The Art of Being You: Building A Better Personal Brand (without the BS)

Fu*k the rules, do what’s right for you?
Seriously. Fu*k em. 

Do you remember life without screens? 

I mean the glowing, talking, ever-present & omniscient ones we wistfully while away our lives behind (be they big, medium, small, or pocket-sized?

Do you remember going out with your friends at the dew-drop-dawn of each new day & riding bikes from sun-up to sun-down. Making up rules to games that didn’t exist yet & relishing in the art of unfettered play?

Did you dance on tables for the joy of & not because we needed fodder to feed an algorithm or three? 

Let me tell you… I did. Thank GAWD we didn’t have smartphones & cameras documenting every waking moment of our lives when I was young. Instead we embraced boredom as a challenge. We invented adventures & undertook them fastidiously.

We found joy in recounting our harrowing tales of escaping scorpions, rattlesnakes, & Bob cats (ahem, we never had to escape really – we never saw all the critters we imagined we’d escaped from, it was their trails in the shallow dust that reminded us they were there though). Oh I loved the days before digital applause became inherently tied to our own self-worth.

When was the last time you spent an entire summer afternoon lying in the grass looking up at the sky & watching the clouds pass overhead?
I can’t remember the last time I did it. 
Has my 13year-old daughter ever done this?
Ever? 
I’m not actually sure. 

My own memories moments where I was truly present haunt me like gentle ghosts. Nudging me. Nurturing me. All of them are specters of a past that whisper in my ears “Do you remember…” hey haunt me in rare moments of silence & stillness, prodding at a dusty corner of my consciousness reminding me of the innate joy in doing nothing. Now though, nothingness is frowned upon. 

In a world where we pay to go places without wifi & are easily seduced by the idea of going offline, we struggle when we encounter boredom. We’re now hard-wired for connection 24/7/365. But the connection our brains desire (damn you, dopamine) isn’t real connection. 

We are living in a time where our personal value is oftentimes measured by how busy we are, how many titles we’ve put next to our names on LinkedIn profiles, & how many followers see the photos/videos/words we upload. The measure is simple: if lots of people see the reckons we post & the breakfasts we tweet about (accompanied by inane/clever/snooze-worthy hashtags), then we must be very important & interesting. Right? 

Yeah, nah. 

In the past 20 years the fabric of our connected culture has become shinier, sure. And don’t we just covet the shiny things? We attempt to grab more & more of the twinkly stuff. We show only our highlight reels to the world. The ups. The celebrations. The rising from a fall. The highest of peaks. Sometimes we show glimpses of the hard stuff. But, that’s only sometimes. 

Mostly though, we keep our fears & our anxieties locked away. 
We wallow in our own defeats when defeat looks like us. 
When the person we see in the mirror isn’t perfect we hide them & from them. 

We disconnect to connect.

For most of us, social interactions are a smoke-screen. A proof-point of interacting with a modernity that has over-run us. It’s social media that defines us. All of us. We post dreamy smiles in golden sunlight in the hopes of living up to the expectations of people we’ve never met. Expectations that have yet to be defined. 

We follow. 
We follow.
We follow. 
We follow…

And, in turn, we hope others will follow us.
Why? Because being followable is the new wealth. 

Whether it’s 100 people or 100million, being followed is a new currency by which we buy & sell our self-confidence off of the back of likes, shares, comments & the ever-elusive idea of virality. Our sweet-fix digital culture is killing us though. Quite literally. We’re drunk on algorithms. 

Here at home in New Zealand our depression & suicide rates are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. We measure our value, our lovability, & our cleverness by double-taps on a screen somewhere else in the world. People we will never know hold our lives in the palms of their hands. 

Which brings me to the topic of Personal Brand. 

Google the term or take a wee squizz on any LinkedIn timeline & you’ll find a treasure trove of people talking about cutting through the din of digital content & becoming a thought leader by building a better personal brand than the next person. Millions of articles purport the best tips-&-tricks for hacking human algorithms (not to mention the social media driven ones) & becoming instantly likable. Instantly famous. Instantly worthy. 

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s an old one. It’s only the platforms on which we’re meant to sparkle that are different. Le sigh. Hands up if you’re already bored of all of the beaty-chesty congratulatory swill that people post in an attempt to feel any bit of anything at all. We chase this kind of interaction because we’ve forgotten how to say “Thank you,” and “Well done,” and any other nice thing to each other in real life – so we look for kindness online. 

Let me be the first to tell you though, the beaty-chesty stuff isn’t authentic or likable. We’re smart. All of us. We can sense bullshit at a thousand paces. When it comes to professional platforms like LinkedIn I can spot a boot-licker from just as far a distance as a bullshit artist. 1,000 paces. 

The most frequent question I get asked is: How can you tell if someone is authentic or not? 

Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush. If you are wondering if someone might not be who they purport to be – then investigate further. Our guts are great at spotting/feeling when things don’t feel quite right. If you’re looking for something that’s based on a person’s online activity, a good rule of thumb to figure out if someone’s yanking your proverbial chain is simple. 

