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!

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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.

Web and work

One of the maxims business experts like to throw about these days is that your business must cater to what the people want.  Certainly, in terms of making money this is true.  I tend to doubt that it’s useful advice, though, in terms of being happy.

Often, what you’re doing – especially in an entrepreneurial circumstance – is working on your deepest passions, and often there seems to be no interface with the public at large.  You’re developing a new widget, or offering a new service that you believe in 110%, but few others seem to appreciate your product.  You knew from the start that your focus differed widely from that of the masses, but it is the thing that floats your boat and involvement in some other direction would be simply inauthentic.

I do not approve of diminishing or watering down your offerings for the sake of popularity.  Will the madding crowds care a fig for you in the end?  Isn’t it smarter to stay loyal to your highest dreams, the ones you intuit will save your soul?  There’s no surer road to defeat than compromising your own truth, even if the path that is true to yourself  is rocky and full of potholes.

Thanks to the modern miracle of the internet, staying true to yourself is now more possible than ever.  With patience and commitment, you can find the precious few who appreciate your values, wherever they are in the world, and build a support (and feedback) structure that will enable your continued work.

If  ‘flipping’ or ‘scaling’ is what turns you on, the net can help you amass millions of supporters.  But if creating and developing are more to your taste, you can use the web even more productively, through dialogue, connections, and marketing.  So please don’t fall for the directives of people with base aspirations.  Please choose to find your own truth, and work on developing your gifts to their ultimate expression, and don’t worry if what you produce is not of the instantly popular variety.  As long as it nurtures your being, as long as you stay open to discovering, as long as you generously share, you’ll find not only rewards but sustenance.

The coincidence of massive layoffs currently, and the proliferation of the web seems serendipitous to me.  So many people, many of relatively advanced age, needing to find new means of support, while the web continues to open up all the resources of the world to each of us.  It’s an evolutionary leap:  perhaps instead of selling our souls to the corporation, we can now contemplate the very real possibility of developing our individual awareness and gifts.

Internet and unknowing

Exactly like a kid in a candy store, I’m dizzy with the possibilities of the internet.  I realize that getting beyond this psychedelic whirl is a requirement, before any of your internet activities start to make real sense.  But you can’t just bypass the requisite learning; you have to go straight into the morass of information and manage to come out on the other side with booty that’s actually useful.

I remember, as a kid, travelling with family and when we would come to a city, I would experience a huge thrill accompanied by anxiety.  I wanted to know it all immediately, all the streets and people and places.  I wasn’t comfortable with unknowing.

The same reaction kicks in with regards to the internet: I want to know it all.  Currently, a huge portion of my time is spent wading through all the info.  I expect to emerge soon with many creative possibilities for the raw material.

But I also suspect that the real challenge for me is to accept the ambiguity, because the net changes constantly and no one individual can possibly grasp all its particulars.  This isn’t easy: I’m not a control freak, but I do like to feel that I know what I’m doing at any given moment.  Alas, I must lose this old-fashioned propensity. 

The internet is changing us at core levels.  It involves risk-taking and requires that you be self-assured enough to roll with the unexpected punches, to leap at vague opportunities, and to freely offer up your deepest convictions for the world’s consumption.  On the web, you give first, and let the getting happen when it will.

Twitter thoughts

I’m a newbie at Twitter, having signed up just a couple weeks ago.  Touching in on it just now and then, I certainly haven’t wrapped my little brain all the way around as of yet; but I can say that it’s phenomenal in the extreme.

I follow, so far, a variety of types:  cohorts in the VA industry, as well as thought leaders of the highest calibre.  The tweets on my home page range from “taking the kids to school” to unabashed company promotions, to quotes from geniuses.

It’s the combination of business proclaimations, stimulating ideas, and superficial banter that’s confusing.  Many posts invite responses, so conversations of a sort do take place.  But it seems to cater more to the lone voice, regularly tossing out impressions to the world at large, hoping a few will resonate with your tone and contact you for business or other profitable projects.

