Is Branding Just BS?

For a number of reasons we are all resistant to the idea of assessing or even creating a brand. As a small business or start-up we think, “Well this isn’t a priority. I haven’t even made money yet. A fancy logo and sales language can wait.”

I posted an article on Facebook a few weeks ago dissecting the notion of brand as a luxury expense but I want to tackle this from a different angle.

I consider myself very lucky so far that in my career as a branding coach I have come across almost no one who didn’t have some idea of why branding is good. Then, just as my comfy couch of perfect clients was starting to form its perfect butt indentation, something or someone jabs me in my left ass cheek. Perhaps its because I’m forced to use words like branding and marketing when even I find them cringe-worthy. I hate having to rely on industry jargon to simplify my ideas around marketing. It makes them feel empty and manipulative.

Coming from an arts background means my education opened up my world vastly. So vastly that it let in a lot of ugly lofty thoughts and judgments about the value of creating. Art school teaches you many valuable things but when it forces you into a competitive environment with yourself and your peers, creates a highly structured grading system, and tells you that you should be “industry ready” by the time your program ends, it does something to your creativity. It eats it up and spits out cookie-cutter thoughts disguised as discerning taste, analytical thinking, and success. It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being inadequate or not living up to that lofty idea of what a true artist is. I still fall into this trap. Most days though, I am reminded of something inherent in all creators – resourcefulness. I am reminded of this because each and every day I work with clients who introduce new levels of scrappiness into my world.

Innovation, creativity, and art are all forms of resourcefulness. It is about using our imagination to stretch beyond the immediate meaning or use of the thing in front of us. When else do we see this? Well, when we play – or more accurately, played. So is our job as creators then not to create the most bad-ass sandbox to play in? Is it not to immerse ourselves in an environment where boundaries are bendy and following rules is failure. This doesn’t sound much like any education system, does it?

Before I digress into one of my most adored ranting topics –education – let’s keep this train on its tracks.

This is how I define branding – being able to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both a literal, symbolic, and visual way. Good branding should be so embedded in who you are at your core so that whether people are looking at your website, hearing you speak, chatting with you over a glass of rouge, or working with you, they know what type of experience they can expect from you. Before you can get to that though – you’re going to need your sandbox. You’re going to have to forcefully inject creative problem solving into your world. Now you try explaining this to someone who has no concept of branding. It’s seriously fucking hard. So you turn to your marketing jargon encyclopedia and begin spouting out buzz words like “social media engagement”, “conversion”, “web traffic”, and “sales”. No doubt these things are all extremely important. But they are not at the core of a brand. YOU are at the core of the brand. YOU are the common factor. Your thinking, your method, and your obstacles. Those other things are – mind you quite amazing – tools to help sell, get people to read your authentic content, and spread your good-hearted message to the world.

Think of your business as that beautiful sand castle you want to build. The things you find in the sandbox are the tools or add-ons for your biz that can help you build it, and make it better. The other kids in there are people who will believe in and work for your vision. So what’s missing in all this? Well kids, the sandbox. Part of what I teach in brand coaching is play. Get back to that core version of yourself. That version of yourself that could build worlds, delegate roles, invent new rules, and solve problems creatively with only sand and discarded, often broken, tools or throwaway toys. That version of yourself that could intuitively spin a tale and have people begging to be a part of the crew, even it is only to scoop and pile dirt.

Branding is not just developing your credibility, reputation, and visual language, it is knowing on an intuitive level who you are, how you do things, and how you solve problems. This is what you want to communicate consistently to your clients or customers. That is how you become a many-pronged market superstar. In a nutshell, be the shit out of yourself and share it with everyone. If you can’t do this – cool. Hire me. I will be that nurse you love/hate who injects play back into your world.

Ps. Warning. This blog is sweary.

 

ARTPRENEUR 2015

Chicklets and chuckles – this past weekend I attended a seriously rad event. It is a trade show held at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans for artists of all kinds looking to turn their craft into a business. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend any of the seminars as I was the only one at my table and had to guard my free chocolates with my life (and my mouth…sluurp). It was my first trade show and I as such I wanted to share my findings and observations. Keep in mind I wrote these as the day went on so they don’t necessarily reflect my overall view. This is more of a play-by-play of the day.

