MTV is hosting their annual Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 30th.
We all know that the best part of the VMAs are the performances. This year Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, The Weekend, BTS, and CNCO are just a few acts to take the stage.
But to practice social distancing, all performances will be held outdoors with “limited or no audiences”… yikes.
Truth be told, the VMAs’ audience has been dwindling for years.
There are two things that can explain their consistent ratings decline:
1. If Britney Spears isn’t performing, there’s really no point in watching.
2. MTV deviated from their original brand purpose.
The Early Days of MTV
MTV officially launched as a channel on August 1, 1981, which was the same year as the first launch of the space shuttle, Columbia. This explains the significance of the moon man awards they hand out at the VMAs.
You can watch it here. You might want to skip to the 1:50 mark:
The original slogan of the channel was “You’ll never look at music the same way again”.
And through the ‘80s and ‘90s, MTV delivered on their promise to bring more music, through video, to audiences. They had shows like Yo! MTV Raps, TRL, Headbanger’s Ball, and Making the Video, mixed in among their music video marathons.
But by the early 2000s, MTV’s programming strayed away from music (although they were still airing Making the Band — the inspiration for my podcast).
Their show line-up was mostly original reality TV shows like Laguna Beach, 16 and Pregnant, Room Raiders, and even Jackass.
By 2010, MTV officially dropped “music television” from their logo altogether.
So for at least the past decade, MTV admittedly hasn’t been about music except for one night of the year: the Video Music Awards.
But If MTV doesn’t care about music, why should their audience?
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
When I was a kid, MTV’s “main thing” was music. Their programming fueled my passion for it, and I couldn’t get enough. I was glued to the TV. Their programming added more context to the music I loved. I looked forward to exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and concert specials.
But now, if I want to learn about music, I’m on my own. Yes, social media has given us access to our favorite musicians, but as a network, MTV isn’t contributing to the conversation or adding any value.
That’s the problem. They’ve given up on music, which doesn’t set the right example for their audience.
If you want your audience to care about something, you have to be the thing you want them to care about.That means 365 days a year… not just one night for an awards show.
This applies to MTV and pretty much any organization.
I think about this a lot in the non-profit world. I see so many non-profits make their messaging about their sponsors, volunteers, and donors. They profusely thank them and feature them on every one of their channels.
Of course, these groups are important. They provide necessary funding and assistance to keep these organizations going.
But you want your audience to care about the people (or animals!) you serve. Tell THEIR stories. This happens to be the better approach to create more donors, sponsors, volunteers, and funding.
Your supporters want to know how their donations or hard work are impacting people’s lives. THIS is what will open their hearts and wallets going forward.
Stick to the thing you want to be known for, and you’ll hold your audience’s attention.
I know… pursuing a shiny new opportunity can be tempting. You may feel pressure to innovate or switch things up, like MTV did once they got a taste of reality TV.
But stay the course. Specialize, niche down, and go all-in on what you do best. And if you must try something new, make sure it reflects who you are as a brand.
When you hear the word autotune, who comes to mind?
If you’re a pop culture fanatic, you may think of Cher, who is often credited as the first artist to experiment with autotune with her 1998 single, “Believe.”
But if there’s anyone whose known for using autotune consistently, it’s hip hop artist, T-Pain. In fact, he’s so strongly associated with autotune that an iPhone app called“I Am T-Pain” was created to mimic the effect.
Every one of T-Pain’s songs brings me back to my college days when I actually looked forward to going to the club. He had hits like Bartender, Buy U a Drank, and I’m N Luv with a Stripper just to name a few.
These songs cut through the late 2000s competitive hip-hop scene. T-Pain was up against artists like Lil Wayne, Drake, T.I., Flo-Rida and Jay-Z and yet he still produced hit after hit.
The Secret to Brand Voice Differentiation
Marketers can relate to T-Pain’s position as an artist. Your category is crowded. Whether it’s your personal brand or your business, you’ve got your own set of competitors.
In the face of competition, most underdogs have their strategy all wrong. I’ve had countless clients who try to copy what their competitors are doing, throw more money at advertising, or invest in expensive innovations to try to demonstrate that they are better.
