Visually Exploring the Personal Brand – Part 2: Taking Inventory

As a follow-up to my original post I’ve been working on other ideas around the notion of personal brand. I’ve got a few other visuals & ideas I’m working on and will publish them as I think they’re at a point that they’re ready to share. This next visual is, I think, a bit of a no-brainer, but I thought i’d throw it out there. I’ll admit there’s currently one catch: I’m still working out how best to fill this chart out, I’ve included a section about that at the bottom of this post but just a caveat that there’s no “magic bullet” solution here :) – that said I’ve outlined what I think is an effective process for using this chart to help you start authentically correcting and refining how you’re perceived by others.

Taking Inventory

Part of defining and refining your personal brand is stepping back and considering what your baseline is – how are you currently perceived out there “in the wild”? I wanted a quick and easy way to map out these impressions and perceptions and pretty quickly turned to a 2×2 format chart :


The intention is to create a chart when you can map out your traits, adjectives that would describe you, experiences, and other qualities to help create your baseline.

The Axes

If you recall my previous graphic, Facts & Fictions formed the foundation of what helps make up peoples impressions and perceptions of you. I think the idea of authenticity is single-handedly the key element when it comes to presenting yourself to the outside world and wanted to make that a key part of the inventory map so the X-axis is based on a spectrum Fictional & Factual.

In a perfect world, Fact & Fiction would be as clear as night & day but it’s the real world and admittedly it can be a bit of a murky area and part of this process should be about taking a good hard look at what your true baseline is. At the furthest extremes you’re either flat out lying (I invented fire) or it’s something completely objective and unquestionably true (I’m 32) everything else is somewhere in between.

On the Y-Axis I’ve included the spectrum of Positive & Negative. Are these facts or fictions good things or bad things?  This starts to bring in the reputation factor – have you burned bridges in the past? Do people consider you trustworthy?  Rating your facts and fictions on this scale really starts to help you get a sense of just how solid your reputation is out there, and how authentic you’re being day-to-day.

Another angle for the Positive vs. Negative is to consider whether an item positively contributes to presenting the image, or ‘brand’ that you want people to see. Maybe you have a dominating experience or past career that people still think of being an integral part of who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. You may want to place that in the negative range even though the outside world perceives it as a positive as it may be hurting your overall goals.

The Quadrants

Obviously, what you really want to present and embrace are your positive, factual traits. As I’ve indicated in the image the other three quadrants all bear their own risks:

Positive Fictional – Congratulations, you’re been a great bullshitter so far. It’s not going to last, if someone corrects these before you can  they’ve only got one place to go, the bottom right corner and then you’re done.

Negative Fictional – Unlike above, no one deliberately creates these types of items (I hope) but they can emerge. Maybe someone is spreading rumours, or there’s been a misunderstanding -there’s many ways these can get created. The important thing is to identify them early and get on correcting them because even though you know they’re fiction, someone else considers them facts.

Negative Factual – Have you considered a career change? Sure, with enough time and effort you could probably remedy these but if anything ends up down here and it’s a key item or trait you need to succeed the deck is most certainly stacked against you.

Positive Factual – The holy grail. Get all your dots up here and you’ve got a good baseline to work from.

Fixing Your Map

Invariably, we’re all going to have a dots in all of the quadrants – none of us are perfect. So how do we start correcting it?

Moving Fictions to Facts

Don’t worry about the positives/negatives at first. What you really want to do is get yourself to a factual baseline as quickly as possible. Fictions are ticking time bombs, whether you’ve created them or now. Get them off your plate first, then you can worry about the true picture is positive or not.


1. Cut the Bullshit – Take a good look at what you’re putting out there – Look at each of the fictions, determine where the truth lies and reevaluate how you speak about it – If it’s a flat out lie just cut it, now. If it’s something fuzzier (i.e. adding an extra few years experience as a professional web designer because you once built a one-page ‘website’ in high school) then you need to step back and ask yourself “What would happen if someone asked me to elaborate on this?” bring your presentation in line with how you’d truthfully answer that question. It’s okay to reach but make sure you can always truthfully back it up.

