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.

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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?