May 30, 2024

Branding and the “It” factor


Is there an “it” factor to building a brand and becoming known, or can anybody do it?

That’s a question that has haunted Mark Schaefer for some time. So much so that he has decided to write a new book on the subject.

Recently I had the opportunity to pick Mark’s brain to find out what he has discovered from his research. Here are edited highlights from the interview.

You just returned from a series of speaking engagements. What have you been talking about at them?

Well, I’m really excited about what’s going on right now because I’m working on a new book. I haven’t even really talked about it too much let alone announce it, but I am working on a book and the theme of the book is going to be: how do you become known in our world today? And it’s a concept I’ve been thinking about really for a long, long time and I think the germ of the idea began when I left my corporate job.

I was in a job where I was at the top of my company. Everybody knew me. I won all kinds of awards. I had a big title and a big organization reporting to me. I was the go-to guy for anything on the internet. Then I left and started my own business. And all of a sudden, there was this veil of silence.

The only brand equity that matters anymore is, ‘Are you known or not?’

None of that stuff mattered anymore! I mean, overnight, I became the go-to guy for nothing and I had to start over. And what you realize is that all this equity that you build up in your influence, your title and your achievements, and your salary and your team, they don’t matter.

In fact, today, to achieve many career goals, the only equity that matters anymore is, “Are you known or not?” I mean, that can give you a huge advantage in this world if you’re applying for a job, if you want to be a speaker someday, if you want to write a book.

Those are some of the themes I’m going start to talking about in my speeches.

Mark, in your last book, The Content Code, you had a chapter where you talked about building the heroic brand. To me, that sounds a little bit like what you’re talking about here with being known.

Yeah, I like that, John. You know, I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but you’re right. I think there is a connection there. A lot of that is based on trust, and the way I characterize that in The Content Code was that everybody has a personal brand and every business has a brand. It’s what people think about you. But not everybody is a heroic brand.

It’s a special kind of company or a special kind of person that is truly beloved, and I wrote about the eight different characteristics of these heroic brands. But I think the one that always stands out for me is this idea of trust. It is really focusing everything you do on this trust that you have with your audience.

And that’s why on my site, I don’t have pop-up ads. I don’t have sponsored content. I don’t have native advertising. Because I don’t want to do anything with my audience that I wouldn’t do with my friends. I wouldn’t interrupt you with ads. I wouldn’t say, “Oh, by the way, someone paid me to have this conversation with you.”


You had an interesting conversation with Jay Baer in The Content Code where you discussed whether or not anybody can develop the competence to become an authority or a heroic brand. Can anybody become known, or is there an “it” factor that only certain people have?

Well, it’s funny you should bring up that quote from Jay because in some ways that passage in that book was a big inspiration for the book I’m writing now.

Because what Jay was saying was, “Can somebody become an authority? Can somebody become known?” And his conclusion was, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” And that quote has haunted me since the day I talked to him about it.

And the reason it has haunted me is I thought, “Well, you know, this is really an amazing challenge. Can anybody be known? Is there a certain pattern that you see from people who are the most improbable people and they rise above their conditions and they become known?”

There are four things that I’ve identified that really have to come together and they have to work. And I’m convinced that everybody has the opportunity. Will they be able to do it? Maybe not, because it takes a lot of work. It may take a pivot. It takes a lot of dedication. You know, nobody makes it overnight. For almost everybody I profile in the book, it took years of persistence and success.

But I think there is a way to do it, I really do. I think there is a formula that has been uniform among all of these people. And like I said, they all rise above the most improbable circumstances and become known.

[BONUS: You can hear the complete interview with Mark Schaefer in this episode of The Heart of Marketing. Listen in for more of his insights on personal branding, finding a sustainable passion, putting humanity into business relationships, relaunching and rebranding a website … and of course, more on how to become known in today’s world.]



Mark’s book is now available. Get your copy today and learn the four principles to becoming known in the digital age.

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