It’s like a global billboard – an electronic one that changes constantly.  You’re looking for ‘followers’ on Twitter, which is a very different thing from ‘friends.’  Of course, a great many Tweetpeeps are not leaders, and their tweets don’t offer much to their followers, beyond recognition of the tweeter’s copasetic personality.  Which is important, but not very deep, not endlessly fascinating.

How does Twitter help your business?  If you are passionately engaged in what you’re doing, and have a persistent interest in all aspects of your field, it’s clear that Twittering will connect you to kindred souls and daily feed you stimulations.  I do wonder, though, about the efficacy of Twitter for those who lack this focus.  There’s little of value in their comments.  Perhaps Twitter is a tool they can use to deepen their commitments and focus their interests. 

In sum, I think Twitter’s a serious business tool, and really not a ‘social medium.’  It’s evidence that businesses must now include free sharing on a grand scale, and that we succeed best through cooperation, rather than competition in today’s world.  It forces us to consider the whole of our lives as dedicated to new discoveries; and to study the meaning of our work, 24/7, including its impacts on all aspects of our lives, and a continuing intensive study of how our actions and products affect others.

Your brand can bite you

Sheesh.  A couple things happened yesterday to give me pause.  One:  I responded to a Request for Proposals and was rejected from the job with the single comment to my proposal – “odd?”  Including the question mark.  Meaning my internet presences they checked out implied a strangeness, an abnormalcy.  Sigh.

And two:  I succumbed to curiosity and entered this blog URL at www.typealyzer.com.  There, my writing was characterized as INTP – Idealist, Intuitive, Thinking, and Practical.  Well, that’s all very nice, but what’s lacking are the Feeling and Sensing sprectra, implying that I am insensitive to others.

Ouch.  It’s true that I tend to the analytical, and choose to write succinctly about issues, offering my viewpoint on life today.  But I’ve always considered myself to be extremely sensitive, and concerned with the welfare of those around me.  Apparently, my writing here fails to reflect that side of my personality.

All this, then, points to the reality that a brand can easily take on a life of its own, and can even become the master when you’d expected it to be your servant.  Brand monitoring must be constant, and lively creativity is required to shape it authentically.  You have to live symbiotically with your brand, giving and taking with careful generosity.

I’ll have to let you know how I intend to modify the gloomy tangent my brand seems to have taken.  It’s going to require some intimate conversations with myself.  It’s an exciting challenge, though also a humbling one.  Discovering and sharing the fullness of self is a process that’s never completed!

Diameters vs. degrees

Driving back from a visit to family yesterday in the steady misty rain, I thought about circles and perspectives.  On the road, I tend to fixate on the signs of all kinds, reading every one as I pass, and the habit is limiting.  So with an effort of will, I move my vision to the surrounding landscape, and view the trees and hills instead.  Accompanying the switch is a release of the mind, from the mundane to the sublime.

We are each the center of our worlds, and the circle around us describes our awareness.  But because we westerners tend to think linearly, we often just gaze out, instead of around.  We look to widen our circle, and admire the reach of those with gigantic tribes surrounding their centers.  We respect diameter, but seldom put much thought into degrees.

The number of degrees in a circle is infinite.  Unlike the infinity of diameter, which stretches indefinitely in front of us, the infinity of degrees keeps the focus on the center, on our selves right where we are.  Rather than striving to move from A to B, with concentration on the degrees of your circle, the challenge is to gather rather than grasp, to refine rather than expand, to study the fullness of what is rather than endlessly covet strategic growth.

I wonder if this analogy is apt in suggesting new ways to approach economic health.  The 20th century was all about extending reach and the worship of size.  The perspective served its purposes, but now we see the concommitant waste, pollution, international tensions, and injustice that result when forward progress alone is the ideal.  Now we are beginning to think more about the quality of perception; about how tending to all the degrees of our circles is healthier and more rewarding than focusing solely on their diameters. 