  • Some delegates only come to give YOU advice. Not the nice encouraging kind either. The mean kind that leaves you eating mini chocolates for breakfast.
  • The size of your display is meaningless. It is the size of the personality behind the display.
  • Make friends with all the vendors. Not only are they totally awesome people but they will send people your way.
  • Everyone likes chocolate.
  • Artists are apparently a step ahead of the game. Their outfits were so rad and so reflective of their personal brand that I was inspired!
  • DO NOT make a sales pitch. Engage in real conversations and give out real advice! It was like a free focus group and I’m so pumped to work on content aimed at artpreneurs over the next couple of months.
  • Anyone can inspire you if you just ask the right questions.
  • Art organizers are such a wonderful and entertaining combo of jaded and passionate.
  • Mini Crunch bars and by far the favourite.
  • If you see people you know tweet at them to come to your table. They will bring friends!
  • I need a cool hat.

Wrecking Ball: Miley Coyote

My first experiences with social media were limited to adding university pals much in the same way I collected passport stamps. Then, like an intelligence agent, sifting through the photos my camera-happy friend tagged me in. Other than that, my timeline was a bit of a ghost town.

In fact, I resisted social media at every turn. I thought it was vain, superficial, and most egregiously, gave us a false sense of connectivity with other humans (and the occasional cat).

Now, I spend my days blogging about the importance of an online presence and even worse, I help people find their inner twitter bug. Gross!

So I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am a huge judgmental naysayer. On the other hand, I am incredibly motivated by our interactions via social media. It has become a huge source of information for my consulting and I think, made me a little braver. With that inherent rebelliousness and a now an actual business need to use social media  – I’ve decided to give my social media persona a name. Her name is: Miley Coyote. The meaning of social media is not love or hate – its those rare moments where the two come together to share a new meaning altogether.

The 9 Golden Rules of Being Wile E. Coyote: Committed for Life

The creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Chuck Jones, had 9 golden rules when producing each episode. Stay with me. To understand Miley Coyote we must first look at the coyote (moon howling is obligatory).

  1. The Road Runner cannot hurt the coyote.
  2. No outside force can harm the coyote except the backfiring ACME products.
  3. Coyote was driven only by his fanaticism – otherwise he could stop at anytime.
  4. The only dialogue is “beep beep”.
  5. The Road Runner can only be on the road.
  6. All the action can only take place in the setting of a generic southwest American desert.
  7. All materials, weapons, tools, or products used must be purchased from ACME Corp.
  8. Whenever possible, make gravity coyote’s biggest challenge.
  9. The coyote is always humiliated by his failures rather than injured.

These rules not only dictate how the world of this cartoon works, but also how the characters can be expected to behave inside it. So why is this cartoon so engaging? Is it because each episode is predictable and therefore we don’t have to use our noggin or is it for some other reason? Before we explore that further let’s look at a creature far less appealing with a seeming disregard for anything shaped like a rule.

An Unlikely Advocate

Miley Ray Cyrus has been dubbed a social media dominatrix. Her behaviour on and offline is not dictated by the social rules set forth for any of the “normative” roles she is partakes in: female, pop star, fashionista, celebrity. Like a horror movie, we enjoy the gore, fear, and suddenness of it all.

But wait! A dominatrix follows rules as well, she just creates them herself and enforces them on willing participants. A horror movie still scares us even though the genre is as predictable as an episode of The Road Runner. Why? Because both require two things:

  1. Willing submission for the pleasure of involuntary reactions
  2. Suspended disbelief

In horror movies (you can make the kink comparison yourself I’m sure), despite us knowing whats waiting for us, we allow ourselves to fall into a space of submission. We want to be startled, scream, see gore beyond what we could handle in real life, and feel the suspense and fear of the characters themselves. In order to have these reactions (in fact, which we pay money to have) we have to suspend our disbelief. We have to believe the coyote will continue to hunt the Road Runner despite numerous injuries and a track record of irrefutable failure. We have to make room for the irrational decision of the lead character to go into the creepy basement where the noise is coming from.