From what I’ve seen, these efforts won’t push you ahead in the race — at least not as quickly as you’d hope.
“It’s good to be better, but it’s better to be different.”
And this is exactly how T-Pain stood out. He wasn’t necessarily better than other artists of his era, but he packaged his work in a unique way with autotune. It was something we’d never heard before. After his debut single “I’m Sprung” dropped, we were hooked.
Individuals and brands have a similar opportunity to differentiate themselves. You don’t have to be the best or have the biggest following to get noticed. All it takes is a creative approach that is unlike what the other guys are doing.
Finding Your Brand Voice
If you work in marketing, you may have heard about the 4 P’s of marketing which summarizes the pillars of a marketing strategy.
The 4 P’s of marketing were introduced in the 1950s, yet brands are still leaning on them to create their marketing mix.
However, customers of today are turned off when brands only speak to their products, pricing, placement, and promotion. The 4 P’s do little to differentiate your brand or make your audience connect with you.
Instead, brands need to shift to the new P’s of marketing. In his book, About Face: The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising, Dan Hill says the new P’s of marketing are
These are the 3 P’s are what will make your brand shine in 2020.
Breaking Down the 3 P’s: Personality, Passion, Purpose
First, let’s start with personality, because this reminds me of T-Pain. His use of autotune added personality to his music and lyrics. He found a way to make his songs uniquely his by expressing himself in a different way.
We see this in other competitive categories. For example, Wendy’s stands out in the fast food wars by sharing their brand voice with a touch of sass.
Next is passion. This is another commonality we see in the music industry and marketing. Musicians share their passions with us through song. Through their use of lyrics and melody, they get their audiences to feel something.
This should be every marketer’s goal — to get your audience to care and to feel your passion.
Apple does this well. They’re not just passionate about technology, but what the technology can do for people. They want to spark your creativity.
Same with Nike. They’re not just passionate about shoes and sports apparel, but what the apparel can do for you. They want to ignite your inner athlete.
Lastly, is purpose. Your audience wants to buy from brands who have a purpose that’s bigger than your bottom line.
Today, we look for brands that are sustainable and socially responsible. And especially in light of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen tons of brands take a stand on both safety and diversity.
A brand who’s never missed an opportunity to stand up for what they believe in is Ben & Jerry’s.
Remember: if you want to stand out and build a relationship with your audience, spend less time highlighting your products and promotions and more time expressing your personality, passion, and purpose.
Even T-Pain would agree that finding your unique brand voice can be a key to success.
It’s simple: branding is a success when you become memorable.
You may be overwhelmed wondering how to differentiate your personal brand. But the good news is, you don’t need to be the best in your field or have the biggest following to make an unforgettable impression.
One of the simplest and fastest ways to stand out is to define a signature look or style that becomes uniquely yours. This can be expressed in many ways, including how you dress or wear your hair. After all, there’s a reason they call it a fashion statement.
Unmistakable Personal Branding Examples from Your Favorite Celebrities
To drive this point home, here are some celebrities and famous leaders who have made consistent style choices that have become synonymous with their brand identity:
Ariana Grande’s High Ponytail
Without a doubt, Ariana’s incredible voice is what makes her a superstar, but she gets an extra PR boost any time she switches up her look. Her high pony is such a part of who she is, that any deviation from it becomes a major media story.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Steven Tyler’s Scarves
After one of his scarves tore off during a performance, Steven Tyler chose to tie it to his microphone stand for good luck. He now adorns all of his mic stands with ornate scarves as one of his trademarks.
According to an article by John Kehe, Michael Jackson was on a tour of a Hollywood production facility when he saw a film editor wearing a single white glove. (It was a common practice for film editors in the 1980s to keep of box of gloves on-hand.) The King of Pop asked the editor if he could spare one.
The glove made its television debut in 1983 during a performance of “Billy Jean”. MJ later bedazzled it in sequins, and it immediately became an iconic piece of pop culture history. You can find one of his gloves on display at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles.