On LinkedIn, head to their “activity” tab & see how they interact & with whom. A person who never interacts with their own colleagues but who hammers ye olde LIKE button when it comes to the chiefs is an easy pick as a butt-kisser. When I see folks of this ilk, I unfollow/dis-engage immediately. There’s only so much brown-nosing a girl can handle up in a timeline, ya know? But that’s just one way to spot someone who is out for themselves instead of sharing themselves with others.

I believe that personal brand isn’t what you may think it is.

I’m here to bring you a different view on it. Instead of playing by other people’s rules, we get to write our own. We do! No one has to be one thing or another to have amazing thoughts & share them. You don’t have to be extroverted, shouty, or move at pace. You need only be who you are to be seen & heard. 

In fact, every single build a better personal brand article that I’ve read that doesn’t start with: “Fuck the rules, do what’s right for you!” is an article I automatically am cynical about. Cynical because if you’re going to tell other people how to live their lives, you’re not doing anyone a favour. 

So, in attempt to not write something that actually helps, & to answer questions that I get asked a whole heckuva lot, here’s my take on the best rules for building your personal brand online & offline:

  • FOLLOW THE WELL TRODDEN PATH
    Hahaha! LOL. Not. Don’t follow a path. 
    Follow a beat. Be it the beat of your heart, a beat of your own drum, or the beat of your favourite power song – follow by leading with that which feeds you. When you know your values & lean hard into them, then you’ll know the path you need to forge. I’ve always found inspiration in others. People who move through the world completely comfortable in their own skin are people I look to when my own comfort in who I am wavers. 

    The happier I am in who I am, the more I’m able to exist in a state of insatiable curiosity. I ask questions. And, I’m open to a magical melding together of electricity and stardust. To stand out, stand up. It’s not always easy to share. But it gets easier the more you do it. Don’t get stuck in the mud of the well-trodden path. Go on, Tiger. Tip-toe through the tulips instead. 
  • DRESS FOR SUCCESS
    Gross, no. 
    Dress for how you feel. 
    Dress how you want.
    Dress up, down, all around. 

    Just make sure that you are, in fact, dressed. 

    All of us should be able to show up in the world the way we want to show up. We must learn to take up space. To be visible in ways that work for us as individuals. Also, we must allow others to do the same. Celebrating diversity means being inclusive of any kind of vibe we bring sartorially. Obviously some professional engagements call for different attire and formalities. If you need to wear a suit, wear one. By all means. 

    But if you’re keen to wear that blue-flower print that makes you feel powerful, do it. Or, that bright orange number that makes you feel like a million bucks – it’s calling your name & does you no good hanging in your closet. If you’re more comfortable with a traditional corporate attire, that’s a-okay as well. You do you, Boo. You write the rules by which you play. If my penchant for double-denim is anything to go by, you’ll soon find out that when you’re at your most comfortable on the outside, you’re also your most productive & effective. Go on, give dressing for your idea of success a whirl. 
  • FOLLOW/NETWORK WITH EXECUTIVES & C-SUITE
    LOL, soz. No thanks. When I see people only managing “up” on LinkedIn & in other professional settings I instantaneously dry-retch. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out to or follow people in positions you aspire to – just don’t let the idea of a corporate ladder be that which defines your personal branding strategy online (or off). Instead of seeking out the top-dogs only, follow people who inspire you instead. Search out people who have a genuine opinion & who aren’t afraid to share it. I always look for the helpers, the givers. 

    The people who spend most of their time with one aim in mind: to connect. These people are worth their weight in gold & then some. I’ve learned more from following people who are different to me & who are in different roles to me than I have by following a whole heap of CEO’s names John or Dave. With a good mix of colleagues, contemporaries, & kick-ass people who you just seem to gel with, you’ll make a much better impression on just on the world – but you’ll learn a whole lot more & be able to feed your curiosity more authentically.

    Also, things we should do more fastidiously are: 
    Thank people. 
    Compliment people. 
    Ask questions. 
    Banter. 

    Remember, building a personal brand isn’t about kissing asses. 
    It’s about trust, integrity, & being true to who you are as a person. If you’re keen on learning more from people higher up the ladder, follow away. But don’t forget to stop for a moment & look at everyone else around you. It might just be your network of contemporaries who lift you the highest as you move through your career. 
  • SHARE COMPANY STORIES 80% OF THE TIME, PERSONAL ONES 20%
    I see this a lot. Folks who are either a) drinking the Kool Aid hard-out & don’t realise the damage they’re dong to their personal brand by not branching out in their interests or who are b) looking for congratulations & adulation from others within their business alone. In the olden days of LinkedIn (yes, there were olden days & I lived through them) the rule of thumb was to only share stories about the business or industry you worked in, but that was because the platform was originally a hunting ground for job-seekers & HR folks looking to poach top talent. 

    If you were caught on LinkedIn during the Wild West days of the platform, you were always branded a person looking for greener pastures. Lucky for all of us, the platform has matured (hopefully as have we) & the facts don’t lie: to have people engage with you you must be engaging. Seems fairly obvious, right?

    Yet, I quite often see folks who will only talk about XYZ business & XYZ profits & XYZ strategy… blah blah blah. In all reality, if you’re looking to grow your personal brand online, you need to flip the above percentages. Or, be much cleverer in how you share information so that the people you’re hoping to engage with understand your personal drivers. If you share 100% business information, but can do so with a personal interest or a passionate & human spin, then that’s a-okay. Because… you guessed it… that makes the information you’re sharing relatable & valuable.

