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The 5 Tenets of Personal Branding (Just Ask Madonna)

Madonna has not done everything right in her career. But when she started out, she had the magic.

Unlike any other musical artist of her time, Madonna understood that singing a song successfully has nothing to do with musical prowess. Nor is it about stirring emotion. It is not even about showing off as an entertainer.

Rather, in the age of branding, successful singing is about building a personal brand that translates out of singing into just about any other realm where the brand fits. That personal brand is established by telling a good story.

MTV was born in 1981 – I remember raptly watching “Video Killed The Radio Star” when it debuted – and Madonna’s 1984 “Borderline” debut took the art of the video beyond standing on a stage singing. She exemplified what it meant to be a video music star – a star in general – a great personal brand.

“Borderline” tells the story (fictional, but it feels authentic) of Madonna as a newly discovered star, torn between ruthless ambition and love. With this and her other early videos, Madonna established the tenets of personal branding:

·       Be authentic without oversharing and always maintain control - Madonna obviously does this by putting herself out there, while always holding something back – she weaves a spell and draws you into it.

·       Change frequently enough to keep the audience interested, but weave a core theme throughout the various faces of the brand – Madonna has clearly evolved her persona repeatedly throughout more than two decades.

·       Represent something unique and different that also has roots in contemporary pop culture – in Madonna’s case a version of L.A. street style.

·       Experiment boldly and abandon what flops – I did not like every early video, and fast-forwarding to other projects there have been other bad moves – but she picks herself up and keeps going.

·       Incorporate spirituality or social good into the message – early on, with “Like a Prayer,” one could see Madonna’s religious faith clearly on display. She distinguished between the pretense of religion and the actuality of spirituality, particularly holding up the African-American community as a source of deep connection with G-d.

Madonna is endlessly interesting to me, even today, even after making bad movies and dubious fashion lines with her daughter. She is into Kabbalah, adopting disadvantaged children, and generally cares about the world.

Madonna is also deep. She was quoted on the news the other day, responding to Lady Gaga, and said something like: “I have no response because I don’t know if her obsession with me is profound or superficial.” Somebody who says things like that is careful with her words, respectful of her audience. Evolved.

Contrast Madonna with Britney Spears, a very pale version of Madonna. Britney, whose music I love and whose videos are artistic accomplishments in their own right, appears to me to be a young person with an interesting personal brand that has been created, commercialized, and exploited by many other people. I think she is incredibly talented, and that the brand that has been created for her works, but it is not hers. Unfortunately, she seems sheltered, lost and out of control of her own message. This was very clear to me watching this year’s Video Music Awards, when she appeared dazed and to be reading off the teleprompter.

And then there is Lady Gaga. At first I dismissed her as even more superficial than Britney Spears. But then I realized, first, that Britney is not superficial. She is tortured. But we don’t get to see that side of her – the complexity of her inner conflict – because it is kept hidden from the rest of the world, except when she explodes.

Similarly, Lady Gaga is also tortured, particularly about gender, relationships, etc. I remember reading an interview with her where she explained that she tended to get into bad relationships, and that she was afraid she would lose her creativity if she got close with someone. I don’t see that tension in her music or her videos at all. They are so elaborate, but so dead. “The wheel is turning,” but where is the hamster?

On the VMAs this year Lady Gaga appeared as her “alter ego,” a man, and she made Britney Spears very nervous onstage because she kept the joke going for too long (she tried to kiss her). It was clear to me, at that moment, that I was seeing something of the real Lady Gaga, something also hidden away, not used or referred to for the personal brand. And the omission of the complexity hurts her brand terribly, making her look much more superficial than she is.

And then she gave a short speech about sexuality – saying that whatever you are, you are fine. And I realized that Lady Gaga’s brand is about being “Born This Way,” but she never talks about it. Which is why her music, though brilliant in its way, is also such a letdown.

The bottom line for personal branding, as always, is that you have to find a balance between being real but also being interesting, unique, and in touch with your audience – and do all of this while maintaining sufficient control to commercialize the formula. Madonna can’t do it anymore, but there are others today who can – most notably reality stars like the Kardashians and Snooki.

The great thing about a personal brand is that nobody else can duplicate it. Products, services, processes and technologies all can be copied. Even culture can be copied. But a person’s unique sense of self can never be.

The bad thing is that a compelling personal brand is also fleeting, because it is tied to place and time. If you happen to have a good one, find the place where you can make the most use of it, and then go for it. Take that fifteen minutes of fame while you can.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

____

Image source here

The 5 Tenets of Personal Branding (Just Ask Madonna)

Madonna

Madonna has not done everything right in her career. But when she started out, she had the magic.

 

Unlike any other musical artist of her time, Madonna understood that singing a song successfully has nothing to do with musical prowess. Nor is it about stirring emotion. It is not even about showing off as an entertainer.

