6 ways your personal brand can inject a Darren Clarke-ness to it

I can recall viewing Darren Clarke on the cover of a now-defunct golf magazine a few years back, with a stogie in his mouth, smiling and speaking inside the interior of the mag of his love of Guinness. And when Clarke won the British Open today, it got me thinking about why this man is so beloved, certainly in Europe and really much further than those boundaries. We can learn a lot about personal branding in his triumph and journey to this point.

#1: He is relatable to the people who are his Fans, who see bits of themselves in him.
More than once, commentators over the last few days asked that very question to Clarke himself and his reply was essentially that he was the “Everyman.” Clarke drinks. He smokes. He drives fast cars. He loves his family and is intensely loyal to them.

So many of us who smack sticks at a tiny little white ball on the weekend aren’t going to join the Tour anytime soon. We’re doing the best we can but we’re not always in the perfect shape. We like to partake of a beer or two on the course or at least in the clubhouse. Some of us curse at the stupid ball. Some of us puff away at a cigar. We’re Darren Clarke but our scores are much worse.

Why are we afraid to show this side of our personal brands? Because it wouldn’t be “professional?” Give me a break. That’s fear talking. Fear of what other people will think of us. Fear that we can’t command respect.

One professional just went out into the world today with his personal brand on full display, against the best players in the world…and won. Don’t tell me you can’t do the same. I’m not telling you to wear t-shirts into a meeting – that’s silly. I’m telling you that authenticity and success are same page material, not polar opposites.

#2: He is not afraid to show emotion. 
When Clarke’s first wife passed away from breast cancer, he did what any human with a pulse would do. He grieved, he stepped away from the game for a little while, he allowed himself to mentally regroup and in time, he got back into playing with the support of others around him. But when he triumphed on the course upon his return, he broke down and let us in to show us he was not a robot but a human being with feelings.

When he was in the thick of competition on the last day of the most important tournament of his life, he allowed himself to smile a little more than everyone else around him. How many times do we say that branding is an “emotional connection?”

#3: You are not defined by what you “do.”
You are not your title.
You are not your department.
You are not your function or area of expertise.
You are not who you work for.

If you think this is your personal brand, you aren’t digging hard enough.

Because someday, someone else will have your title, your job and your function. That’s all replaceable stuff. What else have you got? Plenty, I assure you. What pieces of you come together to form an identifiable, admirable, talked-about personal brand?

It’s about beliefs and choices that stir emotions deep within you that you will proudly wear and go to battle for.
Do not mistake the “personal” aspects for being “private” aspects that aren’t worth expressing.

Richard Branson’s appeal is not that he is the CEO of Virgin. That’s boring. You know it and I know it. Richard Branson’s appeal is that he’s a risk-taker and adventurer who does certain things in business that cause people to watch with anticipation on what he’s doing now and what he will do next. He could fall on his face doing it, but so what? He can do it because that’s HIM. It comes naturally to him.

Among other things, you are defined by what you believe, how you treat others, how others view you and the relationships that matter in your life, both personally and professionally. We’re talking the things in life you don’t apologize for because, for better or worse, that’s YOU.

#4: Define your personal brand more by what you are and enjoy –  rather than what you aren’t and hate.
I just don’t think there’s a lot of appeal in being the “anti-” person because you’re only saying what you aren’t. Not what you stand for. It may clarify a bit but it doesn’t cause people to gravitate to you in itself. When you begin thinking about your personal brand development, it’s OK if you have thoughts of people, companies and ideas that don’t mesh with your belief system. But don’t stop there. Think about why that is. Why you think and feel that way.

#5: Embrace the “work in progress” of your personal brand.
Having it all figured out is dull. Life is about adding aspects of your development, figuring out the context of how they fit into your personal brand, deciding to accept them or not, then understanding how to express them. Your personal brand will evolve over time and that’s quite natural. In fact, it’s fun. Just make sure to keep it evolving.