    I mean, I’m sure your big/small/medium sized business is awesome & that you are truly in love with the CMS, DMP, & campaign PIRs you work with… but tell me something interesting. Tell me something surprising. In fact, share a new idea. Say something bold. Something different. I’d love 100% of you & your ideas… but if you’re on LinkedIn, sure go on & pepper in some business speak. But please don’t make it an 80% love-fest about corporate policy.

    Humans connect. Be human. 
  • POST TWICE A WEEK ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.
    Again, this is another case of the “nopes”! What I mean by this is that winning the algorithm & going viral is kinda like winning the lotto. The odds are stacked against us all simply because of the vast amount of content being made & shared every second of every day. If you’re looking to do anything, look to make an impact on one person. Then two. Then three… etc. 

    Instead of trying to hack an algorithm, simply interact with intention. Quite often even I get caught up in thinking that I need to post to Instagram, or to Facebook, or to LinkedIn on a daily basis. But some days (ahem, MOST DAYS) I really don’t have that much to say. So instead, I fight the urge to post a bunch of waffle & instead I only post if I can interact in a way that gives. 

    When we give people our thoughts & our experience, then they receive the gift of knowledge. I love giving people my attention, my time, my expertise. Be boundless in how you give… give give give. 
    In fact, if you take anything away from this article at all, let it be this: GIVE. 
  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
    A few months ago I called a guy on LinkedIn an asshat. It was the nicest thing I could think to call him after he attacked me via DM & in public on the wall of my own LinkedIn feed. I’ve never met this man & really don’t ever want to, either.

    New Zealand being small & Auckland being even smaller, I probably will end up next to this dolt at a conference or riding home on public transport – but so far, I haven’t had to breathe the same air as him. Without going into too much detail, this poor, triggered fellah didn’t like my language. He didn’t like my ideas. He didn’t like me at all. 

    So, instead of blocking me or just moving on with his own damn life he tried to put his sticky beak into mine. He wrote to my employer. He attempted to continue DMing me well after me having blocked him. He just really needed to stop being an asshat. In reality, what this stranger was trying to do was to quiet me. To take my voice & my freedom of expression. He tried to bully me online, then through my employer (they didn’t bite, either). He tried to make me feel small. At all of these things, he tried & failed. 

    I’m old enough & worn around the edges enough to speak my truth. I do it kindly, I do it often. And, I hope you do, too. To build your brand, use your language. Speak your truth. People can see right through anything that’s not authentic. And, when that happens you lose trust. No trust = no ability to network.

    Never be afraid to use your language. Your own form of poetry is that which the world is ready to drink in. No one is allowed to steal that from you. One of Dr Maya Angelou’s most impactful quotes in my life has been this “A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing, she goes where she will without pretense & arrives at her destination prepared to be herself – & only herself.

    Don’t watch your language, friends – use it. 

So there you have it. 
A lot of words on personal brand that can easily be distilled down into one common theme: build trust by sharing your passion, your knowledge, & by being truly curious about who other people are & why they do what they do.

Also, wear double/triple/quadruple denim whenever you please. 
Your body. Your mind. Your rules.

Dr. Suess said is simplest. 
He said it best.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. 
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Go & do you, Boo. 

My Favourite C-Words

If there’s anything I love in work & life it’s a good deep-dive into C-words. LOL. WTF? Hold the phone…

Yeah, welcome to my mind. Always a bit left-field, but that’s cool. Left-field was always my favourite position on the old baseball diamond anyhow. Seeing that I was born a literal C-word and seeing that C-Word was once an actual nickname that my ex-husband’s ex-girlfriend lovingly called me, it just makes sense to feel close to them.

To me, C-words just feel a bit warm, cuddly, & slightly badass. Think about the beauty of the C.

Clever. Cookie. Craft. Caboose. Capsize. Cheeky. Chuffed. Cervix – a ha! Caught ya sleeping didn’t I? 

As a young girl Cookie Monster taught me that “C is for Cookie, & that’s good enough for me!”And if any song has ever helped me through life it has to be this gorgeous wee love-letter to sweet treats in which flour, sugar, water, & choc-chips are melded into a blob of heavenly nom-noms. That said, I’m not here to talk about Sesame Street, ditties, or naughty words that march along in 4-lettered-giggles. 

Nope, I’m going to dive a bit deeper when it comes to Cs. These Cs are the ones that might make or break a brand, a person, or a profession. Since I’m addicted to the rosy-colored outlook of life, just ahead we’ll be focusing on the things that can make your business stronger, your soul fuller, & your journey through life a wee bit sweeter. Your job? Embrace the essence of optimism inherent in the ideas ahead. 

Buckle up, Team. Here come my fave C-words! 

CREATIVITY

Defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something, creativity is my C-word Bae. It’s easy to fall in love with a concept that melds together originality & functionality.

