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[LONG READ ~ You might want to get a coffee]
“How Will Your Name Be Remembered?”
It’s one of the existential questions of all time isn’t it?
The world is getting noisier and travelling faster than it has at any time in history, but in some small way, deep down (when we think about what really matters), we all just want our names to be remembered. Perhaps you have just created something truly breathtaking, or maybe you have done something very stupid publicly, either way, the chances are it will be quickly forgotten when the next headline comes along. Standing out is a lot harder than it used to be.
Despite this, the goal of almost every movement, business professional, politician, non-profit organistion, brand or creative, is to try to make sure that their name is remembered. This is no easy task. But rather than take the easy route and look at how your name will be remembered, I’d rather explore the trickier path, why your name should be remembered?
So, to make this interesting (and hopefully to make you think), I’d like to share with you a couple of examples of how someone’s name has been remembered, and compare it to instances where the individual didn’t much care for being remembered.
“We all what to fit in, but the people we admire most are usually the ones who stand out”. Adam Grant, Originals
Let me start with one of my favourite speakers, the leadership coach and author John Maxwell. In 2007 I went to watch him speak at a church in Bradford for the first time. Nothing unusual about that you might think, churches invite visiting pastors to speak all the time. But this was different. Not only was John not speaking in the capacity of a pastor, but I learned that he wanted to charge a six-figure speaking fee to talk at their leadership conference. At the time I’d never heard of him (or any speaker getting paid that kind of money), so I decided to go and see what he had to say ~ and to find out first hand, what could he possibly say that would justify such a large fee? He covered a lot of ground. He kept people on the edge of their seat for 5 x 1 hour sessions. Using no notes, slides or videos during his 5 and a half hour marathon talk, he built his whole message around one key question.
“When you’re gone, people will sum up your life in one sentence. Best that you decide what that is before they do”. John Maxwell
Maxwell spoke a lot about how people’s names can be remembered. Tony Robbins has a similar message for many of his keynotes and workshops. It’s a goal we’ve been seeking for thousands of years.
“I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations”. Psalm 45:17
I have thought a lot about this over the last 9 years. Why is it that we are so concerned with having our name be remembered? (Says the man writing this on Jeremy.live!) I have written a couple of books on the subject. I even used to host workshops on personal branding back when when I owned an agency and didn’t know any better. Did I want my name to be remembered? Of course I did. I owned my own business. I worked as an independent consultant. If people didn’t remember my name I was in trouble. I wouldn’t pick up any work and I wouldn’t make any money.
Today, this is the way that most traditional marketing works when you look at naming (I’m not endorsing this, I’m just illustrating the point!)…
Today, I work in the corporate world where I often have different motivations for people remembering my name ~ but I don’t think that is what has made the difference. I think the world has changed so much over the last decade that culturally, we all want our names to be remembered, even though they are more likely than ever to be forgotten. The amount of data is bigger than ever before and growing at an increasing rate. The digital universe for example will be FORTY times bigger by 2020, making names, news and accomplishments harder to find than at any previous time in history. The world itself is also getting larger.
Today alone there will be over 194,000 births and 82,000 deaths.
While everyone seems obsessed with creating content that helps their name to be remembered for a fleeting moment, fewer and fewer people seem to be building things that will help their name to be remembered when they are gone. You could say it’s like the difference between creating and curating.
Consider these TOTALLY opposite views from two of my favourite artists:
Andy Warhol ~ Created a factory where he directed artists to create his work for him, only signing it at the last minute. Warhol made popular the idea of an art warehouse where you could mass produce your work.
When asked about his factory he said,
“Art is what you can get away with”. Andy Warhol
Warhol’s artistic production line, creating art quickly and efficiently, is a format that rock star artists today such as Damien Hirst, Banksy and Julian Opie have followed. Some of them use the process to be ironic, some of them I’m sure see it as the fastest way to make money and raise awareness around their name.
Damien Hirst, apparently has little to do with many of his prints. Especially the commercial ones such as his spots. Hirst ridiculed the art industry by hosting his own auctions, by-passing the auction houses and valuers whose job it is to ‘put a value on a name’.
Julian Opie, famous for creating that iconic Blur album cover, also hands his work off to his team, all of whom are well trained in his ‘house style’. For one show, Opie went so far as to challenge the art world and their rules of engagement by releasing a catalogue of his work complete with a full price list of each individual piece. Is this still art? Is it commerce? Is it any different than a piece of designer clothing? Like all branding, it comes back to the same common question:
“Branding = What goes on inside people’s heads when they think about your name”.
