Fog Creek Software
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Branding for SW and IT consultants?

I have recently become a part time "acolyte" of Rob Frankel, a "branding expert":

I am hesitant to deem anything a "unified field theory", but he makes some really good points. His message is mainly: simplify; present clearly; find what is important to your audience; and some other stuff.

My question: what are independents' attitudes toward creating a brand to support your marketing?

A very blatant example of branding (even though I have not seen it called that) is Jonathan Goodyear's "The Angry Coder" tagline. He works the branding angle for himself as consistently as anyone I have ever seen in this industry, and one of Frankel's guiding principles is that the brand "becomes" your business, at least to an external view, which Goodyear pulls off well.  And, from what I can tell, it works for him.

On the other hand, "Fog Creek" is a brand with clear allusions to excellence and clear thinking (really, and I am not @$$kissing), but does not speak too clearly about its nature w/o taking into account the online culture of Joelonsoftware.

Sic: if Fog Creek has a brand icon, it's Joel himself and we all here respect that brand. But to an "outsider" to the geek and weblog community, it's not a brand, it's just  another inscrutable company name and "just some guy" with a blog. Fog Creek, even down to its home page, is nebulous as a brand.

What the branding mantra is doing for me is to reach down into my memory and pull out some unifying characteristics of gigs I've done over the years, and wrap it up into a story and a reason for a buyer to look. (It's f***in' hard, let me tell you...!)

Any ideas or stories about branding anyone wants to share?

Bored Bystander
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Alyosha`s law of branding:

You can't brand a turd.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Branding is much too painful for me.

Burning Sensation
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Doesn't seem to be very many people concerned with branding on this board.  Tech questions seem to do well.  Mr. Analogy's thread on managed code already has more than 10 responses. 

Anyway I checked out the link.  What I saw was interesting and more importantly raised my awareness of branding.  The last part was confusing however.

"""The DIY Corollary: Doing it yourself works -- for suicide."""

Is this some form of self promotion on the part of Frankel or what?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

>> Doesn't seem to be very many people concerned with branding on this board. 

Like any general business topic on a techie BBS... most techies think that if they invent it, people will come.... most techies have employee mentality anyway, and have no clue about the marketing stuff. (there... that'll be good for some retaliation...)

>> """The DIY Corollary: Doing it yourself works -- for suicide."""
>> Is this some form of self promotion on the part of Frankel or what?

I think the idea is that an individual or a company is the absolute worst party to choose to enumerate their own strategic advantages. I think he meant it more with respect to larger businesses, where the concensus opinion and groupthink wouldn't be conducive to an original take on things.  I know that it's a bitch to do for yourself.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, April 29, 2004

I think if a consultant seems "branded" or is a published author, etc, people will assume he's too expensive, too busy, and/or too generic.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Interesting topic.  I've been independent for 4+ years.  I tech blog semi-regularly and have published one article, but I'm very far from a branded, big-name consultant like Fowler, Beck or the Wintellect guys.

I've considered making a big push for reputation, but I'm not sure the reward is worth the time.  I enjoy coding and leading a development team, so lets assume I want to keep my tech skills razor sharp and continue to study enterprise architecture and software processes.  With 2000 working hours in a year, I could write and self-promote 1000 hours/years and then hopefully bill the other 1000 hours at a great rate.  Or I could try and bill all 2000 at a good rate.  For me, working as a tech lead/architect/lead developer is more satisfying than coming in, throwing out some suggestions and leaving. 

Ted Graham
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Interesting thoughts, Ted.

Just to clarify: the "branding" that I am describing amounts to choosing a certain positive, client centered description of your professional role, and then using it consistently.

Re: the idea that certain established types will be regarded as too expensive... I think that's part of the branding strategy.

It's been pointed out to me recently that the nature of our economy is bipartite. IE: a vendor either goes for the low cost commodity market, or they position themselves as the high value, expen$ive, elite alternative. Often, the differentiation between the two in terms of *real* quality is minimal. It's all about image.

The point is, if you/your services/your product are not either a low cost leader *or* a high-concept leader, you are screwed in today's economy. Nothing is "allowed" to be middling in the present economy.

So, you have Hyundai's and Kia's at the commodity low end of the auto market. Expensive $40K+ SUVs at the upper end. The demand curve is like a dumb-bell. In the middle, anyone who wants a midrange $18-$25 sedan can't afford one, and those who can afford one want much more expensive vehicles anyway. 

This also applies to fashion and clothing, technology purchases, housing...  my guess is that it also applies to hired guns.

So, I posit that consultants should probably heed this "meta lesson" of the market, and determine whether they want to be a low cost leader,  or a "high image" leader. Given that either extreme is the same amount of work to establish yourself in, the high end seems like the better choice.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, April 29, 2004


Really?  My impression is just that, regardless of actual qualitative features of your product or service, you should market it as elite in some respect.  Isn't that just basic positioning?

I don't think that means there isn't room for a middle market.  If you look at, for instance, CAD vendors, there is a very clear distinction between middle, low, and high-end markets, and the stricture is very obvious along positioning lines.  Companies like PTC occupy the "high end," selling the everything-under-the-sun visionary 3D modeling tools.  Solidworks occupies the middle end with the easy-to-use but less-feature rich 3D modeler.  And then the low-end is Autodesk with the broad user reach and highly-capable 2D tools.

But each one claims to be--and really is, on some level--number one in some respect.  PTC offers the most feature-rich, cutting edge modeler.  Solidworks offers the easiest-to-use 3D modeler, which occupies a middle market.  Autodesk offers the best 2D tools, which are well-established and extremely accessible (read: cheap to buy and use).

Even in the consumer sector, I think (for instance) Wal-Mart does a great job of positioning themselves as number one in providing value for the dollar.  Not "low cost commoditizers," even if that has become their image, but the brand they sell is "Always Low Prices."  Which is to say, the prices are low--but not "we sell cheap shit."  They like the word "value," too.

Anyway, I like this discussion/topic.  Marketing really is the difference between being a hired gun and a business, in the long run. 

Thursday, April 29, 2004

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