October 11, 2005

the global microbrand rant

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[UPDATE: My "Global Microbrand" archive is here. Thanks.]

Since I first used the term here in December of last year, I have been totally besotted with the idea of "The Global Microbrand".

A small, tiny brand, that "sells" all over the world.

The Global Microbrand is nothing new; they've existed for a while, long before the internet was invented. Imagine a well-known author or painter, selling his work all over the world. Or a small whisky distillery in Scotland. Or a small cheese maker in rural France, whose produce is exported to Paris, London, Tokyo etc. Ditto with a violin maker in Italy. A classical guitar maker in Spain. Or a small English firm making $50,000 shotguns.

With the internet, of course, a global microbrand is easier to create than ever before. A commercial sign maker in New England. Or a sheet metal entrepreneur in the U.K.

And with the advent of blogs this was no longer just limited to people who made products. We saw that any service professional with a bit of talent and something to say could spread their message far and wide beyond their immediate client base and local market, without needing a high-profile name or the goodwill of the mainstream media. People like Jennifer Rice, Johnnie Moore and Evelyn Rodriguez come to mind.

But it's not just limited to cottage industries. The great Tom Peters talks about "Brand You", a personal brand that transcends your organisation or job description. The grand-daddy of this space is probably Robert Scoble, who may work full-time for Microsoft, but whose brand is much, much larger than any job description they could give him; that's worth far more than anything they're ever likely to pay him.

Once I created my own fledgling global microbrand (i.e. via this weblog) I started helping other people do the same. A bespoke Savile Row tailor. A Master Jeweler. A small vinyard in South Africa. It was something I really wanted to know about. It was professionally the most compelling idea I had ever come come across. I was hooked.

Of course, "The Global Microbrand" is not conceptual rocket science. You don't need a Nobel Prize in order to understand the idea. What excites me about it is the fact that I now live in a small cottage in the English boonies, and careerwise I'm getting a lot more done than when I lived in a large apartment in New York or London, for a fifth of the overheads. For one fiftieth of the stress levels.

This year I've been spending a lot of time in London. Any more than 2-3 days down there I start feeling really stressed out. For years I thought it was just me. No, actually, everyone down there is really stressed out. It's just considered normal. And the same applies in all the other big cities I know well.

I was talking to a friend on the phone about this yesterday.

"There's only two ways to deal with life in the big city," he says. "Alcohol and high prices. Immersing yourself in high rent, luxury items, trendy, overpriced cocktail bars, flashy restaurants, tall leggy blondes who don't give a damn about you, just to act as a buffer zone between you and the abyss."

"Which you pay a lot for," I say.

"Which you pay a hell of a lot for," he says.

It seems to me a lot of people of my generation are locked into this high-priced corporate, urban treadmill. Sure, they get paid a lot, but their overheads are also off the scale. The minute they stop tapdancing as fast as they can is the minute they are crushed under the wheels of commerce.

You know what? It's not sustainable.

However, the Global Microbrand is sustainable. With it you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelavant.

With English Cut, both Thomas and I are selling $4000 suits to Americans, Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Asians, Arabs etc. Neither one of us cares much for the high-maintenance lifestyle. Sure, we travel all over seeing clients and speaking at conferences, but the day-to-day is far more low key. We go to the pub twice a week, we go to the local cheap-and-cheerful Chinese restaurant once a week, we have dumb hobbies we like to do, like taking the sailboat out on the weekend, or drawing wee cartoons. We both drive second hand cars and pay cheap-as-hell rent.

Again, it's not rocket science. But as long as we keep blogging, avoid high overheads and keep making the best suits in the world, nobody can take it away from us.

And the same principle applies to the other projects I work on.

Frankly, it beats the hell out of commuting every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city, something I did for many years. Just so I could make enough money to help me forget that I have to commute every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city.

There are thousands of reasons why people write blogs. But it seems to me the biggest reason that drives the bloggers I read the most is, we're all looking for our own personal global microbrand. That is the prize. That is the ticket off the treadmill. And I don't think it's a bad one to aim for.