2. Clean up the Messes – This may be a bit trickier, but if you’ve got negative things out there about you that are just plain wrong (or at least, not entirely truthful) you need to find the source and solve the problem. Maybe it was a misunderstanding and a simple conversation will correct things. Be careful here though, you don’t want to take some tiny little misconception that few people have noticed and blow it up to a big problem by pointing it out to everyone (i.e. publicly renouncing it on your blog).  Choose your ‘battles’, when cleaning up these messes do it as discreetly as possible.

Moving to the Positive

Now you can turn your focus to cleaning up your image – hopefully this is not a big undertaking for most people


1. Make Things Right – Alright you really screwed something up, we all do it at one point or another. You may never be able to correct it, but you can make an effort to show that you’ve learned from the experience. Apologize, talk it out, make it right as best you can – nothing will change until you make the first step. Again, the key here is to be authentic – you can’t just declare this to be in your past and have everyone shrug and say “okay”. The only way anything is getting off the bottom of this chart is if other people move it.

2. Spin It – Now, when I say spin I don’t mean take your major cock-up from above and try and put some rosy paint on it. This is more in reference to those items that are in your past, are considered positive by many people but are getting in your way of advancing your current goals. Step back and look for the positive angles that you can take from that experience and apply to your current goals – i.e. how does that experience give you a unique edge in your current space?  If you can’t find something (and I’d be surprised if you don’t), move to step 3. Hell, move to step 3 anyways.

3. Be Explicit – Sometimes we just need to say it out loud and make it very clear – we all carry baggage with us from the past, afraid to let it go lest we offend or disappoint someone . Write a blog post, send an email out to your network, get the message out that explicitly states “This is what I’m doing now. I loved doing xxxx, but it’s no longer what I do”. If there are individuals you’re worried about offending or disappointing then reach out to them 1-on-1 BEFORE you send out any mass communication efforts or else you risk just piling new stuff in the negative areas.

Now the Question: How to fill out this chart?

So here’s the catch, and the part I’m struggling with – How best to fill this chart out.

Certainly there’s a lot of work to be done just personally reflecting and putting in anything you can think of, but the point is to gauge what others think of you. I’ve got a couple of ideas but I’ve love in any of you metric minded people out there had other suggestions.

My two outside influence ideas:

1. Twitter lists – on twitter? Check out what lists you’ve been added to. How people name the lists can be quite telling (what they’re not named can be a big clue) – also go to accounts of the people who have put you on lists and look at what other lists they’ve made. Are you on the “funny people” list but not on the “industryexperts” list?

2. Ask People – Use a service like Rypple, or a Google Doc form and ask people what they think

My concern with both of these is they’ll skew to the positive – I’d be open to other people’s ideas and suggestions on how to collect this information so you can get the truest picture possible.

Feedback Welcome

Am I on to something? Off my rocker? I’d love your feedback and thought in the comments below.

– Ryan

Visually Exploring the idea of “Personal Brand”

I know, I know – half of you clicking through just cringed when you read the term “personal brand” – I’m not a fan of the term either, but up until now I’ve been hard pressed to find a term that summed the concept up better. Also, I’m approaching this thought exercise not from the notion that you can directly control or shape a ‘brand’ for yourself but rather trying to understand what the underpinnings of the concept are and how  someone can ensure they’re putting the right foundation out there for people to build their own impressions, and thus your “brand” on.

For the specialists of the world I’m not sure this is as big an issue, but I think a lot of generalists (like me) struggle with it. As I’ve pondered on my blog in the past here, it’s not always clear to me exactly what it is I do, and if it’s not clear to me I can only imagine how messy it gets when other people try to form opinions or thoughts about what it is I do.

