branding vs being, or what is independence really?

self scan ~ From the Heart

It’s the 4th of July – aka Independence Day – here in the USA. We celebrate our independence as a nation with fireworks and picnics, families and friends.

Living in America means we have certain freedoms that cannot be denied, but how many of us really feel independent in our work? As entrepreneurs we are all about taking the reins on our own, and not working for “the man.” As the economy wavers, the job market shrinks, and the notion of a lifelong career dies, more and more of us are turning to ourselves and our true passion to make a living and create a new economy.

We are claiming our independence, but how do we stand out as our force of independent workers grows? And what is independence, really?

Branding is a buzz word that tends to make me flinch, but I am spending my summer doing for myself. This makes me question what is it about branding I don’t like and why do I need to do it anyhow?

Branding, in my head, implies big business, money hungry, passionless consumer culture, and I don’t like that. Branding also implies strategic pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes and make-you-want-it advertising, and I don’t like that. While these things may be true in the big biz, big box culture, they don’t have to apply to the independent worker.

So what does branding mean to me? I did a little exploring to see what others are saying.

Your Brand is Your Personality
Karen E. Klein in the article A Practical Guide to Branding

My brand is my personality, my work’s personality, my way of being me. My work as an expression of me. Yes! This I can grasp. The article discusses the use of the words “branding,” “marketing,” and “advertising” interchangeably, and thus confusing the proper use of branding. Yes, this is exactly what I have done.

Also in this article:

The Promise You Make to the World

Steve Cecil, a copywriter and verbal-branding expert with Where Words in San Carlos, Calif., says a brand is a promise and branding is the act of devising the promise your company makes to the world. Marketing, he says, “is the strategy that differentiates your brand promise from all the other brand promises in that increasingly crowded house called “your category.”

While the above article does in fact refer to some big business models they are saying that making it personal is core of branding and I can wrap my brain around that. It is what I am trying to do. By creating a personality for our work we are saying this is who I am, if you like me you will like my work.

Catherine Caine, marketing and branding (she calls it naming) coach at Cash and Joy, wrote last week about quality and clarity and why they don’t sell.

Stop selling me on quality and clarity.

Or hand-made, limited-edition, professional, ground-breaking or unique. (Or ten thousand other shorthand terms.)

Tell me why those things matter. To me. Right now.

Don’t say, “It’s a high-quality print.” Tell me, “This will look as good at your newborn’s 21st birthday as it does now. And his retirement party.”

Don’t say, “Together we’ll uncover clarity about your relationship.” Tell me, “Stop teetering on the edge of getting fired because you’re so distracted by your boyfriend’s cheating.”

Of course, that’s what you’re trying to say. You’re the expert, to you it’s obvious why quality is better, what clarity can enable, or why the professional version is superior.

But to me, they aren’t the value. They’re the tool to get the thing I really want.

Respect that, and my wallet is yours.

I have to admit, while I don’t agree with everything she says in this article, I high tailed it over to my about the work page and changed up my “high quality print” description.

With a quite different point of view, alternative medicine man Michael Max says:

Enough with Branding Already

You are not a brand, nor do you have one; you have a reputation. Yes, a throw-back word from perhaps half a century ago; reputation. Everything that you hear about “branding” is nothing more than the common sense steps you would take to preserve and polish your reputation. Branding, it’s impersonal. Reputation and the responsibility that goes along with it; vital as the air you breath.

In a nutshell, it comes down to this; branding is what you say about you, while reputation is what others say about you. You can talk till you’re blue in the face, and leverage your online presence with toots from you own horn. But, none of it will be nearly as compelling the gossip about your business over dinner, or the way someone you have truly helped will relentless promote your services to those they care about.

We are intensely social animals, and reputation (along with it’s twin sister, trustworthiness) is the lifeblood of ongoing and sustainable business interactions.

Well, I have to agree with this, too. While he is really just mincing words and trading reputation for brand, he makes a good point and not really different from the previous. We are selling a personality and with that comes reputation and relationship.

And that brings me round to the independence part of this story. As entrepreneurs we usually start out alone, but if we are to succeed we must become extremely social. We may still do the bulk of our work in solitude, but building a successful business or “brand” means building relationships and communicating regularly with our customers. We may have logos, but they aren’t intended to grab attention from the aisles in the market. We are trying to stand out in a far different sea where we attract our audience with personality.

I am satisfied with this, but it does raise another question. I’ve heard it said that your ideal customer is not you. That may be so, but they do need to like what I stand for. Doesn’t that make them at least a little like me?

What about you? How does your personality jive with your work and how do you describe it?

13 thoughts on “branding vs being, or what is independence really?