Whatever the motivation, each of these artists are desperate for their names to be remembered (for commercial or creative reasons), either because of their shocking artwork (stuffed cows in tanks?) or the sheer volume of content that they flood the market with. If you’re familiar with the way that many commercial artists work, or if you’ve ever watched Exit Through The Gift Shop you will know that large portions of their work is done by someone else, and they simply add a quick splash of colour or a signature before it leaves their factory. More work = more money. Everyone is happy. (When you are Opie, Hirst or Banksy the traditional laws of supply and demand don’t always apply. They could get the same price per piece for 250 than they would for 25).
Like marketing and advertising, the creative world is full of smoke and mirrors and difficult to navigate. You never quite know the motivation of the creator. Brands giving away their profits for philanthropy. Or tax reasons. Or because the positive PR could generate more brand awareness than an ad campaign for the same amount of investment.
How do you want your name (or your brand) to be remembered? And of course, how do you prepare for when things go wrong ~ especially if your intentions are not always wholesome?
“Marketing used to be about creating a myth and selling it. Today it is about finding a truth and sharing it”. Marc Mathieu, Samsung.
In many ways, the art work isn’t that different from the business world of marketing and advertising. Think of a good idea. Brand it. Paint an aspirational story around your idea. Sell it. (Or get funded?!).
That’s one way of looking at things. Now here’s a totally different one.
Sando Botticelli ~ The Italian painter from the early renaissance only ever put his name on two pictures (and one of them was a scribbled page from his personal sketchbook). Botticelli was famous for two masterpieces in particular, Primavera and The Birth of Venus (below). He had a factory in Florence, set up very much like the one Warhol did 500 years later, but unlike Warhol, Botticelli was happy for art to leave his warehouse without it being signed. He was more interested in creating a movement than a ‘brand’. He saw his house style as a gift to his audience. It is a problem that has frustrated art critics ever since, because nobody quite knows which works were actually done by Botticelli himself, and which ones were done by his students.
“In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”. Charles Darwin
Somewhat ironically, Warhol loved this juxtaposition and created a few Botticelli inspired versions of his own. Unlike Botticelli who created his (non-commissioned art) to mainly express his love for Italy and female beauty, Warhol created prints on his factory production line. The original Warhol Venus changed hands for around $1m, but a couple of hundred prints have been sold for up to £50,000 each. Both amazing artists. Both have their name remembered for different reasons.
“If Botticelli were alive now he’d be working for Vogue”. Peter Ustinov
I’m not sure if Ustinov meant it that as a compliment, but it’s fair to say that Botticelli didn’t see the art world in the same way that his peers did. He valued collaboration as highly as creativity.
Who was right? Warhol, Hirst, Banksy and Opie because they privately took the more commercial route, or Botticelli because he publicly took the collaborative one?
One art critic I spoke to about this told me that Botticelli was wrong. He said that “signing your name is an integral part of the creative process“. I’m not so sure…
What about written content?
Authors have been obsessed with the use of names and pseudonyms for years. Whether it’s Mark Twain or J.K. Rowling, choosing which name to put on the cover of their latest creation has always a crucial decision for any writer. Or has it?
The Economist was first published in 1843. It has been a highly respected publication ever since, but yet it maintains to this day it’s policy of not allowing journalists to put their on names on the articles that they have written. At the time, other magazines had a similar position, but almost all of them have abandoned it. In almost all magazines except the Economist, journalists want their names to be remembered. Or at least recognised. The Economist however have a different view. They believe that the majority of the creative process is a collaborative effort, and therefore it is unfair to single out any one particular writer.
I bought a book a few years ago from a house clearance sale that turned out to be incredibly valuable. I noticed it simply because it didn’t have an authors name on the side. It’s an impressive book that is best described as the business version of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It is one of my most prized possessions, and contains some of the nbest writing I have ever read. Strangely, it also seems to be as relevant today as it was when it was written back in 1857, covering as it does issues around the importance of privacy, short attention spans and rules for creating engaging content.
Why would the author go to such lengths to write such an impressive book, and then choose to not put their name to it?
I think there are two reasons.
Let’s have a look at each of those reasons, to see how they stand up.
It seems to me that there are two kinds of creatives in the world. The ones who are protective of their ideas and seek to protect their ownership, and the ones who give their ideas away. In the past, protecting your name and making sure that you had the right attribution was everything. People get too hung up on protecting their creativity. Tech entrepreneur Michael Dell once said,
“Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not”.
In today’s collaborative economy, business works differently. Entrepreneurs who are secretive and precious about sharing their ideas are often the ones who get left behind. The ones who are more willing to give up (at least some element of) ownership, are the ones who succeed. In my professional world, I’m thinking about Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Oculus. I once heard VC investor Peter Thiel say that he could tell which founders would be globally successful, simply by seeing how possessive they were over the ownership of their ideas.