It’s also fun to live & work in a profession where the art of crafting a strong strategy & marrying it to clever creative iteration is soul-filling. Within the bounds of creativity are abundant opportunities to not only find clever ways to deliver marketing & ad campaigns that are both effective & memorable, but there’s also a spark of magic in moments when all of the pieces of a proverbial puzzle come together. 

Call it what you will, I know instinctively when we’ve had an “A ha!” moment. By rights, as someone who can live in big blue sky while still acting as a tether to the reality of business needs, creativity is what keeps me going. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently on the future of work, the impact of AI on marketing, & on crucial factors for driving business & individual success in a saturated digital marketing world. Of all key attributes & skills required to drive success, I bet you can guess which is the stand-out winner. Yep, head & shoulders above anything technical, creativity is what we need to start teaching our young ones to embrace if they’re going to be successful as they grow.

I should also be completely clear here as I write this. I’m not talking about teaching our sweet young people to be like the presumptuous, wanky, assholish once-were-super geeks who style themselves as savants & name themselves as “Creatives” with a capital C whilst looking down on anyone who doesn’t have the ability to wear tight leather pants or to sit around all day drawing on walls & calling a scribbled storyboard art. Nope. There’s a fresh hell reserved for the creatives who actually believe that their minds are better than those of others. The truth is that every single one of us can be taught to be more & more creative.

We can wire our brains for strategic thought & we can also wire our brains to think beyond the norm – to love playing in the realm of ridiculous.

To do this is pretty simple, we create a cheat sheet (we marketers love a good cheat sheet, don’t we?) Dialling up creativity in any situation can be done in five simple steps. The first step is to understand the problem you’re attempting to solve & understanding associations between questions, problems, or ideas from other fields. When you can look beyond your product or campaign to another & see connections with the idea you’re attempting to harness, you’re on the right path! From associations, the next move to make is one towards questioning

Early on in my career I often fell victim to building ideas upon wobbly foundations – or, rather common wisdom. It’s the job of a creative mind to question common wisdom, to poke at it, to shake it in the box, to break it a bit. When it comes down to it, newness only happens when we step away from the old ways of thinking & doing. Therefore questioning is critical.

From here, we must take the time to observe the behaviour of customers, competitors, stakeholders, & suppliers. When we watch others we often are able to visually see just how things might be done better, more efficiently, & more effectively. If we skip the observing phase of creativity, we miss out on crucial information in building ideas that meld originality & functionality. 

Networking, like observing, is a process by which to introduce & challenge new ideas with people who see the world differently to you & your team. At this point in the creative process it is key to ensure your networking & working groups are diverse. Diversity isn’t just a catch-phrase for modern times my friends, it’s a necessary ingredient to being successful. There are only so many of the same faces & places we need to re-hash before everything becomes banal & yawn-worthy.

After networking & sharing your concepts wider than the team you work most closely with, you’ve now reach the experimenting phase of your creative journey!This is where you get to pull together all of your strategy, information, iterations & ideas & try them out. 

The best & worst part of the creative process is sharing what you’ve created with others. It’s exhilarating & horrifying sharing something you’ve created with people who might not see your vision through eyes that understand the method to your proverbial madness. But it needs to happen.


Brilliance that isn’t shared is brilliance wasted, yes?

Embrace that fear, my friends. Share your ideas – & as you do, take people on the same journey that you went through in concepting. The sell-in is much easier when people understand how you made it from a David Bowie to a pair of skateboarding sneakers.

I couldn’t write about creativity without including a strong nod towards those moments we all have when we just can’t get into the groove of creating. We’re all different when it comes to how we create, too. Some of the most brilliant creative minds I’ve ever worked with can create on the spot, in a room full of people. They feed off of the energy in a room. I can’t do this. In fact, situations in which I am put on the spot to deliver brilliance scare the shit out of me. I need a more hybrid experience. I need time to myself to work through the first few steps of the creative process, & then need others in the networking & experimenting stages to optimise ideas & executions. 

Knowing that we all thrive in different environments is key to being a successful leader & a successful marketer by rights. When I need time away from the hustle & bustle of the office I walk. I leave the noise & head outdoors. I find there’s no better way to understand & embrace a wandering mind than to wander. While wandering I am able to focus on a singular problem & to hone in on a single source of truth that leads to many ways of approaching a solution. Whatever it is that helps you find your creativity, know your levers & pull them when you need to. We’re all creative & we’re all creatives. All of us. 

So own your creativity. Own your art. Own all of it & be proud of whatever brilliant ridiculousness your mind conjures up. Author Liz Gilbert has summed up creativity & the pursuit of living a creative life in a way that I am in love with, she calls it Big Magic. 

And, I’m all for this kind of magic.

COMMUNITY

Talking of magic, another favourite C word of mine is the glue that holds humanity together. Beautiful, imperfect, necessary, & strong without community we’d all be wandering through the world alone. I remember when of social media & online chat started to seep into daily life. I was in college in Santa Barbara & my roommate, Carrie, downloaded AOL Instant Messenger. The interface was so easy, the ability to connect so quickly was novel, & the feeling of community was immediate. As silly as it may seem now, we actually used to chat to each other online while in the same room! Not long after discovering the ease of community building when adding people into chat streams & conversations, the first murmurings around Facebook started. We already had My Space. Why did we need/want/require something other than My Space?!? LOL. Oh how interesting it is looking back on the days before the big blue logo! 

