Monday, March 21, 2011

Why You Should Care About Branding, Part 2

Are you a brand?  Do you want to be?

These might seem like bizarre questions to ask, especially in a time where the idea of commercial brands being emblazoned on our bodies is all too real. But what about creating your own brand?

We are all recognized by individual identity markers: personality characteristics, unique physical traits, abilities, monikers, and memories others have of us. These signifiers create the way we are seen by our peers, families, and those who come into contact with us over the course of our lives.  They change as we grow, but some stay the same forever: a laugh, a love of death metal, or, in my case, the use of the word "dude" way more than is appropriate or necessary.

Everyone already has a personal brand.  And the good news is, you can create it.  You can mold and develop it depending on how you want to be seen, experienced, and understood.

In Part 1, I talked about why branding interests me: because the communication of identity and purpose matters. If you can more readily identify what the purpose of something is, you can easily categorize its relevance in your own life. If my goal is to market my services to the public, than branding myself as an ambassador of those services will better help other people determine whether or not they are interested in those services.  That's the great thing about branding—it more easily connects those who provide a product with the people that want/need it, and it successfully communicates the benefits so that those who think they want it can decide.

Nubby Twiglet has a great post called The Power of Personal Branding.  She cites Jessica Simpson and Donald Trump as examples of personal brands. So those two celebrities aren't as hot as they were in 2008 when she wrote the post, but they still have marketable, very visible personal brands that build on their personal identity markers—Jessica Simpson's products are all marketed as part of her laid-back, breezy, glam California lifestyle. Trump's products are all high-wealth, audacious, and ballsy. He's known for the comeback, for high-risk investments and returns. People find that tantalizing, and buy into his books and his lifestyle because they aspire to be like him.

You can use personal branding to attract other people with similar identifiers. This should come as no surprise: we look for those who look like us in the hope that they are like us. People who dress similarly, or have a projected similar attitude, tend to find each other at social events.  It's a handy tool.

Now for the darker side: you can also create a personal brand that gets you in with the people you want to be like and socialize with. It's nearly primate-level behavior: if we camouflage ourselves to look like members of a group, will be more readily accepted as members of that group. Sneaky! And effective. It sounds pretty manipulative honestly, but this is how marketing works.

The truth of human life is this: we are all insecure. Without insecurity, marketing wouldn't work. The lie that consumerism has taught us is that we will never be satisfied with who we are, hence the power of the aspirational brand.  So what do we do about that?

I know some who would rather not play the game altogether.  I have a relative who questioned why I'd even write about this stuff, since other pursuits (politics and non-profits where the ones she suggested) would be far more worthy of my time and energy.

That might be true, but the reason why I examine these issues is this: branding and marketing will always exist.  Having critical awareness of what branding/marketing is trying to push is necessary.  If we're not critical of it, if we don't examine it and question its motives, we fall prey to its worst elements.

Personal branding has the same issues as commercial branding.  If you are selling yourself based on true criteria and marketing yourself effectively, people will get a clear picture of your services, products, or your personal character and they will trust you.  That brand will last. 

If, however, you market yourself as someone you're not, if you go too far out of your comfort zone, if you try to reach too high and too wide, that illusion will eventually fail. 

It's important to think about who you really are and what you want to communicate about yourself to the world.  I'll tackle how to do that in another post.  For now, who do you know that brands themselves effectively?  What brands do you trust?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Go Local: Bells & Whistles

Bells & Whistles is a small, friendly boutique that opened in Oakland this year.  They source locally made artisan products, mostly jewelry, clothing, beauty, art, and gifts.  I don't think they have a super-strong branding campaign yet, but their aesthetics are super cute.

The local, modern aesthetic translates through their merchandising for sure.  Many items were also upcycled or repurposed materials, which is obviously very current and ethically fantastic.

Earrings on a frame with chicken wire.  I really want to go home and do this myself.  (Mine are hung on a narrow bulletin board.)

