| July 27, 2010 11:10 pm

McKean Stamps - UnicornIn general, I’m horribly clueless about advertising and marketing.  Sure, I know some of the general principles and basically how it works.  I know that it peddles in subtlety, perception and elegance.  I also know that these are not my areas of core strength.  (I have about as much subtlety as self-restraint, which is to say, not much.)  And that is about it.

But ignorance aside, I have a tremendous appreciation that advertising/marketing are important, and in most cases not nefarious.  I know that they’re not really about manipulating people into making a purchase, or about separating them from their money.  I even know that at its best, advertising (like propaganda) can be very helpful.  It can expose you to new ideas and products you wouldn’t otherwise consider and help you to locate needed services.

(There is, after all, a reason why Google has significant amounts of money and I do not.  Their soul sucking ads are a very effective way to find people who might be looking for something to buy.)

Which makes my ignorance all the more distressing.  Advertising is important, I don’t understand it, yet I often find myself in a position where I need to promote goods, products and miscellaneous services.  And of course, I’m terrible at it.

(In most cases, I can’t even effectively promote myself.)


McKean Stamps - GiantsWhich is why it is hideously ironic that an oblivious and ill-informed entity (such as myself) is in the position of trying to build himself a brand.   As an association between a good and those who provide it, a brand is one of those advertise-y things that I really don’t get.  Only worse, because it also incorporates aspects of reputation.  You can come to trust a brand, and associate feelings and thoughts with it.  You might even imagine a brand as the anthropomorphic personification of Good Things.

For these reasons, a powerful brand is one of the most valuable assets a company or individual can have.  It’s not the sort of thing that you should misunderstand or misappropriate.  It’s also why I’m horribly jealous of those people and corporations that do understand branding, like Apple.

Apple has one of the strongest corporate brands in existence.  Because of the brand, they’re products are perceived as more reliable, secure, and fashionable.  Even when they’re not.

For an instructive example of just how valuable such an image can be, you need look no further than the recent iPad release.  Apple’s brand (based on the mythology of Steve Jobs) was sufficiently powerful to make millions of people lay down money for a mundane product, site unseen.  Whatever you may think of Apple (and most of my thoughts are not very nice) that is impressive.

But of course, brands aren’t just limited to corporations.  People can build them too.  Tom Dorrance, one of the horsemen I most admire, had one.  It was based on his personality, reputation, ability, integrity and mannerisms; but even so, it was a still a brand.  The “Tom Dorrance brand”, and the insane way he defended it, were one of the big reasons why Tom lived to be a legend in his own lifetime.McKean Stamps - Pixies

Neil Gaiman is another person with a tremendously strong brand.  Through the use of his blog and Twitter account, he shares snippets of his life; and these snippets make his books, movies and stories more interesting.  Though I’ve never met Gaiman (and probably never will), I feel like I know him.  Because I follow his blog, I occasionally catch glimpses of his personality and I once spotted an inside joke (or at least I think I did).  That’s the brand, and years worth of positive associations, hard at work.

Like in the case of Tom Dorrance, I think that the “Gaiman brand” is a reflection of the man: intelligent, interesting, innovative, and eccentric.  But whether it’s genuine or a tremendously convincing fabrication, the effect is still the same.  It all but guarantees that I’ll pick up anything that Gaiman’s written or had his hand in.

(I certainly understand that not all of it will be amazing – MirrorMask was greatly overrated – but some of it will be.)

It also means that I’ll read his interviews and pay attention when he has something to say.  It even shows that I might be willing to take risks I otherwise wouldn’t, like purchasing the Mythical Stamps packaged set; despite the fact that I don’t collect stamps in this or any other country.  (I even hung them by my calendar, not knowing what else to use them for.)


McKean Stamps - DragonsWhich is all well and good, but doesn’t solve the problem of actually creating a brand.  But I might not be completely without hope.  While writing this post, I realized that there are a few lessons to be gleaned from examples.

In the case of Apple:

From Tom:

  • Be honest and transparent.
  • Cultivate your reputation and ability.
  • Treat everyone kindly and with respect.
  • Your customers can also be your friends.

From Neil Gaiman:

  • Be interesting and genuine in your interactions.
  • Eccentricity can work in your favor.
  • Sharing details and the motivations behind your work can be a good thing.
  • Not everything must be a black box from which wonder and magic emerges.

Actually … taken together, this list provides some interesting pointers on how to build a respectable brand.  I’d certainly buy stuff from such a person/organization.

With principles in place, what’s the best way to put them into practice?


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