Tag Archives: brand

Be the Brand. Tips from the (pseudo)master.

Note: This post was originally published August 25, 2008. But it’s so good I just had to reblog. Enjoy.


I’ve written other blogs on other topics before, but never with the sense of purpose I have today.

Not to say that I’ve never had a sense of purpose in the past.

But I feel singularly inspired to write this blog because its all about me.

‘Who am I?’ you ask.

Entrepreneur. Brand strategist. Technology evangelist. Marketing maverick. Biz dev specialist. Trend setter.

I’m the guy who tells you like it is, whether you want to hear it or not.

To put it simply, I’m that dude.

You know who ‘that dude’ is.

He’s the guy that everyone acknowledges (implicitly or explicitly) when he walks into the room.

The one that you’ll remember years after you’ve met him.

The one that everyone aspires to emulate.

The one with the aura, the gift, the presence.

He’s that dude.

We all have ‘that dude’ in us.

It’s that aspect of us that tells really funny jokes.

Or knows how to solve complex equations in our heads.

Or has ability to remain cool in the face of difficulty.

The ‘go-to’ guy when things really need to get done.

Being the brand is the act of cultivating the ‘that dude’ in all of us.

I want to demonstrate the power of my mantra, ‘Be the Brand,” using myself as a living case study.

I’m not particularly famous.

If you Google “Chukumba” you’ll see about 27,000 results.

Add the qualifier “Stephen” and that jumps to about 37,000.

Not bad, but nothing really if you consider the 37 million results generated by searching for the term ‘Oprah’ or the 40+ million generated by searching the term ‘Donald Trump.’

Oprah and Trump are classic examples of iconic figures with huge brand recognition.

When Oprah Winfrey started O Magazine, people said, “She’s so vain. Why does she need to be on the cover of every issue?”

I thought, ‘that’s brilliant!’

What better way to promote your brand than to put your face on everything you put into the stream of commerce?

Oprah didn’t become a billionaire by promoting other people (although she has made quite a few people rich from her promotional prowess).

She promoted herself.

Similarly, when Donald Trump started ‘The Apprentice’ people thought “Who does Donald Trump think he is?”

He’s practically bankrupt!

But Trump is a perfect example of the value of self-promotion.

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to deal with him because his face, his properties, and his brand are everywhere.

Despite his well publicized failures, you’ve got to concede his staying power and presence are indomitable.

There are countless others who fit the Oprah/Donald Trump mold, both famous and unknown.

I include myself in their ranks, and I am going to prove that anyone can be the brand, if they want to be.

Being the brand is a perspective that allows you to define yourself and your world-view in a way that sets you apart from the crowd, but without thrashing others in the process.

So stay tuned to see what I’ve got to say.

I’ve got a lot to say-I’m quite verbose.

Hopefully, you’ll come away with lots of good advice.

And at least it’ll make for some interesting reading!

Now go be the brand!

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Random Thoughts on Branding

I recently returned from a conference in St. Thomas, USVI, where I moderated a panel on advertising.  The session, titled Advertising: The Convergence of Television, Film and Technology, included an attorney from Microsoft corporation, and a senior executive from Global Grind, a start-up of Russell Simmons, backed by the same investment group that funds Facebook.

The session, which started with a brief Power Point presentation (many thanks to my good friend Ben Tannenbaum for his visuals), segued into a heated discussion of the Microsoft ‘I Am A PC’ spots.  Actually, the discussion centered around the efficacy of the first series of commercials launched by Microsoft, which featured Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, and whether Microsoft had intended to lead with those commercials, before unveiling the ‘I Am A PC’ spots.

Several members of the audience thought that Microsoft’s initial spots, were simply crap, and that the ‘I Am A PC’ was a belated effort to offer a more meaningful commercial.  Microsoft’s representative (and a few Microsoft ‘ringers’ in the audience) advised that the Seinfeld commercials (I think there were at least 2 that I viewed) were an intentional patsy, or sacrificial lamb, offered to get people talking about how bad they were.  According to him, the point of those commercials, were that they were…how to put this?…pointless.