  1. Do you think there is a word limit to “branding.” I mean, your statement about your art rocking some generations from now isn’t the first line of the first paragraph. And my “about” page – whew, I think I was going for a novel when I wrote that sucker. It could probably use some editing (mine, not yours), but how much? How much history, how much me do I put out there to make sure my description of quality resonates with my customers? When is your reputation just an unattached tagline and when is it hidden in a stream of words?

    1. Good question on the word limit Janice. I err on the side of too wordy but I also like reading long bios and blog posts. I like your about page! I have edited my about page down from the original, but it could probably be shorter still and the part about the longevity of my work “should” probably be more prominent. It will likely evolve many more times.

      I have zero training in proper or professional writing, so I just try to remain as authentic as I can and share what feels right to me.

      When I start making enough I will likely hire a pro to help me with the technical bits but my blog posts will remain in my own flawed style. With the exception of here where Carrie edits the major blunders :-)

  2. Actually, what Michael Max says up there doesn’t sound like trading the word reputation for the word brand to me.

    To me, it sounds like he’s saying: Branding is all the stuff you say/claim/present, but reputation is what other people will say about you based on what you actually DO. Maybe I’m misreading it, but that’s how it sounds to me and that’s very different. That says: Do your work and if it is excellent, valuable, and special, that becomes your good reputation that people will recommend to those in their lives.

    Everybody says their own stuff is totally awesome, but it means a lot more coming from others who have experienced it and want to recommend it simply because it actually is great.

    1. Good observation Emma. Where I say max trades those words it would be more accurate to say they build on one another.

      When we start we have no reputation to speak for new work so we write our own promo material. When we have gained a reputation we can post testimonials which are based on what we DO rather than what we say we do. It is quite different but both are needed?

      Perhaps I should ask some people who know my work to write something???

      1. That’s true – you need to get your work out in the world before your reputation begins to form.

        I think asking for some feedback/quotes from people who have already experienced your work is a good idea!

        And good job starting conversations yet again!

  3. I remember when I was working my first ‘real job’ and the company was ‘re-branding’ and I was the only one not understanding the terminology. It’s like we were just supposed to know what it meant, like it was innate, something we’ve always known- and no one could explain it to me. It was one of those words that no one can define except with it’s own word repeated.

    Now, as a creative business owner myself I understand why they had the difficulty explaining the act of re-branding to me and I struggle with it every day myself. You feel like, if you’re working on your brand that you’re no longer working on your art- but in reality, the two coincide, are side by side, and should be. Just like your reputation, your feedback, your personality, your art…

    Great post.

    1. Thanks Talia. It is a difficult thing to grasp this branding. I think what you say is true

      “the two coincide, are side by side, and should be. Just like your reputation, your feedback, your personality, your art…”

      They are all facets of us and our work.

  4. lots of food for thought – I’m going to read all the articles you linked to

    your next-to-the-last question seemed so unrelated that I couldn’t figure out why you put it in – yet it’s the question my brain keeps thinking about: do the people who like my work have to be like me, think like me, even see the world like me? if they do, then I’m not all that unique. if they don’t, then what is it in my work that appeals to them?

    let’s put it another way, do they have to like what I stand for to like me? do all of my friends stand for the things I stand for? no. some stand for the exact opposite.

    it’s what makes life so much more intriguing

  5. Thank you Sherry. I am laughing at the unrelatedness of the question. It seemed logical to me, but I can see how it might not.

    In what I have gleaned about internet marketing and branding is that you need to define your ideal customer and learn to speak to them, but not to assume that they are just like you. I guess my question is really about how I identify myself with my work. It is deeply personal to me so I feel like I want my customers to identify with me, but no they don’t really have too.

    The topic of the “column” I write here is conversation starters. I throw the ideas and questions out there because I don’t know. Your responses are the conversation and I love it!

    1. Thank YOU Andrea!!!! I know brand is a misunderstood word and that is why I wrote the post. For me as a visual artist just selling, marketing my work never felt like enough. I want to include a piece of me so your “definiton” speaks to me.

  6. Great read–thanks for posting this!

    I am on such a mission to change the creative’s mind about “brand” that I put it in my business name! And still it is a word that makes most of us cringe. Because we aren’t big business! But why should they get to have all the “fun”?

    I teach creative people about utilizing brand experience in how they tell their story/present their work/sell their ideas so they can have a piece of that success pie.

    Think of brand like this (maybe it will take the edge off)–brand is the words your customers would use to describe what it is you do for them. Forget the fancy logo, hot shot website, and even your packaging for a moment. Your brand starts with you! Who is your creative business, Why does it exist, What are you here to do, and Where are you going?

    Tell your customers your cohesive and curated story and that is the brand they will remember and love coming back to.

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