Building the Brand of You. How Giving It Away Helps You Get Something Back.

The first time I heard that a person could be a brand was way back in the early 1990s. Anyone remember MTV’s House of Style with Cindy Crawford? I met her when she was promoting her book, Cindy Crawford’s Basic Face. She discussed the concept of Cindy Crawford being a brand. She talked about how everything she was doing, from modeling to television commercials to beauty product endorsements was all part of her business plan to elevate her brand. It must have struck a chord with me because I still remember it long after House of Style became a distant memory.

I bring this up because I attended a wonderful 50th birthday party for a good friend of mine over the weekend and during the course of the evening I found myself in a conversation with another good friend of mine who was asking me about personal business branding. Sean has been watching my personal Billy Sheahan branding efforts over the last few years and was looking for some insight on how he could do something similar.

I started with the Cindy Crawford story. Basically everything I’ve learned about branding since then has been based on that little nugget. Like a lot of other entrepreneurs out there, I’ve learned by meeting, watching and reading a lot of smart people. There is a lot of great information out there, made even easier to collect now than back in the House of Style days.

I told Sean, who is a talented filmmaker and editor with a great sense of humor, that I already enjoyed reading his random Facebook posts, which usually made me laugh or at least smile. When he puts a link up there, I usually click on it. In many ways, he is already on his way to creating his Sean brand without even knowing it.

For him and others like him, the next step is to determine what your brand represents. Most people who are serious about using social networking to promote their businesses are ultimately trying to sell something, i.e., a service, expertise or a product. Everything you do to create that brand has to point to that thing.

But it can’t be just about selling. There are just far too many sidebar ads and other web browsing noise that we have been conditioned to ignore. Even business pages on Facebook have started to become part of that noise. No, instead to create and nurture your brand, you have to give your potential viewers or readers something that isn’t selling all the time.

This blog post could be an example of that. I’m giving my readers information on something they may be curious about, in this case, how to create a personal brand. How do I benefit my own Billy Sheahan Photography brand from this? I’m not going to make any money from this. At least not in the sense of people paying to read this.

What I am getting is perhaps is a larger audience for my blog and in turn, my photography. Maybe someone is doing a search on branding. Maybe my blog comes up. Maybe they click a little further and look at my photography. Lots of maybes, but in building your brand you have to think of the long term. You’re giving away expertise or knowledge or perhaps a link to something that will make people laugh or smile. Maybe they’ll come back for something else later. Something you are selling.

It’s the baby steps of building a brand.

I got an email from a semi-famous model last week who had been reading my Intro to Photography Classes on the blog. She was having difficulty getting accurate colors in some photographs she was making. We talked on the phone and I walked her through some basic white balance adjustments she could do in iPhoto. To her, because of my little blog classes, I had become a go-to guy for photography information. Again, no money changed hands, but it shows how giving away knowledge can help put you into a category as an expert in your field. She’s not the only one learning photography from my blog. People read you and link to you and you create a larger following. You are building your brand.

About a year ago I wrote a blog about Pricing Photography Services. It is consistently my most read article every time I look at my website statistics. It’s such a common question for photographers of all levels, but especially those who are just starting out. As artists, learning about the business of what we do is like swimming upstream. It’s far from pleasant at the start and it’s just plain scary. But it’s so critical.

By posting that information, am I giving away my secret business recipe? I don’t think so. It’s good for the community and not entirely selfless either. In addition to bringing new eyes to my website I’m also attempting to teach the newcomers in the industry not to undercut the veterans by charging too little because they’re, “just starting out.” Hopefully everyone wins by knowledge sharing like that.

Building a brand means you’re going to have to give away some of that knowledge. If you’re confident enough in your abilities as an artist or whatever your business is, you know that giving information away is not going to give everyone out there the skills to put you out of business. Everyone, including me, borrows a little from people they respect and combined with their own life experiences, turns it into something that is uniquely them. Just because you have the secret recipe for Coke doesn’t mean you’ll be able to duplicate it. Just ask Ira Glass.

The internet is loaded with other good people sharing their knowledge about how to build your brand make your business and personal life more healthy. You can always find a short list of them on my right sidebar under Smart Business Ideas. And I’ll highlight a few of them here as well because part of building your own brand is pointing your readers at others with good information sharing. It can’t always be look at me, me, me!

The Communicatrix. Colleen Wainwright is someone I had the pleasure to meet last month after being a reader of hers for some time. I’ve mentioned her before and she deserves another mention because she’s excellent with the sharing. She used to be an advertising copywriter and as she puts it, after “deciding she’d blow her brains out if she had to sit through one more meeting about which way the bears danced around the cereal box, Colleen spends most of her time teaching other creative souls how to talk about what they do in a way that wins them attention, work and satisfaction and the rest of it horsing around on the Internet.” Now that’s a great sentence to introduce herself. And it also highlights her wonderful writing style which you will enjoy. I promise.

Seth Godin. Seth is amazing to read in that he dishes out short, thoughtful blogs that will more often than not inspire you and make you think. He has written about the end of the TV-Industrial Complex. Seth starts from the idea of permission marketing. That means no spam. Rather, products and branding increase their marketing awareness by being remarkable. He’s good.

Creative Mornings – F*ck You. Pay Me. I tweeted about this one back in March, but it’s so good it deserves repeating. Mike Monteiro, Design Director, and co-founder of Mule Design Studio gives what could be a Master Class on what every creative should know before entering into a work agreement. Creative Mornings is a worldwide group of creatives holding informal coffee talks in several major cities. I’m happy to see it starting up in Chicago next month. It’s a great place to share ideas about the design industry and how we all can survive in it. Very inspiring. Do youself a favor and carve out a half an hour to view F*ck You. Pay Me. Important information for anyone who works freelance.

My Effing Commute. Okay, this one is a little less about successful business and a little more about a successful guy just trying to get through his commute everyday by writing a blog about it. John Korpics is the Creative Director at Fortune Magazine. His Effing Commute blog is a fascinating view of the two hours he spends on the train every day. I could tell you more, but there’s already a great interview with him by Heidi Volpe over at my friend Rob Haggart’s APhotoEditor blog.

If you’ve read through this, you are probably as exhausted as I am writing this. (So. Many. Links!) But it’s a great place to start if you’re thinking about how to create and grow your own brand.

The photograph of Cindy Crawford at the top of this blog is not mine, however the inscription to me is genuine. The mysterious photograph of two creative thinkers on a balcony is mine however, from the 50th birthday party I mentioned at the top.

Now I must get back to Billy Sheahan’s House of Photography… hmmm… that has a nice branding ring to it.


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5 thoughts

  1. EXCELLENT. This goes into the big file marked “DOING IT RIGHT.”

    And yes, this is how you build a brand—an enduring, unshakeable, ardently-loved brand.

    Thank you for being such a great living example. And such a super-nice guy.

  2. Pingback: Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #53 | communicatrix

  3. Colleen! Yes! I was certainly paying attention during your SB3 talk. So many genius nuggets to pass along here. Thank you for that and thanks for the very kind mention in your Friday Roundup! Thrilled to be there!

  4. Nicely done Billy. It has been a joy and inspiration to see your evolution since our gathering at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops 2 years ago. I wonder when you will jump…? Thank you for sharing.

  5. Nice to read ya walking the talk — and especially sharing links of the caliber of Colleen’s.

    Looking forward to reading you and yours more often (as I try to pretend that horsing around on the internet is as useful as it feels ~!)

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