Newsflash: The Cerebral Itch Agency is not a neutral hands-across the aisle milquetoast little shop looking to greet you with one hand and take a check with the other. We wear our beliefs on our sleeve and most dangerously, our Twitter feed. So today's little post is about tone and being a genuine brand.
When people use the term "strike a tone" there should be a second part to that: "…and stick with it, don't be a p*ssy". Young brands today are so intertwined with tweets, pin'd images or Instagram pics that principals need to decide with sincere reflection on their public tone and posting parameters. You do not want to be sitting at your desk six months from now looking at your Twitter feed that contains 934 tweets (276 tweets of which are about Romney being a shape-shifting sociopath) and realize this may be one of the reasons you did not score that monster account from the large non-union hotel that hosts Joel Osteen and his family every year.
With that said, I am still in favor of putting it all out there quite possibly to the detriment of my own bank account, but not to the detriment of my soul. To that point, this is what I believe: Do not veer from being honest about your offerings, attitudes and talents in your online footprint. Do not change your tone. Do not play the middle. You will become an entity with an anemic public following and no discernible identity. Once there, anonymity and a homogenous pallor to your brand are just a few lousy customer/clients away. That said, snark, profanity and overt attempts to appear counter-culture had better be part of your stock and trade or you're going to turn off everyone, leaving you a hungry, angry poseur. Be genuine but tempered. Smartly pursue your potential clients and customers based on what you like, what you espouse and what you believe in. It's how you pick friends for chrissake, so you might as well do it with your business. Most importantly, get comfortable with people going with someone else not because of your lack of talent or offerings, but because of who you are and what you believe in.
In the summer of 2010, I served as a creative consultant for a local agency. One afternoon, I was taken to a meeting by one of the agency partners to meet with a potential client—a very powerful and rich potential client. As we extolled the virtues of what the agency could do for him and his company, Mr. Potential Client multitasked. He sat in front of us never looking up, but listening nonetheless as he organized and stacked donation envelopes for the Herman Cain presidential primary campaign. As I watched this gentleman dutifully stack his solicitation envelopes of batshit crazy, I fantasized of abruptly winding down the meeting and making a break for the door. To his credit as a smarmy suck-up artist and registered democrat, the agency partner smiled broader, sucked up harder and continued on his path of promises. They got the account and thus began my slouch toward exiting the agency under less than huggable circumstances.
One of life's most mocking lessons is the fact that the corniest notions turn out to be the most profound. Like the Bard's to thine own self be true. Screw own self for the sake of this argument, and replace it withbrand. Creatives—especially creatives—are, for the most part, crappy at faking enthusiasm for something they don't respect, like or believe in. So think back on the boring clients, the offensive clients, the backwards clients and ask yourself, Did I do my best work? I'm going out on a limb and say, probably not. And if you did, congratulations! You are a different breed of cat who will get rich and laugh at us poor stooges. I had a well-off friend who use to constantly shell out unsolicited business advice like, "Paul, sell to the masses and eat with the classes". Sadly he's right, but he's also an arrogant pious asshole.
With your brand be true. With your tone be honest. You will be wholly unique and at times lonely and poor. But the consistent application of tempered honesty, humor and intelligence in your brand's online footprint will result in one of the most awesome experiences a business owner can have these days: Someone giving you their business because of what you said, how you said it and what you believe in. When that is the deciding factor for a client/customer, you're about to do your best work.
...the right way to energize social media isn't to try to find people to tout your products. It's to find people who care about the same things you do, and to tell a story that amplifies their voice because it helps people who haven't yet heard the word also come to know and care. In fact, the products you create should be by and for that community.
- Tim O'Reilly