Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Business vs. brand

Al Ries at Advertising Age:

“Building a business or building a brand? That’s the most important question in marketing.”

I’m thinking this pithy statement sums up all the confusion in our economy today.  Through social media and the internet, because we’re truly now global citizens, we are transitioning to an economy that is based in brand rather than in business.  The vast majority, though, have no idea what this means.

If you spend all your time online, as I pretty much do, you can’t miss the emphasis on authenticity and brand building.  But in the brick-and-mortar world, huge gaps in understanding remain.  Most business owners and workers simply don’t have the time to research, so the important strides discussed on the web pass them by.

When I attend local networking meetings, I know my talk mystifies those present.  I tell them about virtual assistance and social media marketing, but they are skeptical.  Business, for them, is an exercise in self-defense; they are held in terror of not making quotas, not making budgets; the shame of failure threatens their well-being constantly.  Their souls are buried under mountains of  paranoia.

Did we boomers cause the present money problems?  Probably.  We discovered a new personal freedom through our hippie days of the 60s, but neglected to transfer its meaning to business.  While we became personally more open, very few applied the same thinking to business.  Until now.  Now, we find the intersection of commerce and personality to be the key to success, at least in terms of marketing.  Now, at last, we are becoming aware that branding and self-awareness are more valuable, richer, and much more durable than business.

But the average business person, however pervasive these ideas may be online, has not yet come to this understanding.  Part of the problem is that lifelong learning, an important aspect of brand awareness, is not part of the old business culture.  To many, the thought of having to learn an entirely new system is abhorent.  And of course, the concept that your life can be absolutely what you want it to be is still a suspicious one to these folk.

For me, the hard part is feeling the suffering.  If you don’t experiment with the processes of branding, if you stay stuck in the old business concepts, you’re likely to be suffering and afraid.  You have no idea how to progress in today’s economy.  You are still caught up in suspicion and competition, and most likely every day is a trial.

There’s a whole lot of gentle prodding to do.  Admittedly, this is a radical change for all of us.  And through hard times, perhaps it’s extremely challenging to keep believing in your brand.  But, as Ries points out, though it may at times test your loyalty, your brand will endure while your business will come and go.  

It’s a long row to hoe, but I see working with small businesses on establishing brand through social media as a way to relieve a whole lot of suffering in the world, to bolster belief in the self, and to free up business people from the oppression of the old style so that they may at last be able to offer their very best.

PLEASE NOTE:  This is the LAST POST of this blog on the WordPress site, and I’m off to live at my own URL from now on.  Please visit me there!

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Virtual writing

My favorite online forum, where I’ve been a member for over a year, yesterday offered me the chance to revise my username.  The original pick I made was not helpful in SEO terms, so I happily decided to take up their offer.  But what to change it to?  My actual business name, Virtual Writing & Communications, seemed too long and difficult for a username.

It was a useful exercise, one that reminded me how useful it is to bravely strip down to essentials.  Rather than padding, setting up fluffy barricades to protect your identity and meaning, the trick is to chisel down to the core and then surface with a simple, naked, unadorned truth.

(If you Twitter often and well, you can appreciate the power of brevity.  If you’re a poet, you know real poetry is stark, not ‘flowery’ at all.)

So my username has become plainly,  ‘virtual writing.’  And of course, I can’t just accept that, but have to consider the precise meaning of those words.  We have fiction and non-fiction writing, we have journalistic, poetic, and prose styles.  And now we have this new form of writing that’s called ‘virtual writing.’

What distinguishes this new form?  We can infer that the ‘virtual’ qualifier at least points to the internet, and probably involves product delivered digitally.  Further, I’d like to suggest that virtual writing is writing tailored to the speed and engagement level of the internet; to the ‘scanning’ behavior of most people when they browse;  to the necessity of SEO; and to a global audience of anyone (as opposed to a much smaller audience of those who choose to purchase your writing.)

So that takes care of the virtual part, but what about the writing part?  The internet is about writing in a very big way, resulting in huge numbers of bloggers and online writers who are trying to get their message out, but are seriously compromised by their sub-standard writing skills.  We plunge into the opportunities of the internet without solid practice in this skill, and many a post includes misspellings, poor grammar and rhetoric, obvious total lack of proofreading, and other written communication failures.

Does it matter?  If most can decipher your meaning even if the writing is terrible, who cares?  I think it really doesn’t matter much at first.  The reader is there for your message, after all, and if it can be gleaned from the morass, fine.  But in the long run, the quality of your writing is a major influence on your reputation.  A reader may get a kick out of your post, but will not remain devoted for long if your writing’s not accurate and rich.