Posted by hugh macleod at October 11, 2005 3:58 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Hi Hugh,

I completely agree with you that the current "big-city" lifestyle is not sustainable. For me 9/11 was also a wake-up call in this respect. I was not living in NYC but when I saw all these pictures of young, talented and in the world's eyes "highly successful" people, I was thinking: it is not your boss at your office that is standing there with your picture and looking for you. It is your friends and family whom you hardly ever see because you were working crazy hours and commuting 2 hours a day, who are standing there. And I was thinking, it is just not worth it.

Sandra

Posted by: Sandra at October 12, 2005 8:14 AM

Nice rant, Hugh.

But isn't what you're describing just called being self-employed? There's millions of people who do it, and I'm sure they all enjoy many of the benefits you discuss.

Surely the blog is just a method of helping you enter the market (with a bang, in your case) and converse with your customers, because they're no longer on your doorstep but on your desktop?

Posted by: Niall Cook at October 12, 2005 8:41 AM

Well said ' Hugh and a good analysis in my opinion.

Posted by: Geoff at October 12, 2005 10:01 AM

@Hugh: Grand text. It is one of those fantastic works where one goes "yeah, I thought of that too". But one never really did. After every paragraph I nod my head. So clear and precise thinking in this.

@Neil: Technically and for the tax authorities it may be "self employed". Culturally I think it is something new, I'd call it "web employed". (The domain webemployed.com is for sale at 199 US$. I checked before posting this ;-), but .org ist still available...)

Posted by: shtikl at October 12, 2005 10:11 AM

Hear, hear!

Posted by: Michael Martine at October 12, 2005 11:08 AM

global micro brand ! G-M-B as you have said is a very, micro brands have been there since ages and with the advent of internet ... the birth of G-M-B has begun.

blogs are in the same direction as well.

www.ziceholidays.com

Posted by: ravi dabbiroo at October 12, 2005 11:44 AM

Niall, there's self-employed and then there's self-employed. Plenty of SE folk are still stuck in the city rut. The internet adds that extra layer of possibility.

I think it's part of a wider shift - for whatever reason, fewer people are willing to continue tapdancing on the edge. How many articles have you read lately about "sunlighting", flexiworking, downshifting - any number of names for the same idea: work less, live more? Web employment - if you will - isn't necessary to experience this shift, but it helps. A lot.

And the global microbrand (a gorgeous idea, thanks Hugh) is yet another facet. As a goal, it offers (or makes more viable) the possibility of work that isn't alienating. I'll put that on my To Do list, for sure.

Posted by: Scroobious at October 12, 2005 2:34 PM

It's more than employed ... right? It's more than blog+suits=pastoral ... isn't it?

It's that the guy with the beemer, who works in the top floor office, and wears a Thomas Mahon suit is straight-jacketed by the brand he works for. He can't choose; there's no time and no room. He must do. If he stops "doing" for a second ... he's gone.

A truly global microbrand gives you more than pastoral sans glass box. It lets you roar. Spread-out, bicep flexing, head-thrown back roaring in a way untouched by corporate protocol or urban ethic. A perfect expression of potential that's only possible if absolutely unfettered by artifical constraint.

This used to be the exclusive field of CEOs and rockstars. The barbarians hopped the gate.

Now, the meaty question: We've got the foundation (net), tools (blogs), material (experience/passion) ... what's this beauty going to look like?

Posted by: Jeremy Heigh at October 12, 2005 2:48 PM

Hugh:

Your most profound entry yet. I've printed this one and I'm passing copies to all of my friends.

Hey, you get it

Posted by: Keith at October 12, 2005 3:00 PM

The Global Micro Brand is so much more than being self-employed or even putting yourself on the web. It is all about finding the one thing that makes you dramtically different, that one story that you can tell better than any one else. The beauty is that we all have that power to do one thing really well and gather an audience that is looking to hear that story.

As the global audiences become more savy on finding the one niche they are looking for, and the web 2.0 tools make it easier to find that one individual, the Global Micro Brand will become more and more powerful.