#6: Never apologize.
If it feels like something that you’re going to be so passionate about that you’re going to wear it on your sleeve, consequences be damned, you’re on the right track. Winners never have to. Sharing what you love can be to the benefit of you personally if not professionally. It is not about the quantity of people who follow you on Twitter. It is about the quality of relationships and commanded respect as a result of that personal brand. Someone who is a “social media expert” who blathers on 100% about social media is boring. When that person injects a little personality in his or her communication, even if it’s 10% or less of his content, the spectrum of who you connect with expands. This can come from mixing it up with pictures shared on Flickr, funny videos on YouTube, sports opinions, you get the idea.

Again, it’s not merely about your job. It’s about putting your passions on display – some of that may involve what you do for a living, but it won’t be ALL of it.

Gary Vaynerchuck is a guy who, if he only talked about wine reviews, would be a boring guy. His personal brand would blend in. But this guy is someone who is an unabashed Jets fan who curses liberally as he gives reviews on Cabernet through online videos. He’s not your typical sommelier at a fancy restaurant or a food critic with your typical newspaper column. He swishes the liquid around and spits into a football helmet for all the world to see. And that’s what is great about him. He is qualified and credible to be sure, but he also injects personality into the message without apology. A guy you’d like to hang out with and listen to who also happens to know a lot about wine.

Just like Darren Clarke is a guy you’d like to hang out with who also happened to win one of the toughest tournaments in the world.

State Farm becoming a better neighbor with Next Door concept

As someone who worked on the State Farm account for a few years, I view the company’s latest concept with more than a casual interest. The company with the familiar “Like a good neighbor…” jingle is about to launch an entirely new retail idea smack dab in the middle of my neighborhood in Lakeview. And at least at a first glance, I think they’re on to something good that more in the insurance industry might want to take a closer look at doing themselves.

State Farm Next Door opens August 1st and the concept is a more open, casual community space that offers free Wi-Fi and coffee (via its Next Door Cafe) as well as personalized coaching/small group classes on financial matters that range from paying off student loans to learning how to budget your finances.

The "Good Neighbor" with a new look.

This may not seem like a huge departure from the typical agent office, but it is. Here’s why. For a long time, State Farm talked about the fact that their agents live in the same community as their customers. Which is normal. But even though you can continuously say, “We live where you live,” there’s nothing quite like actually demonstrating it visibly by being more of a central hub.

Plus, there will be no actual insurance sold at State Farm Next Door so they aren’t cannibalizing their own agents’ efforts by selling policies here. There will be financial consultants and all the services at Next Door are free. Personally, I think the latter part of that sentence is important for bringing down some barriers among younger people who would normally walk on by because they don’t see the point in planning when they don’t even have the funds to pay for ongoing classes.

Stepping out of the “Auto/Home/Life” rate rut.

Let’s be honest. You first walk into or call State Farm, Allstate, Farmer’s, etc. because you have a need for auto, home or life insurance. You need to get covered, you compare rates,  you buy. You don’t like your rate after a while? You look around, you compare again, you buy.

Fighting a branding battle based on rates doesn’t benefit State Farm. I never thought it has. It’s territory that Geico and Progressive have owned quite well for years. Even when State Farm talks about the dangers of “cut-rate car insurance,” they’re still planting the seed of shopping based on rates and playing into the hands of their competitors.

That’s why, even though the newest ad work for State Farm is entertaining, that’s not necessarily what I see pulling people in. I see the Next Door concept having real upside by broadening out from buckets of insurance sold from an agent behind a desk into more generalized classes on finance and budgeting for 20-somethings and 30-somethings in the neighborhood who needed that guidance but couldn’t find it up to this point. You don’t have to walk into Next Door with an intent to buy. You walk in with an intent to learn (sorry, I don’t think I’ll walk in with an intent to just have a cup of coffee when there’s Starbucks and Caribou close by, but I appreciate the offer).

