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

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…

brandchannel: The Search Is Over: Google Wins in 2005

Brandchannel_global_brand_surveybrandchannel just released their 2005 Readers Choice Award Results for top brands.  It is a must read for those in advertising and public relations.  The top 10 global brands are (visit the site for the full list and geographic break downs – link above and below)

For the public relations professional these results are huge.  Note that Google does virtually no advertising, nor does Skype, Starbucks or Firefox. 

In fact while I don’t have the exact numbers, it looks to me like 40% of the top readers choice global brands are primarily built on word-of-mouth marketing and public relations.  Wow!

  1. Google
  2. Apple
  3. Skype
  4. Starbucks
  5. Ikea
  6. Nokia
  7. Yahoo!
  8. Firefox
  9. eBay
  10. Sony

<rant> Now if brandchannel would JUST GET AN RSS FEED I’d be happy!  Aarrrgh.</rant>

This is a corporate customer service problem – AT&T can’t back it up

Dr. Evil: "Austin… I am your father."
Austin: Really?
Dr Evil: No, I can’t back that up.
… from Austin Powers Trilogy

Which relates to a perfectly executed but factually incorrect advertising campaign by AT&T:


photo courtesy of Brian at Weblogs Work

I’m not even going to START with my this gets my blood boiling…okay…maybe I’ll start.

#1 – I blogged about AT&T lame-o campaign a little while back
and one of their lackey advertising dorks left a nasty comment on my
blog. Something about how a Web 2.0 blogger shouldn’t be commenting on
his brilliant advertising campaign. Ha! First of all, if they knew
their asses from the blogosphere, they would know that my background is in advertising and marketing and that their campaign sux rss.

… (more)

Working with numerous advertising agencies I can feel the agency pain.  No doubt they (AT&7) sent the A-list to the creative kick-off.  They, the ad agency, were assured that indeed AT&T had street cred with the bloggers. 

Unfortunately AT&7 is a legacy monopoly with no clue how to treat a consumer (apparently at least – I no longer user their services!).  Posting those billboards made me comment on them in Houston while driving.  I didn’t post it, but many others did and unfortunately for AT&T one of them was Tara Rogue.  Hee hee. 

Assume every customer is king and your brand will have no problems.  Bloggers are like the CIA – they are silent and will enforce what they believe in.

Saint Arnold Fermenter – Naming Rights on eBay is Great Public Relations

SaintarnoldbeerfermenterSome brands enjoy a disproportionate amount of warm fuzzies.  It helps if you sell beer and your product literally makes people happy.  So no surprise that St. Arnold Brewery is one of those brands that enjoys love from their customers. 

Saint Arnold is well known in the Houston area for their brewery tours where everyone gets a free "half cup" of beer.  But if it is a St. Arnolds mug it doesn’t matter how BIG your beer stein, you still get a "half cup."  So basically what you have is repeat offenders showing up with giant mugs (portable barrels with handles?).  Very odd for a first time attendee who of course wonders what the heck is with these people!

Saint Arnolds is now auctioning off the naming rights to their new fermentation tank.  Great public relations and with the bid at $1501 as I write this that is real money.  Here is the eBay listing.

Naming rights to new Saint Arnold fermenter

Become a saint! Win the naming rights to our newest fermenter. It is our first 120 bbl fermenter (that’s 3,720 gallons), twice the volume of our existing tanks. To put that into terms you can understand, that’s 1,653 cases of beer. The tank to be named is prominent to the tasting area. This means people will be thinking of you while enjoying a good beer. Then you can join the previous winner, St. Gonzo, along with our other saints Adrian, Brigid, Columbanus, Dorothy, Edmund, Florian, Gall, Hildegard, Idesbald, Jacobus, Lawrence, Matthew and Nicholas (all are actual saints of brewing). The proceeds will assist us in purchasing even more fermenters so we won’t run you out of beer.

