Branding on a Budget

Mike Sprouse, chief marketing officer at Epic Media Group, discusses combining your personal brand with your corporate or business brand.
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When Mike Sprouse, chief marketing officer at one of the largest, privately-owned Internet marketing companies in the world, Epic Media Group, agreed to be on my broadcast today, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to ask him a few marketing and branding questions. Mike is also the author of The Greatness Gap, which details personal strategies to maximize your professional career.

If you have questions for Mike related to finding your passion, marketing your business or how to give back to our global community, call into the show today, April 18th at 2 p.m. ET, join our chatroom or send me an e-mail.

You've worked in the corporate arena for most of your career, and yet you refer to yourself as entrepreneurial. Tell us more about how these two identities co-exist for you.
I have worked much of my life in a corporate environment, which is not to say I'm not an entrepreneur or even a solopreneur. In fact, my marketing and creative teams operate and function very much like an independent business within a large corporation. We know how to work in the structure of a large company, but in terms of how we operate, we are very entrepreneurial.

I think to be a strong, well-rounded business person, you need to know how to do both: operate inside a corporation, and entrepreneurially. Too often people try to side with either the corporate camp or the entrepreneurial camp, and then throw stones at the other side. I don't buy it. You can have the mindset of both.

I'm an entrepreneur when it comes to marketing my book and much of what I've learned in corporate or executive jobs comes into play. I know a lot about branding from my days at Playboy, since that was such a global brand, and Epic Media Group has gone through a few brand iterations. And now as an author, I am branding myself, so that adds another level of experience.

Tell us a bit about your experience in blending your personal brand with your brand as a high-profile senior marketing executive.
I have found that many entrepreneurs struggle with integrating their personal brand into their business. It's difficult to keep them separate in this ultra-connected and social world we live in. My advice is to not fight it. If you're an entrepreneur or solopreneur, you are the face of your business, so go ahead and have your personal brand be very much a part of your business brand. Businesses depend largely on relationships, and who better to nurture business relationships than you personally? The minute I stopped fighting myself as "executive" on one side and "author" on the other and threw my hands up and asked "why am I not embracing both of them?" and it really provided a spark of energy. I knew I could do both, and conflate my personal brand with my business brand. I am not only tasked with being the CMO face of a large company, but I'm tasked with being my own personal brand—which is similar, but not exactly the same in many respects. Still, it worked.

Infusing your business brand with your personal brand really helps with social media, too. Obviously, when you're trying to network via any number of social vehicles, it is tough to switch between the business hat and personal hat several times a day. Your personal brand should equal your business brand if you're an entrepreneur. If you need to keep some separation, that's fine, but just understand that your closest personal contacts likely will be the people helping your business the most initially. In fact, your personal brand is the best capital you have amongst your network of people.

If an entrepreneur is only years away from exiting their business, is it still a good idea to infuse the personal brand?
There are many variables here. If the personal brand is very strong it is a positive for businesses looking to exit. Perhaps where a personal brand isn't as strong it may not have a huge upside, but I don't think it's a major hindrance. Most of the time the principal or founder of the business is contracted to stay on for a period of time likely because of the personal capital involved since day one. I believe that infusing a person's brand with a business brand is probably never a hindrance or a limitation in exiting, it's just that the upside or extra good will is variable based on who the person is.

When we talk about building a brand and marketing that brand, many start-ups and solopreneurs seem to become overwhelmed. With limited capital, how can you get the brand out there?

Building your solo-business and brand doesn't have to take a lot of money. In fact, you can start a blog or build a website for free. WordPress is free, for instance, and hosting is just a small amount per month. You can market your business for free too. It is pretty easy to get free PR through journalists in your niche, social media is free, and pretty soon you realize you can build a brand without opening your wallet much at all. DIY SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is free, and some of the basic plug-ins can provide good enough SEO, at least to start. Once you are ready to spend a little money, you can do things like Google AdWords or paid advertising, but there is a misconception that it takes tons of money to build a brand or a following. It doesn't.

Business owners are often challenged by time limitations, yet you manage a demanding corporate job and have authored a book. Now, you are branding and marketing your book. Do you have any tips for us?
People ask me about time management all of the time. I always say that it is about focus, and where your priorities are. I wrote a 200-page book in 35 days, while being a full-time executive. No one at my company even knew I wrote a book until I was finished and started telling people, that's how laser-focused I was while in the office and outside the office.  It is tough to multi-task throughout the course of day, so don't do it. The old saying "Jack of all trades, master of none" is something not to strive for. That is why you need to carve out time—mentally—to focus on very specific things during the course of a day. Twenty-four hours is a long time.

Last updated: Apr 18, 2011




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