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Un-SQL Friday: Branding

So looks like we have another blog party on our hands, this time courtesy of Jen McCown (Blog | Twitter), one half of the MidnightDBA brand!  This is such a great topic especially coming from a couple who have built up quite a successful brand for themselves in the community and continue to grow it. Check out both their entries (Jen | Sean) on this topic as they both have really interesting views on this stuff.

Branding is a funny thing. It can go one of two ways: you can create a brand that resonates with your target audience, makes you memorable, and any continued associations with your brand and your audience are positive and meaningful. Or you can create a brand very much slanted the other way and any interactions or associations with your brand can bring negative results and damage you personally or professionally.

I’m going to make a quick confession here and tell you that I not only have watched the show “What Not To Wear” on TLC but I thoroughly enjoyed said show. Why confess that? Well on the show the hosts Clinton Kelly and Stacy London often tell their fashion-challenged targets that they need to realize that they’re trying to sell themselves. It’s all about image. This may sound a bit shallow but hear me out folks. You really are the image you project and this includes how you dress, how you act and in the world of blogging and presenting this directly relates to the brand you’re trying to sell: you!

Hokey or Genius?

It's what's on the inside that counts...wrong

I guess I can say I’m a pretty decent example of interesting branding in our crazy SQL world as I’ve chosen to represent myself not so much through my own name (which I do tout through other means) but rather through a cartoon chicken posing as a superhero. How exactly did THAT come about? Well to get the full origin story check out my very first blog post. What I don’t cover in that post, and haven’t really blogged about until now, is the affect of my branding  decisions and where it has gotten me today. As I mention in the other post I was originally inspired and guided by Brent Ozar’s (Blog | Twitter) series on How to Get Started in Technical Blogging. One of the things Brent covers is the selection of one’s brand. At that point I had chosen to go with a rather kitschy brand rather than using my own name as a brand.

This decision actually had quite a bit of thought behind it and I have been able to groom and develop the brand decision over the past couple of years. For instance  when I first decided to go with the SQLChicken brand the only thing I had related to the chicken was the rubber chicken hanging in my office. Originally I hadn’t really planned to take my shtick “on the road” but as I began to present more and more my brand extended to these events as I brought the chicken with me. This let folks easily identify me and my brand, and probably also triggered a flood of calls to local security. Again, as my brand grew and more folks began to associate me with the chicken brand I took more measures to keep that association in folks’ minds. I decided to make my brand more fun by handing out chicken-related items (i.e. squeezy chickens, flying/screaming chickens) to those who attended my sessions. From there something unexpected happened: unsolicited people started associating things related to my brand to me in their daily lives! For example I’ve had folks tweet at me pictures of random chickens they come across which caused them to think about me! I’ve also had people refer to my username when they’re having chicken for dinner which makes for some unnerving tweets (I’m looking at you Lady Runa!).

So given all this I guess I can say my branding has been a successful one. Thanks to my brand I’ve been afforded to opportunity to present for folks all over the world (thank you LiveMeeting), write a book (shameless link to Pro SQL Server 2008 Policy-Based Management), and go to events I never thought in a million years I’d be a part of. As my career continues to unfold and develop I’ll continuously hone and perfect the branding, especially since now I’m part of a larger brand with Pragmatic Works. It’s an interesting balance but ultimately I think it’s very much worth all the effort put in to it.

Not Just You

In my case I’ve actually managed to work my own brand with ANOTHER brand I’ve created and that’s SQL University branding. Doing a high-profile project for the community is certainly another way to sell your brand. For instance Arnie Rowland’s Project Phoenix for developers is not only letting him do something extraordinary for the community but also building up his brand as well. Now before you start tearing in to me about “well he’s doing something selfless, not building a brand!”. You’re right…and wrong. Even if the intent is purely selfless, you’re going to be associated with said project so in essence this brand is an extension of your brand. This isn’t a bad thing folks (unless your project is to go punch babies in the face and post said video on Youtube for fun). Just remember you are what you do and given the nature of today’s information-rich, easily accessible data world it’s all that much more important to be aware of these things.

Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

Mistakes...We all make them

So far I’ve talked about the good side of branding but let’s talk a bit about the other side as well. As I mentioned in the last section your brand can be affected by projects and affiliations. Sometimes a brand will come up that has several notable (and positive) folks associated with it and then something goes terribly wrong and all of a sudden everyone involved takes a hit. I’d like to cite the (now dead) baconbitsandbytes site. This was an off-color joke site put together by a few well-known individuals in the SQL community. Their humor is definitely edgy but they’ve always strayed on the good side of the line. BBB was kind of a steam release valve where they could disassociate themselves from their brands for a bit and have fun. The problem with this is that everyone knew who the guys running it were so the brand extended itself anyways!

Well one fateful day a certain article was posted that definitely crossed a line with certain folks and one of the members was given an ultimatum by their employer to either take down the site/content or face repercussions. Even though this guy didn’t even write the content, he was associated with the brand and thus his association was an extension of his company’s brand. Long story short the site’s plug was pulled by the guys, everyone learned their lessons and went on their merry way. The important part here is all parties involved learned a valuable lesson on brand identity and its subsequent effects on branding.

Conclusion

I could sit here all day writing about what you should or shouldn’t do but what it basically comes down to is common sense. If you’re blogging from an employer’s blog, remember you can’t just spout off whatever you want to say no matter how badly you want to. If you’re going to publicly state something realize that nowadays this stuff is out there forever. Building a brand is fun but there will be lots of work involved if you want to do it right. There are tons of ways of monitoring your online brand out there, just read up on the rest of the Un-SQL Friday posts to get a sense of how everyone approaches this. Just remember, you’re selling you so make yourself something worth buying!


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