Anatomy of a Personal Brand: Attempt 1

I took a first stab at creating a model in my trusty sketchbook the other day and came up with this:

Anatomy of Personal Brand

Ultimately as I dug into the visual though and tried to create a more refined version I realized what I was drawing here was actually more a representation about how individuals form opinions about you and didn’t speak at all to how the greater collective opinion (a.k.a “Personal Brand”) got formed.  So, instead, I moved away from this circular idea and tried approaching this from the bottom up.

Anatomy of a Personal Brand: Attempt 2

Formation of Collective Reputation
(Click to enlarge | Hosted on Flickr)

For this visual I started at the bottom, the foundation – Facts & Fictions. Everyone’s opinion is based on their perceptions of impressions of the baseline facts and/or fictions available to them. Perceptions are the intuitive feelings people get – gut feeling, sensing, etc. whereas Impressions represent the interpretive side, where someone makes deliberate judgments based on the ‘evidence’ before them. Both perceptions and impressions can influence each other and they roll up to form the individual’s opinion, which in turn gets added to a Collective Reputation based on the individual opinions of the masses.

Context is Everything

As with most things, context with everything – we don’t have one single collective reputation. Your collective reputation will change depending on the lens you’re being viewed through – i.e. Your collective reputation in the context of “Trustworthy” might be dramatically different from that of the context of “Can Fix Cars”. That said, the contexts are not exclusive, if I’m considering who I want to have fix my car I would consider both “Trustworthy” and “Can Fix Cars” in making both my decisions (and if you screw up my car or screw me on the bill both could be affected).

Individuals Weight the Collective Reputation

Also, there’s no standard “reputation” for any context – each collective reputation is formed by the individual’s networks and their opinions of the individual people who make up that network. For example, if my view of the collective reputation of person X is that he’s not very trustworthy then I’m not going to weight his opinion of Person Y as highly as I would someone else more trustworthy.

Facts, Not fiction

Facts & Fictions are the only place you have any control and even then, you only have the power to create new facts or fictions. Fictions are unsustainable though and will ultimately lead to negative Facts being created, and you can’t ‘delete’ those.

Feedback Wanted

All in all, I’m happy with where this visual is headed – I think there’s a few other visuals that can do with some exploring as well including; context, weighting & how you go about evaluating and improving on the collective reputations you have today.

I also like the emergence of the term “Collective Reputation” – I’m not 100% sure it’s the perfect terminology but it sure sounds a whole lot better than personal brand.

What are you thoughts or comments? Share them below.

[Read] Sean Howard’s take on Mind State Messaging…

A couple of weeks ago I did a post called “[IDEA] Mind State Messaging“, based on some conversations I’d had with Sean Howard, now of Lift Communications.

Today he posted his “half” of the conversation on his blog,, in a post entitled “Modeling the Role of Communications“. He delves into his thoughts on the subject and it’s a great companion read to my original post.

Both of us would love to hear your feedback & thoughts on the ideas….

– Ryan

[IDEA] Mind State Messaging

Far too many weeks ago I had lunch with Sean Howard (a.k.a. “Craphammer“) for lunch – we’d been talking to him, and his team at SpinGlobe, about some Clay Tablet marketing activities and he wanted to share some ideas.

One idea he brought up was the concept of “mind-states” – in a nutshell, trying to identify what state of mind your target is in. It was a new concept to me (thus why I’m CTO instead of CMO) but made perfect sense once he explained it.

We talked about how to visualize the notion and by the end of lunch we had a napkin sketch that consisted of mapping mind-states to messages, basically the idea of targeting each message to the specific mind states of each user.

Tweaking it Further
That night on the GO train home I opened up Illustrator and decided to play with the concept a little further. Over the following days Sean and I shot the illustration, along with comments, back and forth eventually coming up with this variation:


To which Sean simply responded “You’ve got to post this so we can discuss it with more people” – which I’m doing now, many, many weeks later (Sorry Sean :) )

The premise is pretty straightforward. The idea is broken into four general quadrants “Mind States”, “Needs”, “Features/Benefits” and lastly “Messaging”. Each oval represents an item in that theme. Obviously in practical use these ovals would be text or images describing the specific element. I also used size the indicate importance (or, in the case of features, strength/support) – the bigger the oval the bigger or more important the item.

