Branded by a dog

Without intending to, I’ve allowed my dog to brand me. Although I rant about the idea of personal branding, I’m aware I have a one.

(From my post a year or so ago: “… When we use the term brand … we’re really talking about … our identity. When we concentrate on, and try to develop, a “personal brand,” what we are really doing is trying to fashion who others perceive us to be.”)

On this site I could never come up with a logo that satisfied me. I didn’t want the obvious sort of thing like a typewriter or quill pen. For one thing, except for the occasional oddball, what writer uses those?

For lack of an idea, I used the face of my dog, Molly Bloom. I’ve used that as the visual brand for a couple of years now. (It’s not the brand but an element of it.)

It occurred to me this weekend that she is my brand, and not just online. In the real world I’m identified with my dog. I’m visually recognized by my companion, Molly. Online, Writelife is accompanied by an image of Molly.

I go to stores and people ask me about my dog. People speak to me and say, “I saw you yesterday out walking Molly.” When I get together with people they ask me how Molly is doing.

So when I was doing some tweaking on my “information desk,”, I decided, “Why reinvent the wheel?”

Unlike me, just another Joe walking around in the world, Molly is distinctive: sleek boxer body, black and white border collie markings, and an alertness seldom associated with me. Visually she is striking. Me? Not so much.

So Molly has become my brand. Well, the visual element of it.

Who would have thought it possible? Branded by a dog.

If there is a lesson in any of this, it is that it’s best not to try to be something we think others want to see and hear but to be who we are, even if it’s the writing guy with the black and white dog.

No one cares about your brand

I have a theory and it goes like this: no one cares about your brand. This is because no one cares about brands, period. They care about people. Let me give you an example of this.

In 1997 James Cameron released his movie Titanic. It was wildly successful.

It was a big movie and an expensive one. It presented many problems, most of them technical. But as he would later joke, his biggest problem was this: how do you get people to care for a movie about a boat?

The answer was simple: put people in it. That meant it would need a story about people — something more than “a bunch of people got on a big boat and it sank and they drowned.”

So he put some specific people in it. And he had them fall in love. And when the end of the movie came, with the end everyone knew was coming, people cried like babies and many of them watched the movie again and again. They couldn’t get enough of it.

Regardless of whether you liked the movie Titanic, you are probably like everyone else. When you think of Titanic, sure you think about a big boat. But mainly you think about two people and a love story.

People love people. They don’t love brands.

So if you have a brand and you want people to care about it you better somehow connect it with people and if you use social media you should be talking about people and connecting your brand to them.

Otherwise, your brand will sink. And no one will care.


Seth Godin on linchpins, focus, spreading stories

Seth GodinI asked Seth Godin a few questions and he was kind enough to answer them. The majority concern his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

While for most people he requires no introduction, I should mention that Seth Godin is a well known author, speaker, and entrepreneur (Squidoo) and blogger (one of the most popular business blogs and the most popular marketing blog in the world). You can read more about Seth on his bio page. Now, without more ado, the Q & A.

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Q: How has Linchpin been received so far?

Seth: It’s been a bestseller from the first day, but what I’m keeping track of is the change it enables in people. The feedback I’m getting is just extraordinary… the book makes people uncomfortable, and many respond by stepping forward, by choosing to do work that matters. And that’s the entire goal of the project. I wanted people to choose.

Q: Permission marketing. Idea-virus. Purple cow. Tribes. Linchpin. I sense you place a great deal of importance on words – the right words. Is that true and if so, why?

Seth: Words tell stories, of course, and they enable us to spread those stories. If a story doesn’t spread, it’s worthless. In the case of Purple Cow, when one person says to another, “we need a purple cow” they’ve enabled the story to spread in just one sentence.

Q: If everyone embraced your linchpin idea, would it be difficult to get consensus? Wouldn’t there be a risk of too many heads going off in too many directions?

Seth: Take my word for it… everyone is not going to embrace my linchpin idea.

