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  • Personal Branding Interview: Chris Houchens

    Today, I spoke to Chris Houchens, who is a marketing speaker, writer, blogger, and consultant. Chris’ latest book is Brand Zeitgeist: Embedding Brand Relationships into the Collective Consciousness. In this interview, Chris talks about what the brand zeitgeist is, how to attract customers to your brand, how blogging has helped his career, first and last impressions, and customer relationships.

    What is the Brand Zeitgeist?

    The Zeitgeist is an abstract concept to describe the evolving collective consciousness of society.

    It’s what’s on people’s minds, what they’re talking about in their social circles, and it shapes how trends are developed. Branding is also an abstract idea to describe the relationship between consumers and a company. It struck me that the best conduit and medium for brand messaging to aspire to was the zeitgeist. A zeitgeist brand is always top-of-mind and become part of consumers’ lives. I wrote Brand Zeitgeist to reinforce basic marketing and branding principles in a way that even marketing novices could understand and teach businesses how to use fundamental aspects of human nature to develop a brand strategy.

    What does it take to get under your customer’s skin?

    To get under their skin, you have to get inside your customers’ heads and integrate your brand into their lives. The mistake many small businesses make is that they approach their marketing from their own perspective. You always have to market from the mindset of the customer.

    Brand Zeitgeist teaches that a brand is nothing more than a long-term relationship between a customer and the business. The question is how do you nurture that relationship and develop other relationships with new customers?

    The answer is to use fundamental aspects of human nature to develop the brand strategy. How do your customers interact in their personal social circles? Instead of trying to force the brand message, make it a natural part of the customer’s life. In Brand Zeitgeist, I delve into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to see where brands fit in the human relationship. I discuss sociological and anthropological structures of society to see how companies can emulate personal relationships. I talk about three points (development, messaging, and customer service / experience) that all brands need to address in order to build a brand zeitgeist.

    Businesses can tap into the power of the zeitgeist to spread their marketing messages by bringing their brand to the forefront of customers’ minds. Businesses can also use the zeitgeist to provide those customers the tools to spread their message through word-of-mouth and other viral channels. Customers now have partial control of the brand and are developing conversations about the brand in real life and online. Smart companies will help guide those conversations.

    When did you decide to start your blog and what success have you had with it so far?

    I’ve been blogging continuously at the Shotgun Marketing Blog since January of 2005. Previously, I had just been posting white papers on my marketing speaking and consulting web site and I found that blogging allowed much more flexibility in content.

    Over the past few years, I’ve really enjoyed the interaction and success that the blog has enabled me to have. I was a guest blogger on Fast Company’s FCNow blog. I was one of the first 5 entries on the Z-List. Seth Godin included my blog on his Bullmarket directory after he published Purple Cow. I debuted on the Adage Power 150 in the top 50. But the big success of the blog has really manifested itself in a few major ways: it’s enabled me to spread my ideas, it’s allowed my business to grow and it has opened up a world of new connections and friends all over the world.

    Unfortunately, in the past year or so with my focus on writing the book and interactions on other platforms like Twitter, I pushed the blog to the back burner. I’m renewing my focus on blogging and I’m looking forward to revitalizing my posting schedule.

    Is a first impression more powerful than a last impression? How do you make sure you nail both?

    The first snap judgment influences all interactions that come after it. It’s important that there’s a clear sense of what you want that impression to communicate. That’s why a strategy is so important. It’s regrettable that many companies (and with personal branding, people) don’t have a clear strategy of what they want to convey to others.

    Why long-term relationships off of quick money-makers?

    There’s the old saying of you meet the same people on your way back down the ladder as you met on the way up. It’s important to build a positive relationship with all interactions with all customers because you don’t know what role those customers will play in the future.

    An immediate concern now is that the consumer may create a long-term brand effect with a quick money-making interaction. If they have a negative customer experience, the story of that experience may spread exponentially through social media. The same thing can happen with a positive experience. The most important aspect of building a brand is the customer experience.

    Chris Houchens is a marketing speaker, writer, blogger, and consultant. He has spent years working in both media and marketing including as the operations manager of a radio group, as the online director of a newspaper, and as the marketing director of a healthcare organization. Houchens is a dynamic marketing speaker traveling worldwide delivering marketing keynotes and other presentations to conferences and corporate events. Chris’ blog, the Shotgun Marketing Blog offers common sense insights on marketing and has been ranked as a top marketing blog. Chris’ latest book is Brand Zeitgeist: Embedding Brand Relationships into the Collective Consciousness. He also is a co-author of the 2007 book, Achieving Customer Mindshare through Advertising. In addition, Chris is a contributing writer and source for numerous online resources and print publications. Chris is a past president of the Professional Marketing Association and was honored as that organization’s 2007 Marketer of the Year. He was privileged to have been selected as a Forum Fellow for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He serves as a volunteer for several non-profit organizations and has served on several non-profit boards as a marketing advisor. Follow Chris on Twitter at @shotgunconcepts.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

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