In the disclosure category, Dan Keeney (a client of ours) sent me the link to St. Arnold as I believe they are a client of his.  But hey, if I could afford it, I’d be all over that fermenter.  Of course I’d probably have it signed with someone else’s name for fun, but what the heck?!?

update: And the winning bid was US $4,002.00 by elsambomeister

City Slogans Redux

BrooklynisanewplanetI posted previously on my objections to several Houston branding campaigns.  And as a member of the Houston Advertising Federation and the American Marketing Association I have the right to be wrong but also to complain comment.

There is also amusement to be taken by the "Atlanta: Every day is an opening day" decision in Atlanta, particularly when you have a power house combination like the Ries’ offering Atlanta alternatives (although Hotlanta does sound silly to me).

Now, not to be outdone (via adjab) the New York Daily News brings us this:

1 boro tag? Fuhgeddaboudit!

<snip> "Brooklyn is too broad and diverse for one slogan," said Markowitz spokeswoman Jocelyn Aframe.

"It became apparent that one slogan wouldn’t be able to express all that Brooklyn has to offer."

Instead, the Brooklyn Tourism Partnership will use several slogans – which range from the classy ("Brooklyn: Bridge to the World") to the wacky ("Brooklyn: The Tenth Planet") and possibly risque ("Do It In Brooklyn") – for specific advertising campaigns.

At least they have a sense of humility acknowledging that sex in Brooklyn is so different we can officially declare it a new planet. Wow.  I mean, just wow.  HotBrooklyn maybe? 

Blue Ocean Strategy: Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Responding to Cirque du Soleil

Brands are tricky things.   And Blue Ocean Strategy is about not going head to head with your competitors but rather about finding a blue ocean that creates NEW demand.   New territory.   It would be like dragging Edward Bernays along on the Lewis & Clark expedition and watching the fireworks fly.

Blueoceanstrategy My first point is the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne is a great book for those of us navigating the branding oceans with a new and different product.   It IS tempting to go with the “me to” concept particularly when you consider search engine marketing and keyword counts which by definition ONLY highlight existing market categories.   So if it takes another brand manager X amount of self control to position his product in a new category, I truly believe it takes someone familiar with SEO X + 9999999 to achieve the same position, education and facts not withstanding.

Strategycanvasofcirquedusoleil In the book Blue Ocean Strategy they cover numerous relevant business examples (it is a Harvard Press book after all).   One of the examples that may be difficult to apply to our business (don’t worry – they cover other awesome examples that ARE easy to relate) is the case of Cirque de Soleil.   Blue Ocean Strategy advocates creating strategy maps as seen at right.

The idea is to determine what you can eliminate, raise, reduce or create.   So circuses fight over star performers (did you even realize there was such a thing as a star clown?   I find that laughable. (too easy, sorry….)).   So Cirque de Soleil eliminated star performers.   Animals are expensive to care for, travel poorly, require trainers and Peta is stripping in protest anyway – so why not ELIMINATE the animals (high cost / low return = capitalism??)

Finally we see a response from PT Barnum.   DeathdefyingbrandconversionOK, not that “See the Egress” crap again, rather a “secret” new show eliminating the three rings and introducing a theme. But I’ll bet buckets of chicken (sorry Pam) to doughnuts (sorry HFPD) that they are not eliminating animals or celebrity performers.   So they have higher choreographical costs, perhaps more creativity, but no significant cost reduction in performers or animals care.   Will they at least return to performing in tents?

All kidding aside (image of goat here), the point of blue sky strategy the four actions framework:

  1. Reduce – which factors should be reduced well below the industry’s standard?
  2. Eliminate – which factors that the industry takes for granted should be eliminiated?
  3. Raise – which factors should be raised well above the industry’s standard?
  4. Create – which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?

I am glad to see Barnum and Bailey thinking.   I think they need to explore their strategy a bit more and not rush to create a win/lose battle with cirque, rather they need to find some blue ocean.

Maglite goes LED and I am OK with that Branding Shift

Yes, I confess, I am a huge fan of the Al Ries, Jack Trout, Laura Ries thoughts on marketing, branding, and brand extensions (egad!).  But somehow Maglite introducing LED lights works for me, I am excited about it and I LIKE the Maglite brand as part of the LED world.  I buy it and WILL buy it no problemo.

