My Brand Is ...
I've been thinking lately about my brand. I've always hated this marketing term, but the word "brand" does help answer a question. When you think of me, what comes to your mind?
I've written about a lot of different topics on this blog, everything from findability to podcasting, blogging, technical writing, flare, wikis, screencasts, project managers, content organization, and more.
My content is diverse enough that when people ask me to speak at conferences or chapter events, they sometimes aren't sure what topic I should cover. Maybe this broad focus dilutes my brand. At the Dallas Summit, for example, one organizer told me that when I submitted to speak about my topic, the committee didn't feel I had a well-known expertise in it, but they trusted me anyway. And I came through.
Some people have established their brand in a strong way. Here are a few that come to mind: Anne Gentle is an expert in wikis. Sarah O'Keefe is an expert in XML. Ellis Pratt is an expert in marketing. Scott Abel is an expert in content management. Rahel Bailie is an expert in content strategy. Alan Porter is an expert in corporate wikis. RJ Jacquez is an expert in Adobe. Jack Molisani is an expert in business strategies. Ann Rockley is an expert in enterprise content. Neil Perlin is an expert in online help. Stewart Mader is an expert on starting wikis in organizations. And so on.
Most of the people I named are consultants specializing in these niches. But what if you don't have that background? How can you build an online identity that brands you as an expert?
Here's one strategy. To brand yourself as an expert, write about the topic you want to show expertise in. Even if you don't know much about it, people will soon think or feel that you do. Either way, by pushing out post after post on the topic, you'll soon be associated with the topic by default, regardless of your expertise. It's kind of like those marketing surveys where they ask you what brand comes to mind when you think of cars.
That said, I want to refocus my brand. What I do most of all on this blog is ... blog. I like to think of this as writing, but since everyone in tech comm is by default an expert writer, this strength isn't a selling point. Additionally, a person blogs/writes about a specific topic (except for blogs about blogs, which I think miss the point.)
I guess I find myself leaning towards "new media." But I'm not entirely sure what new media means, and in many ways my strength is the opposite of new media -- I enjoy writing, which isn't new. Is new media the only bucket that holds blogs, wikis, screencasts, wordpress, web-based help, web 2.0, user-generated content, and more?
I've written a few posts on content strategy, but I come across as abrasive towards this subject. For the record, it's content strategy for tech comm that I raised objections to, not content strategy for the web. The latter I agree with, the former any good technical writer should already do, to an extent.
I do like content, but who doesn't, and what does that mean anyway? For me, it means I like ideas, and substance, and eye-brow raising arguments. I like an interesting opinion, or an intriguing exploration of a topic. I like articulate thoughts in a well-structured form. Not only do I like content, I am also a content creator. But what kind of person specializes in content itself?
I also enjoy innovation. Conventions and status quo never sit well with me. I like to push new forms and try new techniques. I explore different paths. A colleague once told me that I'm an innovator -- I create new sites, post about new ideas, and experiment with new strategies. But again, is innovation really something one specializes in? Maybe Scott Berkun, who makes a living off of this topic, can specialize in innovation. But sooner or later that topic catches up to you.
I also like to share personal experiences in transparent ways. These experiences are often the substance of my writing. But they're a bit navel-gazing. When I find myself focusing too inward, I think of this quote from Jorge Luis Borges:
Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.
I also like story -- the raw, yearning narrator essaying against a conflict or idea at all odds and costs. Just when the conflict seems insurmountable, the narrator finds a new perspective that leads to a transformation and resolution. Stories drive meaning and engagement. Stories connect people to each other. Did you know I'm telling a story right now? It's my struggle to define my brand. Transformation is coming, just hold on.
I know WordPress well -- or well enough to pass as a WordPress consultant, anyway. But tool branding is pigeonholing. I know someone who feels trapped by his branding for Flare expertise. Once you're branded with a certain tool, it's hard to break free of it. What I like about WordPress isn't the tool or technology itself, but the capability it provides to publish and design content.
I'm also a contrarian, but I don't want to go down that path again. Psychologically, it's probably indicative of a deep inner disturbance. Those doors are best left shut.
There are a few more sides of me you rarely see. I rarely write about those topics, because I like to maintain some privacy in my life. But sometimes I do write about them, and it feels good to be free to wander off my usual paths once in a while.
I am glad I am not bound into such a narrow niche as a brand. Maybe my brand is to resist brands?
In the end, though, my brand is probably writing. I'd rather be writing. But there's a lot of latitude in that. The space is as wide as a desert landscape, with a lot of space to move around and explore.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.