Photo: Beth A. Keiser / AFP/Getty Images
Steve Jobs’ Black Turtleneck
Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said he owned over 100 of black mock turtlenecks. Designed by Issey Miyake, they reportedly cost $275 each. He’d typically pair them with jeans and sneakers. Fellow billionaire and tech mogul, Mark Zuckerberg, is also known for his casual looks.
Photo by Aaron Sorkin
Billie Eilish’s Green Roots
Her incredible voice isn’t the only thing that makes Billie Eilish stand out from other artists. She has her own style, from her green roots, to her baggy designer jumpsuits, all the way to her fingertips. Billie marches to the beat of her own drum, and we love her for it!
Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Chris Sacca’s Cowboy Shirts
I never thought that embroidered cowboy shirts were a good look, but Shark Tank guest star and billionaire venture capitalist, Chris Sacca, makes them work for his personal brand! He says the consistency in his wardrobe has given him the time to focus on more meaningful projects rather than wasting time deciding what to wear.
Photo by Megan Mack
Chance the Rapper’s 3 Hats
It’s safe to say that Chance the Rapper has one of his 3 hats in every color! According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, the number initially represented Chance’s third mixtape, Coloring Book. Now, he says the 3 has taken on other meanings pertaining to his family life.
Photo: Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images
KISS’s Painted Face Masks
You can’t think of KISS without envisioning their unmistakable face makeup. For nearly 10 years, there were no photos of them without makeup. This strategic decision gave them the opportunity to create intrigue amongst the media and their fans.
Photo by Getty
Camila Cabello’s Bows
Camila Cabello began her career competing on X Factor as a member of girl group, Fifth Harmony. With four other singers beside her at all times, it’s no wonder she wanted to stand out. In every performance, Camila wore a bow that quickly made her recognizable.
Since reaching superstar status as a solo artist, Camila has abandoned this accessory, but I can’t help but think it played a role in her fame.
Photo by PictureGroup / Rex Features
How to Apply a Signature Look to Your Brand Aesthetic
Ultimately, your brand will be known for something much bigger than its appearance. Your mission, products, services, and overall brand personality matter more. But in a sea of competitors and crowded industries, there’s no harm in finding a creative way to stand out.
If you’re a realtor, maybe you are known for wearing red heels.
If you’re a photographer, maybe you use a bedazzled camera (inspired by MJ!).
If you are hair stylist, maybe you always cut hair with bright pink scissors.
If you are a baker, maybe you only wear a denim apron covered in personalized patches.
If you are a food blogger, maybe you always photograph your food on a gold plate.
There are countless ways to make your personal brand more distinctive, but one thing is for certain: you can to make it true to your own style. Once you simply define it, you will be able to express it in a way that makes you unmistakable to your audience. Have fun with it!
Over ten seasons and 236 episodes, audiences around the world got to know and love every character of Friends, inside and out. They each were known for specific traits:
Monica was the competitive neat freak. Ross was the academic. Joey was the ladies man. Phoebe was the free spirit. Rachel was the beautiful fashionista.
And Chandler… Oh, Chandler. He was the funny one, yet always the butt of the joke.
But the writers were so good, that even the characters we saw for only a few episodes had depth.
From Ross and Monica’s parents, to Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula, and Gunther of Central Perk, it felt like they were in our own social circles.
However, there is one supporting character who outshined them all. In fact, she appeared in at least one episode of every season. Do you hear her name calling out to you, like a foghorn?
Yes, Janice Litman-Goralnik was cast in season one to play Chandler’s love interest, and we haven’t been able to look away ever since.
Janice as Personal Branding Inspiration
Although Janice wasn’t everyone’s favorite person to be around, one thing is for certain: she made her presence known.
I couldn’t help but notice that that is one of the main goals of personal branding. We all want to make our(online) presence known, and leave a lasting impression on our audience, just like Janice managed to do.
Here are some Janice-inspired tips to help you elevate your personal brand:
Have a catchphrase.
Okay, perhaps not a literal catchphrase like Janice’s iconic “Oh. My. GOD!” But, people expected to hear this every time she walked in a room.
When you write your own content, focus on a specific niche so people know what to expect from you. Over time, you will become known as a subject-matter expert, and people will recognize your writing almost instantly.