Thanks Hugh, this is great stuff. And I can't say how strongly I reccomend that you read Tom Peter's pocket book on branding yourself "the brand you 50". It is the toolbox to help you on your way to being a Hugh MacLeod.

Jose
thinkjose.com

Posted by: Jose at October 12, 2005 3:39 PM

Nice summary Hugh, bringing lifestyle back into the equation is key, this fits nicely with your microbrand idea.

Posted by: Al at October 12, 2005 3:54 PM

I was never mindful of the idea of becoming a global microbrand. But, it seems to explain everything perfectly to me.

My only considered take on the idea of a blog to support our tiny little job shop was that it appeared so diametrically opposed to what most folks would consider a worthy company to start one. We still have people in our line of work refusing to go metric.

But, as we can see, the more distanced from the wibbly wobbly way the real company appears to be, the more it seems to attract its interest.

Still, it's only a certain section of the PR/marketing fraternity who would start frothing at the gills over the idea of having a conversation in the first place. It's only adding the personal and informal to the impersonal and formal.

Now whilst our firm's reach round the internet is a little excessive, I suppose it and I have become a global microbrand by proxy. And that's fucking ridiculous, but something we'll gladly accept.

Although, we had a guy only last week ring us up after finding us on the internet who was less than 200 yards away from us. Nothing particularly astonishing in that apart from the fact that he has to drive past us everyday - twice.

And we do all this from the electricity cupboard of an old disused foundry and my bedroom.

You can decide where I have to dodge the rats and where I receive rather sharp shocks to the temple when I drop a pen down the beck of my desk.

Posted by: Paul Woodhouse at October 12, 2005 3:58 PM

I disagree.

Change is death! That which was, is no longer. But after death comes new life.

Fear of death is the end of living. We must be willing to give up the life we have to live the life that's waiting for us. (To paraphrase Joseph Campbell.)

Posted by: Dave Goodman at October 12, 2005 5:24 PM

Nicely said, Hugh. I've been kinda missing the big philosophical biz rants that were more common last year.

I'm not quite sure how you and Thomas find time to pursue hobbies while doing the global microbrand thing... I've been busy pretty much 24/7/365 since I got on the Hughtrain. But then, on the other hand, I'm doing what I love, so who carees right? And besides, relaxing makes me tense...

Anyway, glad to have a nice litttle rant to read this AM.

Posted by: john t unger at October 12, 2005 5:33 PM

I suspect this principal was on my laundry list of reasons to leaving the DC back for Flagstaff (medium sized mountain town) 3 years ago, and while it hasn't completely been achieved I completely see what you mean.

Great Post Hugh.

Posted by: Thomas at October 12, 2005 5:58 PM

hugh-

spot.on.

the funny thing is, stepping off the treadmill seems hard. it seems scary, without security, risky.

well, so is crossing the street.

but staying on the treadmill is worse. it's not risky. it's certain soul-death.

well put, friend.

best,
c

Posted by: christopher carfi at October 12, 2005 7:08 PM

Hugh,
GREAT POST! The whole GMB idea is really easy to grasp and it sounds like you are developing some valuable experience on how to make it PAY! I look forward to future posts (especially on the nuts and bolts of the "making it pay" part)!
Dave

Posted by: Dave Wheeler at October 12, 2005 7:33 PM

Excellent. After two years, my friends in New York, Atlanta, LA, and Vancouver still wonder why I'm in Galveston. I've explained, but they think it's just an individual quirk, and that I'll get over it. What I've gotten over is New York, Atlanta, LA, and Vancouver.

Posted by: Ernie Mosteller at October 12, 2005 7:37 PM

A great post! I love your GMB term and that you define it using examples of physical products... I'm off to build my GMB! :-)

Posted by: Tim Hastings at October 12, 2005 7:49 PM

B.

-Matt

Posted by: Matt Galloway at October 12, 2005 9:49 PM

You're very right...and I think the minute a person becomes more scared of change than of allowing themself to be caught up in something that makes them happy...well, it's a bad minute.

