The Bitch Slap: You’re Not the Prom Queen – You’re a Brand

bitch slap unpopularWhen did we forget the branding lessons learned on the primary school playgrounds and popularity contests that ruled the schools of youth? Cliques. Clubs. Jocks. Nerds. Freaks. People break off and identify with people and trends they like. And who’s more vocal about being a rabid fan of something than a kid?

I love Depeche Mode!
Z-Cavarricis are the only pants I wear!
Thomas the Train!

And while the prom queen might have been the most popular girl in the school, it doesn’t mean she was the smartest. It just meant that she got the most votes.

Holy Christmas – would you stop trying to be the prom queen and start paying attention to your brand already?

  • Depeche Mode wasn’t trying to win over fans of country music.
  • Z-Cavariccis weren’t target marketed to Nebraska farm boys.
  • They don’t broadcast Thomas the Train at prime time.

Why? Because they understand their markets and with WHOM they are unpopular.

How will YOU build YOUR brand to be unpopular?

Unpopular isn’t bad

Perhaps it’s the stigma we carry over that was attached to the popularity contests of our youth. Votes, yearbooks, crowns…if you’ve ever been picked last for dodgeball, you know the feeling sucks. But are you really going to sit there and tell me that you’re building a business designed for everyone under the sun? I spent this past weekend at SOBCon Colorado, a small business incubator designed to put ideas into action for business owners. My speaking partner, John Cushman (CEO, Solany) and I started the conference off asking the audience: do you know who you serve and have you built a business model to serve them?

And I asked the audience to consider Oprah Winfrey.

She is one of, if not THE largest media property in the United States, but there are a metric ass ton of people reading this post who will stand up in the middle of a major league baseball game and yell, “I hate Oprah!” (And if you’re an Eminem fan – as I am – do yourself a solid and check out Cori Padget’s post on his branding technique). An example of brands that are successful because they understand that they don’t serve everyone. They’ve successfully turned “being unpopular” into currency that they cash in with the people who adore them.

When we stop trying to please everyone and have a clear vision of who we don’t want to please, the branding process becomes much more clear.

Think inside out

I get it that “unpopular” has a stigma attached to it. Trust me – I get it. I lose business because of it every day…and I don’t mind because I’ve turned my thinking about the branding process and my business model inside out. Each day, I focus on who I don’t want to serve and please. That helps me do three very important things:

  • It keeps me from taking work I’m not passionate about, and thus, I’ve stopped wasting my time.
  • I can serve those whom I want to serve with more enthusiasm.
  • Those whom I serve never feel shortchanged, because I’m not fucking around with trying to be everything to everyone (insert Everclear song lyrics *here*)

Turn your thinking inside out. Start with what you don’t want and take that crap out of the mix. Stop building Joe’s Mortuary and Fine Sausage Emporium and get some focus. I never eat at restaurants that serve Thai food and pizza.

yoda do or do notDo or do not

There is no try. Get a little Yoda on the prom queen. Believe me when I say that two feet of green alien could do your brand a world of good. Jonathan Fields spoke this weekend about creating an avatar for your ideal customer. Read that post, because if you missed SOBCon, he’s dropping some mad branding knowledge. Admit to yourself – sculpt for yourself –  who you want to serve and stop being afraid of telling part of the world that you don’t want their business! If Swingline can build a world of rabid fans around Milton’s red stapler, YOU can sit down and do a little work on your strategy. And if Crocs, the world’s uglies shoes, can build a rabid fan base (and even find their way into the closet of a certain redhead who scored them as schwag at a speaking gig) YOU can embrace being unpopular.

Do you want to be the world’s prom queen or do you want to be considered a thought leader among the people who are most likely to spread your brand’s message? There’s a difference. Hell, even the prom queen only ruled one school (and for a fleeting moment, nonetheless).

Being unpopular isn’t about focusing on the dislike. It’s about structuring your business and branding efforts with direction and purpose. Identify WHY you’re unpopular, turn it into currency and spend it on the people who appreciate what it is that you do better than anyone.

You’ve been slapped.

PS: I’ve said it before, but Chris Brogan has, perhaps, one of the best quotes on why popularity votes don’t matter:

“A ‘following’ will watch you fall on a sword. A ‘community’ will fall on the sword for you.”

Being popular builds a following. Understanding how you’re unpopular and leveraging that knowledge builds a community.

45 comments
Roberta Budvietas
Roberta Budvietas

In today's world more and more business people are their brand and that is what they keep selling short. Interesting post. Lots to think about

Dee Mmorales
Dee Mmorales

For more on exactly how you were branded in high school see www.wherehaveallthepromqueensgone.wordpress.com

Andrea(LilKidThings)
Andrea(LilKidThings)

Really great post. We get into trouble with comparing don't we? As soon as there is a "formula" for doing it right, someone comes in and does it "wrong" and the whole things tips. Thanks for saying it so well.

Youpele
Youpele

Wowwee! What a post I'm glad I'm an ugly duckling just starting out on this internet sphere. I've not really considered branding myself. However being unpopular takes a different perspective to stand out from the crowd takes some introspection and truth, which can sometimes hurt but who cares anyway it's about who I don't want to serve right?