So first here is the Ries position on Kodak and film versus digital cameras (as a counter point – just being fair and all….)

What about Kodak, they don’t focus on any one product or market?

Kodak bought Sterling drug, including Bayer drugs and pharmaceuticals and in essence became an unfocused company. In the last few years they have gotten out those businesses and focused on imaging products. But there are two types of imaging products, photographic and digital. At the moment, most of their business is photographic. But the future is going to be digital. Kodak is making a serious error by putting their photographic name on their digital products. What they need is a separate name for their digital products.

And here is the Maglite post on MAG-LED Technology.  For some reason I buy the putting the same brand on both.  I don’t view LED lights as a completely new category.  Just a better way to make a darn flash light that doesn’t go dead when you drop it.

Maglite1 We are pleased to report that Mag will soon be adding MAG-LEDâ„¢ flashlights to its product line.

If these products have been a long time coming, it’s because the MAG-LEDâ„¢ Technology has taken a long time to develop to the point where it is feasible to make an LED flashlight that meets Mag Instrument’s high standards of quality, durability, style and function.

Now, after years of research & development, testing and refinement, Mag Instrument is committed to introducing, in early 2006, a line of MAG-LEDâ„¢ flashlights. Like Mag’s incandescent-lamp flashlights, these newest members of the Maglite ® flashlight family will have the style, performance, benefits and features that both professionals and consumers have come to expect from a Maglite ® flashlight, including the fact that they are built for a lifetime of service. The Maglite ® design tradition will be instantly recognizable in them, and they will offer the beam-focusing capability that has always been a feature of Mag ® flashlights, AND MORE!

Again, thank you for your interest in Mag Instrument and its products. We look forward to the rollout of the MAG-LEDâ„¢ flashlights in the near future.

The Maglite Team

GreenlaserSo this is all do-able marketing and branding news.  I don’t view it as a brand extension; we will all ignore the Mag-LED moniker and just call the darn thing a Maglite anyway.  What I *really* want is the green laser LED version for snipe hunting.

U2 as a multimillion-dollar, multinational media company

Great write up on U2 and their marketing operation in the NYT today.  Somehow U2 manages to be a corporation, advertise with Apple which is completely proprietary, and yet have a glow of being open, honest, young and progressive.  That is a challenging brand position to reside in, and hats are off to their management and to the band/brand itself.

Quote from the NYT article on U2.

U2cd"We always said it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business," said Paul McGuinness, the band’s manager since the beginning. And while U2 hasn’t become a Harvard Business School case study (at least not yet) it offers an object lesson in how media can connect with their customers.

Speaking on advertising on the web I frequently get questions like "that is not what Nike does" and I have to keep reminding folks that YOU ARE NOT NIKE!  So while I am in awe of U2 and what they have accomplished in music, in business, and in philanthropy, I would caution new artists to remind themselves YOU ARE NOT U2.  New bands have to be a new brand and build on the latest in advertising evolution.

Repurposing old stuff – what will this do to your brand?

Today the NYT is running an article that it interesting:   

It’s Like Selling Meals by the Bite. And It May Work.

HOW much is this sentence – the very one you are reading right now – worth? Is it potentially more valuable than this entire column, this section, or the entire newspaper itself? This is not a play for a raise or a plug for the genius of my prose, but a riff on the latest mania in media-land: finding new ways to be paid for old material. Nearly every day, it seems, a new business strategy emerges that on its face may sound not only counterintuitive but also absurd. Then consumers start to buy it, and you can only say, "Who knew?"

and it continues

TWO lessons are apparent in all these attempts to revamp media business models. One is that the limits of what people will pay for personalization – getting what they want, when they want it – have yet to be tested. The other is that consumers are not nearly as pragmatic as they may imagine themselves

In Attack of the Blogs (which attacks you with Ads when you try to read it) Forbes effectively became a fear monger for the danger of CGM (consumer generated media) to your brand.  It was a very effective publicity stunt that worked and got the bloggers talking about Forbes.  A cry for meaning that indeed confirmed they have meaning I suppose.