Posted by: sandra at October 13, 2005 1:43 AM

Hugh, thanks for the nod. Funny, I live in one of the most expensive places in the U.S. - Silicon Valley - and also own a second-hand car and pay dirt-cheap rent ($500/mo in US is dirt cheap). It helps that I'm not ashamed to park next to a Beemer or buzz past multi-million dollar homes around me.


When I moved to Silicon Valley three years ago, I was invisible. I intuited that blogging might be a way to express and share my ideas more widely as well as indulge my uncareer (working when I want to, taking on pro bono causes when I want to, and slacking when I want to ;-) etc.)

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Posted by: Evelyn Rodriguez at October 13, 2005 1:55 AM

You've probably spotted this blog: My Career, Sans Ladder, http://sansladder.blogspot.com/

Adam links to these folks under "Ladder-less Careers:"

Seth Godin
Hugh MacLeod
Mike Matas
Kathy Sierra
Evelyn Rodriguez
Adam Greenfield
Po Bronson
Mark Cuban

Posted by: Evelyn Rodriguez at October 13, 2005 2:52 AM

Good post Hugh. What you're talking about is THE 21st century revolution. And every single person and business trying to make money online is a Global Microbrand, whether they know it or not.

The Internet offers a virtually level playing field to every single person on the planet, as it brings the cost of marketing to an unprecedented worldwide audience to virtually zero.

The problem is that most people (and business owners) are far too comfortable to dare step out of their comfort zone, which one has to do if they want to change. They simply aren't interested in a ticket off the treadmill - apart from winning the lottery.

And people will give every excuse imaginable to avoid stepping out of their comfort zone. The most used one is "I don't have the time." The simple fact is one can find the time, if it's important enough (think about that the next time you use that as an excuse). And lets not forget that some people are happy running the treadmill everyday, for that is all they know.

Michael - GoDefy.com
(I had to reduce this post substantially because the software wouldn't accept the original full length post)

Posted by: Michael Wong at October 13, 2005 5:21 AM

Great post Hugh! Your blog has been an inspiration and I always check it out when I get a bit scunnered with my own blogging endevours! Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Gordon at October 13, 2005 5:56 AM

I agree, now all i gotta do is find something i can do from down here in Jakarta, Indonesia and blog about.

Posted by: Avin at October 13, 2005 6:18 AM

I second (27th?) the "great post" sentiment! Definitely the best one in a while, and a good reminder why I keep coming back here.

I absolutely love the Global Microbrand idea, but I wonder: if Hugh truly "arrives" GMB-wise, does he become a Global Microcartoonist, or is it Gaping Void, or market consulting, or what? (Hugh, get that book out!)

Niall, I've been mostly self-employed for years now, and I do think there's a difference. With GMB your customers are geographically scattered, so within reason you can be wherever you want to be. That's the G part. The B part is that it's a *brand* - you're selling something and actively attending to its (geographically unleashed) reputation. Even if it's just you that you're selling (though hopefully not your soul). The M part, as I see it, is just that small players have almost exactly the same tools the big players have, so (in many cases) you can get at your small market for fancy suits at least as effectively as, say, Disney gets at its giant market for vapid entertainment. (OK, it's not that level yet, but maybe soon... video iPodVertisement anyone?)

Your GMB types are very likely to be SE types, but SE does not get you GMB by itself.

One thing about the rural/urban question: what excites me about the GMB idea is that you live where you want to live, within certain constraints (mostly the infrastructure needed to produce your Brand of whatever). For some that may be rural England, for others it might be Tokyo or New York. I don't think it makes a difference whether you GBM yourself into the sticks or into the metropolis, the point is to be where you really want to be.

(BTW, I'm typing this from a quiet, pleasant town in Silicon Valley where a decent house costs a million bucks. And it's not one of the fancy towns.)

Again, great post. Obviously got everyone thinking.

Posted by: frosty at October 13, 2005 6:55 AM

@ Evelyn

Thanks for the digital shoutout, interesting to see the almost direct correlation to ladder-less careers and GMB creators...question is, which comes first - the brand or the courage to step off the ladder?