No hard selling, new look

In a way, State Farm’s Next Door feels a lot like smart social media itself – not a hard sell but a place to inform a community. And possibly learn from it along the way. I also like the fact that State Farm has the guts to do a true departure design-wise (different logo, wood background) for this sub-brand of Next Door, because in this case anything that looks too close to the familiar auto/home/life color palette would be a bit of a turn-off. A bright red building would scream “State Farm,” but it wouldn’t say “come in with your financial questions or just to hang out.” The location doesn’t hurt being steps away from Trader Joe’s and the Diversey/Clark/Broadway intersection.

Some may think the idea is a stretch, but I disagree. I think for a brand that’s been around for as long as State Farm, it’s a stretch within their brand that makes sense and might even be overdue. Even more so than insurance and agents, State Farm is supposed to be about, well, being a Good Neighbor with warm, friendly guidance. I think the Next Door concept is authentic and true to that ideal. Will that translate into a steady flow of interested customers? Well, we don’t have to wait until the doors open. Let’s hear from you:

Does this type of cafe concept with free classes, coffee, Wi-Fi and “no strings attached” appeal to you from a financial services and insurance company? 

The Google Gap: Useful? Yes. Emotional Pull? Well…

A rather stunning irony occurred to me as I was thinking about the latest tool Google is introducing, Google Plus.

For all the tools I use from Google, I don’t believe I ever got extraordinarily excited about using them before or during the time I’ve actually used them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of certain tools and highly recommend them. In particular, I regularly use Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader and Google Alerts. I’d even describe them to others as “great.”

So what’s the problem? The problem is despite the fact that Google delivers a highly efficient, highly productive group of tools for me, none of these tools have stirred the senses with a “got to have it now” factor. And this wouldn’t be such a big deal if Google weren’t aiming to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Facebook to be our all-everything place for connections, searching and relationships.

Say what you want about privacy issues, but Facebook owns a great deal of emotional investment from people. It’s the place where their family and friends commonly are when it comes to online community interaction, if not their business associates too. The technology to keep and enhance those connections is important, but technology is almost secondary to why people are there and stay there. This emotion is not to be underestimated.

Take another company, like Apple. Apple has the “got to have it now” factor in spades. It’s safe to say that for a large number of people like you, there’s been at least one Apple product released in the last 10 years that you really, really wanted….NOW. It’s why people had to have the iPod, stood in line for the iPhone and they’re salivating over the iCloud. And if you didn’t have it, you felt left behind. Even with the one product that met a bit more skepticism at first, the iPad, there’s little question now that people who bought into it love what it can do on a personal or business level.

And there it is – the “L” word. Love. There are many companies that produce useful, efficient, productive products that people buy and even keep buying…but don’t love them. This is coveted territory that not everybody can own. Dare I say that Google has never produced anything that’s, well, FUN. It’s never ENTERTAINED. Absolutely, it’s helped me get the job done, find what I’m looking for and keep me organized. But it’s never brought a lasting smile to my face.

Love isn’t always attained by adding more to an existing solution but actually stripping away what isn’t needed. One of my favorite examples here is 37 Signals with their Basecamp product for project management. There’s more emotional pull here not because it’s complicated but because it’s more simple than other tools with just enough to give me everything I need, nothing that I don’t. It doesn’t hurt that 37 Signals is great at customer service and exceedingly quick to inform its customers of enhancements or technical difficulties they’re working on.

And by the way, I didn’t have to wait for an invite to use their software.

Therefore, the Google Gap has nothing to do with technology but an emotional pull. A legion of fans that are passionate about spreading the word to others unsolicited because that product enhances their life just SO MUCH that they want the people they care about to experience that feeling too.

Never had that situation with Google. Never had a “Oh wow, you’ve got to try Gmail” moment. Instead, the exchange goes like this:

Them: “What’s your favorite calendar program?”
Me: “Google Calendar. It’s great.”

