Branding Professional Services

Wednesday night I participated in yet another “online teleseminar” with a facilitator from Australia —the creativePenn.com (there seem to be a lot of them online as commercial bloggers —maybe it’s the time differential that makes it practical since otherwise they’re so isolated.)  We discussed various aspects of branding, which is a specialty of mine since most service professionals don’t consider that in fact they have a brand.  They consider that the province of mega corporations such as Pepsi and Coke.  What was most interesting about the whole conversation was the “bottom line” comment.   The essence of Internet marketing is establishing “relationships.”

Of course, she was referring to online relationships, whereas we traditionally consider personal relationships.  The cliché of “it isn’t what you know but whom you know” was exemplified in the closed British society of so-called public schools, where the personal relationships you established at a very early age carried through into all of your adult life.  If you were not a member of the “upper class,” you effectively were shut out of the system as it operated in the 19th Century.  That’s why so many people fled to the “New World” because it provided an opportunity to participate in a system of meritocracy rather than a system based upon social class and status.  They took snobbery to it’s ultimate extreme, even though it was imitated in Alma Vanderbilt’s 400 New York “society” (the number of people who could fit into her ballroom.)

So how does a writer build a “brand” in the Wild West atmosphere of Web 2.0?  The common wisdom appears to be to establish an online “presence” and to build a “platform,” similar to what publishers have been requiring for a decade in the traditional publishing field.  If you don’t have a platform, then an agent or a publisher won’t consider you even though they somewhat disingenuously say that it’s all about the quality of your “writing,” meaning a proscribed literary style filled with descriptive language such as James Michener that I find so tedious.

Since I was living in Texas at the time and met him in person when he came to College Station to give a lecture, I asked him how he came up with his ideas.   By that time he was in his 80’s and living in Austin, and he replied that he had a thousand ideas that he was only waiting to pursue, which meant that he had not only a vivid imagination but also that he was willing to totally immerse his life for years in pursuing the research that was required to understand a particular society, its morals, social codes, and unique characteristics.  I plowed all the way through the 2-volume set he had written about Texas, and my only reaction was that it would make a good movie, which never happened as had been done with most of his previous novels.

Branding is simply a symbol for the fact that you individually, or corporately, become a “known quantity.” I haven’t recently looked up the financial value of established brands, but it is far more than the narrow accounting category of “goodwill.”  It has monetary value, and it takes years to build it and only weeks to destroy it, as BP has learned much to it’s regret after investing millions in advertising for years to demonstrate that it was “one of the good guys.”  The truth has been revealed that they took short cuts to increase profitability, disregarded common-sense issues of safety, and generally were shortsighted in their management style long before this crisis in the Gulf.  Now even Sarah Palin is calling for more government regulation, which used to be the antithesis of the Republican mantra, but then a politician is quick to “adapt” to the times and the public mood.

A brand must be “identifiable,” usually interpreted to mean a visual logo, but online that simply can be your photograph.  It must be consistent; most corporations have very detailed instructions as to how their logo can be used.  It must be built over a long period of time. In this age when blogs can go “viral” overnight, it still requires stamina to establish a brand.  If you can’t follow through, then you will only be the fad of the moment that will quickly fade back into obscurity.

What are you doing to build your brand?

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