It was my younger brother who was in school mid-way across the country in Missouri who invited me to become a member of The Facebook. My first reaction to the new platform was reluctance. My second reaction (very soon after the first) was happiness. I could see people I know who were super far away from me & check in on people around the edges of my community, too. IRL & online really started to meld into one here. And, for a while the social part of social media reigned supreme. When it came to community & community building it was all of us together. Before we as a media & advertising profession over-pivoted on shouty advertising in a traditionally community space, we stayed fairly kind to each other too.

But things, as they do, changed. From my perspective, change is good. It’s constant. It’s the only thing promised to any of us. But somewhere along the line over the past decade, with a glut of social media channels finding their way into our brains, we seem to have forgotten the heart of what matters most for people as a whole, & that’s the connective power of community. In the past year I’ve lost a handful of men to depression & anxiety. All of these men were young. They had young families. They were talented. But, with the pressure to keep up online with the likes, comments, shares & witty retorts – they lost a true community. For them, even with all of the connections available online, IRL was a lonely place. My heart breaks for those they left behind. My soul longs to do better by our posterity to ensure community is the centermost aspect of any connective outlet we as humans are a part of. 

So, how do we dial up community in an era where ad units, whiz bang interactive ad placements, & more ads hit us on the daily than ever before in human history? Well, firstly we need to invest in our people. Who are our community managers? How do they see the world? Are they taken good care of on & offline? Once we as marketers & business people learn to treat the online world as a place just as beautifully suited for building positive interactions as offline, we’ll literally be saving lives alongside driving business return. Not a bad combo, right? 

Also, when it comes to community, taking the time to banter & have fun as a brand is of the utmost importance.

The gorgeous reality of a democratization of communication in the form of social or online media is that we’re all able to connect better & more frequently on our own terms. We’re able to see, hear, & invest in truly diverse ways of seeing the world.

Basically, community managers who do an awesome job at their jobs are some of the most woke & empathetic people I have ever met. And, if we can shift the conversation to business performance for a hot second, community is the root of all sales. It always has been & always will be. 

This is why there are creative agencies out there who are still attempting to peddle “viral videos” in response documents. They’re not just going to make you a video. Nope, they’re after virality. Why? Simply because social currency & viral sharing are things you cannot buy. They’re at the upper echelon of the community scale online. They’re Wonka’s golden ticket. The only way to cash in your ticket is to invest in community. There are no more happy accidents & social media shortcuts. Humans are mostly immune to bullshit. So why not turn away from the BS & dive into authentic community building? No matter the channel, platform, or space – if you have an engaged community, they’ll follow wherever you are. And that is magic! 

CHANGE

Ah, ch ch changes. Turn & face the strange indeed. When it comes to the most impactful C word of them all, change has to be it. Change is our only constant. It is both a North Star of hope & a black hole painted in shades of despair. Everything & nothing all at once, change is what every movie, song, story, & creative endeavor is about at the core. And, cliché or not, change is both the cause & effect of everything any of us ever do in life. Which means that getting comfortable with it – or rumbling with it as Brené Brown might say – is the only way to live a truly fulfilled. It’s in the rumbling that we build muscle memory & mass. It’s where we gain grit & strength & maturity. 

If we spend our time at home, at work, & at play afraid of change we’ll spend our time in a constant state of fear. And, bleurgh. Yuck. No one wants to live like that. Embracing newness & seeing opportunity in change takes practice though. It also takes communication. When we talk about comfort & joy a lot of the words that we weave into societal narratives are that of a language of stability & relative sameness. We love the idea of jobs that don’t go away, homes that are forever homes, & families that never veer away from what popular culture tells us families should be. I call bullshit on all of this. 

When you think about growing up, what are the stories you tell yourself & others? Are they banal stories of days that turn into months that turn into years that become a life of doldrums & sameness, or are you a bit more like me & see your defining moments as the ones you could never have seen coming? When I was a kid there’s no way I would have guessed that I’d become a professional storyteller living on the other side of the planet in a country smaller in size & population than my home state. I’d never have guessed that I’d have married young. I definitely never would have imagined that I’d have been a young mother, or by rights, a young(ish) divorcee. 

Going through the pain of a broken marriage meant that all I knew was change. And I had to get comfortable with it on ground that I wouldn’t ever describe as common. Far from home in a country that didn’t raise me, I came of age because of change. I became a better mother because of change. I became my truest self through a complete unravelling. I learned that love wasn’t stagnant, but a rollicking ride. A rodeo ride of sorts. One minute I’d be racing around barrels, then there’d be eight seconds of sheer bull-riding terror. All up though, life’s been one helluva rodeo. That’s all thanks to change. 

There’s something superbly beautiful in embracing the grit that comes along with the pearl of change. When it comes to our work, the most important thing we can do as professionals is to embrace the changing nature of communication platforms & to try our damndest to love little moments of newness that shift & change our goalposts daily. The world of a successful marketer is a world in which change is seen as a curveball that we’re well ready to knock out of the park. 


Embrace change, embrace a fun-filled journey. 

