Last week Platform guru Michael Hyatt blinked at his computer screen in blood-draining disbelief.

The National Speaker’s Association (NSA) had just announced a major re-branding effort, apparently the grand climactic result of “a great deal of research, planning and market testing.”

On the left, I give you the NSA rebrand. On the right, Michael Hyatt’s hard-earned stuff and a shot of him in his natural habitat. Note the same name. A speech bubble. Same colours. Same curtain.

In the wake of this shocking discovery, Hyatt posted some honest questions to his 44,000 member tribe on Facebook (his blog is 412,000 subscribers strong). Almost immediately, the tribe uttered a collective “What the—?!”, inundating the NSA, Facebook feeds, and the blogosphere with everything from scathing rebukes to probing questions about business ethics, artistic integrity, and social accountability.

I think Michael has handled the conflict beautifully so far—and taught me some important lessons about branding along the way.

Your brand is an extension of who you are.

Michael Hyatt is known as a nice guy, and he responded to the NSA’s lack of integrity in a nice, respectful way—true to himself, true to his brand. His tribe’s response echoed this sentiment: Michael is a nice, hardworking guy, and we like him. A lot. how dare you do this to him? I’m not sure if he tried to make “nice” part of his brand, but it is a part of his brand nonetheless. Which leads me to my next and biggest takeaway.

You are not the sole creator of your brand.

Your logo, colour scheme, tagline, and even your content are not your brand. Your brand is how the public perceives you. Branding is a mix of how you present yourself and how people respond to that presentation. You control who you are and how you present yourself, but the public owns their interpretation of that presentation and ultimately, the verdict on your persona (who you say you are).

For an illustration of this concept in action, check out Honest Slogans, a cheeky site where famous brands are relabelled to reflect what we’re actually thinking about them. Like this beauty, for example:


Right? We all know makeup can’t make people that beautiful.

Well, in the minds of scores of people, Michael Hyatt has become synonymous with the concept of Platform building. Michael wanted us to make this connection, but ultimately we got to decide whether the connection stuck. The tidal wave of outrage over this debacle is probably a better indicator of his branding efforts than the sales of his products are.

On the other hand, in the minds of scores of people, the National Speaker’s Association is now synonymous with things like lack of integrity at worst, or ignorance at best. Like it or not, these labels are now a part of their brand, because that’s how they’re perceived. Their logo will now evoke the idea of “knock-off” instead of “opportunity.” They could work at changing this by retracting their “re-branding” and apologizing, but it may be too late to repair the damage done. They have inadvertently re-branded themselves as underhanded. This really is unfortunate all around.

We can guide branding through honest interaction with our tribe.

Hyatt’s response reminded me of a conversation Jesus had with Peter (one of his disciples) when public opinion was swirling.

“Jesus… asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

Jesus knew that the best people to build on are the ones who get it. He praised Peter for picking up on the truth God was revealing, then invested in Peter like crazy. When I released my latest book about growing an epic quiet time with God, Go With The Flow, I sent some of my most faithful tribe members a free ebook version. A few months ago one of my favourites posted this pic on Facebook.

The subtext: Mission accomplished. My note: She rocks.

What about you? What are you learning about branding and social media?