 

Rather, in the age of branding, successful singing is about building a personal brand that translates out of singing into just about any other realm where the brand fits. That personal brand is established by telling a good story.

 

MTV was born in 1981 – I remember raptly watching “Video Killed The Radio Star” when it debuted – and Madonna’s 1984 “Borderline” debut took the art of the video beyond standing on a stage singing. She exemplified what it meant to be a video music star – a star in general – a great personal brand.

 

“Borderline” tells the story (fictional, but it feels authentic) of Madonna as a newly discovered star, torn between ruthless ambition and love. With this and her other early videos, Madonna established the tenets of personal branding:

 

·       Be authentic without oversharing and always maintain control - Madonna obviously does this by putting herself out there, while always holding something back – she weaves a spell and draws you into it.

 

·       Change frequently enough to keep the audience interested, but weave a core theme throughout the various faces of the brand – Madonna has clearly evolved her persona repeatedly throughout more than two decades.

 

·       Represent something unique and different that also has roots in contemporary pop culture – in Madonna’s case a version of L.A. street style.

 

·       Experiment boldly and abandon what flops – I did not like every early video, and fast-forwarding to other projects there have been other bad moves – but she picks herself up and keeps going.

 

·       Incorporate spirituality or social good into the message – early on, with “Like a Prayer,” one could see Madonna’s religious faith clearly on display. She distinguished between the pretense of religion and the actuality of spirituality, particularly holding up the African-American community as a source of deep connection with G-d.

 

Madonna is endlessly interesting to me, even today, even after making bad movies and dubious fashion lines with her daughter. She is into Kabbalah, adopting disadvantaged children, and generally cares about the world.

 

Madonna is also deep. She was quoted on the news the other day, responding to Lady Gaga, and said something like: “I have no response because I don’t know if her obsession with me is profound or superficial.” Somebody who says things like that is careful with her words, respectful of her audience. Evolved.

 

Contrast Madonna with Britney Spears, a very pale version of Madonna. Britney, whose music I love and whose videos are artistic accomplishments in their own right, appears to me to be a young person with an interesting personal brand that has been created, commercialized, and exploited by many other people. I think she is incredibly talented, and that the brand that has been created for her works, but it is not hers. Unfortunately, she seems sheltered, lost and out of control of her own message. This was very clear to me watching this year’s Video Music Awards, when she appeared dazed and to be reading off the teleprompter.

 

And then there is Lady Gaga. At first I dismissed her as even more superficial than Britney Spears. But then I realized, first, that Britney is not superficial. She is tortured. But we don’t get to see that side of her – the complexity of her inner conflict – because it is kept hidden from the rest of the world, except when she explodes.

 

Similarly, Lady Gaga is also tortured, particularly about gender, relationships, etc. I remember reading an interview with her where she explained that she tended to get into bad relationships, and that she was afraid she would lose her creativity if she got close with someone. I don’t see that tension in her music or her videos at all. They are so elaborate, but so dead. “The wheel is turning,” but where is the hamster?

 

On the VMAs this year Lady Gaga appeared as her “alter ego,” a man, and she made Britney Spears very nervous onstage because she kept the joke going for too long (she tried to kiss her). It was clear to me, at that moment, that I was seeing something of the real Lady Gaga, something also hidden away, not used or referred to for the personal brand. And the omission of the complexity hurts her brand terribly, making her look much more superficial than she is.

 

And then she gave a short speech about sexuality – saying that whatever you are, you are fine. And I realized that Lady Gaga’s brand is about being “Born This Way,” but she never talks about it. Which is why her music, though brilliant in its way, is also such a letdown.

 

The bottom line for personal branding, as always, is that you have to find a balance between being real but also being interesting, unique, and in touch with your audience – and do all of this while maintaining sufficient control to commercialize the formula. Madonna can’t do it anymore, but there are others today who can – most notably reality stars like the Kardashians and Snooki.

 

The great thing about a personal brand is that nobody else can duplicate it. Products, services, processes and technologies all can be copied. Even culture can be copied. But a person’s unique sense of self can never be.

 

The bad thing is that a compelling personal brand is also fleeting, because it is tied to place and time. If you happen to have a good one, find the place where you can make the most use of it, and then go for it. Take that fifteen minutes of fame while you can.

