What’s the right way of branding and marketing your business? It depends on who you ask. There are experts, there are “experts”, and then there are just random people telling their story of how they did stuff, and how well it worked. (I happen to like those best.)
When it comes to the very highest level of branding and marketing approaches, currently I see two currents:
- “Be focused”
- “Be all of who you are”.
Which one should you adopt? I have no idea. It’s not a decision anyone else can make for you. What I can do is give you pros and cons for both to help you make the right choice—so let’s do that.
Approach #1: Hyperfocused brand
Your topic of focus is what you live, breathe, write about, teach, record podcasts on, speak on, consult on, etc.
If you’re a WordPress developer, that’s your thing. If you’re an acrylic painter, you’ll be known for your acrylic paintings, and that’s it. If you’re a health & nutrition coach, you’ll want to talk about health and nutrition exclusively.
If you want to introduce any topics outside of this arena, you need to work hard to intertwine them with the things you normally talk about and make them relevant specifically in the context of your topic.
Mindfulness? Only if it touches on how it helps you to be a good developer and find better solutions, faster.
Music? Only if it reflects back on how it inspires your acrylic abstracts.
Time management? Only if you can relate it back to how to fit in healthy eating and exercising habits into your schedule.
The benefits of hyperfocus
There are plenty, which is why a ton of people recommend it:
- You quickly attract a targeted audience who can’t get enough of your content.
- Your search rankings for your chosen keywords are great (because you keep using them).
- Your name becomes attached to the topic label, and with time you’ll become the first to come to mind for people when they hear “[your topic]”.
- Your content marketing is clearly related to the products and services you offer.
- You appear more professional.
- None of your readers or followers will ever be confused about what you publish—it’s exactly what it says on the tin.
- This approach might be less likely to cause controversy or earn you haters.
- Expert status is almost guaranteed, especially if you pick a narrow niche.
The downsides of hyperfocus
This approach is not without its drawbacks (which is why I’m personally not using it).
- It can be difficult to maintain this persona if you’re multi-passionate and want to include other interests in your brand.
- You might sound like a broken record for people who have been around for long enough (old readers may “graduate” to greener pastures).
- If you ever get tired of your topic of focus and want to switch to something else, you’ll lose a large part of your audience in the switch.
- People may not relate to you as much if you never show your humanity.
When to choose this approach?
If you can live with your business being “just business”, and are not concerned with making friends with your clients, this approach is great for you.
It helps if you can manage to find the time for other creative outlets that give you the freedom of self-expression you’re not able to have through your business alone. This includes personal projects, rocking out with your band on the weekends or leading creative workshops for kids—whatever keeps your mind away from your business.
If you’re a good writer and can make any topic sound interesting, you’ll be able to pull this off and infuse just the right dose of your own personality in order not to sound like a robot.
I follow plenty of people who are focused, but all of them are excellent writers—I follow them because their posts make me laugh and push me to think deeper, not just because I can never get tired of learning about [their thing].
Examples of focused brands
It’s easier to understand how this works in practice when you see how others are doing it, so I’ll pull out a few examples off the top of my head.
- Tara Gentile is focused on small business strategy. See how she incorporated the story of her geeky hobby into her main topic.
- Sean McCabe used to be hyper-focused on hand-lettering, but later switched to building a business resource & community platform for creative professionals.
- Art Biz Coach offers coaching, mentoring and resources for artists who want to make a living selling fine art. We don’t get to learn much about Alyson outside of her professional career.
Update: Some of the businesses mentioned above are no longer active, or have shifted in their focus. I don’t have any new examples off the top of my head, sorry.
(If you know of another great example, feel free to add it in the comments.)
Approach #2: Holistic brand
Oh, what a can of worms this one is. There are people writing in favor of authenticity (me among them, you can read my “little” manifesto here). Then there are people criticizing the “fake authenticity”, “messy vulnerability” and use terrible examples of how this can go wrong.
It’s very, very hard to pull this off well. If you’re not careful, you might start airing dirty laundry in public and having emotional breakdowns on social media. That’s way off from the healthy authenticity I respect and admire in some of my favorite authors.
