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November 29, 2010


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Excellent thinking, Michelle. Most firms (though not all, which is remarkable) seem to understand the basic aspects of corporate branding -- consistency of look for collateral materials, well written copy, navigable websites and the like. Your post emphasizes the need to go much farther, to find and demonstrate one's true nature as a professional -- that we be authentic.

This is the best advice ever, because clients and prospects can spot a phony a mile away, and being inauthentic is generally a lousy way to live.

One caveat, though, particularly with regard to social media: while we're being our authentic selves, let's also be our civilized selves. Words and their use become even more important as social media rises. Choosing them wisely makes an important difference in how we are perceived.

Thanks for your sharp mind and leading-edge thought in this still-foggy arena.


Very good "contrarian" take on the branding discussion. Authenticity is definitely the differentiator with the most horsepower. Of course you need to be good. Being authentic and incompetent won't get you very far. Still some firms are going to embark on "branding" excursions and I like and dislike some of the resulting outcomes.

Like: Standardization of processes that leads to consistency of message and customer experience. There's huge value in giving your customers a repeatable experience even if the products you deliver are always customized, one-off solutions.

Dislike: The tendency to build a facade that makes them apear bigger than they really are. I understand all the "good" business reasons for this, but it doesn't work like it used to. Ultimately the connectedness created by the internet forces transparency on us all and eventually the facade will be seen as inauthentic.

Great counterpoint to much of the talk going on today. Thanks, Michelle

Michael Hsu

Very interesting write up Michelle on the comparison between a corporate "brand" and a personal "reputation." I've always thought of DeepSky as a company with a brand that is made up of what we believe, what we do, and how we do it as a company (it is a collective image of everyone at DeepSky.) And myself as having a personal reputation - like everyone else in the company does. Thoughts?

Michelle Golden

Melinda, Joey and Michael, thanks for your great comments!

@Melinda - you are so right about people spotting phonies and the other reason being our "authentic self" is so important is that when we are honest with ourselves and answer the question "what do I really love doing the most?" - and then we focus on doing THAT and permit ourselves to not do the other, our passion for that enjoyable work attracts people to us like bees to honey! The happier we are the more associated we are with "goodness" about whatever that service is. You and I both have personal experience working through that in our practices, eh? And your wise advice about civility is well taken. In fact, you've written great stuff about this with regard to email usage. Same applies. When professionals tell me they think "young people hide behind social media to avoid face to face interaction" I reply with "I know plenty of Boomers who hide behind email the same way"... it's NOT a problem with the mediums, it's a problem with the people using them. Bad manners. And a seeming "out" for non-confrontational types.

@Joey - you're right! Quality is a table stake. So is timeliness, managing expectations, and all that. In fact, most of what firms tout as "differentiators" are actually just table stakes. You don't get to stay in the game very long if you suck at those. And that is precisely why I think so many people are fearful of social media...because it exposes them in areas where they invest little energy in processes and training to assure customer delight - which stems, always, from great expectation setting and expectation management. <--but these are table stakes too...they are just frequently ignored because we've been able to get away with it before now. I have a bunch of thoughts about what you say about "appearing larger" and I'll save those for a blog post! :)

@Michael - I'll respond to your Q in another comment. This one is getting long!" :)

Michelle Golden

@Michael, Your view gels with mine, especially as a FoF (firm of the future). As the "Brand You" revolution got under way, the individual started to be able to do some rock star positioning. Sure it's always been there (think Don Draper in Mad Men) but there were still mostly "company people." Social technology and person-based professional sites (like LinkedIn and Plaxo) have made it far easier for the Guy Kawasaki's to break out from Apple as superstars. Companies can fear these people or they can embrace them as evangelists with growing fan-bases. A company, like yours, I view like a record label. And Michael Hsu is the rock star. IF Deepsky has one rock star, maybe it was chance...Deepsky got lucky. But if Deepsky houses 2 rock stars, maybe it's a trend. 3 rock stars and it's a leader. As companies, we should WANT our individuals to become rock stars. They elevate our record label. Yes, they are portable and no longer captive for their success. But doesn't Guy Kawasaki's subsequent success still reflect well on Apple as an org that breeds successful people?

There's another side to this, too. And that is "brand promise" and "brand fulfillment." We cannot allow ourselves the illusion of control. IMHO a company's brand promise HINTS at brand but does not necessarily equate to it. A company can “promise” something and may or may not succeed at creating the public/buyer perception that their promise is in fact a truth, and thus part of the brand. If the public disagrees, the definition of the brand defaults to how the public sees it, not how we promise it.

Public perception is an the most essential ingredient of a brand. As Ron Baker says, if the world got amnesia, the CocaCola brand has zero value. And I heard last night a quote (source unknown) that said "if you don't define your [company's] brand, the public will define it for you."

Reputation can be part of the perception of brand delivery (or non delivery) but reputation can be a lot of other things to, thus it's important to observe that a brand is NOT exactly the same as reputation.

I'm even skeptical that a CPA or law firm can have a true brand because knowledge and services are delivered by individual humans, not a collective, consistent group. (as you describe, above, too). As an organization, you can have culture and values that help align you consistently with one another, but these are human interactions and as such, like Joey mentions, are not perfectly repeatable processes.

Is all of this branding talk important for a firm? Probably not, beyond the values and culture conversation. The problem is, too few firms live the culture and values they define as theirs. David Maister got up at a AAA conference 5 or so years ago and said to 200 people, if your firms would just do what you say in your Mission and Values statements, you'd all be in far better firms. He's exactly right. We all know it.

So I say Brand-Schmand. I think it's unhelpful for a professional to adopt the thinking that they need a “personal (corporate-type) brand” in addition to developing a solid reputation for performing well and being accessible and informative as a resource for his or her clients. If firms just aspire to create, support and equip as many rock-stars as they can (aligned with the company's values) you'll have all the success that you can hope for. :)


How can you deny personal branding when you've done it to yourself? You wrote this article, included a picture of yourself, said "I am Creative ideas and practical advice for professionals...", etc.
Sorry, that's branding in my book...and I've seen many people hired because of it. You don't mention that going through the process of personal branding clarifies "what you can give to an employer" and builds your confidence in doing so. All of these social activities are "trends" like linkedin, twitter, facebook, and yes, even branding....so hop along or get left behind.


I think when done with tack and kindness people don't mind when you put a small plug in for yourself. In the business world that's just how it is.

Joe @ http://suncoastcpas.com/


The term "personal branding" has become part of the landscape. As more people use it, its meaning has expanded and diffused a bit.

Although I see your point on the term's etymology, I also recognize that much of the world has merged reputation into the term.

It might be too late to win this battle over word meaning.

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