So how does this apply to social media?

Credibility Isn’t Cheap

Coyote is the masochist to Miley’s sadist. Is social media not just the same thing? A balance between pain and pleasure, love and hate, appropriate and inappropriate? But how did these two characters become credible sources of this behaviour? Consistency. Sure, Miley flaps around like she makes her decisions via magic eight ball but the truth is, her social media persona is as formed, as branded, as committed as Wile E. is to the rules of Chuck Jones. The credibility of a persona relies on key indicators that amount to an authentic being. The most important one being consistency.

This is no easy thing. Yes, sometimes being on social media can feel superficial and disconnected. The way I see it – it’s a costume in a play. I ask people to give me willingness to submit and I ask people to suspend their disbelief. But I do it in exchange for a story. I use my persona or character as a vehicle to communicate complex relationships. Even if it is to demonstrate the complex relationships we have with ourselves. In the space where Miley and Coyote come together we learn about the similar truths existing in seemingly contradictory characters.  Some of the most abstract art produces the most authentic feelings.

Sometimes I rant, sometimes I share content I feel strongly about, sometimes I laugh at the very things that inspire me, sometimes I choose to leave out a very specific element of myself to make the story stronger. My in between truth – I am an explorer. I do not sit comfortably in the middle. I need to engage every part of myself on every platform available to me. I just don’t like to do it all at the same time.

My brand is Miley Coyote. Whats yours?

(Un)Social? – by Clio Em

We’re discussing social media personas here on this blog. Each of us has one, like a sort of digital patronus. We control them and give them life, but they can take on a life of their own, too.

Clio Em, online, is me. This reflected self is creative, fun, and occasionally irreverent. She sings as well as I do but never hits any wrong notes, wears pretty dresses all the time and doesn’t lounge around the house composing at the piano in dance pants like I do. She is not a mobile photography enthusiast; she is a photographer.

There are many ways of being social, just as there are many ways of sharing one’s work. I very much like using Facebook daily, updating my friends and acquaintances on what it is that I’m up to, especially from the artistic angle. Same with twitter and Instagram. I use VSCO Grid to share my best photos, and showcase my audio creations on SoundCloud. I have separate accounts for various music projects I work on, and these are tremendously useful as documentation of my work, little windows into the world in which I create. I love sharing my photos, not only because I enjoy taking them but also because I feel that if I can spread a little more beauty in the world, then it’s a post that was well worth it.

Yet artists sometimes make the mistake of directly equating followers to fans and likes to true emotional connection. Of course this can be the case. But online, a like or follow can also indicate friendship, professional reciprocity, or it can be an efficient form of bookmarking. It’s helpful to understand who’s reading your posts, but also to realize that offline interaction is important, too.

The real value of social media, for me at least, is its use as a communications catalyst. Without Facebook or twitter, I could never have looked up and written to many musicians I very much admire and forged meaningful collaborations, which led to such opportunities as study, research, performances, and compositions. In all these cases, social media was the medium for communication. I used it as an initial contact point, and then jumped off from there to meaningful discussion, meeting in real life, and making music and art together. But there comes a point in my day when it becomes crucial to actually get offline and create, purely in the analogue world. To play an instrument or to sing, without distractions.

We digital natives no longer have the luxury, or the curse, of existing alone most of the time, and so when we do get this rare time alone offline, we tend to either value or reject it. At one point or another throughout our day, even during quiet moments, we are often in heavy and constant contact with others through our smartphones and computers. Others’ thoughts and feelings influence ours, and vice versa. For me as an artist, this means that I can work more easily with others. Sometimes it helps me get inspired. I can find performers to play my compositions at a moment’s notice, and I can seek out an ensemble to sing with just as easily. I can apply to festivals, grants, and other opportunities online. I can communicate with the people behind these opportunities faster and more easily. Yet it also means that at times, it is difficult to take the time to unplug and think things out without that online influence.

