Do You Make this Common Branding Error?

“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again. ”
–Vincent Van Gogh

With all the talk I’ve been doing lately about branding you’d think my own branding strategy was perfect. Not so. I thought I’d poke fun at myself and tell you about a branding error I make, especially since it’s a common one you might make as well.

In a comment on my last post, 4 Simple Ways to Grow Your Brand, Dr. Pete said

Steven: I’m a bit slow on the uptake and just put 2 and 2 together (well, 3 and 7, actually); you’re “vangogh99″ from SEOmoz aren’t you?

Dr. Pete really isn’t slow. The truth is I’ve made a fairly common error in branding. I’m Steven Bradley here and vangogh99 at SEOmoz and vangogh at Webmaster-Talk. I may be any one of the three depending on where you encounter me.

I know all three are me, but is there any reason to expect that someone who sees vangogh also realizes he’s the same person as Steven Bradley? (did I just talk about myself int he third person? Remind me never to do that again.). Add in a company name that uses none of my alter egos and it’s enough to even lose me sometimes. A better much approach from the perspective of branding and mindshare would have been to use the same name in all places where I maintain a public persona.

Something tells me I’m not alone given all the unusual names I come across in social circles online.

We’re all dividing our branding efforts. vangogh has mindshare in forums. vangogh99 has mindshare on social media sites. Steven Bradley has mindshare here and in comments around the blogoshpere. How much would I have if I used the same name everywhere? (I did it again. I talked about myself in the third person. You were supposed to remind me not to.)

Unifying Divergent Brands

All is not lost. It’s extra work, but all those different names can be brought together. If you ever notice the author credit I use here you’ll notice the (aka vangogh) after my name. It was an early attempt to bring two of my personas together. The unification could certainly be more effective.

Notice too the Van Gogh self portrait at the top of this post. That image has traveled with me as an avatar wherever the usernames vangogh or vangogh99 happen to be. Adding the image next to my name as post author would be a more effective way to bring the names together here.

A little over a month ago I mentioned using MyBlogLog as a branding tool. Because the vangogh avatar is the one I use on MyBlogLog and because there are blogs that will display your MyBlogLog avatar next to your comments, it can also help unite the different names I use online.

I could go further by leaving blog comments as Steven Bradley (vangogh) instead of Steven Bradley.

When someone sees one of the names the task is to make them think of the others and to do that I need to either present them together or as often as possible to present them in combination with something that remains consistent such as the avatar. If I do it all well enough one day you might visit a museum, see a Vincent Van Gogh painting and think of me. Now that would be mindshare, though I don’t expect to ever compete with one of the most famous artists who ever lived.

The Power of a Logo in Branding

Most people see a logo as the brand. A logo is a symbol representing a brand, but it is not the brand. You brand is the sum of associations, both good and bad, that someone has about you. A good logo can quickly recall those associations without mention of your name. That’s the power of a logo in branding. Create a unique and distinctive logo and display it next to your name enough times and it will become a visual cue to your brand.

The example I commonly use is Nike and the swoosh. A couple of years ago I noticed Nike hardly if ever used their name in a commercial. A typical Nike commercial simply displays the swoosh at the end. We’ve all seen it so many times that it’s enough to tell us who’s behind the commercial. The Nike swoosh is a very powerful abstract brush stroke. Think of how much is communicated anytime you see it.

The ideal way to tie together your different usernames is through your logo since it also ties you into your site and business, but to a lesser degree any consistent icon can work. For me the Van Gogh avatar is probably fine. It might even help to ride the back of Van Gogh the artist since the man and the image are already familiar to many. It’s possible that associations you have about Van Gogh the artist get transferred to me through the self portrait image.

How many different ways can you be identified online? Do you have a way to bring those names together? Does a consistent cue to your brand travel with you online?

“If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
Mary Pickford

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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