I’m passionate about writing, it’s true.  Words are objects of great beauty to me.  The internet, also, has captured an enormous part of my attention.  So I’m happy with this new moniker: ‘virtual writing’ is me!

P.S.  This blog is moving to http://www.asthemoonclimbs.com/blog.php, and will no longer appear here after this week.  Please visit my website!

Brand as discovery

Here’s a lovely line from Julie Anixter on Tom Peters’ blog yesterday:

“… we are all, already, walking brands. We just have to polish them so that we can see them shine.”

This is what social media is about.  It helps us to polish our personal or business brand, to give it a shine that brings you the attention you need.

Note that brand is not a creation, but a discovery.  You can try to project an artificial brand, but it won’t work in the long run.  Brand is an articulation of who we naturally are, the best of our compassionate selves, and it reflects self-knowledge as opposed to cleverness or charisma. Your brand is your birthright, as much a part of you as your face.

In the past, personal brand didn’t matter: one succeeded by conforming personal brand to industrial ambitions.  Education and culture did not foster understanding of self on that level.  Our new global awareness,  however,  makes self understanding and articulation of individual thought the first step in becoming a healthy global citizen.  It has become necessary to devote time and focus to who we are at core levels.

I’ve said it often, I’ll say it again, along with Dane Rudhyar:  to be creative is only to discover what essentially is.   Don’t worry about having to make something new; focus on discovering and then articulating the mysteries that are already present.

Social media and business evolution

Somehow this holiday season is dragging on interminably.  I’ve had a nasty cold, so it’s been an introspective time.  I’ve refrained from blogging, but did manage to renovate my website and also to make a Hub page about approaches to defining brand.  

Social media has me in its thrall, and I must admit that Twitter takes up a good deal of my time lately.  Not that I’m chattering much, but just going there and clicking on eight or ten links every visit, and spending an hour reading up on the suggestions from my follows.  It takes a good while to get a handle on how to use all the information.

I think social media is like a new, seriously tricked-out telephone.  People wonder if it’s a just a fad, but to me it’s clearly no more a passing fancy than the telephone or computer itself.  It’s here to stay, but how we use this amazing new tool will mature considerably.  Right now, we’re all just playing in the sandbox; at some point, you want to actually make something of all this shifting sand, all these glittery toys.

While learning about the technology and the huge range of tools available is currently making our heads spin, it’s so important to remain firmly glued to the truth that content is king.  It’s tempting to use the software and apps for their own sake.  But until you have something useful to say, all these delightful new megaphones will get you nowhere.  Nobody’s interested in amplified hot air.

My urge, when considering all this, is to use social media to help really small businesses.  The old marketing traditions had seriously eclipsed small enterprises, for whom print advertising was not only prohibitively expensive, but ineffectual as well.  With online social media, small businesses can finally gain the respect and following they deserve.

But the most awesome thing is that if a small business uses social media for marketing, that businessperson must be engaged in the meaning and impact of their work in a whole new way.   S/he must actively think, research, and respond regarding aspects of the business every day, and be able to enthusiastically live it online.  Parallels must be drawn between the business and larger life; compassionate understanding of clientele must guide every communique.  So these new tools democratize marketing, and simultaneously demand that we take our work with a deepened seriousness.  It’s simply not enough anymore to work at something you don’t care about.  This current technology forces us to find nurturing connections between our human-ness and our work.

The search for authenticity is just beginning.

Standing up against spikes

I’ve got a gripe, and it has nothing to do with this blog. But it’s my blog, and I have eight wonderful RSS subscribers who may by now be used to my flights in all directions, so I’m gonna ‘shout out’ about this issue.

(Now, I’ve been posting here with regularity 3-5 times a week for nine months, and so you may ask why I have just eight subscribers. Reasons may be many, but one for sure is that my viewpoints and voice are fairly peculiar, and perhaps not shared by huge numbers of people. Why do I keep writing? Just practicing scales, like any composer. I may be crazy, but I know this tool is here for my use however I see fit, regardless of the number of fans it attracts. I’m just that selfish.)

Here’s my gripe: spike heels.

I’m a compassionate person, and I don’t like seeing others in pain. The other day, we attended the graduation ceremony at a large university. Nine out of ten women (amongst the 1,000+ graduates) wore spike heels to accessorize their graduation gowns.

Of course, the same phenomenon can be observed on any city street, in restaurants and offices, any place where fashion matters.