That’s not love – it may sound like it at first glance, but it’s not. That’s a positive recommendation that wouldn’t have come unless it was initiated by someone else. To close the Google Gap and be seen in a different light, Google Plus and future products from Google need to be more than just useful and efficient. We also don’t need versions that seem better in appearance but in practicality are more complicated to use.  They have to bring remarkable new categories of technology we haven’t used yet or dramatically strip away the complications of technology we’re using to the point of where it almost feels like a brand new category.

By virtue of his product line, Steve Jobs enjoys this emotional capital. By virtue of the relationships he has ownership over, so does Mark Zuckerberg. If Larry Page wants to stand on the platform with these gentlemen, this is the challenge before him to shape a new chapter of the Google era.

Does Wal-Mart belong in any city neighborhood, really?

As I write this post, I’m looking outside a window staring at the main battlefront of the Lakeview neighborhood. You see, if Wal-Mart is able to open its proposed Wal-Mart Marketplace grocery store here, I will literally be its neighbor. So as you can imagine, from a personal standpoint, I am not in favor of the potential increase in traffic that could be brought to my doorstep.

However, strategically speaking from a brand standpoint, Wal-Mart doesn’t really belong here either. By virtue of the ground it has already tilled and the kind of customers it has already catered to, it doesn’t belong in Lakeview, Lincoln Park or any city neighborhood. Even a little boutique offshoot of Wal-Mart is still essentially Wal-Mart too. Let’s be real.

To be clear, I don’t have anything against Wal-Mart as a business (although many others do). But you can’t say you’re a wolf and pretend to walk among the lambs. Wal-Mart as a brand has been, is and will always be first and foremost a big box retailer made for suburbanites.

Some will say, “Yes, but what’s the harm? Lakeview already has big name brands like The Gap, Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx…”

Yes, they do. But there is a difference between name brands that occupy a suitable space within a neighborhood cleanly and big box retailers that threaten to alter the landscape in such a way that its impact for the better is questioned. I hardly think there was a big uproar over The Gap coming into the neighborhood. It is not a big box retailer.

Landlords aren’t without blame too.
Some are painting a picture of an already thriving neighborhood but that’s only partially true. Independent businesses have left the neighborhood long before the current debate. Adding Wal-Mart may not help the climate of the small business, but when businesses are shutting down on main streets such as Broadway or Clark without being replaced, you have to take a harder look at the role of property landlords in changing a neighborhood. Could commercial real estate rents be contributing to a skew toward larger businesses coming into the neighborhood – because those are the ones who can actually pay those higher rents?

If that’s the case, perhaps Wal-Mart is not the only “enemy” Lakeview needs to be concerned with.

Two brands can solve everything. If they dare.
Dominick’s and Jewel are local brands that have been in our mindset since we were born. They’re from here. We know them. They know us. They belong locally in both the burbs and the city neighborhoods. They are Chicago. And they fulfill an “everyday” grocery store need that is sorely lacking among a wonderland of expensive gourmet food stores and dingy, limited markets. Dominick’s could’ve plugged this gaping hole by rebuilding its burned down store on Broadway, but that saga has dragged out longer than one can possibly believe. So perhaps it’s left to our friends at Jewel. But they would have less of an incentive to occupy the space since many are driving north now to their location because…the Dominick’s burned down.

All of this is not without precedent. We’ve had big boxes come in before. And I questioned how much they belong too. For example, I’m not sure a Home Depot was the best fit for Lincoln Park not merely because of logistics but because I don’t think their brand needed to be here. Revenue could be had in many a thriving Chicagoland suburb. And we’d keep going to our friendly Ace Hardware man (which we do).

But we’ve never had a big box retailer potentially come in at a place with such visibility. So while I wish Wal-Mart the best, as the brand strategist it’s never hired I would advise it to steer clear of the firestorm of attention in Lakeview it doesn’t need. It’s actually done too good of a job in establishing an identity for itself with a proven concept – it’s just that that concept needs to match the right location to thrive to the fullest.