For anyone who followed Seinfeld, the pointless nature of each episode, was, in fact, the point of the entire show.  They were shows about nothing.  Similarly, Microsoft explained, the spots were intended to do nothing more than spark discussion about how pointless they were, and to have audiences asking ‘what’s the meaning of all this?’

They specifically didn’t want there to be a single mention of Mircosoft, Vista or anything remotely related to either.  More importantly, they didn’t want people talking about Apple.  Hence, the spots were not intended as a response commercial to Apple’s many diss ads, which continually punked Microsoft as a clunky out-of-touch company.  Rather, they were intended to take the dialogue in a completely different direction.

And when people were just as confused as they could be, the ‘I Am A PC’ spots began airing.  The resulting tide of adulation and praise for these commercials, which were full of life and meaning, and the antithesis of the original Seinfeld spots, were Microsoft’s resurrection.

The reason I used the Microsoft commercials in my example, was because whatever you thought of Microsoft, or its operating system, or its commercials, for that moment in time, Microsoft had captured everyone’s attention.  It had become the quintessential brand of the moment.  When the first commercial aired, the blogsphere was a twitter (no pun intended) with people debating its meaning.  Angry posts declared that Microsoft had missed the mark in responding to Apple’s clever ads, and that no one ‘got it’ (whatever ‘it’ was).

Similarly, when the ‘I Am A PC’ dropped several weeks later (after the subsequent Seinfeld spot), the blogsphere was, once again, flooded with bloggers (and regular folks) discussing the Microsoft spot.  Over the period of time between the first and last spots, Microsoft claimed that there were literally millions of independent threads online about its ads.

While Apple may be THE brand of the hip cool, current, plugged-in minority, Microsoft (if only for a fleeting moment in time) demonstrated that it had the capacity to be that hip brand (of the dorky majority).

By the end of my session, people were literally up-in-arms, and I thought contentedly (to myself) “well done, my good man.  Well done.”  After the session that day, and into the next day, people approached myself, and my two panelists, to give us hearty handshakes and thank us for so spirited a session.  Law students wanted to know how I got into the business and asked for my card.  And a few of the conference planners invited me to moderate sessions in the future.  I may be on next year’s planning committee.  Shoot, I may have even landed a client.

While Microsoft and Apple will continually be in this war of attrition, I’ll happily pimp them for the benefit of MY brand.  ‘Nuff said.

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Brand Obama

Few of us would have believed that a few years after delivering a rousing address at the Democratic National Convention, that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee for the office of the President.  Fewer still would have imagined that this political unknown, four years ago, would arrive in such an audacious fashion on the world stage, and challenge the stereotypes of race in America.

For me, Obama is the quintessential embodiment of ‘being the brand.’  From humble beginnings, he has risen to become one of the most recognized figures in modern history.  Barack did not allow himself to be defined by the circumstances of his birth.  He was not the tragic mulatto, struggling with a sense of identity that plagued him into his adult years.  He accepted that he was a black man in America, and understood that society would attempt to define him by his external color (because he is still half-white despite the fact tha everyone associates him as a ‘Black’ man to the exclusion of his actual racial makeup).

Nor was he a ‘sell-out’ utilizing his white parentage to distance himself from his ethnic African heritage or disassociating himself from other Black people.  Barack has taken care to build a brand identity shaped by hard work, service and unyielding belief in himself and the human spirit.  As a result, his ‘brand’ withstood a vigorous challenge from one of the most recognizable brands in America today, the Clintons, to become the Democratic candidate.

Obama stands as clear example of the individual as the brand.  More importantly, his commanding presence, skillful oratory, mastery of crowds and the media, has been instrumental in defining the Obama brand.

Not all of us will have the opportunity to craft our identities in the same way as Obama.  Each of us will have to find the way to individually, beyond the glare of cameras and the national spotlight, develop our brand and craft our identity.  We can learn lessons from Brand Obama, however, that we can apply to our own brand quests.