Posted by: Adam at October 13, 2005 7:58 AM

Once again you have nailed it. This is exactly what many of us have been trying to create, without naming the concept correctly.

I agree that we are all looking for our own personal global microbrand. Getting there is a challenge and a reward, all in one.

The best part of all is that professional activity becomes completely portable! We can work anywhere there is an internet connection.

That changes the real estate equation completely. A sleepy little town with high speed internet beats Silicon Valley, New York, or London as a place to make waves.

Great article.

Posted by: David St Lawrence at October 13, 2005 8:02 AM

Great article! (although i think you mean Global and not Gobal (title))

I have experienced something similar: having been bought up in suburbia and desperately trying to scape it most of my life, London seemed for many years to be the 'cure'.

Then 2 years ago i met a wonderful Swedish woman, living in London, who i married and then decided to move to Sweden with (bit of a fast forward there). We now live in Stockholm - surrounded by water (essential for kayaking), a short (ethanol powered) busride from the research studio i work at and only 30 minutes drive from the archipelago (thousands of granite islands grouped around stockholm and accessible by everyone). Life is more relaxed, more focused and remarkably less cluttered.

I would just add that in retrospect, i feel that London 'promises' everything; what i didn't realise is i don't need everything.

Posted by: John Paul Bichard at October 13, 2005 9:47 AM

Hugh,

You are an inspiration to us all!! Thank you for that. And, thanks for the great post. I think you are exactly dead spot on with your opinion/point. Your idea(s) for blogging and the Global Micro Brand do and will succeed because they are "higher purpose", IMHO. The rat race is a dead end and devoid of "purpose" by contrast. And, while I may not be able to do witty/irreverent/alternative business cards, or even come across as 1/10th as creative as you do, the "right and proper" goal...the "higher purpose" goal...is to try.


Thanks again...

Posted by: Nathan Larimer at October 13, 2005 12:55 PM

Thanks for all the kind words, Everybody.

To answer Niall's question, no, it's not just about being self-employed. My blog was a fairly successful global microbrand last year, even though it wasn't making me any money.

Robert Scoble, like I said, the grand-daddy of all one-man global microbrands, isn't self-employed, either.

Secondly, English Cut is not an e-commerce site, we still have to go and meet clients. Often that means getting on a plane and travelling thousands of miles, so describing my customers as "no longer on my doorstep but on my desktop" doesn't really apply.

But yeah, there are overlaps. It depends on what you're trying to achieve. Depends what semantics and metaphors you're wired into.

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 13, 2005 1:33 PM

The beauty of the Web is that I can write a book, self-publish a book, promote and sell it online.
The problem with the Web is that millions of others can do the same.
How to make your global brand stand out?
We may live in secluded towns, but it's getting very crowded online.

Posted by: Anne at October 13, 2005 3:47 PM

I love the idea of "The Global Microbrand" but I am concerned that it isn't necessarily sustainable in all its forms. I can see it would work for say, you, and someone like Seth Godin. But I wonder whether someone like Thomas might be a victim of his own success.

On the assumption he was making suits before he started his blog he only had a certain amount of capacity. Now, he appears to be incredibly busy. How does he manage it? How many suits can he actually make at any one time? Will he sub-contract out more and more of the work as time goes on? Will he then have to start managing more and doing less of the work he actually loves. Does he then increase prices to try and limit demand? And with all this travel and work, will he still be able to go to the pub and the local Chinese in two years time? Isn't it more likely that he will be busy running a much larger business - which he might enjoy - and dealing with the problems of "success" whereever that might be?

Posted by: Mark Lloyd at October 13, 2005 5:00 PM

Avin, I think having the idea in Jakarta is great. So figure out what thew world doesn't know about Jakarta and take it from there...

Posted by: Thomas at October 13, 2005 6:07 PM

I like the example of Charles Martell, the guy who makes Stinking Bishop cheese. He's just had the kind of product placement that money can't buy in the latest Wallace and Gromit movie. Demand has already jumped by 100% and his response?

