You, online

Guess which online information about you affects peoples’ opinion of you?

Everything.

Every last photo that pops up (sure, on your Facebook page, but also your Twitter feed and even the picture of you on Skype).  Each snippet is a little piece of you.

Yes we’d love to hear from you every day through your blog, which you can set up in about three minutes.  And yes it’s a good thing to have some personality.

If that feels like too much, why not put up a homepage (like Frank’s or James’)?  You could spend one day (one day!) doing this and making it better than 99% of what’s out there.  If a properly hosted page seems like too much, how about an About.me profile.  And yes, you should be on LinkedIn too.

And since you have at least one friend who has a nice camera and likes to take pictures, ask her to take headshots of you on a simple white background and buy her dinner to thank her.  Heck, invite some friends over.  Best $50 you’ve ever spent (OK maybe more if drinks are involved).

You don’t have forever to stand out from the crowd, but right now it’s still pretty easy to distinguish yourself online.  What are you waiting for?

Hurry.

Brand

A few weeks ago I moved into a new house.  It’s been both great and exhausting for me and my family.  Fortunately the exhausting part – all the boxes, dust (from painting) and the general sense of disorientation (“Do you know where the toothpaste is?”) – is temporary and the great part will endure.

One the frequent, early bumps in the road is discovering the array of small things that don’t work and deciding whether you need to fix them.  For example, in one of our new bathrooms, the tub drain doesn’t fully close, which didn’t seem like a big deal until we learned that that the only way to fix it properly was to completely open up the wall and install new plumbing.  This is firmly in the “you gotta be kidding me category” and a project that we absolutely want to avoid, though when confronted with the notion that a bathtub might not be useable (ever!) you quickly start thinking through how much a drain you can close is actually worth to you.

Before capitulating to yet another project, my wife cagily bought an $8 Oxo tub stopper in an attempt to avoid the ~$1,500+ project.  It was sort of a running joke with the knowledge that we’d soon be showing the thing to the plumber and the tile guys and all laughing.

Except that, amazingly, it works beautifully.  As in I’m-never-going-to-replace-this-thing beautifully.  So, no need to open up the bathroom wall.

We were subsequently frustrated with the setup in the kitchen sink – another minor annoyance.  Volia!  The $9 Oxo drain cover saved the day.

The Oxo brand promise, as I understand it, is amazingly simple.  If the Oxo name is on a product it means, to me, that it is the best-designed version of a particular gadget at an affordable price.  Since Oxo so consistently delivers on this promise, my decision about buying an Oxo product isn’t whether it will be good or about choosing between Oxo and a competitor.  I simply need to decide whether I feel like a particular gadget could be improved upon.  If not, I don’t buy the Oxo product (spatulas or can openers); if yes, I do (peelers and storage containers).

The reason brand conversations get so convoluted and end up feeling like wordsmithing exercises is because so often brands don’t stand for anything.  So instead of capturing what you stand for, or capturing how what you stand for needs to evolve or be sharpened, you instead end up pretending to stand for something and then writing pretty words around an idea that has no core and no truth.

Unfortunately, the branding team (and the firm they’ve hired) isn’t in a position to actually get the company to stand for something.

The next time someone suggests a branding exercise, a new logo, a snappier tagline, grab ten people in your company and ask each of them to tell you in simple, plain words: what do we stand for?

(By the way, I’m sorry to say I now find myself wishing Oxo made freezers.)

Your (brand) essence is not an inert element

For many years, as is typical in more junior roles in most big companies, I spent most of my time inside the organization.  Working hard, doing client or customer work, but really on the inside.  From there I had a view of what my company was and what it represented in the world, but that view was mostly informed by whatever the company wanted to tell its employees.

But then I got into the real world: I interacted with customers, funders, competitors; I gave talks on my company’s behalf and saw the reaction people had (good and bad) during and after my remarks; I was required, day in and day out, to understand and distill who we were and what we represented in the world; and then I heard back, just as frequently, whether and how what I was saying resonated with people.  If I listened hard, new truths emerged.

In the words, reactions, challenges, and excitement you hear back, you learn a lot.  You discover surprising things that you knew and that were dormant.  You connect dots in unexpected ways.  You see yourself through other people’s eyes, and have the chance to bring that energy back into the organization.

By spending time right at the edge of your organization, you react to the outside world, and in that process of reaction, your brand and its positioning change, evolve, and sharpen.  Your brand has an active reaction every time it has one of these interactions.

I used to think that CEO’s like Jeff Immelt spent a lot of time with customers just to hear the truth about what GE did and didn’t deliver on in the customers’ eyes.  I’ve begun to understand that it’s only through spending time looking outside that Jeff, or any of us, can figure out who we really are, what our company or organization represents, and what it can become.