Define a consistent voice.
Here’s a test: can you hear this picture?
Janice’s unpleasant cackle and nasally voice could make our our ears bleed, but they became a recognizable part of her character.
Hopefully your brand voice is a lot less annoying, but when you define it, stick to it. You have the opportunity to make your content stand out simply by how you deliver it. Establish a voice that is true to your personality.
Think about presentation.
I know Rachel and Monica get all the credit for their fashion sense, but Janice’s looks are incredibly underrated. She most notably wears bold colors and a ton of animal print.
This may not be your style, but you should develop your own brand aesthetic like Janice did. From the formatting of your tweets, to the treatment of your photos, and the colors on your website, consider how your content is presented.
Throughout the series, it becomes a running joke that Janice always seems to show up unexpectedly.
P.S. this is one of my favorite Chandler lines in the entire show:
The lesson here is that if you want to people to discover you online and build your brand, you have to show up consistently. Post often, engage with others, and you’ll be heard.
Remember when Chandler is desperate to get rid of Janice, so he pretends that his job is relocating him to Yemen?
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Let me set the record straight: being persistent is not the same as being annoying (except maybe in Janice’s case).
If you really want something, go after it. Build your brand and chase opportunities that interest you.
So why not send a DM to someone you admire?
Why not pitch your writing to a publication?
Why not follow up on your job application until you can’t be ignored?
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
What Would Janice Do?
Even though she wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Janice was always unapologetically herself.
Follow her lead by leaning into your personality, rather conforming to what you think the Internet might want you to be.
Build your brand that is true to you, with all of your quirks, and you’ll undoubtedly leave your mark.
J.Lo had a series of hysterical sketches, but one that stood out was her spoof of the boutique fitness gym, Barry’s Bootcamp. The sketch mocks Barry’s over-the-top trainers and their lofty motivational speeches. Of course, my favorite part is at 3:38 when J.Lo quotes Britney Spe— oops, I mean, Mother Teresa.
But this isn’t the only time the gang at SNL have parodied a fitness brand. Back in October, they satirized SoulCycle’s intense instructor auditions.
My favorite parodies, however, are the ones that draw laughter in the midst of controversy. In an incredibly swift move, Ryan Reynolds poked fun at the Peloton ad backlash by recruiting “Peloton Wife” in a commercial for his company, Aviation Gin. She clearly needed to throw back a glass or two after an exhausting week of ridicule.
I had the chance to chat with Sean Hunter, the infamous “Peloton Husband”. Even he understands how important it is to to laugh things off:
I’ve been making light of it by cracking a few jokes (see my Instagram post about waiting up for Peloton wife!) and I’ve been receiving a lot of support and love. The parodies have been funny but with that people are still saying a few hurtful things! The most important thing is to stay confident in who you are and know what’s right! Just brush that negativity off your shoulder when people are trying to get a rise out of you for no reason!
Why Mockery is the Best Kind of Marketing
More often than not, if your brand is being mocked or parodied, you’re doing something right. In fact, I consider it to be a key indicator of brand marketing success.
Here is the upside to to your brand being the butt of the joke:
It boosts your brand awareness. Free media? Yes, please! A viral parody or branded meme is one of the best forms of earned media (and flattery!). From social media mentions to press coverage, brands should count their lucky stars for any impressions that don’t have to come out of your marketing budget.
It demonstrates strong brand equity. Your brand equity speaks to how your product is perceived by your audience. If you present a consistent brand over time, your audience will choose you over your competitors because they know what to expect. When your brand is parodied, you’ve established so much consistency that even outsiders can articulate (and sensationalize) what makes you, you. The humor aligns with the customer perceptions all over the world.
It unites your audience. If a parody really hits the mark, your audience will relate to it, and relatable content gets shared. Isn’t it way more fun to have a laugh over a piece of content that someone else understands than to cackle alone on your couch? A little friendly roasting spotlights your company culture while bringing your audience even closer to the brand.
So the next time SNL or Twitter trolls are throwing sticks and stones at your brand, take it in stride. Unless you have a serious scandal on your hands, it’s usually in good fun. Your sales numbers will prove it.
