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5 questions for Silicon Valley branding expert JC Velten

Author: 
Mads Thimmer
Category: 
ILab Notes
Branding-insights directly from the epicentre of innovation

Silicon Valley inventor, entrepreneur, teacher, marketer, screenwriter, altruist - and former classmate of Elon Musk. JC uses his talents to show companies how to access and stay the "innovation zone" to develop superior product development, ingenious marketing and kick-ass messaging. His experience includes running global brands at P&G, starting and selling a tech company in Silicon Valley, starting and failing three more, running Harvard's largest non-profit in San Francisco and teaching as a guest lecturer at Stanford. He holds an MBA from Harvard, two degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and a masters in philosophy. In short, JC knows a thing or two about branding and has the latest insights directly from the epicentre of innovation, Silicon Valley. We asked him 5 short questions about powerful branding.

NB: If you are interested in gaining even more knowledge on the area, JC is facilitating two workshops in March in Copenhagen and Aarhus. Read more about the workshops here:
1) https://ilab.dk/event/workshop-find-your-compass-secret-power-brand & 2) https://ilab.dk/event/workshop-state-silicon-valley-union

1. How do you work with organisations and people to turn them into brands?

Killer brands are the result of two factors: choice and repetition. We help organizations of all sizes find their essence and express it in a way that is unique and relevant to their audiences. The result is a radical change in their voice, going from a me-too communication to one that makes customers feel. For example, Silicon Valley cloud company Qubole went from “The next generation of cloud management software” to “Make it Rain with Qubole.” The difference is message that sticks and helps a company, an organization and even a person, become relevant to their audiences. Going from “me-too” to "on-brand” messaging is a transparent process similar to a product development process. We take companies through this process is a very short time with impactful results.

2. What is on Silicon Valley's mind right now?

One of the greatest strengths of the Silicon Valley way of thinking is that no one single issue becomes a fad for entrepreneurs or investors. Rather, the mind of the valley focuses on the problems to solve for the coming generations of consumers. Right now, millennials are on our minds. They are on the driver’s seat on both sides: they are the consumers we design solutions for, and they are the entrepreneurs that come up with those solutions. This generation wants a shared economy, views ownership in a very different way, values experiences more than things and will not accept compromises between choices such as wealth creation and sustainability. If you study the new type of startups being funded, you can see that these millennial values are what drive their business models and the way the companies themselves are organized.

Right now, millennials are on our minds. They are on the driver’s seat on both sides: they are the consumers we design solutions for, and they are the entrepreneurs that come up with those solutions.
Juan Carlos Velten, Innovation Lab Silicon Valley

3. Why do we need a personal brand?

A brand is a compass. The messaging that we see from strong brands is just the tip of the iceberg. A brand enables companies to have a filter for everything they do: from the new products they launch, to the type of people they hire, to the messaging they put on social media. It is the same for a person. When you find your brand you have a compass that enables you to filter professional and personal decisions. This compass also enables you to be authentic and know where your values and your happiness reside. Schools around the globe - from Stanford in California to Hyper Island in Sweden - are starting to pay attention to the power of personal branding. Check out this blog article I wrote on the subject a few days ago: https://ilab.dk/blog/storytelling-your-way-innovation.

4. What can a personal brand do for you?

A well defined and accurate personal brand is the expression of who you already are. The difference between having defined it and not, is that you now know what type of decisions and actions in your personal and professional lives “put you in the zone” and advance your goals. Once you define your essence you enable yourself to "wear your brand” and consistently express it in your work, with your family, and amongst friends. World-changing people like Obama, Einstein, John Lennon, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs use the power of their personal brand to stay true and consistent with their life goals; and to differentiate themselves from their peers. The power of a brand is huge when you see it and use it as a compass.

5. What can you say about the future for brands and branding in a digital reality?

A decade or so ago, companies could control their story by buying media that would reach their customers directly. The new digital reality is that your customers will hear your story from other people through word-of-mouth in social media, not directly from you. This makes it an imperative to have a unique and consistent brand story that is so simple and so clear that word-of-mouth will transmit the same story. In other words, a clear brand enables you to empower people to tell your story in a consistent manner to their peers and friends. The future is already here: story-telling is now in the hands of your customers, and therefore, you need to have a story that sticks. For example, Gigya, a Silicon Valley social login SaaS company went from saying “We are the leading provider of social login software” to “Create Authentic Connections” Can you imagine the brand manager of Pepsi telling their peers “Gigya is the leading provider of (whatever shit here)” that will never happen. On the other hand, she could easily say “Gigya helps me create authentic connections with my consumers.” See the difference? This is why brand matter more than ever in an age of platforms, search engines and constant referral, where the brand owner (a person or a company) has very little control of what is said about them and how it is said.

JC Velten
Chief Maverick
Innovation Lab: Silicon Valley