In certain situations, social media belongs in a concert setting, for example in digital and net art, or during live electronics performances and so on. But in the vast majority of cases, it’s probably a good idea to separate our online personas from our offline selves.
Photography by Georg Aufreiter

Clio Em is an award-winning musician, writer, and creative on a mission to discover new sound worlds. Drawing from her extensive classical piano, composition and voice training at institutions such as McGill University and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Clio’s distinct crossover style fuses elements of pop, folk, classical, and electronic genres that blend together into an arresting whole. Her work with text complements her music. Clio Em’s instruments of choice include piano, various guitars and ukuleles, her own voice, electronics, found objects, and the occasional touch of cello, accordion, and small percussion instruments. Born and raised in Alberta, Clio Em now calls many places in the galaxy home, Canada and Europe among them. She writes at clio-em.com.

Social Media Personas: Who am I?

One of the best things about my job is that I get to meet such a wide variety of people both on and off line. So naturally I want to share some of the insight I have gained from these individuals with you guys!

I’m so generous.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some guest pieces written for THIS HERE BLOG about online personas. I have picked writers who rely heavily on social media for either their profession or their professional hobby and have unique challenges in terms of how to represent themselves online.

We all navigate the tricky waters of personal vs shareable. Let’s see what advice these folks can give us. Then at the end of the series I will be posting my nuttiest blog yet summarizing my thoughts on how to figure out what you should share and what you should spare.

Happy reading ready readers.

 

 

 

Crazy Little Thing Called Clients

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Let’s crack open the elephant egg in the room – clients. You may want to buckle up, because we are going to talk about this via my favourite source of inspiration – online dating.

Why, you ask? Two words: personal branding. Online dating was a moment of confidence and clarity in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. So when I was faced with doubt and anxiety at finding clients I turned to that experience for help.

Spoiler alert! Despite my best efforts to avoid being a poster child for anything conventional (convention, yuck!), I am a poster child for online dating. I joined on a Tuesday and on that Friday I went on my first date with the man I would end up marrying 2 years later. And ladies, this is not some Cosmo bull$h*t on how finding a husband is like climbing the corporate ladder. This is instead about a trend we should take note of in terms of how we connect to people online and offline.

Personal Branding

Your typical online dating site works using a three-pronged system; photos, match %, and a descriptive profile. While I could easily draw conclusions about the use of photos and personality-based metrics, for the sake of space I will only focus on the third-prong: the personal description.

Lets start off by filling out a profile on OkCupid and along the way I will show you how in meeting my husband, I learned an incredibly important lesson in branding and client hunting.

Fill in below and find love instantly…

Below I have copied the sections from OkCupid that they ask you to fill in. As an aside, this was no random choice. I am not just a fan of this site for delivering me my husband (express): I am a fan because they really understand what connects people. The questions below may look fairly standard but in them is a goldmine of critical information. You just have to know how to read it and then write it.

* If you are interested in doing this personal branding exercise – scroll to the end of the post and print out the detailed list. I encourage you to try and fill it in before reading the rest of this post and then again at the end of reading this post. Please feel free to share some of your insights in the comments section.*

  1. My self-summary
  2. What am I doing with my life
  3. I’m really good at
  4. The first things people usually notice about me
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food
  6. The six things I could never do without
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about
  8. On a typical Friday night I am
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit
  10. I’m looking for
  11. You should message me if

Step 1: Who am I?

Imagine for a minute that you are doing this exercise for the purpose of dating. You may see self-summary and think, “I will list all my relevant experience to prove how valuable I am”. You begin with a list of your schooling, dating experience, relationship skills, and end with an account of all the high-fives you’ve received in your climb to being an excellent partner. We do this when we look for work so why don’t we do this in dating? Because we know that this is not how real connections are made. Entrepreneurship relies on the relationships you build with customers and clients. So why do we forget that when we enter a professional situation?

There is evidence all around us of the things we are good at. That evidence doesn’t just take the forms of certifications, awards, recognitions, and degrees. Open your mind and think about all the things that you do well: all the moments in your day/week where you feel particularly strong. Here are mine:

When I first did this exercise (as in, when I decided to go off on my own) this was my list:

  • Video production
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Team work

The list goes on but I think you get the idea.

