Accidentally Branded

[caption id="attachment_946" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Branding: It's not just for cattle."][/caption] Branding is a funny thing. Some people love to talk about it. Some people love to hate the idea of branding. Others like to mock the fact that the conversation is even happening. Whatever your take on it, branding isn't anything new.

Except that it is.

Branding is no longer a logo and some messaging mass marketed to a target audience of drones that are going to march to the nearest store to buy whatever it is that's cleverly packaged in this seasons colors. Buzz is no longer in the sole hands of celebrities, but by the guy or girl next door who has built a brand from scratch using the new Word of Mouth Marketing tools. A perfect example is the Missoni thing at Target that exploded. It wasn't from celebs talking it up, but from average-consumers-turned-brands buzzing it up to a fever pitch that knocked the Target on-line ordering system on its ass.

I like to tell people that I accidentally branded myself. There I was, hiding behind my drinking name and a cartoon image of a smiling woman, saying whatever came to my mind, not concerned what the ladies at the PTA would think... when all of a sudden, I'm this person. Eventually, this person took over the one I was pretending to be before, and POOF... I'm a brand.

Now, I hope you didn't just lose your lunch reading that last line. Trust me... I'm more than slightly uncomfortable referring to myself as a brand. I mean really... who do I think I am? Well, I'm the girl who has been introduced many times as a brand property by others, so I just kind of ran with it. The first time I was referred to as a brand, I almost lost my lunch, too. It felt something like an out-of-body experience to be referred to as a thing. I've had friends -- people who know me personally -- ask me what I was going to do with "this whole Sugar Jones thing." It's gotten to the point where even I refer to this thing as a thing.

There are some of us on-line that, for whatever reason (I like to blame my drunk tweets), have amassed a following of people that like to chat with us, follow our travels, read about the latest games or movies, see what we're eating and/or drinking and where, and will at times, based on our recommendations and experiences, see fit to part with their dollars in exchange for those same experiences.

That's powerful stuff!

Please note... I didn't say I am powerful... I said sharing experiences is.

Here's where I feel like we've come with branding through social media. Like what Hunter S. Thompson did to journalism (minus all the drugs and hallucinations on road trips to Vegas), we are creating a kind of hybrid in what we do, say, and write. We are not just feeding people the message by cutting and pasting thoughtfully long press releases. We are sharing our personal experiences. Our experience IS the message... the story.

I've gotten so many emails from PR people wondering where the heck my post is for (insert name of product here). I can only imagine their frustration when I write back that I haven't "found the story yet." Many of my peers in blogging have said something similar in that we aren't just going to write about something... we need to experience it and then share it. They probably roll their eyes and wonder what kind of journalists we think we are.

That's just it... we DON'T think we're journalists! THAT is precisely why people listen to us. People have become cynical about the messages and emotions brands try to evoke in a 30 or 60 second on-air spot. Enter bloggers, most of us cynical consumers, as well. We are pretty typical people with an interesting take on the ordinary. We have big mouths and enough knowledge about ways to get the word out, on-line and off, to make an impact. Harness enough of us and you've got a serious groundswell happening.

And yes... that IS powerful.

Because I get to play with some of the big kids, I often get asked how I created my brand. Going back to the beginning, I have to reiterate: I am an accidental brand. But I'm kind of lying when I say that. Because the things I've done in life have been purposeful. The desired outcome was to live the life I had always imagined. So if you want to cultivate a brand that is truly you and attract opportunities that might help you get closer to your personal goals, I'd recommend doing the following:

1) Be Yourself. 2) Be Honest. 3) Be Passionate. 4) Be There. 5) Be Unforgettable.

I'll expand on those next week in Part 2.