 

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

 

____


Image source here

Social Marketing to Prevent Social Chaos

Ten years after terrorists set our world on fire on September 11,
2001, an even greater danger confronts our nation and our world. Our
society is at risk of exploding from the inside, based on myriad
social problems that are simmering hotter and hotter, with no end in
sight:

• Lack of psychological preparedness, among the average citizen, for
another attack
• Unpredictable and uncontrollable natural disasters for which we are
also poorly prepared
• Excessive polarization between rich and poor and the disappearance
of the middle class
• Disapproval of government, particularly of perceived waste and
repression, and hateful speech on all sides
• Continuing racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, ageism, and the social
invisibility of those with disabilities
• Brand marketing that nurtures jealousy and the personal feeling of
insecurity and inadequacy (unless you buy the product)
• Rampant sexual abuse, rape, and human trafficking
• The sexualization of children by marketers and thus, by each other
• Corporate control over mainstream media and the still-indirect
influence of bloggers
• The mass-market, standardized-test oriented state of our educational
system, leading to kids who can memorize but not think
• The proliferation of divorce and single parenthood, leading to
children who have raised themselves psychologically while
paradoxically being helicopter-parented physically – leading to an
impaired ability to cope independently with the stresses of life as
adults
• Corruption by large institutions that used to form the bedrock of
society – government, business, religion, education, healthcare –
leading to a culture of mistrust and disrespect for authority
• Weariness over a “war on terrorism” that seemingly will never end,
and a generation of veterans with physical-emotional-financial scars
not truly aired or supported by society
• Health care so expensive that many go uninsured, praying that
“nothing bad happens”
• The promotion of “quick relief” (instant gratification) culture by
marketers – indirectly facilitating addiction and escapism into food,
alcohol, drugs, or whatever is available and will numb the pain –
unfortunately even suicide
• Overall, the death of the secure future – a world where parents make
no commitments either to be there or to provide financial stability;
boyfriends and girlfriends come and go; and where you’re lucky if you
get a job at all, let alone one that lasts long enough to pay off a
two-year lease on a car.

It is a long and depressing list. When you put it all together, it’s
almost staggering to comprehend. And the tipping point, of course, is
unemployment among the young.

For it is one thing when unhappy people have a job that takes their
mind off their problems, lets them be productive, and provides a means
to pay the bills independently.

But when unhappy people – particularly people who have sweated through
high school, college and graduate school – can’t get a job unless they
are in the top 10% of the Ivy League, that is a huge, huge problem.
For it is only a matter of time before those kids get fed up, have had
enough, and make the choice about how to adapt in a world that is not
set up to take care of them.

In this moment of national crisis – when things can go in any
direction – marketers are uniquely situated to put some salve on the
wounds before they explode. The first step, of course, is to
acknowledge the problem and to admit that we have played a significant
part in creating it. The second is to recognize the consequences if we
do not act - at the most basic level, if you want to be crass about
it, we will not have any customers left to buy things, because they
will be stealing them.

Just as the marketing community did after 9/11, it is time to commit
our resources to social marketing, at least in part. This is step
three – actually doing something as a group. If every marketing
organization were to commit even 5% of its time to some sort of pro
bono, social marketing work – where we simply helped to address any
pressing social problem – think about the soothing, balancing effect
that would have.

We can do this and we need to do it now. It’s a matter of our own
survival, as well as the nation’s.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Understanding The Value You Bring To The Table (The Kardashians-Sears Brand Disaster)

You would think that since I am so passionate about branding, that my entire job would be to brand my organization. Not so.

I have heard more than once that what they really like is that I can process a lot of information quickly, churn it in my brain, and spit it back as a fully digested one-pager along with a strategic action plan. Secondly that I get technology. Third that I can troubleshoot a lot of different things. Fourth that I am heavily networked. And fifth that customers like me because I am focused on helping them solve their problems - sometimes where the marketing bleeds into operations - and that I never give up till the job is done.

All of the above are perceived ROI. None have a thing to do with branding. And that's fine.

It's a bruise to the ego when the thing you are passionate about is not the thing that people want you to do. But it's a consolation that at least they want you to do something. And when you realize that it's precisely your passion that makes you less valuable to the customer, particularly if the thing you do involves organizational culture and politics, you don't feel bad at all.

The Kardashians are passionate about fashion. They want to "bring fashion to the masses." But that is not the value they bring to the table at all. And that is why the partnership with Sears is a brand disaster.

The problem with the Kardashians' brand management, unfortunately, is that the Kardashians themselves appear to be managing it. They need to take a huge step back, hire a good consultant, and do what beefs up their brand equity while minimizing the foolish, equity-squandering mistakes they have made so far. Dash is fun as something to talk about on the reality show, but it is not serious fashion to me or anyone else that I know.

The reality is that the Kardashians are a lifestyle brand. They could sell replicas of their home (the "Kourtney," the "Khloe," the "Jenners"). They could sell a franchise of branded nightclubs. They could sell a line of clothing only if it were limited to characters on the show who are truly unique and people want to imitate - maybe Scott and baby Mason. They could sell something related to the Mom's midlife crisis - maybe a line of romance novels. They cannot sell things they are passionate about or that they are just exploiting to make a buck.