Pop
Pop

The problem/challenge with building a parenting blog is that I am terribly unpopular with my kids. So that's a good thing, right?

thatdamnredhead
thatdamnredhead

I remember when Kennedy was voted "Most Hated VJ" on MTV back when they played music and she hosted 120 Minutes. She had a frickin' party -- wore a sash and everything. Love her for that. There's so much more I could add to this comment but whatever. You go, girl. :)

Simon Gornick
Simon Gornick

It's funny you say that, I just wrote a kicker tagline about cookies. But sadly I can't eat cookies just now on account of my figure.

Simon Gornick
Simon Gornick

By the way, this is the most refreshing blog I've seen in this space for a good while. Kudos.

Simon Gornick
Simon Gornick

In my view the term "unpopularity" is probably better put as "original thinking". Sometimes being unpopular is very justified. Sometimes its a symptom of the fact that you're out of the box. Obviously, the former is undesirable, whereas the latter can clearly be used as the basis for some powerful personal branding.

John Antonios
John Antonios

Simply love the whole concept of promoting your Unpopularity. Appealing to the masses is unreasonable and defies the basic rules of marketing - segmentation (defining your target audience). Imagine Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) decides to release the new char-grilled chicken breast ... so they would appeal to the people who avoid fried food - that's like shooting oneself in the foot. I'm killing my brand by trying to satisfy everyone - I'm losing credibility! In one of my post, I referred to a similar topic vis-a-vis personal branding. I said "don't plagiarize your identity, dare to be different" - i find the analogy you made with the prom queen to fit perfectly here. It's not a popularity contest measured by the number of followers, or viewers, etc ... it's all about the value you add, the difference you make, the legacy you create. thanks for a great post!

Big Girl Branding
Big Girl Branding

Thanks for the shout out Erika! :) Glad to know I'm not the only Eminem fan out there in the world of biz! lol And totally love your analogy here of being the prom queen or being a thought leader that's not afraid to be unpopular. Narrow your focus, laser your attention on the folks who really matter to you and your business, not the whole world just because it feels good to be 'popular'. And I hadn't yet read Jonathan's Avatar post, but I'm off to read it now! It's the same thing when it comes to writing ad copy.. you have create a specific type of person you are writing to, and make every word one that has an impact on that ideal person in order for that copy to be effective and do it's job. Know your market, know your people, know what you want from them and what they want from you... then deliver it. :) Great post woman!

Craig Fifield
Craig Fifield

couldn't agree more Erika. we are so connected now there is always an audience that will like (if not love) the stink of your shit -- what they don't like is the stink of vanilla...ice ;)

Diane Shipley
Diane Shipley

Oh, I needed to read this today. The recession has been rough and I've definitely been guilty of trying to appeal to everyone. Clearly it's time to have some confidence that who I am and what I do is worth selling — an idea that makes me start to breathe easier already. Thanks!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Amen sister. You take that awesome red hair, no matter HOW you get it, and move YOUR brand forward. Love what you do and others won't be able to help but to love it as well :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Way to make the tough decision, Lisa :) #highfive (I *hate* "Texas Nice" - and I'm from Texas!)

Lisa
Lisa

I love this! So important to stay focused on your goals.

Skullgrrl
Skullgrrl

As someone who just swung out on my own to pursue my crazy little art business (www.customcranium.com), it's refreshing to hear this coming from someone with the type of success you have. I'm tired of making things to make everyone happy and try to include all parts of the population, so I say "Shove off" to anyone who doesn't like me or my work, instead of trying to explain it to everyone's satisfaction. It's creepy, you don't like it, piss off, I don't need your negative energy! Thank you from another natural and occasionally artificial redhead :)

Bill Green
Bill Green

Excellent post and well said. Defining who you are and who you are not, who you serve and who you don't are critical to success in business. I think a lot of people and businesses fail because they try to be everything to everyone. Being a generalist in any industry is very, very hard to build a brand around. However, I think it is easy to paint yourself into a corner as well. If you are building a brand to cater to a niche market, you better be damn sure that it will support you. I learned that one the hard way.

timbrauhn
timbrauhn

Umm... His name is "Thomas the Tank Engine," just so we're clear. Also, great post. You're great at flipping the script, as it were, and turning 1s into 0s. I hope the webfont renders that cutely enough so that I don't appear foolish.

Sylvia
Sylvia

Yeah, that's why I don't work on wedding dresses anymore. Hate them, hate them, hate them and no amount of money is going to make me happy about taking one on. So I finally decided NO MORE! Thanks for this confirmation that what I'm doing is right.

walterama
walterama

you had me at the z-cav reference. simply brilliant.

Judy
Judy

Thank you, I needed that:)

Killian
Killian

This was a great bitchslap for me. I'm a photographer with a particular style, and I feel so damn guilty for the fact that my style doesn't fit everyone. I don't want to offend potential clients who don't mesh with me, so I find myself almost apologetic about my own style. Thank you!

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