Every time I see a woman wedged into these instruments of torture, I feel her pain. I am a woman, I know what it is to wear these modern imitations of the ancient Chinese feet-binding practice. I wear lipstick, low heels, and short skirts. But I simply cannot understand why women, who definitely choose the mutation, continue to patronize the tyranny of spikes.

(To be fair, I see the continued wearing of ties by men in this same anachronistic light. Note, however, that ties pose little health threat, while spike heels threaten the backbone, the core of our vitality.)

Okay, it’s the sexiness factor. Spike heels draw the eye to your butt, and their shiny pointy-ness lends an air of sado-masocism that awakens an excitement residing deep in us all, let’s go ahead and admit it. I understand the allure.

But they are painful to wear and walk in, they cause a dangerous sway in the backbone, they make one unsure of one’s footing, and they perpetuate the pedestal notion of the female. The pedestal notion keeps a woman on the shelf, an object to be used only when the real humans, the men or the masculine, have the whim to activate you.

A few years ago, I watched a high school choral presentation, and the same medieval oppression pervaded there. The girls wore tight dresses and high-high heels; the guys wore loose clothes, and sneakers. It made me so sad. I wish women would be more proud of who they naturally are, instead of accepting pain for the sake of fashion.

So I guess my gripe is not against spike heels themselves, but against the ignorance or weak will or paranoia or fashion slavery or bad education of the wearers. Haven’t decided which possible culprit is most to blame. The fact that these two events – a high school choral performance and a university graduation – were part of the education world certainly suggests our training does not counter this cruel habit.

If you ask a woman who’s wearing these stilettos if she enjoys the experience, she will probably gush eye-rolling thrill about it. But soon as she hits the car, the shoes are torn off with a deep sigh of relief. She thinks she enjoys wearing them, but the truth is she’s horribly uncomfortable.

The potential strength of a full population of comfortable women is not to be underestimated. We must get there, for the continued health of humankind! The reluctance of women to express their true selves, to get beyond vanity, slavery to the patriarch, and the mindset of second-class citizens retards our evolution.

OK. Enough already. Thanks for listening.

Holiday Surprises

Though I no longer count myself a Christian, at least not a practicing one, I was raised staunchly in the tradition. So I know enough to note the absence of one true ‘reason for the season’ in our modern practices – the element of surprise. With Christmas starting right around Halloween these days, surprise is not a word we can generally apply to the holiday.

Think about it, though. Kids creeping down the stairs at 4am, awed at the lit-up Christmas tree. And then finding presents! Isn’t this the stereotype? Santa creeps, too. Presents are supposed to be a surprise. Christ being born was certainly a surprise to everyone. Earlier, people celebrated the beginning of a new cycle, as the days began to lengthen again, and as their hope sparked even in the dead of winter.

Christ’s birth, or some unexpected gift, or the awesome mystery of light appearing in darkness constitute the symbols associated with this mid-winter celebration. As opposed to the circus of holiday frenzy that we know, the stress and press of obligations, temptations, crowds, and yearning that characterize these times; as opposed to something we must prepare for, Christmas, and its predeceasing centuries of amazement at the promise inherent in the darkest of winter days, are about the surprise of it. We’re taken unawares, that’s the thrill of it.

I hope we’ll all experience a good amount of honest surprise this holiday. Even if we generally ‘hate surprises,’ we can at least keep an eye out for the unknown, the brand new, the unplanned opportunities. As we attune to these whisperings, we authentically celebrate the meaning of the holiday.

This is the time when such surprises happen everywhere. If you look calmly and openly, you will see – and enjoy them! May you revel in the gifts you receive.

Social media and branding

When I first heard the term, social media, I dismissed it as a trivial amusement for those who have lots of extra time. Heck, when I first encountered computers, I avoided them as representing a new challenge, and life was challenging enough, thank you very much. Certainly, when I heard about Twitter, I just couldn’t understand why I’d want to share the messy details of life with the world. I’ve never been one for chattering, and these tools all seemed to encourage a lot of hot air for no more than shallow entertainment.

Of course, I was completely wrong about all these. The computer is now my mainstay, Twitter is a depth less source of learning. And social media is emerging as not only a great way to communicate about business, but also as a major aid to the changes we must make as a society, or perish in the attempt.

Social media is about word of mouth. It’s also about establishing individual brand. While we used to present a resume and hope that communicates our essence, now we can present online all the various aspects of our brand. Knowledge and understanding of any one individual can now far surpass the colorless lists on pretty linen resume paper.

