand name that day, used my last name for the DBA paperwork, and figured I would change it later. Well, that never happened.

Being a fan of Ries and Trout’s Positioning, there are some good and bad things about the “Schipul” brand name. But it works. And if it takes 10 years to build a brand, we are 11 years in with a great reputation. Thanks to our clients. To a community of people that help us! And thanks to a consistent brand promise.

What is different about a personal brand in my observation is that it is a bit unfair. For example, companies were forced with the advent of the Internet to come up with a globally unique brand for the first time ever. For the first time ever. And it turned out there were a number of companies working in different geographical areas, or specialties, with the same name. ACME Brick versus ACME Medical. And there was only one “”. You had to reserve it first.

What is different about personal brands is that you CAN NOT RESERVE IT. You must defend it. A new social software site arrives and there can be only one Cosmopolitician. Someone else forced Monica to use a different personal brand of Metropolitician on flickr. This makes me crazy, but there is no global trademark method for personal branding. And if there were, WTO or whoever would screw it up.

For the rest of us, consumers of personal brands to simplify our lives, we need personal brands consistent. We don’t want to have to figure out that Joe is really John is really Bill on different sites. We extend privilege to personal brands that we recognize. If confused, we walk away, or at least hesitate.

This is an unfair standard for individuals with no marketing training. Forced to globally defend unique personal brands without even the ability to reserve them. That is harsh. But there it is. That is personal branding in a global economy.

That weight led me to finally give up on BTBD and go with “eschipul” even for my blog name. Knowing full well that it will be confused with “corporate me” which is “schipul”. But I can defend “eschipul” given the only other “Ed Schipul” has long since passed away.

That image? It’s the very first photo on my flickr stream from 2006. My very first blog post from 2005 is somehow just gone. It was a rant on the government response to Katrina. Its just gone. So I have to celebrate the very first flickr upload. The beginning of the development of my photography personal brand. Funny how it all works out.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go spend countless hours claiming my blog on Technorati, adding SEO plug ins to wordpress, configuring Google analytics, getting my twitter and flickr badges working. And then I’ll tell all the newbies that “blogging is easy and fun!”

PS. No, I’m not a cynical generation X’er. Why do you ask?

Ries: The Law of the Proper Brand Name

the real thing
Originally uploaded by eschipul

On the subject of rules for brand names.

For readers of this blog it comes as no surprise that I am a big fan of Ries and Trout’s book Positioning. And since then a continued fan with The Fall of Advertising and The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. They articulate thoughts that just make sense; logically, psychologically and sociologically.

Working in the tech sector and also being a fan of Moore’s Crossing the Chasm I view brand names very much as a sociological pattern. The mavens,
even if your biggest fans, must be able to COMMUNICATE that knowledge
to the early majority. It is YOUR job to give them a strong brand name
to communicate!

Recently rereading the 22 Immutable Laws, I found the chapter I was looking for when I wrote this post on brand naming. Here is a summary:

The Law of the Proper Name (pg 148)

  1. The name should be short
  2. The name should be simple
  3. The name should suggest the category (flickr?)
  4. The name should be unique
  5. The name should be alliterative
  6. The name should be speakable
  7. The name should be shocking
  8. The name should be personalized

So it
hurts me when I see friends use bad brand names. Not my job to prevent
the world from using irrelevant 10 syllable Russian sounding
cryptographs on the basis of "Hey, IBM uses an acronym!", but if you
must, you must. If however you have a choice, I am going to strongly
suggest you follow Ries’ Law of the Proper Name.

We did, which is why I love our brand name for Tendenci which one of our artists at the time, Randy Sarinas, came up with. Now if only we had a better positioning statement for Tendenci, but that is another blog post.

The Time It Takes to Build a Brand

Newer brands are more newsworthy. This is great for PR.

But conflictingly it takes “10 years to build a brand”. This comes from two sources. And of course there is a creative tension between these objectives.

  1. News is by definition bringing you NEW information. Hence news. So it is more likely the paper will write a story about the somewhat controversial Dr. Sketchy’s than it is the Art and Social establishment that hosts it and has been around for 10 years! New is just cooler in America. Young is better than old. Etc.
    1. “While a new brand name is a liability in an advertising program, it’s an asset in a PR program. A new brand name tells the media that the product or service is new and different. Exactly what the media wants to write and talk about.”- pg 257 Ries and Rise in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR
  2. Brands on the other hand take “10 years” to form in the mind of the consumer (Positioning, but these quotes are from “Rise of PR”)
    1. “The real barrier is the human mind. It normally takes decades to build a brand because it takes decades to penetrate the gray matter in between your ears.” – Pg 224
    2. “Successful brands get into the mind slowly. A blurb in a magazine. A mention in a newspaper. A comment from a friend. A display in a retail store. After a slow publicity buildup, people become convinced that they have known about the brand forever. – pg 228

The way I phrase it is an amalgamation of sources and comes out as

"it takes 10 years to form a brand in the mind of the consumer."

This is a depressing statistics for a marketer. But for every Google, there is a Wal-Mart that took decades to get off the ground, or Nike that took decades to get off the ground. Or the slow moving Red Bull that took forever to enter the US market but everyone thinks just appeared.

Wal-Mart,  Nike and Red Bull are the tortoises. It is helpful to remember that when building your brand strategy.

3 Basic Rules of Coming up with a Brand Name

The shortest answer I have ever given someone when they asked me “what should I name our company“.

My answer on coming up with a good brand name for your company:

  1. Brand name should be two to four syllables.
  2. Hint at but don’t
    directly say what the product is.
  3. Be unique so it stays in the mind of the

I know those come from all of the books I have read on marketing and advertising. So I apologize I can’t source the exact references as the ideas are not originally mine. But it is, in my humble opinion, a grand start on finding a good brand name for a product or service.

Primal Branding PPT on Slideshare – Great Find!

The book Primal Branding has influenced my thinking on brands significantly over the years. At the office we even made a collection of digital photos from our own past, our brand story, and loaded them onto rotating digital picture frames. So the new guys can learn a bit about where we came from.

Primal Branding says that a brand has to  have 6 elements to succeed:

  1. Creation Story
  2. Creed
  3. Icons
  4. Rituals
  5. Pagans
  6. Sacred Words
  7. Leader

So being a big fan of Primal Branding, it was nice to see this shared PPT on Primal Branding. Good stuff.