Ownership has been an issue for years, especially for business professionals. Branding for example used to be what the company said it was. Today it is what their customers say it is. Social media has changed the way that ownership works. Brands used to be in control of their own forums and communities. Today, it is the fans and customers who are in charge of branded communities. Coca-Cola for example have the biggest Facebook page in the world and they didn’t even set it up, two of their fans did. Coke recognised that the business world had shifted, and instead of closing them down and taking ownership of the page (which they were legally entitled to do), they worked with the page’s founders to build a real community.
Let’s look back even further, because this is getting to the root of the problem. Who owns an idea or a community? Who owns content? Who owns your data? Who owns your social media posts? There was even a whole documentary about it called Terms & Conditions May Apply (well worth a watch).
I remember when I was in charge of one of the largest Facebook brand pages in Europe, for Phones 4U. I had constant battles with the board trying to help them understand that their customers had the control not them. But, as any logical left brain thinking traditional brand might assume, the page was theirs and they owned it.
For any philosophers out there still with me, you might be familiar with Jean Jacques Rosseau, the French philosopher partially responsible for inspiring the French Revolution. Rosseau writes about the real problem with ownership and how wanting our own names to be attached to things is not really our fault:
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody”. Jean Jacques Rosseau ~ 1754
Imagine for a second that instead of land, Rosseau was referring to a Facebook page. Or a customer community. Or a non-profit forum. Now imagine what your own corporate properties might look like if you gave control of them to your customers instead of your marketing department. Are too many brands still running around holding on to their social media properties saying, ‘This is mine‘. I think so.
Let me give you a specific example that I saw first hand when I worked with Manchester City Football Club, back when their ownership was bought by Sheikh Mansour. At the time, the £2m being spent on reviving the homepage was extraordinary. Nobody in football had ever spent that much money before on a website re-design. The design community accused MCFC of throwing money away for the sake of it. It was the ultimate design extravagance. But Man City saw it differently. Instead of having paywalls, sponsors advertising and pop-ups from partners attacking views when they landed on the site, Man City decided to build a page that the fans wanted, not one (like their cross town neighbours had), which served mainly commercial purposes. Videos were free to watch. You didn’t have to sign in to see exclusive behind the scenes content or fixtures. The site was a joy to visit. For the most part, it still is.
Critics argued that the clubs new found wealth allowed them to make sure a brave digital move. Maybe the club understood a higher purpose. Maybe it was an accident. But merchandise sales and web traffic shot up far beyond anything that the previous format gave them, simply because the fans now felt like they were in control. He fans rewarded the club by staying far longer on their website and buying more merchandise. They felt like they were in control. (MCFC are currently trying to re-invent the website again 8 years later. You can have a sneak preview here).
The moral of this story? If you’re a brand, the more control you give away (under the right circumstances), the more likely your name is to be remembered ~ at least among those who care the most about you.
Lastly, I wanted to finish with a note about generosity. By that, I mean giving your name (or your content) as a gift to an audience.
In Chris Anderson’s recent book TED TALKS ~ The Offical TED Guide to Public Speaking, he made one very specific point about the difference between good speakers and bad speakers. What Chris was emphasising was why some speakers are remembered and some are quite quickly forgotten (or they are remembered for entirely the wrong reason!). Read what he had to say,
“The key principle is to remember that the speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not take from them. Even in a business context where you’re genuinely making a sales pitch, your goal should be to give. The most effective salespeople put themselves into their listeners’ shoes and imagine how to best serve their needs… It’s possible to disagree where the line is between sharing an idea and pitching, but the principle is crucial: Give, don’t take”.
So there you have it. I wrote abut 1,500 words more than I intended to, but I think I’ve made a few valid points.
So what’s the takeaway from all this?
When Simon Sinek launched onto the scene a few years ago with his incredibly brilliant “Start with Why” TED talk, he asked everyone to stop concentrating on the HOW and to start to focusing on the WHY. “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it“, he told us.
Now consider those words in terms of the content you create. Or your name. Your next creative project. Or your job. Do you just want to be remembered? Or do you want to help people so much, that you leave them with something memorable? Are you happy curating what already exists? Or do you want to create something that no one has ever seen before? (It doesn’t matter if it is just a poem, a song, a painting or a business).
So perhaps instead of thinking about HOW our names will be remembered, maybe we should be thinking about WHY our names will be remembered?
Why should people remember your name? Maybe it’s not actually as hard as we think. Perhaps this quote from Zig Ziglar tells us everything we need to know…
“You can have everything you want in life, if you just help enough other people get what they want”.
Sounds fair enough.