The reason why word of mouth is such a big deal is that it really works. No recommendation is stronger than the opinion of trusted friends. Under the old print paradigm, those opinions meant only a tiny slice of your market. But with the global power of the internet, word of mouth has become the arbiter of nearly everything.

The reason why all this fascinates and uplifts me is that I see it as a return to self knowledge and open awareness. As a baby boomer, I’ve always bemoaned the lack of deep self knowledge in the adult world, and worked to tickle the soft underbelly that Pema Chodron always talks about. With the internet and social media, we are forced to consider where exactly each of us fits in the humongous puzzle. Without the direction, confidence, and passion of a personal brand, internet ramblings can be fun but useless.

But with a thoughtfully prepared plan, a detailed idea of brand, and generosity, social media now symbolizes our new world, where authenticity and helpfulness reign, where exchange is possible with anyone anywhere, and where we can find the niche that perfectly suits and nurtures us.

Why brand?

What is this branding stuff all about?  The term’s a household one, but I bet few can give a quick and confident answer to the question.  Is your brand your logo, your colors, your slogan, your coolness factor, your success rate?  Is it your preferences, your dreams, your skills?  If it’s all these many things wrapped up together, how can it be accurately expressed?

 

Rather than trying to fathom an image of your brand in terms of all these different factors, maybe it’s easier to think of it as the hub of a wheel; a single thing, rather than many things. 

 

How can you arrive at this one thing?  What is the single image that comes to mind when you think of your business?  If you’re considering personal branding, what is the single thing that comes to mind when you think of work that is fun for you to do?

 

Hold on a minute, don’t answer those questions yet.  Let them settle in your subconscious for a while.  Give it some time, and work your way towards the most bare bones honesty you can possibly muster.  No one is listening, at this point, so go ahead and be painfully (or gleefully or piercingly or whatever) truthful.

 

The deeper you get to the heart of what your business means to you – or what you mean to business, in the case of personal branding – the more powerful your expression will be. 

 

The more powerful your expression, the more attention you attract, the easier it is to amass leads for your business or professional progress.

 

Example:  Linda is a fitness coach.  She could opt for a generic logo, seek business mostly through referrals, make sure her phone answering machine is turned on, and get by. 

 

Or she could invest some time considering how who she is interfaces with what she does and with the world at large.  And by putting in this time at the start, she could realize major growth in returns as her practice continues. 

 

Why?  Because she took the time to examine her work in context with everything, and then differentiate it from everything.   This allowed her to develop a brand that very specifically defined her services.  Her message is crystal clear, and those who are attracted to it come flocking. 

 

Attaining warm leads, in other words, has become a cinch, because her branding does the work for her.

 

So Linda spends a few days contemplating the question: what is the one image (or word, gesture, sound, concept, or impression) that says succinctly what I’m all about as a fitness coach.  Very specifically, what impression do I want my clients to take away with them?  What do I want my reputation to be?

 

As any speaker or teacher will avow, it’s all about the take-away.  As any manager will tell you, it’s all about setting up agreed-upon criteria for success.  By defining your brand, you make it easy for others to know what to expect from you, to instantly see precisely what they can gain by interacting with you.

 

Through a few days of processing, Linda comes up with the image of a rocket ship.  Don’t ask me how she got there, it doesn’t matter.  But by exploring all the possibilities and dimensions, and playing/working continuously with the rocket ship concept, Linda is able to convey to clients and potential clients an extremely personalized – yet accessible – brand.

 

Maybe your brand is not an image.  It could as well be a sound, a pattern, a gesture, a mission or method.  Whatever form it takes, it is your guiding light, your home base, your signature.  If you give it the time required for deeper discoveries, it will serve you in return many times over.

 

P.S.  I suppose this post is for the go-getters who are impatient with any introspection.  It may pertain less to those who get caught in second-guessing and ponder issues too much, never progressing to action.  I certainly am not advocating spending all your time thinking about things. 

 

When considering how to identify the hub of your brand’s wheel, reap the best returns of three days at the most.  If your ruminations take much longer than that, you’re likely brooding, and it’s time to move on.  If you’re capable of adult decision-making, you can trust three days’ consideration of almost any issue.

 

Basic Branding

The rules are changing all over the place these days, but probably the biggest change we are challenged to make in the 21st century is the move from victimization to self-responsibility.  Opportunity and possibility have taken on unprecedented largesse through technological advances.  To remain mired in your resentment over being ‘done to’  (at least in America) is an unneccesary choice.