If 1% did, the world would be revolutionized. I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll be happy with .00001%.

Q: As I read Linchpin, it occurs to me that you are walking a bit of a highwire. You’re criticizing some fundamental concepts and beliefs about how we do business. In a simplistic and superficial way, a lizard brain could cherry pick what you’ve written and frame it politically as being against capitalism, free enterprise and all that. In the current highly polarized political environment, has politics had an impact on how readily people accept what you’re saying?

Seth: I don’t think so, because in fact there’s nothing in the book that is against capitalism or free enterprise. In fact, the opposite. The book is against mindless industrialism and the dumbing down of the individual. While there are some captains of industry that continue to benefit from this, I think most thoughtful people understand that challenging people to stand up and do things that matter.

Quote about focus.

Q: Have we misunderstood the purpose of business and career success? Have we made business/career success an end rather than a means to personal success, such as a happy life?

Seth: Totally brainwashed. The work that truly matters is rarely taught or encouraged in school, and people have far too often traded busy-ness for happiness.

Q: Let’s say we get the lizard brain down on the mat and can be the creative, artistic people you suggest we need to be. Given that, how important are focus and tenacity?

Seth: There’s not much more important than focus and tenacity. I think that making the choice to do art, the choice to make a difference… do that and add focus and tenacity and you win.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? - by Seth Godin (book cover)Q: In a pattern similar to the one you describe in The Dip, popularity grows then peaks and a backlash begins. Some people/brands fade away and some seem to ride it out. While I’m sure you have your critics, you seem to have maintained, even grown, over a considerable period of time. How have you managed that?

Seth: Not sure I have much choice William. This is what I do. So I ignore the critics I can’t learn from, listen to those that might steer me in a better direction and then I ship.

Q: Your web presence (site, blog, Twitter etc.) is very simple. Why?

Seth: See The Dip. Can’t be best at everything. If I started Twittering, I’d have to diminish my blogging, or think less about the next thing. Being choosy and focused is key for me.

Q: I recently wrote a post (What does Seth Godin do?) and argued that while it may be true that you are a “marketing guru,” as you’re often described, you’re really a people guru. What you do is observe and describe human behavior. I also argued that you must have a fascination with people to do that. Would you agree or disagree with that assessment?

Seth: I notice things. Mostly people. Mostly decisions, actually. Ideas that spread don’t spread without people. I’m not so much fascinated with the people part, though, as I am with the decisions and the ideas…



I need to thank Mark Dykeman at Broadcasting-Brain. While I had wanted to ask Seth questions for some time with the idea of putting the Q&A up as a post, it was his Thoughts From series of posts, including his own Q&A with Seth Godin that prompted me to get off my behind and do it.

When good books go bad: Life Inc.

Jacket cover of book Life Inc.

I was excited when I first picked up Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back. I confess I expected it to articulate ideas and feelings I had, hopefully better than I could, and also flesh them out so they were more substantial. Yes, I was doing something I complain others do: looking for opinions that affirm my own rather than challenge them.

In many ways, the book does all that. I also think it’s an important book, at least its thesis is important: that corporatism has so ingrained itself in our lives, in our very thinking and seeing, that we’ve become corporations ourselves. At least, we see the world through corporate defined eyes. Whether others agreed with this idea or not was irrelevant, in a sense. I thought it important to see the world from this perspective because we seldom stop and think about why we live and think as we do and what its meaning might be.

But the book’s tone undermines all that. As Publishers Weekly puts it, “An engaging history of commerce and corporatism devolves into an extended philippic on how increasing personal wealth and the rise of nuclear families constituted a failure of community—whose services are now provided by products and professionals.”

Each chapter starts well, but a strident, proselytizing tone soon creeps in and it is off-putting, to put it mildly. I also found myself questioning some of the interpretations and conclusions. If the book were a Wikipedia entry, I think there would be a number of places where the note, “citation needed” would appear. In some cases, there were supportive footnotes but in others, no – they were just conclusions Mr. Rushkoff drew having interpreted information a particular way.