When considering how to deal with business losses and the prospect of sluggish sales for many months yet to come, the image of the circle perhaps can help.  Seth Godin has championed tribes, and this idea is very similar.  The concept is about the quality of your service and relationships, the authenticity of your participation in society, the generosity and efficacy of your offerings.  It’s about examining the opportunities that already exist for you, and achieving success by making the most of them.  It’s about creativity and a heightened sense of appreciation.  It is no longer about dominion and fame; ‘progress’ in today’s world means exploring the numberless degrees of your circle, and actually being careful not to fix your vision on any one outward direction.

UFOs and Thanksgiving

The other day, CNN featured a video of fine upstanding pillars-of-communities who join the ranks of those who have spotted UFOs.  One of them, an accomplished pilot, was asked why our exposure is so rare; why, if aliens are interested in us and visiting regularly, don’t they just come in and take over?  The answer offered was that this mature, thinking man is not sure they haven’t already done so!

If you have kids, you may suspect the truth of this possibility.  Sometimes the sensibilities and motivations of young folk seem alien indeed.  Where do they get their crazy ideas?  How is it that my 20-something son and his cohorts have ideas about economy, religion, lifestyle, and ambition that seem to be from outer space?  This example is only partly tongue-in-cheek; I admit to being entirely of two minds on the subject.  I don’t really think my son’s an alien, but then again ….

Considering the likelihood of life on other worlds seriously helps in putting your priorities in order.  If existence encompasses much more than the flotsam and jetsam of this planet – if beings and societies can flourish under completely different circumstances than we know – our standards of measure can change exponentially.   The range of possibilities explodes.  Material wealth, keeping up with the Joneses and the trends, and getting control over your personal empire all shrink to puny endeavors.  Racism, political domination, religious wars, partisan bickering, and the desperation of housewives suddenly become worthless wastes of time.  If we’re not alone in the Universe, we can finally perceive our Narcissism, and let it go.

Thanksgiving’s my most favorite celebration for many reasons.  This year, it works its wonders with special grace and power, I think, because of the economic trouble we’re experiencing.  When stripped of wealth and other indulgences, you can see more clearly the blessings all around, the ones you did not earn or create, the ones that are freely and naturally given.  Like thinking about visits from Martians, this year’s giving of thanks can open the mind and free the imagination – an unbeatable Return on Investment!

Social media revolution

Studying intensely this strange animal called social media marketing.  As communications is the major focus in my work, I recognize the social media movement as revolutionary in the extreme.  It may upend not only our marketing practices, but every aspect of business planning and operations. 

One issue we encounter when establishing communications online is how to balance personal and professional posts.  Given the time involved in keeping up with, say, your Twittering, you’re probably inclined to have just one account there, and not try to maintain several different ones.  The culture of the ‘net requires a very soft touch in your marketing posts, with an emphasis on your personality more than on the services/products you offer.  Many folk in the social marketing course I’m taking wonder how to synthesize; how to be personable but also aim for an ROI.

In my opinion, this question is at the heart of the movement’s meaning.  We’re looking at re-inventing our economy right now, and a large part of the new global understanding is that we’ll succeed by being authentic, by aligning our personal goals with whatever we do in the business world.

This is a major difference from the past, when your job was generally regarded as something apart from your true self.  Our challenge now is to identify and focus on the things that are actually personally meaningful; to use our personal, native creativity in service to the world’s needs.  When what you do for money is closely aligned with your personal dreams and understanding of reality, posting and commenting online in a way that’s both personable and professional becomes second nature.

Does this mean you should change jobs?  Maybe.  But more likely, it means that if you apply foundational creative thought and practice to your daily grind, you will begin to see how your work is an expression of your self.   Whether you flip burgers at a fast food joint, run errands for the boss, make automobiles, or own the company, careful, creative observation will bring you an understanding of how this work aligns with your deepest motivations.  It’s from that place of clarity that we must all proceed.

Grounding

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I was struck by the strength and steadfastness of this cow on my walk yesterday.  Thinking about re-inventing the self, per yesterday’s post.  Actually, we never have to re-invent our selves; though at times we may be constrained to re-vision our idea of self. 

A cow’s idea of self has admirable tenacity, no matter where she finds herself, no matter what the external conditions.  She is who she is without questioning or apology; and her very ‘is-ness’ provides constant and reliable nourishment.