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.

 

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?

Protecting Anonymity in a Social Media Age – by Jean Sa’Mick

When I was younger I pictured this over romanticized version of being a writer. In my head I would live a quiet type of fame, where people knew who I was from my iconic writing (I had fashioned myself as a more upbeat Sylvia Plath; Deep, soul searching concepts without the downer of actually hating my life) but largely left me alone to enjoy my life privately. People knew who Stephen King was, but the paparazzi weren’t camped outside his Hollywood mansion. Writers got to be known without being famous, and that appealed to me.

As I grew older, I realized that fame wasn’t what I sought so much as respect and recognition for work. The star studded lifestyle of J. K. Rowling and its corresponding troubles appealed to me none whatsoever. I felt, and still feel, that as a writer it is your job to present the facts of what you’re talking about as opposed to opinion or reflection of persona. “You” shouldn’t really weigh in unless you’re specifically writing a biased article, and your persona shouldn’t be a factor when people are reading your work.

So, this is where I have troubles with Social Media. In 2015 one of the best ways to build a professional reputation for yourself is to broadcast your work over social media channels, drawing the attention of people who may be interested in paying you money. In a world now devoid of stuffy conference ‘networking’ sessions we must maximize every chance to make an impression, even before a physical opportunity presents itself.

The downside to having those platforms for promotion is that you sacrifice the ability to tailor what an audience views, and with it a portion of your privacy. I’m not picky with the content I write about, and frequently welcome a challenge. That open mindedness has landed me some cool jobs, from a staff writer of a sex blog to covering music conferences day to day, from writing copy for renovation companies to touring with musicians. 70% of the content I write is safe for audiences of all ages, and the remainder sure isn’t.

Does NSFW content scandalize me? Hah, No. I’ve written about things that were so shocking my own hair got curlier (dammit). But is it a big deal to other people? Yes. The best way to avoid pigeon holing yourself is to follow a few simple steps. Feel free to adapt and decline as you please.

  1. Limit your online personal life. If you have multiple social media accounts, pick which ones to use professionally and which to use personally. Yes, the lines can blur sometimes with certain people and organizations, but this provides the best blueprints for keeping work-life and personal life separate. If you find Twitter reaches more potential professional contacts, maximize your reach that way and keep friend fights and break up quotes to Facebook. (Then, go back and delete the friend fights and break up quotes because you aren’t 17 anymore). By keeping both sides of your life separate, you minimize the chances of looking unprofessional in any manner when those pictures of you doing the keg stand in a tutu finally surface.
  2. Try to remain as neutral as possible. Unless your job is specifically one sided (think party specific political reporting) don’t share your opinion. You may be limiting yourself professionally when the other side looks to hire someone with your qualifications. It’s also a great way to avoid getting in pointless arguments with people over the internet. I know we all love a good back and forth over an online forum; riding in on our high horses, ready to tell the opposing side it has a stupid face and their mothers dress them funny. But resist the urge to feed the trolls by avoiding the situation altogether. You never know where your next contract might come from, and it could be a lot of money from someone you’ve just told off.
  3. Do your research. Nothing lowers your credibility than being wrong about something publicly. Find out the corresponding hashtags, look into legitimate sources for background info and if you don’t know something, look into it. This applies for everything, whether it be writing an article on a protest or giving instruction on stripping down furniture. Don’t act like you know something if you don’t actually because it is guaranteed to be pointed out by someone who does. On the flip side, people may look to you for information. By being accurate, you’re working your online presence like retail: giving the customers a reason to return.
  4. Consider a pseudonym. Don’t try and deny it, you’ve always wanted to use that Ida Fukder alias. Chet Manly. Ben D. R. Rodriquez. Hell, you could be Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock if your heart desires. By being someone else, you can write about whatever you want without having to worry about it being immediately associated with you. I’m not recommending you act ashamed of your work, because it can be shown to like-minded parties for professional purpose just the same as your regular stuff. Writing for a sex blog has landed me work with other delightfully pervacious individuals, but it’s not widely accessible content. The open minded hipster couple who hire you to rewrite their website content don’t care, but for the privately religious clothing designer it could be the deciding factor between you and another candidate.