Now I will show you my list after I decided to open my mind and take away those pesky boundaries that are reinforced in resume writing:

  • Meeting new people
  • Connecting friend groups
  • Hosting parties
  • Public speaking
  • Caring for pets
  • Communicating my boundaries
  • Getting people excited about something new

I look at that last list and see a few themes pop out at me. One of those themes is nurturing. So how does that translate into my work? It is important for me to feel like I contribute to the quality of life of the people (and animals) around me. So maybe instead of presenting myself as a digital media service, I should talk about how I love to: nurture projects, understand each clients needs, and help clients develop a work environment that strengthens the type of work they do.
Boom! I am good at that! It is my authentic self. “Nurturing Toni” is going to attract much better suited clients than “video production Toni”. Why? Because not only is it authentically imbedded in my sense of self, there are way more access points for a conversation about my skills as a nurturer than my skills in video production.

Step 2: What are my tastes?

Ira Glass says it best when he says:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

Your taste is important because it foreshadows your professional thinking. Even in online dating, this section can be the most revealing if you know how to read it. Some people will list EVERYTHING they like. The “cover my bases” thinking is counter-productive. If you want someone to taste a new wine, you don’t drown them in it, you give them a small glass of something you’ve carefully selected based on their palette. Under ‘what books I like’, you might only put those you read as part of your high school curriculum. This could mean you aren’t a big reader, or perhaps you fear admitting you don’t like to read (or, even worse, that you secretly only like to read trashy crime novels). But imagine going on a date with someone who is super into literature and was attracted to your profile because you like the modern classics. Well by lying you’ve not only become unappealing but also untrustworthy. If you’re not comfortable with your own taste (or you’ve misrepresented it), how is a client expected to trust the choices you’re going to make for them?

Step 3: Are you my taste?

Clarifying your tastes will also help reveal the type of client you want. Filtering out the incompatible types is often a self-reflective exercise in business. It is about understanding your authentic self to attract the right fit. I am in no way suggesting that you are responsible for attracting shifty clients or dates; even the best of us can encounter people who misrepresent themselves. This is certainly not some sideways argument on short skirt means open invitation.

“I’m looking for” and “You should message me if…” exists for good reason. If you can define yourself, you can define your ideal client. If you can define your ideal client, you will have a point of reference to begin your search.

So here’s the deal – there is no way to get clients without doing the modern day door-to-door; talk to everyone you know about what you’re doing; cold call companies you’d like to work with; look for other small companies where you might compliment their services. However, if you have the tools to describe exactly what you do, how you’d like to do, and with who you’d ideally like to do it with you are sure to hit the target more often.

The Exercise

Now look at the questions below, fill those suckers in, and tell me what you discover!

  1. My self-summary – I encourage you to fill this in last. Treat it as the section on your website or Facebook page where you would describe who you are and what you do. You’ll need more info before diving into the belly of the beast. So come back to it!
  2. What am I doing with my life – What you are doing with your life in a combination of what you are currently doing (for real) and what you are working towards.
  3. I’m really good at – Take a look at Step 1: Who am I?
  4. The first things people usually notice about me – These are usually aesthetic. Start thinking about how your personal style reflects your business personality.
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food – Taste! Check out this video for more of Ira Glass’ supreme wisdom. Don’t just think about your favourite things – think about your favourite apps, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers etc… and figure out what it is you like about their work so much.

  6. The six things I could never do without – If you are finding that what you need to do relies too heavily on resources you cannot yet acquire, think about shifting your offered services to reflect more accurately what you could immediately do. This will save you a lot of grief and self-doubt.
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about – Your aspirations, fears, academic obsessions, etc… Knowing what you want and what you are afraid of can put you ahead of the obstacles you are going to face.
  8. On a typical Friday night I am –translate to – how do I imagine a typical/ideal work day?
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit – “Willing” being the key word. This doesn’t mean share beyond your comfort zone. Take a look at the previous blog post I wrote about vulnerability in business: Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan
  10. I’m looking for – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?
  11. You should message me if – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?

Until next time!