So remember: Don’t underestimate the importance of location in establishing your brand. What match does the neighborhood have in terms of your target audience’s profile and spending habits? Can many of your true competitors be found here? Do you see potential for a demographic shift to occur that may change that landscape one way or another in the next few years?

If you’re not careful, you may find your own version of trying to fit your Wal-Mart into a Lakeview. And having a Wal-Mart in Lakeview makes about as much sense as a Costco in the middle of Michigan Avenue.

Last note: If you’d like to oppose Wal-Mart coming into Lakeview, there’s a Facebook Group set up for it here nearing 800 members – https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_159449284099168&notif_t=group_r2j

A Bears-Packers type of rivalry? Every brand should be so lucky.

It’s not a game. It’s The Game. It’s a game so gigantic that dare I say some fans would rather make sure the Bears just beat the Packers on Sunday and whatever happens in the Super Bowl happens. It’s that important.

Yet, rivalries like this are great for other brands too. So many companies get wrapped up in identifying only their own best traits that they forget how to position themselves in relation to those who stand against them.

Here’s the awful truth about rivals:
We need them and they need us.

Because the drama of our competition makes differences bubble to the surface. That leads to greater education of what we are and are not about. Which in turn greater defines tribes of fans (and enemies).

Coke needs a Pepsi.
Nike needs a Reebok.
McDonald’s needs a Burger King.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers needs an Ernst & Young/KPMG/Deloitte.

Ask yourself – who are such rivals of yours? What do they stand for that you don’t? Why would someone want to buy their product or service over yours? And why would you actually be OK with that rather than try to attract them to your side?

As you’re thinking about that, try to remember that at the end of the day, people may have different reasons as a group to be your fans/customers but that each person has one emotional reason for why they really choose you. For example, I don’t bleed orange and blue for the fact that I’m merely from Chicago. It’s probably because some of the greatest memories I have as a kid are going to Bears games with my Dad, tailgating, watching from bad end zone seats and having the time of my life. I learned to remember names like Vince Evans, Brian Baschnagel and Bob Thomas are still burned in my brain (along with a guy named Walter Payton who turned out OK). And I learned to hate the Packers, Vikings and Lions too.

My point isn’t to take a trip down Memory Lane but to illustrate that just as there’s nothing like uncovering that emotional connection to your brand, there’s nothing like uncovering that emotional reason why they can’t stand your competitors (or if they don’t know your competitors, they can’t stand the attributes your competitors highlight most). Perhaps not every product or service can stir the senses as deeply as a sports team can, but don’t let that prevent you from talking to your prospective customers through polls, surveys, focus groups and 1-on-1 interviews to gather information. They have stories that are waiting to be brought out into the open and if you let them talk long enough and listen well, you’ll begin to hear the distinct reasons why they make the choices that they do. When a marketer can pick up on some of the most common and most powerful insights, they have a chance at capturing that emotion in the brand message.

And if that brand message is put in the right media that makes a person say, “yes, that brand gets me,” then you have a fighting chance at getting a sale, a long-term customer and a Fan.

Ah. There’s that beautiful word: Fan. We see it used enough in sporting arenas or on Facebook, but it has applications far beyond Soldier Field. We’re not just talking about customers here. The Fan is the person who can’t sing your praises enough to others and will buy your product or service regardless of the fact that it might be a little more expensive than the others. The Fan will defend you to others in a social setting (or a social media setting) because he believes in what you offer that much. It’s what causes Fans to pay ticket prices starting at $500 a seat. It’s what causes Fans to reach for one product on the shelf versus another too. So you surely don’t want to irritate the Fan or take them for granted. You want to design VIP loyalty programs around them, special password-only microsites around them, have frequent conversations with them in the social media realm and give every effort to show that you are clearly listening to them.

Know your Fans. Know your Enemies. Define the differences in a crystal-clear way in your brand strategy and don’t ever try to think you can be everything to everyone as you do.

What else? Oh yeah. One more thing: Go Bears.