The holistic approach enables you to create a brand that’s a tapestry of different aspects, all unified under a single Big Idea, or an Umbrella Topic. This lets you change and evolve, always within the confines of your Big Idea, but expressing it deeper than before.
The benefits of having a holistic brand
- First and foremost, people relate to you as a real human being (who happens to be an expert on X).
- Some folks will relate to you on the basis of a mutual non-business interest or hobby.
- Maintaining your public persona is a non-issue: just show up and do your thing.
- Finding inspiration for topics is easy—anything you notice and experience can be formed into a lesson to share!
- You attract other fellow authentic business owners to your orbit and make lasting friendships.
- Your clients become your friends, and this opens the space for more mutual respect and understanding.
- If you decide to pivot your business, you might be able to pull it off more gradually and gracefully, because people are not married to just that one thing you do.
- You’ll have long-time readers (like 10+ years long readers) who never get bored of you.
The downsides of holistic brands
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
- Focus is better in the short run, as it attracts clients faster. Authenticity takes a looooong time to convert.
- Sharing things outside of your professional focus will alienate some readers who just want to get down to business.
- You’ll get hate mail.
- And unsubscribes.
- And be called unprofessional.
- A person who’s just getting introduced into your universe may find it hard to pin you down and know what to expect.
- With too many topics you could be sharing on, choosing your next thing might be overwhelming.
- You’ll get a lot of irrelevant website traffic because many of the keywords you rank for on search engines have nothing to do with your business.
- No matter how much of an expert you truly are, you might not be taken as seriously because of your outspoken nature.
When to choose this approach?
If you’re non-conformist, free-spirited, courageous and determined, you have what it takes to pull this off. If business is not “just business” for you, but an essential part of your creative self-expression, I’m not sure there is a way you can do it without pulling in your different aspects together.
I have to warn you though, it’s hard. There will be times when you’ll question yourself and your sanity. You’ll receive hate mail accusing you of writing about “inappropriate” subjects, and urging you to come to Jesus. It’s not a matter of if, but when. If you’re not ready for that, I sincerely don’t recommend it.
However, if the feeling of being accepted for who you are, and not for what you do, is more valuable to you than having every single person in the world like you, the authentic approach to branding and marketing will you provide you with plenty of opportunity for that. I find it very rewarding.
Your unique combination of skills, interests and perspectives will give you enough of a flair that you won’t even need to try hard to stand out from your competitors.
Examples of holistic brands
- Naomi Dunford is an online business expert (in internet years she could be the grandma of online marketing, but if I call her that she’ll send a hired gun after me). She has a terrific sense of humor and writes on a wide range of topics for small business owners—from marketing and asking for testimonials, to un-schooling and nomadic lifestyle. (And kittens!)
- Lisa Sonora Beam is an art therapist and creative guidess who uses her own personal history of hardship and abuse, as well as everyday challenges, to demonstrate the healing power of creativity.
- Paul Jarvis is a freelance designer and author of multiple books and e-courses on topics ranging from freelancing, email marketing, creativity etc. He talks about writing, his pet rats, the difficulty of finding a truly vegan-friendly car, haters, and plenty more.
- Puttylike is a community and blog for people with multiple passions ran by Emilie Wapnick, which helps “multipotentialites” navigate life and careers.
(Again, leave your own suggestions for holistic brands in the comments if you have any.)
Is there a middle ground?
Can you be a little bit of both?
I would say that as long as there’s a tendency to be more open about topics outside of the “one main thing”, it falls under the holistic approach. Displaying multiple facets doesn’t preclude you from keeping the spotlight on the thing that makes you money. The difference is that for focused brands, the thing under the spotlight is the only thing that gets air time.
No two brands are exactly alike, and we all get to rock our focus or holism in our own way.
Focused doesn’t mean “fake”, it means filtered—not showing the complete picture of any one person, while the raw, authentic approach has humanity at its heart.
Focused brands are more likely to be perceived as distant authority figures, while holistic brands tend to appear like approachable role models—people can more easily imagine themselves in their place.
Have you made your choice?
Now that I’ve outlined the advantages and disadvantages to both approaches and who it’s best for, can you guess which one would fit you better?
If you’re already using one of them, which one is it, any what was the reason why you opted for it?
Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!