3 Basic Ingredients

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several early stage business founders. Each of them have amazing passion for the ideas they are growing, conviction about the market segment they are impacting, and are full of energy. The one thing I found surprising was how a couple of them did not realize the value of establishing a digital footprint.

While my own startup experience predates the social web, we had a great conversation about personal branding in the digital world. Specifically, we talked about the value of connecting their personal brand to help shore-up the value of their new ventures’ brand. This is important for an early stage company because investors are not only buying into your product’s value proposition, they are also buying into your vision and value prop. Do this the right way and capital and customers will come to you. Do it the wrong way or be absent from the social web, and you’ll have to do it old school by smiling and dialing your way to success.

Is there a right recipe for this? Well, it’s like asking if there is one recipe for macaroni and cheese. There are always a few basic ingredients:

  1. Set up Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles for yourself (not your company). Keep it simple, and clearly identify who you are and what you do.
  2. If you have more than 10 employees, set up a social media policy with some do’s and don’ts, agree on a posting schedule, and stick to it.
  3. If you happen to have a live website, connect your executive profiles to the social web. Include all the relevant links (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). If, like some startups you list your whole team on the site, encourage them to connect their social links as well. Don’t be afraid of them leaving—exporting talent can be a great thing. They could be the next connection into a partner or customer.

These are the basics. As you grow, so will your digital footprint, and as one of my friends @katrinaklier likes to say, “if it’s online, it’s marketing material, whether it’s a person or a product.”

So get out there. Build your footprint and start participating in the social conversation.

A Missed Local Opportunity- Is Valpak still relevant?

Recently, I opened the blue Valpak envelope that arrives in my mailbox regularly. To tell you the truth, I had not opened one in years; it went straight to the recycle bin. This time around what caught my eye was the QR code on the envelope that promised more offers if I snapped it. I did, and it landed me on a generic Teleflora offer.

I did open the envelope and looked inside. Some good coupons from local restaurants, but no place that we regularly go. There were some OK services offers from plumbing to carpeting, but nothing that moved me to take action.

What most people don’t know is that Valpak is sometimes run by a franchisee locally, rather than from a national headquarters.  To be clear, I have no idea how that relationship works or the mechanics around how Valpak runs operates this model. But what I do know is that I expected local offers when I snapped the QR code with my phone. It was the QR code that got me to engage with the envelope after all these years.

Valpak is still relevant.  After all, they did get me to open the envelope. However, they completely missed the mark by not leveraging the unique features offered by QR codes to present hyper-targeted, local offers down from zip code level to the nearest shops to my phone’s location. One last thing; by effectively integrating mobile into the flow of direct mail offers, there is the opportunity of increasing the pass-along effect by making the offer portable on mobile devices.

Of Tales and Cocktails

It’s hard to believe that the last time I hosted Dot Tales & Cocktails was 11 years ago. The event was part of Seattle’s high-tech “schmooze” circuit, as Manny Frishberg described it in his Seattle Weekly article, “Cash and Cocktails”. The point of this reflection is that short of having an online social network, we were making connections through events, mailing lists, websites, and one on one introductions.

You were vetted and validated as an individual microbrand by your business contacts and friends. And you worked hard to maintain those relationships. A great many of us leveraged these events to raise money, make business contacts, start companies, and sell them, too. At the same time, we transitioned from our twenties to our thirties and started to shift to larger companies that needed entrepreneurial approaches to getting things done. In that moment a lot of us (including me) left those connections behind and our microbrand was integrated into larger ones.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned:

  • Curate your relationships – Nurture the ones that help you move forward collectively and be available to those that might only be one-sided.
  • You will be surprised – Sometimes it is the people on the periphery that come through. Let yourself be surprised. You’ve made impressions on people you had no expectations of.
  • It’s hard work to build your brand – You have to work at it. Meet people in real life, have that phone call, go for coffee, take the lunch meeting. You can only go so far online. Learn to appreciate the face-to-face and try to provide value in your interactions.
  • Return the favor – Always, no matter how small.
  • Be available – There are a couple of people I know who think being mysterious adds to their persona. In reality, unless you are a celebrity, this approach does not work, and may put people off.

One last point, you never know who you will reconnect with. If I had not started Dot Tales & Cocktails I would have never reconnect with @dianego …although she never attended one of my events.

Over the next series of post I am planning to interview friends, business leaders, and entrepreneurs who I believe have done a great job building their microbrand.

Targeting Cheese

We love cheeseWe have a tendency to do some quick shopping at the local QFC  near my wife’s office before we head home. We also shop at the QFC near our home and always use the club card.  But these guys are soo good that they recognize @dianego ‘s love for cheesse overcomes the fact that we did not live in the geotargeted area.

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Hyper Local

I was pleasantly surprised today when I got to the mailbox and found that our University of Washington season tickets had arrived. Besides the season tickets there’s always a coffee card preloaded with $5 from Starbucks. What struck me about the card this year was that they made the connection to a traditional pre-game trek to the U Village store for coffee…the reason this year is special is due to the fact that the games are being played at Century Link Field while Husky Stadium is being renovated. Starbucks messaged that we should head to the store near HQ. Way to make the local connection.



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The Emergence of the Micro Brand

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As a marketer for dotcoms, startups, and large companies over the past 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who are sought-after influencers in their respective industries. The trait they all have in common? A solid micro brand.

They also are experts in their specific field, confident in who they are, and not shy about sharing their knowledge. But first and foremost, they are great listeners and teachers. They spend time cultivating their brand by curating their relationships, both online and offline. Lastly, they are genuine. They say what they do and do what they say.

In our tech driven world, they are high touch and welcome the face-to-face meetings. Because in the end, as my friend Ted Rubin  would say, it is about the “Return on Relationship” and it is about serving without expectations.

You need to choose what your micro brand represents. If you know who you are and what impact you want to have, this should be easy. Jeremy Epstein put it most succinctly “Building your brand online (and offline) just takes time. It also takes rhythm and process.”

For me, the rules to help foster your micro brand boil down to a couple of essential things: establish your area of expertise, and define and stand for your values as you build relationships.

Over the next few months on this blog, I’ll be talking to people who I think have mastered the micro brand concepts. I’m looking forward to these discussions, and hope you’ll join me here. Connect with me on Twitter @khodyg.