CONSCIOUSNESS 

Wokeness. It’s a thing now – to be woke that is. I’m pretty chuffed about it being so, too. For far too long there seemed to be a gap in our knowing & our actions when it came to how we comported ourselves in an ever-growing & ever-churning consumerist society. We learned young that bigger meant better. We were told that the more you have, the more you’re worth (not monetarily speaking). We were also sold the idea that if we wanted to be happy, we needed to not show any cracks.

The end result? We’re all cracking a bit. With an incoming tide that is now allowing us to ride to a shore of soft, sandy wokeness – we surfers of sustainability & circular economies are changing how we live, how we buy, what we consume, what we create, how we worship, how we parent, & what we consider love.  We’re awakening to our impact on the world beyond our own selves & are starting to understand just how potent each & every human being is. All of this is so very overdue, too.

I can remember being a very young child, maybe six years old, thinking about how much trash our little family of four made every week. We had a big dumpster out of the back of our home & wouldn’t fill it weekly, but I’d say we definitely filled it monthly. I remember watching my Dad tie up the ends of thick plastic bags that were almost as big as me. He was strong with big muscles, kinda like He-Man. Still he lugged the rubbish bags out. They were heavy. 

My mind always wondered: 
How in the hell did we create so much waste? 
Where did it go? 
Did everyone else make just as much rubbish? 
Why weren’t we recycling everything?

My heart & head are heavy thinking through all of this right now & the implications of how much I personally have hurt the earth over the course of my lifetime simply by throwing shit away. I’d like to pull out the “I didn’t know any better!” card, but somewhere even in my little girl mind I knew what we were doing wasn’t right. Trash just didn’t evaporate. On the scale of heathen to woke, I’d say I’m still waking. In work & in life I am much more cognizant of how the things I buy & the things I throw away impact the planet & posterity. When working with large organisations I outright refuse to engage in down-&-dirty retail for products that are made without sustainability, longevity & a circular economy mindset baked into them.

How can we work towards helping our brands & businesses become woke? First we need to be aware of our need to awaken. From there we need a plan. A mindset shift away from money being the be all & end all in defining business success needs to happen. And, when we advertise, we need to do so morally & ethically. Yeah, it might take more time, resource up front, & be challenging in the first instance – but we can literally make the world a better place by thinking consciously when we plan our campaigns & content calendars. Waking up can be confusing, but oh what a world to inhabit once we’re all awake together.

CAKE

Who would I be if I made a list of favourite C words & didn’t even make a nod to the deliciousness that is cake. No matter your sweet, spongy, icing-laden tickle of choice, cake just makes the world go round. In good time & in bad, there’s cake. From standard chocolate to funfetti, life is too short not to enjoy & indulge every once in a while. A good life rule: just eat the damn cake. This C word has nothing to do with marketing or business (unless you run a cake marketing business), but has much to do with balance & blood-sugar which means it’s a-okay with this sweet-toothed tiger. 

In conclusion, when it comes to C-Words, we can have our cake & eat the heck out of it… too. 🎂

Introvert Tales: Survival Tips in a World of Extroverts

Let’s talk about comfort zones for a minute.

There are so many kinds of them. The most important ones being those that ensure basic survival and safety. If we’re in imminent danger, we can usually feel the potential for trouble before it eventuates. And, thanks to our gut-feel, usually back away from situations where we’re uncomfortable. Other comfort zones exist to inform, impact, and drive certain social and professional interactions. In moments both big and small we understand inherently if we’re nervous, unsure, or completely at ease. And, we lean towards interactions that validate and keep safe our needs to feel accepted and liked by others.

Personally, I’m hyper-aware of my comfort zones. Maybe too aware. I get fidgety and uncomfortable in them. Which is weird, right? The whole ‘get used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ argument for growth sounds more like self-flagellation than fun. But, it’s where I live my life most days.

Let me explain.

We all have our safe places. Our inner havens, in-built boundaries, & self-check systems. And, we all know without a doubt when our personal boundaries are being pushed, pulled, crossed, mussed or even splintered apart. So, why is it then, that when it comes to finding comfort, I don’t necessarily find it in routine? Or by rights, in spontaneity?

What I’ve come to notice about my own comfort zones is that there’s a constant fuzzy-line-of-discomfort drawn between moments where my worst nightmares & sweetest dreams converge. And, I dance quite the cha-cha on that fuzzy line of peaceful internal existence daily – stepping thoughtfully through the rhythm of  work, life, family, and wider societal pressures.

You see, on the outside, I fit every stereotype of extrovert you could imagine. Bubbly, inquisitive, completely individual, confident… yep, typical So-Cal girl in New Zealand, right? Yep, on the outside. But, just below the surface the truth is bubbling away. I’m an introvert. I’ve done hundreds of personality quizzes, and each time have come out an INFJ. Which confounds most people I confide in. Most, but not all.

You see, while I like to be who I am and to push boundaries – I’m much happier and comfortable recharging my batteries in solitude. Earphones on, music playing, out for a run. Or, TV on in the background, reading and ingesting information in my own way, on my own time. If I could magic-up a perfect day it would include all of the above – peppered with a few people throughout to sweeten the narrative. It’d be a lovely, drawn out day of quiet introspection and small treats of socialising. See? Introvert.