For example, Obama was continually assailed from all sides by people who sough to marginalize him or define him by the sin of assumption.  Rather that shirk away from confrontation, Obama took each swipe  at him as an opportunity to clarify who he was.  He rarely shied away from a challenge.  Similarly, each of us, at some point in our lives encounter rumors, stories and outright lies about us.  Rather than to allow them to persist, being the brand requires that you dispel myths, and don’t let them linger.  In this way, YOU define who you are, rather than the wags.

Another example of something we can learn from Brand Obama, is the manner in which he uses the slights against him as a means of advancing his agenda.  When he was beleaguered with the Rev. Wright debacle, Obama took the stage to announce his commitment to eradicate the racial divide in America.

When you find yourself up against difficult odds or circumstances, take the stage and announce how you intend to address whatever issues you might face.  Again, by this approach, you are turning an imagined weakness into a source of strength.

Remember, you are the brand.  Be the brand.

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Lesson 1: You are the Brand

In order to Be the Brand, you have to know that you are, in fact, the brand. While this premise may seem simple enough to digest, it really requires that you think outside of the proverbial box. Step outside of yourself, as it were, and gain a fresh perspective of you.

Up until now, if you were asked to describe yourself, you’d probably run off a list of your obvious characteristics: your age, weight, height, skin color, hair color and texture, gender, where you went to school, blah, blah, blah…

Yes. These are aspects of you, but are they truly YOU? What I mean is that while you are an amalgamation of various things that have conspired to create the person who stares back at you in the mirror each day, you are more than simply the sum of your parts. You are your hairstyle (or constantly changing hairstyles-depending on how often you change your coif), your style of dress, and even your quirks. You are the places you frequent, where you went to school, your accomplishments (and your failures) and your bad jokes. You are all these things plus some.

Bill Cosby famously quipped in one of his routines (talking about a threat he made to one of his children), “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out.” And while its true that we owe much of what we are to our parents (under the theory of nurture), we owe still more of our personality to ourselves (nature). So part of this first lesson involves claiming ownership of you, accepting that you are a product of your parents, but also a distinct person nonetheless.

Case and point, my daughter Asha Ming. Although I nearly passed out in the delivery room (big ups to all my faint-of-heart dads out there who cringe at the sight of the epidural needle-more about this later) I was sufficiently conscious enough (at the time) to observe my daughter’s birth. As I watched her come into the world, I had the most surreal sensation that it was not us who was watching her being born, but rather she who was watching us!

As the mid-wife guided her gently into the world, she commented about how odd it was that Asha had her head slightly cocked to the side (and not down as babies traditionally do) as if she were trying to get a better view of everyone in the room. We all laughed (me nervously) and dismissed the notion, but in hindsight, perhaps she was trying to size us all up. Asha Ming is a child full of personality that I (and several witnesses) observed on the day she was born, and in spite of (or perhaps as a result of) our attempts to rein her in, she remains the sizer-upper, constantly pushing boundaries (and buttons) seeing what she can get away with.

Everyone has that ‘Asha-like’ quality, that aspect of themselves that is purely them. Each of us possess something about us that is unique, that sets us apart from the undifferentiated masses. Being the brand involves recognizing and cherishing that which makes you unique. More importantly, it requires that your uniqueness is celebrated. Don’t tuck it away and act like you don’t exist. Shout your uniqueness to the heavens! Announce your arrival to the world!

I’m not suggesting that you take out a full page ad in the Times, or anything like that. But I am suggesting that you take stock of yourself, and engage in regular affirmations. Being the brand requires your regular and unfailing acknowledgment of your special-ness. It demands that you announce your special-ness both internally and externally. It means that you take stock and ownership of your uniqueness.

If however, you’re one of those people who can’t seem to identify their uniqueness, or who think that they are ordinary, than I suggest you take some time and commune with yourself. Take a survey of people who know you best and ask them what they think makes you unique. At the end of the day, being the brand involves identifying your core, finding your essence.

I close with your homework assignment. Repeat after me, “I am the Brand. I AM the Brand. I am THE Brand. I am the BRAND. I AM THE BRAND!” Practice this mantra every day: once in the morning when you arise; once in the afternoon; and once before you got to bed.

Be the Brand. Class dismissed.

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