So what is the effect of long dead media being brought back to life for your brand?  Can we write controversial blog posts in the hopes of actually selling them 10 years from now?

Houston ““ The Energy Capital of the World

Random branding and positioning thoughts about Houston.  I flew into Memphis last week.  They have a sign in the airport that reads:

Memphis ““ America’s Distribution Center

FedEx planes are lined up on the runways.  It looks like one of those high speed images of airports where planes land every 3.5 seconds!  I now KNOW that Memphis truly is America’s distribution center.  Then I land in Houston.  We are confused and in denial.  We have a sign outside of the airport that reads:

Welcome to Houston ““ America’s Fourth Largest City.  The City of Opportunity.

Why is Memphis so concise and clear in their positioning and we are so not-even-top-three-as-if-they-care? I suppose it is better than “Houston is Hot“ from a few years ago, which was just horrible but at least rang true.  Apparently we can’t get to the point and are confusing ourselves with New York (now there is the city of opportunity as well as the big apple). I asked a few people about Houston and everyone says the same basic thing.

Houston ““ The Energy Capital of the World

That is not a bad position to be in.  And economically it only makes sense that the energy capital of the world has a vibrant creative community (only cities are creative because only cities provide the means for artists to survive typically).  Jane Jacobs would back me up on this.  You’ve got also rans like "space city" but come on, we are more known as the energy capital than anything else.  Why must we live in denial at the cost of jobs for our community?

There ““ we just need to Ries-clarify the brand message for the city and quit running around the issue.  We already have a position in people’s minds.  So let’s affirm it and talk about how creative we are in the energy capital of the world.

Interesting Links at 6:00 AM

Can Branding differentiate? – Lipitor vs Generic – Billion-Dollar Battle Looms

Wal-Mart Wants to Open a Bank – Another PR Problem for the Megachain

Per-Link Valuation of Blogs is Crap

Google Adsense Makes This Guy Happy (but with 105 "employees" the math is tough)

Ann Iverson, Lou Congelio and Aaron Long conversation on OiH creative

Schipuliversoncongeliolong Ann Iverson, formerly of BBDO and now with Creating Selling Opportunities was at our offices today with Lou Congelio and Aaron Long to discuss branding for the Only in Houston initiative of the Houston Advertising Federation.  The branding PPT describes branding and creative goals as well as an upcoming opportunity for a web design or creative firm to submit creative for OiH (besides Schipul – we do enough already) that needs to:

Marry outstanding search engine capability with creativity that sizzles with ingenuity, sparkles with wit, grabs with emotion, and sells with heart…

That bullet seems to capture the spirit.  More information as it comes available probably posted directly to OiH at   

Also, if you haven’t picked up the Houston issue of Create magazine yet, it is at Barnes and Nobles now.  Aaron Long, our Creative Director, has a review of numerous web designs from Houston firms.  Also note Joe Fournet’s article on OiH.

IBM *and* Lenova Thinkpad

Laura Ries is going to tear this one up.  It won’t be pretty.

New ThinkPad Is All Work, and Some Play
David Pogue

THE Subaru Corvette … the Green Bay Dolphins … the Microsoft iPod.

There’s no getting around it: sometimes, a company’s name just seems like part of its product name, and anything else just sounds weird. Take, for example, the I.B.M. ThinkPad. Since I.B.M. sold off its entire Think division last May, the laptop line should logically be called the Lenovo ThinkPad.

Yet even Lenovo is torn about that name. Take its new Z-Series laptops: on one hand, a letter to reviewers begs, "Please ensure that you give proper attribution to Lenovo. …Do not refer to products as ‘I.B.M.’ … Use ‘Lenovo ThinkPad.’ " On the other hand, the laptops themselves are stamped with large, colorful I.B.M. logos, molded into the plastic of both the lid and the keyboard deck – and the word Lenovo doesn’t appear anywhere.

Can you say "identity crisis"?

Pay Per Call Model – maybe for small businesses in some situations

I was linked an article on pay per call pricing model for web sites.  This means the web site works to generate leads and only charges if it results in a phone call to the client company. 

