What branding really is

It’s getting late, I’m tired, the arthritis is killing me, but I’m way overdue posting some kind of follow up thoughts after last week’s AlwaysOn Media conference in NYC. Here’s one little snippet to start with…

By far the best panel session of the entire conference nearly didn’t happen at all. The printed agenda was all messed up, and things were running extremely late at the end of the Tuesday sessions, but they still managed to gather some tired and cranky panelists for a terrific discussion with the inflammatory title: “Can Brands Get Away with “Buzz Marketing” in the Blogosphere?

After a stupidly long introduction (in which the event co-host, Bill Cleary, read lengthy bios for each of the panelists, succeeding in making four of the most interesting people in the room sound dull as dust, and demonstrating that he had no idea who any of them were), moderator Jeff Jarvis and his conversation partners, Edelman’s Rick Murray, Gordon Gould of ThisNext, Porter Novelli’s Barry Reicherter, and my friend David Weinberger, laid into the topic with verve, humour, and luminous insights.

Terrific stuff, and worth watching the whole thing online if you missed it. (Go here, and scroll down to the panel title – click the AlwaysOn logo button to the right).

Some absolutely outstanding moments – including Jeff laying into the PayPerPost guys with gusto, then taking a question from PayPerPost CEO Ted Murphy in the audience (woohoo!), and Bill Cleary (nearly) regaining the respect of the audience by describing marketing as “the lubricant of capitalism”.

If you watch it, you’ll notice there’s something of a kerfuffle towards the end. The panel were playing to a fraction of the full conference audience, alas. It sucked that they were slotted in at the end of a long, dry day, and were then further hosed by the messed-up agenda and a very late start. Running badly over time, the organizers were starting to give the wind-up signals to the host, but the audience (including me) revolted.

To the credit of the AlwaysOn team, they listened to the dissent and decided to keep rolling. Good call. This was the single most engaged and successful session of the conference so far – when the good stuff is flowing, makes sense to run with it.

Not to toot my own horn, but right at the end of the panel I threw out a comment which you can’t really hear in the video of the session and which (I think) bears repeating. (It’s not really tooting my own horn anyway, as I was quoting someone else.)

One of the other conference speakers, David Carlick, had an excellent piece published in the print magazine put out by the AlwaysOn organization. The piece included a line which seemed to fit perfectly with the tone of this panel, and which I’ve already quoted half a dozen times in conversation since:

“Your brand isn’t what you say; it’s what people say it is.”

Yes! As I said in the room – ’twas ever thus, but the truly great thing is that now you can hear what the people are saying. And you should listen.

I have a lot more thoughts to sort through and write up – I’ll get to them in the next few days, I hope, as billable work and biz dev stuff allows.

Another quick personal highlight to note, for now, was that I finally got to meet one of my personal heroes, Esther Dyson. Embarrassed to see that I may have squandered the opportunity to make any kind of a positive impression by pulling extremely goofy faces at her.

I’m sure this wasn’t a reaction to Esther telling me that her new bio describes her as “author of a best-selling fridge magnet“.

(Photo credit, btw, to the splendid Mark Smith.)

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