That said, I also love short, sharp moments of discomfort when I get to be in a group teaching, creating, and working collaboratively with some of the most amazing people/peers in the game. A lot of the time if I know I’ll be speaking or presenting something to a crowd, I’ll psych myself up for it. Just like I used to do when I was playing sports – I treat most days like The Big Game. I give my all to what I can, and then head home in the evenings to rest and recharge. Because, as much as I absolutely love a little bit of extrovert time, it zaps my energy stores and sets me right outside of my comfort zones.

The conclusion I’ve come to about myself is this: I am a study in opposites. An introvert forever doing extrovert things. And, I’ve also come to realize that the coping mechanisms that I’ve built up over the years are super important, super necessary, and super easy when they’re simplified down to the good stuff. 

So, in no particular order, here are some of my own Survival Tips for introverts living in a world of extroverts:

  1. Do your homework
    This obviously only works for moments of discomfort that you can actively plan on. Things like big presentations (or small ones!), public speaking, pitching to clients, and the like. I find I’m much better at finding comfort in discomfort when I’m well prepared or learned on a topic. If I’m speaking at an event, I practice, practice, practice before presenting. Most of the time this means working through a presentation far in advance and then getting up each day at 3am a week or so before speaking to run through the narrative in my mind. For pitches and other moments where I know my palms might start sweating a bit, I study up on both the people and the ideas being spoken to. That way I feel like I’m talking more to friends than to potential investors or clients. Planning ahead and doing the leg-work has been a consistent winner in the coping stakes for me.
  2. Schedule in quiet time
    Whether it’s in short bursts throughout the day, small walks outside, or through meditation – scheduling in time to recharge is key to going full steam ahead (in bursts) daily. I try to take at least 10 minutes a day – though 30 would be better! – to get outside, grab a bite to eat, listen to music, browse the interwebs, and do non-work stuff. I find even small moments of shutting my mind off from work helps me come back with better creativity, focus, and the ability to really pack all of my best hours into a day at the office. Without a break, I tend to break. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. So, if you see me taking a walk around the block with my earbuds in, I’m recharging and will be back to chat soon.
  3. Get to know what stresses you out intimately
    Self-awareness is an art. Believe me, there’s a reason EQ is such a sought after attribute in the workplace these days. People who understand their own emotions and drivers are able to lead better, more efficiently, and drive engagement with their teams. Knowing what stresses you out can void or limit the power each moment of fear has over you. By accepting your discomfort, you can really get zen with it and feel the moment. Acknowledge your fears, then move on. One of the best talks I’ve ever seen, from the amazing Simon Sinek of course, was about how the human body processes fear and excitement. Both are translated in very similar, almost identical ways. We get to choose how we interpret our stressors sometimes. So for me, even when I’m literally running to the bathroom with nerves before a presentation or speech, I tell myself I’m stoked/happy/excited/fizzing to get going. More often than not, a positive outlook works in finding a calm place to work from – in front of a crowd or not.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be honest (or, imperfect)
    Quite often in the corporate world we’re encouraged to live our lives as flawless, perfect, unflappable versions of our true selves. Never messing up. Never failing at a project. Never standing up for what’s right, or obvious, or truly common sensical – instead we live standing in the shadows of not-ruffling-feathers. I call bunk on this. All of it. Personally, I tend to like the leaders and innovators who show their human sides. They wear the dents in their armor proudly – as scars that encouraged growth and change. They believe in honesty. And, they live by it regardless of popular trends or belief. Let’s face it, there are times when all of us struggle. If you’re able to embrace the struggle, ask for help, and teach others from your own journey – you’re not less of a person. You’re more. From an introvert’s perspective, I crave connection with a small inner-circle who allow me to ask questions, admit gaps in strengths, and grow from it all. With a core team you can trust, the sky really is the limit.
  5. Accept who you are and play to your strengths
    Who decided that the best way to ‘grow’ people in business was through concentrating maximum efforts on hiding or erasing weaknesses? To me, this way of thinking is off piste with reality. You want people to come into work engaged, passionate, and willing to learn? Ask them what their passions are. Grow what they’re good at. And, as a matter of course, address weaknesses when they hinder performance. I mean, you wouldn’t take a point guard and put them under the hoop to box out the big guns if your game plan was to win. You’d set the team up in a way that would at least level an already star-studded playing field. Beyond the office, I’m a person who completely accepts that I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be. And, I really don’t get on well with people who pretend they’re perfect and belittle others in the process for a journey that has peaks, valleys, roundabouts, and stops. I reckon it’s simple: accept who you are and who your colleagues are, and play well together. You’ll find you’re more comfortable in your own skin. And you’ll be surrounded by people who are more comfortable in their own, too.

So there you have it – my 5 tips for being you, when you have to put yourself out on the line more often than you might be wired to be comfortable with. Sure it can be scary. But, it can be very appealing – exciting even! Success really is at the end of your comfort zones – especially if you’re able to push your own boundaries in a way that makes you feel secure in the long run.

As an introvert, knowing yourself is your best, most powerful weapon out in the wide world. Wield that knowledge wildly. Thrive like it’s going out of style.

