Brand Yourself! Brilliant Concept!
I well remember getting out of the Army in 1960 and moving into a $40-a-month Manhattan walk-up railroad flat on East 71st Street—three rooms in a row with a bathtub in the kitchen and access to one of four johns down the hall, each with a big brass key to unlock the door.
I had no job and no idea what I would do with the rest of my life.
I was very lucky. Thanks to family connections I landed a $60-a-week entry-level job writing publicity releases and getting authors on radio and TV shows for Prentice-Hall book publishers in New Jersey across the George Washington Bridge.
In those early years I would run into eager young people with liberal arts educations like myself—but with little work experience and no connections—who were looking for jobs. Trying to be helpful, I asked, "What can you do?"
The answer very often was, "I like people."
"Yes, but ..." I would say slowly, "What can you do?"
What triggered this column was an Aug. 15, 2012 press release picked up by Reuters with the intriguing headline:
World's First Online Personal Branding EngineTM Helps Individuals Learn How to Stand Out in Crowded Market to Win Jobs
I have amassed extensive files in my private archive on the techniques of branding companies, products and services and have done a number of stories on the subject.
When I read the press release about a system whereby individuals can brand themselves, I went off on a reverie—one of my flights of fancy.
The idea of men and women coming up with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that enables them to stand out from a stack of résumés struck me as a stunningly brilliant business model!
Résumés generally give the chronology of what a person has done—education, jobs and responsibilities. All resumes look alike. Go through a stack of résumés, and it doesn't take long for your eyes to start glazing over.
What sells—what gets the résumé to the top of the pile—is the cover letter that can establish a personal connection between candidate and prospective employer. The perfect venue for a USP!
Check out Joann S. Lublin's classic, "Cover Letters Get You In the Door, So Be Sure Not to Dash Them Off" in The Wall Street Journal. The essence: No cover letter—or a sloppy cover letter—means no interview and no job.
How the Business Model Goes Off the Rails
[PLEASE NOTE: Between the time I wrote this column and this publication date, the links on the original Steve Brazell/Reuters press release (which you see above) have been changed. The images in the mediaplayer to the upper right are the ones I based this story on. Whether the changes were the result of the email exchanges I had with Brazell and his flack lady (see below), I don’t know. You are invited to read on to see what I experienced and then experience the new version on your own.
Either way, in my opinion Steve Brazell has a brilliant concept and Nutsy Fagan execution.]
The original press release promised to help "Individuals Stand Out in Crowded Market to Win Jobs."
I went to the www.mybrandop.com website and on the landing page are three rows of black umbrellas with a red umbrella in the upper right.
Headline: WE SPEND MOST OF OUR LIVES TRYING TO FIT IN, WHEN THE ONLY WAY TO GET AHEAD IS TO STAND OUT
[See the first image in the mediaplayer to the upper right.]
On the next screen is a short video on branding.
Headline: HOW CAN I STAND OUT?
Subhead: How do I grow my business in a down economy? How can I win the client? Get the job? And make sure my customer, or potential employer chooses me over the competition?
I was promised a system that will help individual readers brand themselves. Alas, this is an all-purpose system designed to teach people how to brand anything—a product or service, a business, or themselves.
This is not what I was promised in the press release. This was supposed to be about how people can brand themselves.
It Gets Truly Weird
I went back to the press release to see if I had misread something and saw the contact information:
Hitman, Inc. - Competition Removal(TM)
The Hitman, Inc. landing page is a steel suitcase. Click on the suitcase and you are greeted with a collection of modern weaponry carried by an al Qaeda IED squad or Gabriel Allon, Israel's leading intelligence operative and assassin in Daniel Silva novels.
[See the second image in the mediaplayer to the upper right.]
Quite simply, this bloody-minded landing page made my blood run cold. It has nothing to do with benign business of figuring out a USP that will help get a résumé read.
The press release suggested I visit www.SteveBrazell.com, which I did.
[See the third and fourth first image in the mediaplayer to the upper right for this peculiar macho-man sales pitch.]
