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The Other Side of Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

Listen to this post:

 

 

How badly do you have to want something before you’ll ask for help?

Does asking for help make you feel like you’ve failed?

What if you could see your asking for help as a kind of giving?

As I write this, Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, The Art of Asking is creeping up on a million views. She only had twelve minutes, but she covered a lot of emotional territory and, in an uncharacteristically gentle fashion, drove her point home.

As I listened for the second time, I started wondering about the other side of the give-and-take equation. Having less than a quarter of an hour at her disposal, Palmer obviously had to keep her topic tight; but there is a whole other side to the art of asking that didn’t get much air-time: the art of giving.

Palmer is experienced at asking. Whether it’s a piano to practice on, a couch to crash on, or money to support her record-setting Kickstarter campaign, Palmer asks her fans for things all the time. And they respond – willingly, happily, enthusiastically. It’s a testament to the relevance of Palmer’s closing question. Instead of focusing on how to make people pay for music, she asks, “How do we let people pay for music?”

 

That’s quite a shift in perspective.

How do you transform a commercial transaction from being coercive to being a privilege? How do you switch someone’s mindset from “have to” to “want to?”

The piece that Palmer didn’t directly address in her talk is what she gives to her fans. Yes, she asked. Yes, they gave. But, she gave, too – in profound ways over the course of their long relationship. Palmer touched on this lightly when she shared how she questioned the fairness of the exchanges between her and her fans after crashing with a poor family of undocumented Honduran immigrants. The mother took Palmer aside to tell the musician how much her music had helped her eighteen year-old daughter, and to thank her for staying with them

Even the second time watching, I got a lump in my throat.

Palmer gives her fans much more than her music. She gives them connection – to her, to the ideas she embodies, to each other, and to themselves. She gives them the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves – to be seen, to contribute, to make a difference. She gives them permission and support and community. She gives them courage and compassion.

Palmer is an artist, but she is also a brand. She combines her personal humanity with the Big Ideas and values she stands for to create the message, experience, and community that are Amanda Fucking Palmer. She’s done it so skillfully and so authentically that her fans line up to help her keep doing what she does. People give not just because she asks, but because she gives.

 

That’s the piece many people miss.

Too many people will watch Palmer’s talk and rush to embrace the art of asking. They will assume wrongly that all they have to do is ask and they shall receive. That isn’t how it works. First, you have to give. You have to give of yourself and your ideas, your time and your energy, your attention and your empathy. Whether you are an artist or a house painter, a software developer or a writer, a dog trainer or a barista, you have to give first

Successful brands are not about coercion. Successful brands are about inclusion. They are about creating something that other people want to be part of. They are about creating a space where other people want to be. They are about being, as Palmer said of artists in days gone by, “connectors and openers.”

Your brand is never about you. It’s bigger than you. It should be. It’s about all the people you touch with your work, all the differences you make for them and the differences they make for you. It’s about giving so that you have the right to ask, and making asking a way of giving.

Branding is NOT optional – Part 1: A cautionary tale

Imagine you’re hanging at the local café and end up sharing a table with a stranger. Between sips of your steaming drinks, you pass the time with friendly small talk.

“They make the best lattes here, don’t they? I’m totally addicted.”

“I know,” she replies, “I’ve got a two-a-day habit that’s going to send me to the poor house. Thank god I’m so busy.”

“Good to be busy. What do you do?”

“Um, I work for myself. I’m a kind of project manager, writer, social media and account person … and I blog,” she says, picking distractedly at the sleeve of her sweater. “I’ll basically do anything anyone will pay me for … as long as it’s legal.”

She laughs. You chuckle. It’s funny, but you’re not sure where to go from there, so the conversation peters out and goes nowhere.

That was me five years ago. The “anything legal” bit was my standard “cocktail party line.”

It always got a laugh. It never got me any business. click to tweet

 

Accidentally in business

In 2007 I was newly divorced and hustling my butt off to make sure my three year-old daughter and I made as smooth a transition as possible into our new life. I was more than a little scared. I was pretty darn close to desperate. It was my first time working for myself and I didn’t have the luxury of time to stop and think about anything as esoteric as “branding.” I had deadlines to meet, conference calls to take, and piles of paperwork to wrangle.

My story is not unlike the stories of many other first-time business owners and entrepreneurs – people who are thrown into the deep end and need to learn how to swim. Fast. For most of these people, the priorities are all about hustling to land customers and then hustling some more to keep those customers deliriously happy. Tragically, they don’t have time to stop and think about their “brand.”

This will bite them in the ass later. Stay with me and I’ll explain why.

 

Branding: the magic you can’t see  click to tweet

Show me a successful business and I’ll show you a strategically crafted and well-articulated brand. Show me a floundering business and I’ll show you a half-formed, not-quite-there brand, or – worse – no brand at all. Branding is the foundation and the glue that hold your business ideas and messages together. It is the throughline in your business’ story – the consistent themes and philosophies that are at the heart of what you do and how you do it.

Branding gets a lot of lip service, but too few business owners (new or experienced) are actually willing to invest the time, money, and brain cells it takes to nail their branding. I understand their reluctance. “Branding” is intangible. After hours and hours of hard work you have nothing more than a simple document that defines “airy-fairy” things like brand values, messages, USPs and value propositions. It’s a challenge to write a check for something that – on the surface – doesn’t seem to do anything.