A good rule of thumb is to consider your parent or grandparents reaction to lascivious content. My mother is as unshakable as a cement column driven into the ground by Thor himself, so I don’t worry too much about her reacting negatively. Other people’s families are not as easy going, and if what you put on social media could embarrass you in their eyes, you may want to consider going the alias route.

Consider the above guidelines the next time you put something on social media, work related or otherwise. Is it going to embarrass you later? Limit or increase your options with work? Are you typing with a cool head and a full stomach? These things matter when making decisions about personal web content.

Jean is an Ottawa based freelancer and Toronto native, the latter of which she keeps under wraps during the hockey season. Her work has been featured on cultural blogs like Apt613, Ottawa Showbox and Herd Magazine, in addition to providing content for local small businesses like Jet Black Salon and UpRise Fit. When she isn’t writing, she occasionally moonlights as a masked superhero. Follow her as she fights crime and writes stories; Twitter as @reddhairing or on her website writingbyjean.ca.

State Suites and Titillating Tweets – by Eliot K. Waddingham

whichever-800wi

My name is Eliot Waddingham, and I use gender neutral pronouns.

Did you feel that? That tight little clench in the back of your neck, like you’ve just heard someone announce a radical political view?

Don’t worry, I felt it too.

You’re feeling it because you’re thinking, “Oh boy, here’s another one.”  I’m feeling it because I know that’s what you’re feeling, and I just wanted you to refer to me using neutral pronouns.  I can’t do that, however, without inadvertently making statements that cause the majority of people I interact with to assume other things about my identity.  I’m a communist, a vegan, and a militant feminist. Probably. You never know with those people.

But wait! There’s more. I’m also a Christian. More accurately, I’m a theistic rationalist.

I know, I know. That’s an unnecessary level of detail when you haven’t even bought me a coffee, yet!

I attend St. Alban’s Anglican in Ottawa, and between frequenting the music team and occasionally giving a sermon (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/13/telling-our-stories-me-the-ethopian-eunuch/) , lots of people know my name there even if I don’t always know theirs. As part of my leadership at St. Al’s, I’ve also lead two workshops about gender and sexuality and how these things intersect with faith. I was once on a panel of ‘millennials’ talking about why we still go to church. Despite my incredibly verbose and awkward manner of speaking and just generally taking up space, people seem to be interested in my opinions on things there, and I share them.

So, that’s my personal life, which honestly, is not as simple as I’d like it to be. Being queer and Christian is not something that comes without contradiction, or, rather, contradictions have to do with what people assume I think or feel about [insert religious/queer rights issue here]. If you were friends with me on Facebook, you’d see a collection of religious memes, political posts encouraging Canucks not to vote for Harper in October, and a lot of geeking out about how Nepal just created third-gender passports. Oh, and pictures of my cats. Kind of a lot of pictures of my cats.

You would also see on my Facebook a number of reposts for whatever is going on with my job. I am very privileged to be the head of research for an “edutainment” company called Bold & Mighty. (You KNOW you wanna click through that one. Did you do it? Don’t worry, I’ll wait). I post daily “On This Day in History” posts, in English and French, corral a pretty rad team of researchers, and occasionally write more in-depth blog posts about historical events, like this one about an air raid on a German dam that would make a great blockbuster film (http://www.boldandmighty.com/blog/2015/5/17/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-dam-busters). Though I usually feed most of the social media posts into a bot that will post them for me at higher traffic times, occasionally, I have to do things manually.  Because our Facebook page insists on being tied to my “personal” Facebook account, when that happens, the feed will show that: Eliot K. Waddingham on behalf of Bold and Mighty posted this. This can sometimes be sweet, because people like my grandmother will post on our daily history facts and comment about how much she loves my job.  It’s also a little frightening.  I work for a company whose spoken purpose is to educate Canadians about Canadian military history.  Military buffs, by and large, tend to be conservative people, who probably wouldn’t like the pride flag gradient I’ve had over my profile picture for a month.