Way back when I used to teach theater, I would tell my acting students not to worry about developing a ‘style,’ because if they just kept working at the techniques, their style would soon surface of its own accord.  But communications today require that we set as first priority the articulation of ‘brand’ if we wish to participate at all in the marketplace.

If you’ve been reading all the directives, discussions, and hype, perhaps you are plenty familiar with the concept of branding, but you may still have a hard time articulating your own.  Especially if you’re just starting out in business, or if job hunting is your current job, or if you’re launching your own business or consultancy – you may wonder what it really takes to create a brand that you can live with, proudly, day in and day out.  There’s a lot of information on disseminating your brand, but what about creating it in the first place?

So I have a few suggestions to offer as a start.  To be honest, the branding process is ongoing, you’re never completely done with it, because your awareness and experience continue to grow.  But these five focus areas will take you a long way towards beginning to communicate your brand effectively. As you consider them, do it in terms of your life, not your business.

1.  Values.  What three things do you value the most in life?   Take a few minutes to call those things to mind, and add details to the images, making pictures that reflect very specifically their value to you.  Write about or draw those pictures.

2.  Energy.  What makes you get up in the morning?  What do you do to get energized?  What keeps you going?  Make marks on paper that mimic (or flow with) how you perceive your own energy.

3.  Mission.  I won’t ask you to get all formal and high minded here.  I’m just suggesting that you consider that we all have capabilities and gifts, and we each can contribute to life in our own way.  What is your contribution as you understand it at this point?  What object or picture or song could symbolize your mission?

4.  Tastes.  Or preferences, or cultural conditioning, or whatever floats your boat.  Those immediate choices your sensibilities make without premeditation.  Colors, shapes, sounds, social mores. Don’t get too involved in this one, just take a quick inventory.  Maybe write a paragraph or two about your idea of what is beautiful.

5.  Dance when no one’s watching.  Find a moment, all alone, when you can move around in space according to the whim of the moment.  Keep moving, don’t let yourself snag on any one instance or thought.  Leave enough time at the end to quietly contemplate the experience. 

I know, that last one’s pretty wierd, and you may have no idea what to think, even if you try it.  Of course, there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do it, but let me give a suggestion to those who may be stumped.  As you move around in the space, first do it with the awareness that you’re alone.  Then compare that experience to moving around while you imagine others are in the room with you.  What are the differences?  What stays the same?  What do you like best about yourself in the two different situations?  What elements of your subconscious could be helpful to you in the business world?

So now you have a few pictures and words and gestures.  What further ideas do you get when you put them all together?

Let’s talk more.  And please comment!

Web and wheels

It seems to be, in true Dickensian form, both the best of times and the worst of times.  Layoffs, bailouts … heck let’s be real and name it depression … dominate the news; but we are also on the brink of reforms through the Obama administration that seem likely to prepare for us a much more glorious future. 

And in the face of serious financial quandaries, as individuals we now have an exciting chance to become more truly ourselves.  Few of the middle class have escaped unscathed:  either your retirement, or your college education, or your job, or a combination of these now bears the consequences of  Wall Street’s disaster.  An innocence, a faith in American infrastructures has been destroyed.  And while that may be sad in a sentimental kind of way, it’s actually an unparalleled opportunity.

Jeremiah Owyang talks today about how employees are becoming more like migrants and gypsies.  As we evolve, the epithet of  ‘worker’ no longer pertains.  None of us is just a cog in the wheel; rather, we are realizing that to develop a personal brand is to live fully, and not to do so is to remain wallowing in ignorance and slavery.

What is your brand?  Can you articulate it in some way?  What are your keywords (for LIFE, not financial gain)?  What kind of circle is developing around you? 

We traditionally have sought to create one huge wheel of industry that spins our collective lives.  Now, we realize that each individual must create their own wheel.  The world is a fantasmagoric interworking of 6 billion wheels.  We can no longer control; we can only be aware and appreciative.

Our systems, especially in formal education, do not as yet support this understanding.  We do not teach our children about self-knowledge; we rarely teach them how to think (see this article about how universities in Great Britain are leading the charge to change this.)  Few active adults today have any notion about how to organize a personal brand – or more basically, where to start in identifying one for themselves.

Is your brand your responses to categories on your Facebook page?  Is it the colors you use in print?  Is it what others say about you, or is it more than that?  I’m curious about these and related questions.  Add a comment with your ideas, if you will.  I’ll incorporate your thoughts in follow-up posts here.