Branding and positions of strength

I had an invitation to attend a data science networking event today. I had accepted the free pass for option value, but decided today to not exercise the option. Given I was not going to speak at the event, I realised that the value of the conversations at the event for me would be limited.

One of the internet gurus (it might be Naval Ravikant, but I’m unable to locate the source) has this principle that you shouldn’t go to networking events unless you’re speaking. Now, if everyone applied this principle events would look very different, with speakers speaking to one another (like in NED Talks!).

Thinking about it, though, I see clear value in this maxim. Basically when you go to a networking event and speak, you can network from a position of strength, especially after you’ve spoken. This is assuming you’ve done a good job of your speech, of course, but apart from elevating your status as a “speaker”, speaking at the event allows potential counterparties in conversations to have prior information about you before they talk to you.

So there is context in the conversation, and since you know they know something about you, you can speak from a position of strength, and hopefully make a greater impact.

It is not just about speaking and events. For a long time, a lot of my consulting business came from readers of this blog (yes, really!). This was because these people had been reading me, and knew me, and so when I spoke to them, there was already a “prior” on which I could base my sale. Of late, I’ve been putting out a lot of work-related content here and on LinkedIn, and that has sparked several conversations, which I have been able to navigate from a position of strength.

A possibly simpler word to describe this is “branding”. By speaking at an event or putting out content or indulging in other activities that let people know about you and what you do, you are building a brand. And then when the conversation happens, the brand you have thus built puts you in a position of strength which makes the sale far easier than if you didn’t have the brand.

You need to remember that position of strength as I’ve described here is not relative. It is not always necessary for the brand to elevate you to a level higher than the counterparty. All that is necessary is for it to put you at a high enough level that you don’t need to talk from a position of weakness. And if you think about it, cold calling and door to door sales is basically selling from a position of weakness – while it might have worked occasionally (which makes for fantastic stories), it is on the most part not successful.

And in some way, this concept of branding and positions of strength is well correlated to what I recently described as “the secret of my happiness“. By being really good at what you are good at, you are essentially putting yourself in a position of strength, so that people have no choice but to tolerate your inadequacies in other areas. Putting it another way, being really good at what you are good at is another exercise in brand building!

Brand building efforts can sometimes fail. There are times when I have given talks and got few questions – clearly indicating it was a wasted talk (either I didn’t talk well, or the audience didn’t get it). I have put out content that has just sank without a trace or any feedback. The important thing to know is that somewhere it all adds up – that these small efforts in branding can come together at some point in time, and make it work for you.

 

Curation mechanisms

The one thing that is making my stay away from twitter (Flipboard is also gone now, since the iPad has been returned to its rightful owner – the wife) hard is the fact that I’m unable to find a reliable alternate means of curating content. Let me explain.

Basically, how do you find interesting stuff to read? I’m talking about article length pieces here (500-5000 words), and not books – the latter are “easy” in terms of how they’re packaged, etc. Fifteen years back it was quite simple, and not all that simple – in order to find a good piece of writing you needed to be subscribed to the periodical in which it was published.

So you would subscribe to periodicals as long as they published good pieces once in a while – at least for the option value of finding such pieces. This meant that sales of periodicals was inflated – a handful of good pieces here and there would support significant subscription numbers, and they did rather well. Then the internet changed all that.

The beauty of the internet is unbundling – you can read one piece from a periodical without reading the fluff. Even periodicals that have a subscription paywall usually offer a certain number of articles (not certain number of editions, note) free before you pay up. This has turned the magazine business topsy-turvy – if you only have the odd good piece that appears in your magazine, people are going to find it somehow, and are not going to bother subscribing to your magazine just so that they can find it!

The question, thus, arises as to how you can find good pieces that are of interest to you without subscribing to whole magazines themselves (and considering the number of sources from which I’ve consumed content even in the last two weeks it’s impossible to subscribe to all of them).

Close to ten years back you got it by way of an RSS reader – you essentially subscribed to entire periodicals or well-defined subsets of them. You didn’t pay for the subscription and there was no paper – the pieces would come and fall in your “RSS feed”. Feed readers such as Bloglines and Google Reader became big in the mid noughties (I remember switching from the former to the latter in 2006 or something).

You used these readers to subscribe to blogs of interesting people (back then a lot of interesting people blogged), and these blogs would link out to other interesting content, and you would consume it all. Then Google Reader began this thing called “shared items” – where you could share items from your RSS feeds with your Google Talk friend list. This improved curation – for example, I knew that there was this friend who would share all interesting posts from a particular blog, so I didn’t need to subscribe to that blog’s RSS feed any more. Soon you could share items apart from those on your RSS feed – any interesting website you came across, you could share. It was beautiful.

And then in its infinite wisdom, Google decided to kill Google Reader! Like that. Gone.

Thankfully by then we had twitter, where among other things people would share interesting stuff. And there would be enough of those posted through the day every day to keep you busy! All the buried content in the world now started getting dug up thanks to twitter. There was always tonnes of interesting stuff.

But then it comes with a remarkably high degree of outrage – no one can simply share a link any more – there has to be commentary that is outraging about something or the other. The question, thus, is about how we can consume content from twitter without the outrage. That leads to apps such as Flipboard, which presents the content in an interesting format. There was a similar app I tried to write but gave up on.

Now that I don’t have access to flipboard any more (while flipboard for Android is nice, it’s not anything like flipboard for ipad) how do I curate content? How do I get interesting stuff recommended to me without having to trawl infinite websites?

The app that I think is well placed for such curation is Pocket – where you can store articles for reading later. But then its native sharing application isn’t too good. It in fact encourages you to share via twitter and email! If only Pocket can improve upon its native sharing, and thus build a social network around the shared content, it is possible that we could have something like Google Reader shared items once again!

But with everyone on twitter is there a market for this?