When I was growing up, I lived in a (small-c) conservative family. My father and his parents come from a very British tradition of keeping your business to yourself. My family was, and still is, very involved in the church. For as long as I can remember, a particular sort of tension often cropped up in church life about having, “private,” issues you dealt with in the family, and having, “public,” matters you shared with the broader community. Churches have a lot of good to them, but anyone who’s gone to one for an extended period of time will know that gossip is a vicious weed in those circles. Everyone talks about everyone else. It is allowed, to a certain extent, because churches were considered to span that bridge between, “public,” and, “private,” life. It used to be that we had this expectation that people–average people, less so for celebrities or politicians–would leave their personal problems in the personal sphere and put on a private face for work. And similarly, it didn’t matter what your political views or sexual identity were as long as you could get the job done. As Pierre Elliot Trudeau once put it, “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

The historian in me needs to point out that this idea has always been a fallacy–in the 1920s, Ford famously implemented his “$5 A Day” wages, which were only for workers who were married, kept their house in good order, and ideally abstained from alcohol.  Look at the British royal family or the Clinton affair. Look at any tabloid magazine in any convenience store! We’ve always been obsessed with the “personal,” and frequently have let the personal impact the political.

This is particularly relevant now, as never has it been so easy as it is today for the political to monitor the personal. How many articles have you read about the importance of curating your Facebook page, avoiding those drunk photos and keeping away from expressing too strong a political opinion on anything? How many times have we been told that potential employers are looking for your Facebook–they want you to have one, and they want to see something about you, something personal, but something positive. Well-put together, ideally with at least one quirky interest, but nothing you wouldn’t show your great-grandmother.  This is where things can be difficult for me.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of my identity (even more than the Queer Christian thing) is that I am open, and always have been, about my ongoing struggle with mental illness. I’ve always made it a point to be open about that part of my life.  Similar to my more-recent coming-out as queer, I find the only way to decrease stigma is to talk about myself with candor – and occasionally, humour. While that’s a cute little life philosophy, what doesn’t fit on the convenient business card blurb is the anxiety that comes along with it.  I lay it out pretty clearly on my blog that having depression makes me a crappy 9-5 employee (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/17/on-salaried-existence-spoon-theory-and-digital-nomadism/), and that can be off-putting to some.

This is about the time where I’m supposed to sum up what I’ve written in something pithy you can post as a tagline if you share this on Facebook (which, hey, I hope you do! I’d love to get talking about this in the comments). But the truth is, I don’t have an easy summary for this, nor do I have concrete conclusions about what it means to be a Complicated Human in a Digital World. I do my best to own my contributions to that virtual cork-board where we all create ourselves, status by status, share by share. Some of these contributions are complicated — it’s not easy to be queer, to be Christian, to be both. To be chronically depressed and clinically anxious, and still hold down a job and some university courses.   Paradox and ambiguity characterizes many of these, which makes them hard to pare down into simplistic views and soundbites.

In my opinion, all we can do — and admittedly, I’m not always great at this — is think before we talk, and try to be who we are. The century we live in has brought us a lot of cool stuff through this Internet thing.  It’s never been easier for me to find those people who fit in the Venn diagram of queer and christian, geeky and introverted, mentally ill and wanting to talk about that. The cost, of course, is that we’ve also got problems like Weinergate, a Facebook timeline that has forever chronicled that stupid stuff I wanted to share with everyone at age fifteen, and subreddits about creepshots.

The internet is holding us to a level of accountability we’ve never seen before, and it’s brought the “personal” and the “private” so close together that the letters have started to blur. There may be no place for the state in our bedroom, but we did make space for our smartphones. To mix metaphors–we’ve built a new bed. Let’s start talking about how best we want to lay in it.

 

eliotw

Eliot is a 22-year old self-described “gender bandit” with a big heart and a weakness for Bridgehead lattes. Professionally, they do research and monitor social media for Bold & Mighty. Personally, they like to knit, embroider, and watch 80s sci-fi. You can find them at eliotinterchange.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.