At a technical level this means that the pay-per-call provider does not want the prospect to call the company directly, but rather through a tracking telephone number so they can fairly measure the number of calls generated.  This will work.  It will result in calls.  But it seems a short sighted overall strategy because;

1) It omits the value of branding. The company is paying for the leads alone, nothing more.
2) Contacts will continue to call the tracking number in the future reporting false positive matches on inbound calls. 
3) You are going to market as someone else’s brand, so not only are you not getting the branding value but you are also paying to build someone else brand!
4) If you end your contract that pay-per-call company can, and will, redirect the campaign to a competitor.  Given the importance of tenure on the Internet this could be a real problem effectively locking you into the pp-call program.

All of that said, yes there are times when this model will work for some businesses.  But it is definitely not as Earth shattering as Pay-per-click advertising has been with the low cost of entry, performance based pricing and free branding side affects.

Web Marketing Fundamentals Increase Sales Lead Generation

Web sites respond differently from other advertising media for two primary reasons. The first is that web users are incredibly impatient. The second is that they are incredibly smart. The more we treat people on the web like they are impatient and smart, the higher the conversion rate from visitor to phone call or contact forms.

So how exactly does a web site treat visitors as impatient and smart? By giving them what they want, on their terms, immediately and with humility.

Some of the specific ways you can achieve marketing success on the web are by making sure the following web marketing elements are in place on your web site’s home page.

1) Use a strong marketing headline that is focused on the site visitor. Try using the word “You” or “Your” instead of “me” focused words. The headline should be the dominant element on your home page and should be larger than your logo, your company name or your tag line.

2) Make your service or product the “hero” of the home page. Use pictures and relevant text that features what you do for them. Link directly from those images on the home page to detailed pages with extensive information and more pictures.

3) Use a clear “call to action”. Tell the site visitor, on the home page, exactly what you want them to do. People will read your site content at length if it answers their questions, so be sure to ask for the business at the end of the page or article.

4) Be consistent with your branding. Use your logo and keep the colors consistent with your other marketing materials so your site visitor immediately knows exactly where they are.

5) Make it easy to contact you. Use a mini-contact form on your home page, possibly on every page, as well as a complete contact form.  It is OK to use a mailto link but it should be in addition to a contact form for higher response rates. Put your address and phone number in text format on every page if possible so people can copy-and-paste your information into their contact software.

6) Use appropriate color and imagery.  Every industry has a certain “look and feel”. Now is not the time to try to re-brand your industry.  Give your visitors what they expect exactly as they expect it.  Branding includes positioning and consistency, so this is your opportunity to be consistent and professional at the beginning of the sales process.

7) Search engine optimize your site no matter how well known your brand is.  With all of the viruses and tacky web sites on the net, your visitors will *not* guess your site name but will go through Google or Yahoo just to be safe.  If you are not listed then you are invisible.  Start by registering with and read up on search engines at

8) Use testimonials and brand logos from your business partners (as allowed) assuring your site visitors that you are a “real” company with an honest reputation.  Try not to let your success convince you that everyone knows you want their business.

9) Interact intelligently with your site visitor.  Every brand is different of course, but there is always a creative way to interact.  If you sell books, let them buy online.  If you are a consultant, offer calculators for metrics and case studies.  If you are a plastic surgeon, offer dynamic before-and-after photo galleries.  If you are targeting the younger generation, offer games that feature your brand.

10) Respect the privacy of your site visitors with a privacy policy.  Link to a written privacy policy at the bottom of every page, and be sure it is written in normal language instead of legalese.

Additional hints include putting your phone number at the bottom of every page, in the text, at the top and making sure it appears on your home page a minimum of four (4) times.  Anything less and impatient users will miss it, costing you a potential phone call.

Your site visitors really are just as impatient and smart as you are, and they want to be treated that way.  Executing the web marketing fundamentals in their entirety will greatly increase the conversion rate of visitor to contact.


Host with Tendenci Membership Management Software to measure your conversion rates.

{Note: the original version of this article was written by me in 2001 and published in 2003 on It now lives on our new company’s site here.