Thought Starters

What does Frank Zappa know about branding?

I am a HUGE Frank Zappa fan.

Frank Zappa pushed the boundaries of the music industry in every way possible. Rumour has it that he was an extremely intelligent guy. He wrote crazy, completely inappropriate and politically incorrect (when politically incorrect was just a figment of anyone’s imagination) music which mixed forms of jazz, blues and rock dovetailing the styles with insane, over the top lyrics. Shock value was this guy’s shtick and it‘s what made him interesting. That brings me to my point (yes, I have one). Frank Zappa put out an album in 1981 entitled You Are What You Is. The title song aptly named You are what you is is an upbeat foray into the story of a guy who wanted to be a musician (or so it seems). The song interweaves lines like “do you know what you are?” with “you is what you am” adding “you isn’t what you’re not” and finally suggesting “if you don’t like what you got drop your head in the dirt and let it rot”. “What you lost might never be found” rounds out the ranting of what seems like a lunatic mind. All of it makes you wonder what he was getting at.

When I think about that song I can’t help but think about what some marketing guys call “personal brand”. It’s a relatively seasoned notion going as far back as the mid 1990’s and likely further. Fast Company published a brief in 1997 called The Brand Called You (not far from You Are What You Is) which discusses the idea that you are your own brand and everything you do is part of that brand of you. Frank Zappa had a distinct personal brand. We know what type of musician he was, what we could expect from him and what we were going to get. Every time. Without fail. His personal brand was clear and distinct. What about yours?

Is everything you do branding?

How about that for a question? You can’t deny that every action and every interaction is a reflection of you; ergo, your brand. Brand is no longer just the physical manifestation of an idea that a corporation uses to define who it is. Far from it. Brand is every interaction between you, your employees, your team members, your clients and so on. In some ways brand is now synonymous with personality. Regardless of who you are you are likely digitally connected with the internet in some way and if you use the internet, social media tools or surf the web whatever transaction that occurs is part of your digital signature. It stays with you, always. More importantly and just as in life, your actions define you both in the physical and digital world.

The standards for business have also changed.

The bar is much higher these days partly because of the accessibility to tools and skills that challenge the old standards. Take simple examples like photography and writing. Anyone with the ability, means and know how can make a career out of these pastimes which sets the bar very, very high. Visibility in the market has also increased exponentially for businesses which reinforce the need to be very, very clear on whom you are and what you do. Gone are the days where a business can rule a market along with a few competitors. Now there are literally scores of equally large and small, hungry and eager competitors ready and willing to innovate. These days’ mistakes can no longer be swept under that carpet, shady business relationships can no longer remain cloaked in mystery and bad deals can no longer be side stepped. Whether good or bad (you decide) the visibility to these issues are heightened to a point where we can no longer avoid dealing with them immediately and without impunity. If so, there will be someone there ready to take aim. Just ask RIM. A few of their executive certainly learned a valuable lesson in what you do defines who you are (probably to the extreme).

That brings me to ask this “Who will you do business with?”

You have to decide what the brand of you is willing to do. Will you only do business with people you know, like and trust? I hope so because that’s a direct reflection on your brand and life is short, my friend. We have to think about value over price or salary. Monetary gain is important but not at the expense of your personal values (your brand). I certainly learned THAT lesson a while ago. Think about it; your process, your methods and your product are all up for grabs. They should be shared after all and it doesn’t matter because the one thing that no one else can copy is you. This goes for corporations too. The corporate processes, business methods, product development, market ideas, and so on are all up for grabs and really who cares? There’s always going to be another guy who does it better, cheaper or puts a different spin on your idea anyway. If companies rely solely on their product then the corporate brand is just a label. The most important part of a brand is the people that make up its core. After all, what else is there? Whatever it is it’s the same as the next guys (think Apple vs. Samsung – really, what’s the difference?). There’s only so much stuff we can use to do business and everyone has access to it all anyway.

So, what about you then?

When you think about the best place you’ve ever worked what comes to mind? You may have been happy; you liked your team, job or opportunity. You did the work and you enjoyed your time there, you were respected and you respected your company. You made a commitment. Your personal brand is also your commitment to your company. If you cannot commit the brand of you then you are likely in the wrong place. Go on then, no one will be broken hearted. Except maybe you.

 According to Frank Zappa, broken hearts are for assholes.

 Yell at him, not me.


About rdopping

interior design guy who loves other stuff; social media, photography, film, food and anything that is good for the growth of the self


2 thoughts on “What does Frank Zappa know about branding?

  1. Hi Ralph,

    I like the points you made, but here are the highlights for me.

    “Will you only do business with people you know, like and trust? I hope so because that’s a direct reflection on your brand and life is short, my friend.”

    “Monetary gain is important but not at the expense of your personal values.”
    –Love this! Maintain those values and just be yourself. It’s also about pursuing the craft. If you’re looking for rewards, money or recognition as and end goal, you’re going down the wrong track. In fact, these things should be almost peripheral.

    “the one thing that no one else can copy is you.”
    –That was my main point in the branding post. Perfect.

    Nice post and love Frank! You Are What You Is. 😉

    Posted by Craig McBreen | January 24, 2012, 22:27
    • Thanks a lot Craig,

      It is a great compliment when you have passion for something and its recognized or resonates with someone else. I wholeheartedly agree that the person you are is reflected in your actions and how you live your life and only you can control that. Frank Zappa taught me that for sure. Not being afraid to be who you are and accepting your faults is a big deal as you pointed out. At least we know who you are.

      Carry on and keep it real (as the younguns say ….. or whatever they say. who knows these days). 😛

      Posted by rdopping | January 25, 2012, 07:47

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