The ROI of the Kardashian brand is the Kardashian experience - the fantasy of living their life - much like Martha Stewart sells the fantasy of a country home in Connecticut. And notably, that fantasy is built by TV producers, not by the family themselves. 

I didn't agree when Martha Stewart put her stuff in K-mart, but she succeeds because her products truly are unique and have a vision no matter where you put them. Versus the Kardashians girls' fashion is truly forgettable.

It's a painful process to go through, to isolate your brand. Which is why although it's not hard to figure out what your value is, it's critically important that you get someone skilled and objective to do it.

I wish the Kardashians great luck - they have brought me tremendous joy and laughter watching their show, and I like their family ethic - but I do think the mom has to step down if she is the orchestrator of their brand.

Have a good day everyone - and good luck!

Branding Without The Evil Eye

My parents disagreed on a lot of things. But they were very big believers in "ayin hara" - that's Hebrew for the "evil eye" - and always told me to avoid it.

If you're not familiar with this concept, ayin hara occurs when you flaunt your success and others get jealous. G-d sees their pain and punishes you for causing it.

Avoidance of ayin hara is completely counter to American culture. Here we say, "If you've got it, flaunt it." Entire industries - particularly entertainment but also publishing, fashion, fine jewelry, and more - survive purely by showcasing material success. Provoking the jealousy of others. 

In fact you could say that much of the business of branding is about creating the illusion that you can be as successful as others, if only you buy the fancy things that they do.

Obviously one can rebut the concept of evil eye with the simple counter-argument that other people's negativity and anger is really their problem. This is the kind of response one might get from a psychologist, but the rabbis wondered about this too:

"'Where is the justice in a system that causes people to suffer for the jealousies of others?'....One person who has what another person lacks is "careless" and lets the other person see what he has. This causes pain to the other person, and his cry goes up to the Heavenly court."

Nevertheless, the concept of evil eye persists, and not only in Judaism. Buddhists call it karma - the universal law of cause and effect - and it dictates that whatever harm you cause, in this life or a previous one, will come back to bite you.

If you believe in ayin hara, as I do, how then can you morally participate in the field of branding, entertainment, publishing or any industry that seeks to provoke jealousy in order to make sales?

Actually there are many responses to this. Here's how I think about it:

1. Branding provides an escape from life's stresses: One thing I appreciate about Buddhism is the understanding that life is inherently about suffering. Most of our time is not fun! Branding and escapist industries, while they can provoke jealousy, also provide an important outlet for people whose ordinary existence can range from the tolerable to the depressing. The key, though, is to state explicitly what is for fun and fantasy and not to deceive people or psychologically manipulate them. It is on the advertiser to provide this, though of course most do not.

2. Branding helps people find trusted merchants: When it comes to branding specifically, the fact is that there are some products and services that are more reliable than others. To me, it is a good thing if the producer of these things actually tells people that - proves it - and makes the product easy to access. Again, transparency is the key and if you make the claim that you are better, it is up to you to prove it.

3. Branding can leverage the positive benefits of jealousy: In Judaism, we believe that jealousy is appropriate on a spiritual level - like wanting to be as good or as learned as somebody else. This principle can be applied in a broader way. When a magazine or television show celebrates Bill Gates for trying to cure malaria, or Peter Drucker or Jack Welch as a leadership guru, I am completely jealous of the scope and scale of their achievements. It makes me see that such a thing is possible, and want to deliver something as good as that. My jealousy isn't hateful, but rather beneficial to society in the end because it motivates me to do better. In short, as one writer summarized the thinking of Rabbi Yosef Levin,  "use jealousy to push toward your highest self."

At the same time, brands and marketers can clearly do a better job when it comes to being responsible for the impact of their work (our work) on society. Too often we do manipulate and mislead people into thinking that materialism is the answer, that we are failures if we don't have what the celebrities do, and that we should spend every last penny till we look as successful as they do. 

And we have crappy answers when we're asked about it.

In "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," Morgan Spurlock asks neuromarketer Martin Lindstrom - a man who spends his time putting people through MRIs to gauge their excitement response to Coca-Cola - about the ethics of manipulating people's brains to get them to buy sugar water. His response is that of course marketing can be used for good or for evil - but then again, when you go into a store, you're toast. 

The bottom line, really, is that people will do what they do in order to maximize the benefit for themselves. While marketer Lindstrom may be willing to admit that it's unhealthy to check your Blackberry first thing upon awaking, that isn't going to stop him from pushing the Blackberry sound on the customer. Ultimately it is the buying individual - the customer - that has to take responsibility for their own mental health, their propensity toward jealousy, their understanding of the products they are buying, and the emotions that brands and branded entertainment provoke overall. 

While G-d may punish those who provoke consumers' emotional pain, that doesn't mean consumers have a free pass to wallow in it.

Have a great Labor Day everyone, and good luck!