Overall, the book is pretty humourless and annoyingly earnest. And that means the book’s good points – its research, the information it provides, its fundamental argument – all get lost in its obvious politics.

I’ve not completed the book – I’m probably three quarters of the way through – but I’ve not seen (as I can recall) alternative explanations or, if something not supportive of the argument appears it is quickly dismantled and dismissed. Or it’s turned inside out and offered as an example of how something that appears one way is actually the opposite. There is a paranoiac quality to it all, a bit like those people who find passages in the Bible to justify anything.

There is also Mr. Rushkoff’s fundamental argument about the focus on the individual moving us away from the idea of community. It appears reasonable except when it’s put almost exclusively in terms of a kind of a corporate conspiracy to separate us and transform us. Are there no other possible reasons for the individual focus? For the disappearance of community? Have we lost the notion of community or is the idea of community a much broader one? I know many people who would find the elimination of communities a dubious assertion. And I’d question the example of unions as community (some seem pretty corporate to me). I think Mr. Rushkoff’s definition of community is a very limited one.

I suppose I’m saying there is an imbalance in the book. There is also the unstated belief in some kind of golden age when we had it right, whatever “it” is. It feels as if the argument was decided upon then material was gathered to confirm it, rather than explore whether or not it held water. The book becomes more polemic than anything else.

My biggest frustration, however, is in the feeling that what is of value in the book is lost by the tone and approach. When young people (or anyone) worry about personal brands, when corporations and everyday schmoes are involved in charities as ways to support their brand or when (to use Mr. Rushkoff’s example) we’re more concerned about our property value than our personal safety … surely something ain’t right?

Twitter, statistics and speculation

Allow me to inebriate some sober numbers … When we talk about Facebook and Twitter, cars and bikes, business and the arts, we are always self-referential. We think a certain way, we use something in a certain way, we believe this may occur in a certain way … and we forget that the world doesn’t always think like us. It’s a cliché, but everybody is different and just because we see something one way or use something in a particular manner, it doesn’t necessarily follow that every one else will.

I was thinking about this when I read the post, 10 Sobering Twitter Statistics. Some people see Twitter as a marketing tool, some as a tool for news, some as way to enhance their real estate business (yes, another marketing view but perhaps also organizational). And there are some who use it for non-commercial reasons and some who just use it for silliness. The tool itself has no inherent purpose beyond what each of us brings to it. For many, there is no purpose.

I was also thinking about statistics and surveys and all the data we collect. Often, maybe more often than not, the information they best provide concerns how much more we need to learn. They highlight what we don’t know. And they are usually interpreted from a particular point of view, at least at street level.

I saw a tweet, followed by a retweet, for that posting titled, 10 Sobering Twitter Statistics. Use of the word “sobering” suggests there is something not very good in these numbers. But I thought, what if there were? What if there were other ways of seeing these? So I’ve put together an alternative — 10 other ways of seeing sobering Twitter stats:

  • 94% of Twitter users have under 100 followers (which may suggest quality has more meaning than quantity)
  • 90% of tweeting is done by 10% of Twitter users (Which is very much like the real world: 90% don’t call radio stations, 90% don’t write letters to the editor, most don’t speak out at town halls, etc. Also, some people don’t speak because they are listening.)
  • 60% of new Twitter users fail to return the following month (But since we don’t know who they were we have no idea whether they would have brought anything of value to the Twitter streams nor do we know why they didn’t return.)
  • 50% of Twitter accounts are inactive (Haven’t tweeted in the past week) (See the previous item)
  • 40% of tweets are “pointless babble” (As opposed to … TV? Blogs? The street? Boardrooms? Sounds like it reflects the real world.)
  • 35% of Twitter users have 10 or fewer followers (Personally, though I have loads of acquaintances, that is about how many really close friends I have. Maybe I’m tweeting for reasons other than to pitch something?)
  • 21% of Twitter accounts are empty placeholders (And what would the percentage of domain names as placeholders be? Have these accounts been abandoned? Are they in place to reserve for a future presence as a company stream, a person’s stream, a campaign stream or to prevent others from getting a name that might have an impact on theirs? Do we have any idea? For all we know it could be one obsessive compulsive guy trying over and over to open one account that is “just right.”)
  • 11% of Twitter users interact with brands on Twitter (The world, unfortunately, will always have a certain percentage of really stupid people. As I’ve written before, we don’t follow brands. We follow people. If you find a brand with a lot of followers I would hazard a guess that they aren’t interacting with it but with each other.)
  • 9% of Twitter users don’t follow anyone at all (Maybe they have lives beyond the Internet? Maybe they have no interest – just took the name because its theirs and they didn’t want someone else to have it? Maybe they haven’t found anyone worth following? Maybe they don’t know how?)
  • 3% of followers click on links tweeted (Does this include retweets? More to the point, how many links do we come across in a day – on web pages, in emails, on Facebook and so on? How many of those do we click? Is 3% about average? High? Low?)

And that’s it. Accurate assessments? Probably not. But you never know! But it’s worthwhile questioning the assumptions we bring to topics like these.

Does blogging need a reason?

A friend of mine asks, Why should I blog? For me the quick and easy answer is because I like it. More specifically, I like writing. And if I look at everything I’ve posted on this blog and my other blog (Piddleville) I realize that what I’m really doing is thinking out loud online. I tend to work out ideas on my blogs.

I’m also playing and learning. Surely that’s a good reason to blog?

There are probably as many reasons to blog as there are bloggers. In recent years, however, the popularity of blogs has grown and, with that growth, blogs got noticed (the blogosphere!) and the inevitable commercial questions popped up: how to monetize this thing? How do I leverage this? What’s the marketing angle?

A lot of bloggers now think in terms of purpose. What should I be writing? Who should I be writing for? How should I be writing this?

And there are oodles of web sites out there providing tips on the how’s, the why’s and the what’s. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. But for me, it sounds very dreary. It sounds like work.

A few months back I wrote a brief post, Who are we writing for?, where I said, in my case, I write for myself. (I said a bit more than that, however.)

There is thinking, though, that says that’s all well and good but what about how it may affect how you’re perceived by potential employers and clients? This worry can lead to a kind of personal censorship. You may say what you think but, you may not because someone might get the wrong impression.

And what about purpose? Surely a blog should have one, the kind that will build an audience and lead to advertising revenue, maybe a book down the road – even speaking engagements!

Once again, that’s fine for some. But for me, thinking that way more or less leads to a creative drought. This may be partly because you can get caught up with statistics, like unique visitors, and schedules, such as, “I have to post something about this thing every Tuesday.”

Who knows? With all that “purpose” driving us, and with some success, we may find it makes more financial sense to get ghost-bloggers so we can spend our time more efficiently.

Or we may end up caught in a routine of dreary work that doesn’t succeed at all because, realistically, only a few blogs succeed in a commercial sense and there are gazillions that don’t. As I’ve said before, blogs and web sites are a lot like restaurants that way. Success is a bit of a crap shoot (no matter what the experts may tell you).

Why should you blog? You shouldn’t. Not unless you enjoy it. If you do like it then the question becomes, why should you not blog?

If you like music, why would you not sing? If you like movies, why would you not go to them? If you like tennis, why would you not play?

We often get so caught up in purpose – practical purpose – we forget to have fun.

That’s not something I’d want to forget.

(Note: This also relates to another post that I had in draft format but had forgotten about. I would have added it this post but it would have been way too long, so I hope to post “Art, people and personal brands” tomorrow.)

Update (March 2, 2010):

See “Why do you blog if not for money?” on Broadcasting Brain