This is Casey.  She's the owner.  She's super friendly and very passionate about sourcing local products and sustainable goods.  Bells & Whistles has a website if you want to check them out.  They also appear to have an event called Cupcake Sunday that sounds too good to miss.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Go Local: Blue Chair Fruit

Now and again, I'd like to give props to local businesses that are doing a stellar job at branding.  So, new category: Go Local.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the Farmers Market and stumbled upon Blue Chair Fruit, a local jam and marmalade company.  We got to sample some different jams and marmalades and they were all incredibly delicious.  July Red Nectarine with Candied Ginger was my favorite.  I took some home with me.

And check out the packaging:

Super cute!  I love the merchandising on the vintage cake stands, but I'm a sucker for vintage cake stands all the time.  The jars are the perfect size: you get enough to last several breakfasts, but not so much that the product will spoil before you get to it.

Love the emblem of the blue chair as well.  It's a nice, homey vintage touch, and graphically, it works well as an icon.  Rachel and team have developed a stellar product and a great brand.  It was a really nice thing to see in Oakland on a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alarming Advertisements

I saw this post on Extremely Shocking Advertisements and thought it might be interesting to comment on, especially in the wake of last week's anti-abortion billboard controversy.  It seems that most shocking advertisements rally around social issues—after all, it's pretty difficult to get riled up about soup. (Though I, however, seem to be able to do it about tea.) If you go to that first link, you can see all 40, and to the article's credit, they are pretty shocking.  But is that it?

I feel like we need to have a discussion about good shocking vs. bad shocking.  I think "good shocking" would be an advertisement that wakes you up, makes you think about the topic in a different way.  "Bad shocking" is distasteful enough that it's off-putting and all you feel is repelled.  The anti-abortion billboard did that for me because it was entirely racist.  I'm not against having an abortion discussion, however, racism isn't the way to go, especially not during Black History Month.

Here are the ads from that article I did like:

Nothing beats a little kid in a tiger suit, especially when there's a gun being pointed at her.  Oh wait! 

What I like about this is that you immediately have the response the WWF wants you to have: connection with the cute girl in the tiger suit, then fear about the gun being pointed at her.  Since the point is to get you to connect with and feel a stronger emotional connection to the animals on the other side of that gun, this is an effective ad.

Another cute one from the WWF.  Taking familiar icons—the save or don't save buttons, it reminds you that you have a choice to save the very photogenic, angelic orangutan in the image.  Not offensive, or shocking really even, but it does punch home the idea that it's up to you.

This one gutted me.  It's really difficult to see a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, but it's even harder to see one who's older.  Perhaps it's because older people are meant to hold a more privileged, sacred place in our community, or because they seem more fragile to me.  Further, I believe we all have this idea of "this doesn't happen here."  We think that it's only addicts and those with anger management issues that perpetrate domestic abuse, but that's not true.  This is a white, seemingly upper-class woman, who is also a victim, and that is truly shocking.  Very effective.

This one just amused me.  It's a guy in a fox suit!  Tugging on a naked guy!  At first I thought it was just another day in San Francisco, but no, it's an ad about animal rights.  Looking at my entries here, I think animal rights might be a polarizing issue for me: it's so easy to do it well, and even easier to do it poorly.  Domestic abuse, same thing.

Here are one's I didn't like:

Ew.  I get the point: we don't want to do research on monkeys because we wouldn't want it done to us.  Okay.  Except that the picture is icky.  Surgery is taking place in some kind of weird urban setting, rather than a lab, and let's not forget that humans are way more adept at surgery than a monkey would be.  Also, I'm way more comfortable doing research on animals than I am killing them for their skins, so I may not be the target demographic for this, but I think that kind of ad would have gone further.  We can make a viable argument for science, but we can't for poaching.

In a way this is effective.  It's appropriately scary and the monster is repellent enough to the point where we react with "Oh, I wouldn't want that guy alone with my kids!"  However, we don't experience people as monsters.  It would have been far more effective to show the child, because we'd have a stronger protective response and maybe spend more time reading the ad.  The message gets lost for me because I just want to get away from that guy.

Which did you respond to?  Which made you uncomfortable?  Do you think there's a good shocking vs. bad shocking?