On the other hand, a business owner can easily assign a value to things like website copy, a custom app, a video campaign, an ebook, or a guest spot on a high profile blog. The success of these things can be measured in clicks, conversions, views, downloads, likes, comments, shares, leads generated, and so forth. Branding, not so much.

 

The price of Band-aid branding

Are you tempted to gloss over branding in favor of moving on to more tangible deliverables? Don’t be. Thinking about branding as a nice-to-have severely handicaps your marketing and the growth and stability of your business.

Whether you’re not thinking about branding at all, engaged in aimless spaghetti branding (in which you throw random branding at the proverbial wall and hope that something sticks), or slipping into mimicry branding (in which – either intentionally or unintentionally – you emulate one or more of your competitors), the risks of inadequate branding are many:

  • Wasted time and money – Although there’s always an element of iteration, trial and error is not the most efficient method of brand development.
  • Confused prospects and customers – If you can’t clearly communicate what you stand for and what value you deliver (aka: your brand), you won’t be able to connect the dots for prospects and customers.
  • Me-too syndrome – If you don’t take the time to differentiate yourself with strong, strategic branding, you will look and sound like dozens or hundreds of your competitors. Not good.
  • Lack of confidence – If you’re not sure about who you are as a brand, how can you confidently talk about or sell your products and services? (Hint: you can’t.)
  • Lost opportunities – If you can’t communicate your unique value clearly and confidently, but your competitor can, guess who has a better chance at landing more business?

 

Have I got your attention? Are you starting to understand the inherent risks of ignoring or short-changing your branding? I hope so, because I’m serious about this.

Next week, we’ll talk about the glorious benefits of building a strong brand. It really is pretty close to magic. 

 

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Image Credit: SnorgTees

Get mad: marketing from your dark side

Do what you love.

Follow your passion.

Lead with your heart.

I have more Pollyanna DNA than most, but this tired advice has always felt a little empty to me, a little one-dimensional. After all, life isn’t just rainbows and unicorns. Life has a dark side. The trick is learning to access that dark side for good instead of evil.

 

No one is a hero without a villain.  Click to tweet. 

Your brand is what you stand for. It embodies the things you want to be known for – speed, agility, creativity, beauty, progress, simplicity, the lowest price in town, etc. What so many people forget, however, is that the best brands also stand against something.

What is the opposing force that your brand is poised to fight? What war cry would your brand scream charging into battle? What sends you into apoplectic fits of rage and indignation? What injustice are you determined to undo? What piece of insanity do you want to wipe from the face of this Earth?

Everyone – even the sweetest, most mild-mannered of us – fights an enemy. What enemy are you fighting?

 

The villain isn’t a “who,” it’s a “what.”

Be careful not to confuse your enemy with the competition. They are not the same.

Your competitors are actually your allies, battling beside you against a common enemy. You compete against each other for the loyalty of your shared audience, but at the end of the day you’re fighting the same fight.

Your enemy is much bigger than your competitors. Your enemy isn’t a “who,” it’s an idea or a situation or a philosophy. It’s a way of life, the status quo, a lack of something, or too much of something else. It’s the thing that makes you want to write a proverbial letter to the editor each time you encounter it. It inspires you to get up on your soapbox and preach your personal gospel to the world.

 

The villain helps define the hero.

Without an opposing force, a hero is just a person who is going through the motions.

Without an opposing force, there is no fire in the hero’s soul. There is no sense of greater purpose, no fierce commitment, no do-or-die mission.

Without an opposing force, we never get to see what the hero can really do.

Like it or not, your enemy is a big part of who you are and why you are.

  • Who is Luke without Darth Vader?
  • Who is Frodo without the Dark Lord?
  • Who is Buffy without vampires?
  • Who is Erin Brokovitch without corporate corruption?
  • Who is Katniss Everdeen without the Captial?
  • Who is Liz Lemon without Jack Donaghy?

You get the idea.

What idea or status quo is your brand pitted against?

 

The battle brings critical conflict to your story.

You know that marketing with story is a powerful technique, but do you know what makes a story a story?

Conflict.

No conflict, no story.

If you haven’t identified and called out your enemy, your story lacks conflict. It will fall flat, failing to pique the interest of your audience, never mind inspire them to loyalty or incite them to action.

When you get clear about the nature of your enemy, you get clear about the war you’re fighting. You know what your battle cry should be. You can make a strong stand not only for something, but against something else.

This is important.

 

Do what you love, but know why you love it.  Click to tweet. 

Love does not exist in a vacuum.

  • I love being out in the quiet of the woods because it provides me with an enlightening escape from the overwhelming, multi-tasking world of my computer.
  • I love beautiful art because it strikes a blow against the boring and overly utilitarian.
  • I love simple, well-designed apps because they help me wrangle and manage the chaos of my life.
  • I love second-hand clothes because they help me express my individuality amidst the sea of mass-manufactured clone-clothes that hit the chain stores each season.

 

  • Quiet vs. Noise
  • Beauty vs. Blah
  • Simplicity vs. Complexity
  • Individuality vs. Mass Market

Like love, your brand exists in the context of what you’re passionate about and what makes you passionately crazy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but being ticked off about something is often what drives someone to build a better mousetrap.

 

When you are working on your branding, don’t forget to look the dark side in the eye. Know your enemy. Name it. Call it out. Rally your troops and wage your battle. Get mad and then get even. Accept both the loving and angry sides of your passion – when you have both working for you, you will be unstoppable.

 

Can you name your enemy? What is your battle cry? How does the dark side of your passion – your anger – help define your brand in a positive way?

Image Credit: matthijs

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