"I'm quite happy with what I've got at the moment. I don't need more money. I can only wear one suit at a time, or drive one car. And I certainly don't want fame."

Having loved his cheese for about 5 years now, I'm delighted to hear it. I'm just going to have to get used to paying a bit more for it and hoping that the demand tails off eventually (and it will, SB is something of a take no prisoners cheese).

Posted by: Piers Cawley at October 13, 2005 9:33 PM

Thought you might enjoy this cartoon, Hugh.

My thoughts on Squidgy.

Posted by: Noel Guinane at October 13, 2005 10:02 PM

Sorry, here's the link: www.bloodandtreasure.com/ipatch

Posted by: Noel Guinane at October 13, 2005 10:03 PM

Great post Hugh; enlightening as always.

I wonder if the Global Micro Brand that most people are trying to 'sell' on the net isn't just themselves. I mean most blogs are electronic personal journals and we're just talking about who we are. So then you have this whole thing of "Who am I and why would anyone care"? Doesn't really matter where you live, you still have to face up to that question, don't you think?

Posted by: George Allan at October 14, 2005 9:55 AM

Begging your pardon again - You can read the whole Squidoo debate here:

http://www.buzzmachine.com/index.php/2005/10/10/squidoo/#comment-9915

Posted by: Noel Guinane at October 14, 2005 10:13 AM

Hugh,

I found this post has come to me at an ideal point in my life. I've recently been laid off from the advertising field, and am trying to find where to re-establish myself. Even while I was on "the treadmill", I felt the strong long-nose call of Godin, that all of us marketers were liars, that we were using our gifts for wrong. The GMB is a way to be honest with yourself, with the world - to present what you can do and how you can do it in an honest, "Hughtrain" style. It's posts like these that encourage me to find my own GMB, and while I will have to enter some corporate glass box to support myself and my family (see "Sex & Cash Theory), this proves to me that you can still work for The Man and yet keep this creative, vibrant, essential part of your life on fire. And perhaps, once it grows big enough, you can leave the treadmill behind for good.

Posted by: Eric Swayne at October 14, 2005 8:45 PM

brilliant. thank you.

Posted by: cathy at October 15, 2005 12:50 AM

Hugh:

1) Great post. "Commuting to the corporate glass box in the big city" is one of those images that give me the chills...it's why my partner and I started our own little microbrand 11 years ago.
2) Could I get the "Fear of Change is Death" cartoon as a blogcard?

Posted by: Tom at October 15, 2005 3:59 PM

Great bumping in to you again Hugh, this shifts alot of what we were talking about into perspective, very interesting indeed!
Eye candy rots your teeth. Yep you've certainly got me thinking...

til next time.
Andy

Posted by: Andy at October 15, 2005 5:09 PM

Interesting points, and I do agree that lifestyle is a part of the equation of lifelong happiness. What do you think about about the Western Coast of the USA that has that built into it?

From someone currently living and working in Seattle, living at the foot of Queene Anne this area has it all. Though the area is a little pricey for most people my age, my wife and I love the area. I cannot speak for the rest of the Coast, but it really has the small town feel with all the benefits of living in the city. I am young and don't live in a corner office or drive a sports car, but I think you could do that routine here and have a much different perspective on life than if you played the same game in New York or London. I believe that is why companies should move out the Washington/Oregon (and to a lesser degree North California as they are crazy the further south you go)

Posted by: Josh at October 15, 2005 6:21 PM

Hugh- you have tapped into something that many of us feel, and you have expressed it with clarity and heart. I 'get' your GMB concept on a very visceral level. Living in a town of 2,000 in a very poor part of western massachusetts (USA), being an acupuncturist doesnt pay the bills so well. Nor did running a small tea shop. Now I am changing scope, and looking at bringing my brand, in the form of private label and created brands to the world at large, primarily via the internet. This is a shift that I feel offers a freedom to so many millions of us. An ability to transcend geography in business. And I thank you for reminding me to leave my 'self' in my work.

Posted by: Jake Mayer at October 21, 2005 4:18 PM