Mind States rooted in Needs


My initial impression (and the bit Sean and I are still debating) was that behind each Mind State (which I at first considered to be an irrational state), there was a rational need or requirement behind it.

I’ve dropped the notion of rational/irrational from the latest version but the notion of a Mind State being rooted in a real Need or Requirement (or vice versa) is still very much there. For example, perhaps the Mind State was “I want that promotion”, the thinking is there’s a requirement or need(s) in the background that would resolve, or contribute to resolving, the mind state. In this case it may be “deliver on sales targets”.

Needs can drive States, States can drive Needs.

Features & Benefits to resolve Needs


This was all fine and dandy, but the next consideration was how mind states and needs related to your product or offering. For the most part it’s hard to link features and benefits directly to a mind state. As far as I can see, no feature I can put into my software will resolve the your mind state of “I want that promotion” but if you can uncover the true need then you can build features or identify benefits that help resolve it. By recognizing that the users mind state is actually driven by a need (deliver on sales targets) we can now see that our “Automated Lead Identifier” and “Motivational Tool-tips” features can help the user achieve their need, by keeping them informed and motivated, which will hopefully resolve their mind-state.

Messaging around Features to speak to Mind States


Because Features don’t typically speak directly to Mind States we need to close the loop with messaging. Messaging should speak to the mind state of the user. By working through the previous relationships we know that “I want that promotion” is resolved by the need to “deliver on targets” which our product helps solve by “automatically identifying new leads”.

If you can craft messaging that speaks to their emotional mind state you have the opportunity to strike a real cord with them, then back it up with true features that have their needs in mind.

Mind-State Messaging in Product Management

The other side effect that came out of this exercise was the realization that this could also be used to work through product management issues. By using items that are scaled (or colour coded etc.) to represent the importance you can quickly get an impression of how your product’s features & benefits stack up. The image below shows how needs can be mapped to features or benefits, and how you can quickly gauge if your product is living up to the needs of your prospects/clients.


In example (1) you can see that the need is tiny, and likely not very important in the grand scheme of things, but look at the strength (and assumedly the amount of effort that’s gone into it) of the feature in comparison. Likewise in (2) a huge need is basically going unfulfilled.

Obviously depending on who your specifically targeting you won’t be able to get a perfect match (3) – in theory you’d have different Mind state maps for each persona you’re dealing with in the sales/marketing cycle – but with this model it still gives you some insight into the holes you may have in your product. Especially if the same imbalance pops up on every model etc.

Anyways, this idea is still in the “half-baked” stage, but Sean and I really wanted to throw it out into the ether to see what others thought of it. I know Sean has actually thrown this into the mix on some pitches and projects over the past few weeks – but I’ll leave him to comment on where it worked/didn’t work.


Enough with the "talking at"…

I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s blog for a little while now. Generally it’s good, and occasionally it’s brilliant. It’s in those brilliant moments, the ones where his story or observation really resonates with me, that I get motivated to click through to his page and comment on the story…

…only to find he’s got comments disabled.

It’s happened three or four times now and it’s frustrating as hell every time. Perhaps it’s deliberate – if you can’t comment then you might be more likely to post about it and then link (as I’m doing here) to him, but if that’s the case it’s a crummy strategy.

For someone who constantly pitches going the extra mile and paying attention to the details I have to admit it’s surprising. It’s clear the blog is a marketing tool for him, and I’m fine with that because it still delivers valuable information – but right now I walk away with the impression that he’s more interested in talking at me then talking with me – not a warm, fuzzy, positive brand experience.

So come on Seth, lets move beyond the 1.0 “Talking At” methods of marketing – let’s have a conversation on your blog and build community around your ideas & observations.