The past few years, I’ve gotten into a pretty established TV-watching routine. Like clockwork, every weekday night you can find me on my couch watching Jeopardy! Yes, I’ve officially become my grandmother.
Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I have some guilty pleasures. Depending on the season, on Mondays I’ll watch The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or Bachelor in Paradise. I also have a soft spot for Dancing with Stars: my grandmother’s true favorite.
But Tuesday nights are reserved for This Is Us.
Because I grew up worshipping all the teen queens like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson, part of me wanted to watch This Is Us to keep up with Mandy Moore. As you probably know, she plays one of the main characters, Rebecca Pearson.
Mandy captured my heart as an actress after seeing her in the 2002 film, A Walk To Remember, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. Didn’t we all bawl our eyes out after that movie?
While on the subject of crying, there’s something I wanted to address about This Is Us.
The show has been on for four seasons now, and through the years, it’s gotten a reputation as being depressing and sad. In fact, I’ve seen commentators at the Emmys or Golden Globes say they can’t even watch it because it makes them cry, which I kinda think is absurd.
Whether your heart can handle it or not, This Is Us is a work of art, especially since the writing is powerful enough to move people to tears.
In my opinion, it’s a phenomenon because of its deep and fearless storytelling. As marketers, we hear about how important storytelling is, and I think we can learn a lot about this from the success of This Is Us.
Every character, scene, and moment in This Is Us is part of a bigger story. It brilliantly takes us on a journey through the past and present, and tackles real-life issues. I describe it as an emotional rollercoaster.
Here are some of the difficult topics that the show addresses:
War / PTSD
The common theme about all of these topics is that they are uncomfortable, but they are REAL.
The #1 Mistake Brands Make When Storytelling
Too often, brands are afraid to take risks and talk about real stories. They hesitate because a topic may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable. Without this creative risk, their content ends up being mundane, unremarkable, and unmemorable.
If your messaging simply touts your product benefits or shares motivational platitudes, there’s no storyline to get behind. No character to root for through their challenge. No triumph to celebrate and applaud.
One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin says it best:
Being risky is safe, and being safe is risky.
As a company, person, or brand, don’t shy away from your stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They actually are your biggest opportunity.
The 4 Components of Great Storytelling
I just finished reading Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall. Kindra is a professional storyteller. and has made stories her life’s work. I’m so happy she wrote a book to share her wisdom with the world!
We always hear about how your brand should be doing storytelling, yet no one tells us how to do it right.
In my opinion, Kindra Hall is the first person to really add structure to storytelling. In her book, she shares a formula to help us get it right every time.
According to Kindra’s storytelling framework, a great story has these four components:
1. Identifiable Characters — Without characters, you’re just rambling on about products or services with no one for your audience to relate to
2. Authentic Emotions — This is what creates empathy between you as a brand and your listener. Kindra stresses that these emotions don’t have to be overly dramatic. It can simply be something like the daily frustration when deciding what to make for dinner, or nervousness about making the team.
3. A Significant Moment — Kindra says this is often where stories go wrong. Writers make the turning point of the story too broad, to the point where you can’t attach visuals to it.
For instance, speaking in general about the happiness a woman may feel from losing weight won’t stick. Instead paint a picture of her trying to lose weight for her high school reunion, and the euphoric moment when she tried on a smaller dress in a department store fitting room and it actually fit.
4. Specific Details — Details build connection. They go deeper into the story and help the audience resonate with the little things.
Perhaps the story about the woman in the example above mentions how she dances in front of the fitting room mirror, or how she gladly poses for a selfie in her dress to send to her best friend. These are small details, but they will charm your audience.
If you incorporate all of these elements in your stories, like the writers at This Is Us do, they will always hit the mark.
Yes, You Have Stories
A final reminder: stories are FREE. You, your company, and your customers inherently have stories.
So the next time you’re looking at where to allocate your marketing budget, don’t waste your time sending a mailer or placing an ad in the penny saver. Produce and tell a story. It will have a much bigger impact.
Be sure to check out Kindra Hall’s book, Stories That Stickfor more guidance on effective storytelling.