Breaking Bad Buzzwords (A Marketer’s Guide to Less BS)

Have you ever had an out-of-body experience in a work meeting? One of those did-I-just-zone-out-or-are-these-people-speaking-Martian moments where you hear people as clear as a bell, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t figure out what in the world they’re on about?

You hear words, pauses, and see nods of approval from others. But sentences are far from sonorous. They’re not easily digestible. You chew and chew on blurted acronyms. And, although you try your best to take everything in and make it stay – the words just slip through the cracks like sand through a sieve.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Buzzwords. Words that aren’t words. Acronyms. Jargon-y sentences. Marketing dogma. Monday-to-Friday speak that focuses in on laddering up to strategic objectives while still maintaining the essence of a brand through targeted audience demographics.

Ugh.

If stopping eyeballs from rolling (my own & those of others in the room) was a superpower, I’d use mine for good. Promise. My goal? To save the world from meeting after meeting of Buzzword Overkill. I’d swoop in and demand clarity. And detail. And real-human-speak.

I’m not sure if I’d don cape and spandex bodysuit, but that’s not the important thing to ponder on right now (or maybe it is?) Spandex is pretty darn comfy.

Honestly though, all sarcasm and irony aside, in my eyes the use (or often over-use) of professional slang can at once be overwhelming and off-putting. When buzzwords and acronyms are thrown around willy-nilly like confetti, I zone out. My internal monologue takes over, and my mind wanders off to greener, more concise pastures.

Looking back a few years, my career was focused mainly in the arenas of social media and digital marketing.  During this time the word ‘viral’ was my Kryptonite. It was – and often still is – overused. The best thing about an evolving digital and social marketing landscape? More and more marketers and agency partners understand that marketing, storytelling, and channel mix all play together nicely if done well. In fact, I haven’t been asked to make a viral video in at least six months now. It’s like seeing a light at the end of a common-sense tunnel!

But, beyond asking for viral videos and shareable Facebook posts – there’s a new Buzzword heading  for (or already at) Overkill Level 10. And, weirdly/fittingly/hilariously enough… it’s in my actual job title.

That said, before I move onto said word/phrase let me just say this – I love what I do. Love. I wake up each day able to practice my passions – and get paid to do so. That’s a big win. Storytelling in all of its shapes, sizes, forms, and nerdy amplification/distribution subsets really keeps my engine revving.

So, let’s hop to it. I’m sure you’ve guessed the word.

Content.

Yep. Content. 

The word ‘content’ gets bandied about these days in so many shapes, forms, manners, and reckless iterations that I sometimes find my head spinning. Literally.

When talking about campaigns and strategy, lots of folks typically define ‘content’ as a singular item, story type, artistic execution, or any mismatched mixture of the above. Video? Yep, that’s content. Images? Uh huh, that too. Social media posts? You betcha. Infographics? Yessiree. Long-form articles? BIG YES! But  what about those folks who, oftentimes in the same meeting – and sometimes in the same breath – mean something completely different to any of the above? They’re human curveballs sent to strike me out swinging – or at least have me knock a foul-ball into catchable territory.

Because of inconsistencies in how each person in a room defines content, I’ve implemented a rule in meetings where the word ‘content’ is actually banned. Why? Because content itself is a catch-all phrase. It can be the most broad definition of branded communication, or drilled down into a singular touch-point. But, most people don’t take the time do define what they mean when they’re talking content. Which is why it can be a confusing and confounded principle to grasp for a lot of people. It’s also why there are so many divergent views on strategy and campaign roll-out when talking ‘content.’

By banning the word itself, or getting people to substitute it with something silly like ‘pineapple,’ I find meetings are more, erm, fruitful.

Really though. Think about how many times a day a typical marketer, agency suit, or creative hears, writes, or reads the word ‘content.’ Then imagine the word pineapple being bandied about haphazardly instead.

The absurdity, and the absolute frustration in using a nonsensical word when you want to use another kind of makes you stop, think, and be really concise and detailed when talking about strategies and ideas. Which, I reckon, is a good thing when money (or the potential for it) is on the line, right?

We need to be super-iterative when we talk about content. When we talk about context. When we talk about placement. And channel. And insights… and, most importantly, when we’re storytelling on behalf of a brand.

When approaching content marketing (AKA storytelling), the first thing I need to begin a journey into the depths of creativity is data. And from the data, insights. And then information about the product/service/offering we’ll be creating ideas from. Then, we crack into iteration. Into channel. Into creative execution. It’s so much easier to talk about a video series, or an infographic based story, or a long-form textual article, or a quiz than it is to talk about, ugh, ‘content.’

So don’t just take it from me. Take it from all of the eye-rolling-content-saturated-modern-marketeers and do us all a favor. The next time you’re tempted to use the word ‘content’ in a meeting, be super specific. Even in your own mind, think ‘pineapple.’ Sometimes simplifying ideas down to their most basic function is difficult – but embracing the hard stuff means better clarity. And, bigger wins.

Also, it means I’ll still be awake at the table, listening to you – taking it all in, actively engaged and impassioned. And, nodding in delight at your, ahem, pineapple creating acumen. Thank you in advance for your clarity.

Now, who’s up for a tropical cocktail? I seem to have a hankering for one now…