Exchanges With the Hitman Folks
I was so taken with the concept of people being able to brand themselves, I wrote the Hitman website to say I was interested in doing a story in the sincere belief that it could be enormously useful to every reader. From our exchanges:
From Heather Bledsoe at hitman.com
Thank you for contacting us about doing an article on brand op. Please let me know if you would like to schedule a meeting with Steve or a phone or Skype interview. Does next week work for you?
From DH to Heather Bledsoe
Thanks so much for getting back to me—and so quickly.
This is a brilliant concept and I want to tie it in to the business of direct marketing branding where the object is to come up with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), about which I have written extensively.
At the same time, to be honest, I am grappling with the hitman home page—the bullets, the AK-47, the wads of money, truth serum and the portrait of a mean looking guy with his eyes obscured.
This the day after our apparently wonderful ambassador to Libya was executed along with three other embassy personnel. I'm not real comfortable with this.
Let me mull this over and maybe I'll get back to you.
Thanks again for your speed.
From Steve Brazell to DH
I created Hitman Inc. over 17 years ago. Wars come and go. People get shot in theaters or schools. Embassies are attacked and people die. That's just news, not marketing and branding. Hitman Inc. is a stand-out brand with a very unique selling proposition. We're edgy. Our clients are edgy. We work with companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500s. The fastest way to get lost in the sea of marketing today is try and please everyone or ride the wave of public opinion. We are not the right fit for everyone by design.
If you'd like to work on an idea to revenue share on Brand Op we are always open to smart strategies.
From DH to Steve Brazell
Thanks for getting back to me on this.
As I see it, two separate branding markets exist:
1. Products, services and businesses. I have written extensively on coming up with a USP. This is old stuff.
2. Individuals should brand themselves. I came across the Aug. 15 story about MyBrandOp.com and was blown away by the concept.
With a story in mind I went on your website and availed myself of the free 30 percent to see how the thing worked. [See the fifth image in the mediaplayer to the right.]
As I recall from the questions that I filled out, no distinction is made between branding a business or branding yourself. (e.g., is the "Best golf pro in West Miami" looking for students? Or is he looking to be hired by the best public golf course in West Miami? In other words is an established business being promoted or is the person looking for a job?)
Forcing a person to clarify the things he/she does well—the features and benefits of those features to an employer (or an investor) is a fascinating concept.
But as I said, I was really put off by the spy and violence stuff on your website.
It seems to me a woman would take one look at that and say, "Oops, this is a guy thing," and go elsewhere.
You've just kissed off a huge market for your service.
And you are certainly on to something revolutionary, something that should be jumped on before eight different people steal the idea and cream your market.
Lemme mull this over.
If you are in New York, maybe I should jump a train and we should meet.
Steve Brazell's Kiss-Off Denny Reply
[See the sixth and final image in the mediaplayer to the upper right.]
Takeaways to Consider
- The concept of individuals branding themselves—coming up with a personal USP that makes them stand out from the crowd—is a fascinating exercise that all of us might benefit from.
- When reaching out on the Internet for new business, is your Website user friendly and filled with potential benefits to prospective customers or does it create a total disconnect from the core message that might turn people off?
- For example, in my opinion, Steve Brazell should have included this simple question early in the sign-up process:
Before proceeding, which would you like to brand?
—A product or service?
With this information, Brazell could have created a far more personalized, relevant and useful approach to his prospects.
- Sure, it's Brazell's business, and he can promote it any way he likes. But this guy seems as interested in promoting his love of murder and mayhem as he is in building a business that can dramatically change lives.
- I am reminded of Martin Edelston, founder of the Boardroom publishing empire, who once said to me, "Do you want to make a statement or do you want to make money?"
- "Imitation is the sincerest form of collective stupidity," said my late friend Bill Munro, VP Marketing, Pepsico. However, in this curious case, where Steve Brazell has obviously created a "guy thing"—thus probably turning off women (the largest segment of the work force)-his business model seems to me to be ripe for stealing by an entrepreneur, who thinks things through and wants to make a difference as well as make money.