November 29, 2006

it@cork conference

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I’m in Ireland today, talking at the IT@Cork about the Global Microbrand idea.

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.

Global Microbrands do not need to have a blog or a websire. But it's very useful to have one, just my opinion.

I have two global microbrands under my belt, Stormhoek and English Cut.

A few months ago I talked about what had led to English Cut's success:

1. A great product. Thomas is one of the best tailors in the world. His suits REALLY ARE that good. If we were just selling commodified drek, I doubt if anyone would've paid much attention.

2. A unique story. When he started, Thomas was the only Savile Row tailor writing a blog, and this gave him a unique voice in the blogosphere. This fuelled the interest. Had masses of tailors already been blogging, it would've been much harder for his own unique "idea-virus" to spread. The first-mover advantage rule still applies.

3. Passion & Authority. Thomas has both in spades. That's what kept people coming back. That's what built up trust. That's what turned his readers into customers. Which is why "Share what you love" is the best advice there is.

4. Continuity. He kept at it. He didn't expect the blog to transform his fortunes overnight. As I'm fond of saying, "Blogs don't write themselves". Based on our experience, if you want blogs to transform your business, I'd say give yourself at least a year.

5. Focus. It was always about the suits. It was never about what he had for breakfast, Technorati rank or frothy gossip about other bloggers.

6. Thomas spoke in his own voice. Thomas is a straightforward, affable fellow, and the voice on the blog is the same as the voice you meet in real life. He never tried to misrepresent himself on his blog, nor try to create some over-glamorized image of his profession. He just told it like it is. And people responded well to that. As he once put it, "We're so lucky we don't have to create the brand out of thin air. We just tell the truth and the brand builds itself."

7. Sovereignty. The only people we had to please were the two of us. No bosses or outside investors to keep happy. Bosses and investors like guarantees, but there aren't any.

8. We were both broke when we started. Had we had masses of money at the beginning, we would have had a lot more options on how to get the word out. In all likelihood, these options would have been a lot more expensive and not nearly as effective. Sometimes lack of capital is a definite advantage.

With Stormhoek, the process was much more indirect. That being said, having a blog doubled our sales in 12 months.
I have been saying this for years, and still not everybody believes me: "Blogs are a good way of making things happen indirectly."

No, bloggers and their friends didn't start suddenly descending on supermarkets, buying the wine in large numbers. That's not how it works.

What happened is that by interfacing with the blogosphere, it fundementally changed how Stormhoek looked at treating their primary customers (the supermarket chains) and the end-users (the supermarkets' customers).

i.e. It caused an internal disruption, both within the company and the actual trade. Wine drinkers' basic purchasing habits didn't change because of the meme, but the meme allowed Stormhoek to align itself more closely with said habits.

My conclusion: Having a global microbrand is not a bad way to make a living. The biggest benefit to me has been not necessarily the money, but the level of personal sovereignty it affords me. I think that's the main appeal.

Secondly, if I were again to create a global microbrand from scratch, there's no way I would do it without a blog. No way on God's Earth.

Posted by hugh macleod at November 29, 2006 8:38 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Hugh, On the button as always and to put into writing the whole global microbrand thing is incredibly motivating. Do you not think though that many people will think that because your blog is so successful that blogging is the only way? Surely the global microbrand concept involves much more than a worldiwde-read blog? As many people saw in the early 90's, the web should be considered as part of the mix and I guess there is the risk that blogging will be seen as the new internet.

Posted by: Paul Fabretti at November 29, 2006 1:24 PM

A global microbrand is a wonderful thing to have and what many people desire to attain. However, as the blogosphere becomes more crowded, is it thus harder to get noticed? Two years ago most regular folks did not know what a blog was....now they is one themselves! I agree that if you get traction, a global microbrand would be easier to build than before the internet, but my thought is that while a blog is still important, the blogosphere is more skeptical nowadays. Could Scoble achieve his fame as quickly if he started today with so many big company insiders writing blogs?

Posted by: Thom Singer at November 29, 2006 1:32 PM

As someone who is trying to achieve my own global microbrand, I feel like blogs have definately gone fully mainstream - but because of this, I think they are less likely to be your greatest asset these days. Every new form of advertising probably had similar sentiments being said about them at their respective moments of full mainstream adoption (i.e. 'your business will never make it without a newspaper ad/radio ad/tv commercial/etc.'). What's next on the horizon? That's probably where you should look if you want to be on the front lines, although you still need to offer a genuinely "great" product or service to build any kind of sustainable brand, weather or not you blog.

Posted by: Aaron at November 29, 2006 2:53 PM

Global microbranding, and successful branding of any product via a blog and other online efforts is only possible (and sustainable) if the product is sound and demand remains. I do think Scoble would be as successful today, it might take a bit longer perhaps, due to the influx of more information by other bloggers, but if the product being blogged about is a good one, and there is passion on the topic by the blogger, then the clients will come, and success is probable.

Posted by: Aaron R. Stewart at November 29, 2006 4:52 PM

I think the key to Hugh's genius is the word "micro". "Mass" brands are out. The microbrands that appeal to a sliver of the population are able to engage with an interested global community. No "mass" market will give my bamboo fly rods the time of day. Not even the "mass" market that is fly fishing. But the blog gets to that "micro" sliver like nothing else in history. And that sliver is global. Global Microbrand as a concept is really cool.

Posted by: David at November 29, 2006 8:38 PM

So let me get this straight. Out of necessity, small startups have discovered a subtle and indirect form of marketing that is immensely effective, costs nothing to understand and implement, and yet turns out to be better than other forms that use exponentially more money?

That's just beautiful. Combine that with Seth Godin's recent rant on personal follow-ups, and it looks like we have a new theory of marketing emerging. Maybe we should call it the subtle and indirect theory of marketing (my summary of that thought here).

Posted by: JontheWayne at November 30, 2006 1:09 AM

Hugh,

thanks for speaking at our conference today and helping make our it@cork microbrand a little more global!

Your talk was inspiring and all the feedback from the attendees was extremely positive.

Thanks again,

Tom.

Posted by: Tom Raftery at November 30, 2006 1:47 AM

Hey, Hugh!

Could I please have a high-res link to the Winos card? I love it, and I'd like to hang it over my desk.

Cheers!

Posted by: Jake at November 30, 2006 2:04 AM

Hey, Hugh!

Could I please have a high-res link to the Winos card? I love it, and I'd like to hang it over my desk.

Cheers!

Posted by: Jake at November 30, 2006 4:52 AM

Creating a global audience and still keeping it small and personalised is a challenge, if that's what the business is about.

Have a look at Outowear & Gear (outowear.com, thinglink.org).

Posted by: Timo at December 9, 2006 11:17 AM