Chapter 1: The Oracle No One Wants to Talk to

Once upon this one time,

… there was a quaint little city with a Main Street that was very popular with tourists. It had something for everyone.

Visitors could enjoy rare foods, peruse used book stores filled with rare finds, find amazing craft supplies, learn the history of engines at a local museum, be entertained by buskers on the street, and explore artisan shops of all kinds behind every door.

The little street was the perfect place to get lost on for a day because there was something for everyone and the area was incredibly safe.

Yet the little town had a secret: None of the stores were technically for tourists.

Each and every store existed to serve the locals who moved into the flow of Main Street whenever there was something they needed.

There was one shop, however, all tourists adored that all the locals never set foot in unless invited.

Store sign for Flowers, Petals, Wings & More on Main Street
One of the most popular stores on Main Street! (Next door to the store you are reading about.)

Located between the tattoo parlor, Soul Ink, and popular gift shop, Flowers, Petals, Wings & More, was a mystical shop called Peeps & Mutters. Tourists visited the front end of the store to explore earthy jewelry, symbolic decorations, oracle decks, and other woo-woo items that caught their attention.

Peeps & Mutters was more famous for the back half of their store, however, where “readers” of all types told visitors their fortunes and were famous for their uncannily accurate predictions.

There was always a line of curious tourists at Peeps & Mutters.

Yet their reputation was the very reason the locals did their best to never visit the shop until an invitation came that could not be ignored—which always happened, eventually. There was no avoiding it. Yet many locals believed such days could be delayed if the psychics at Peeps & Mutters forgot you existed.

Thus, it was common practice for tourists to lurk, linger, and browse the shop while locals passed by on the other side of the street hoping to avoid catching any reader’s awareness or eye.

This paranoid and superstitious behavior often made Moira laugh.

Moira was known to be one of the most-accurate readers at Peeps & Mutters but she was also one of the least-requested.

Her specialty was detecting imbalanced dharma and karma, and few tourists really wanted to pay to hear about that. They were on vacation and much more interested in hearing about love, fun, and fortune.

Which was fine by Moira. Her lack of tourist traffic kept her open and free to serve the locals.

In this way, Moira was as busy as any other reader at Peeps & Mutters—the main difference being that no one sitting across from Moira really wanted to be sitting across from her.

Sitting across from Moira meant an aspect of her client’s life was about to come back into balance. And few people proactively sought out such balance.

Whenever possible, most people preferred to stay on the benefiting side of an established imbalance and let others carry the heavy counterbalance of a lopsided load.

It was simply human nature.

Yet existence was a pendulum that swung side-to-side, forever seeking rest in the middle. This meant avoidance only worked for so long. And Moira knew this, which was why she never hesitated to call in a local as soon as they came up in a reading.

Locals like Bucky, who currently sat across from her with a face scrunched in annoyance and arms folded into a pout.

“Your timing is terrible,” he grumped. “I could be zip lining over the Amazon right now.”

“You can do that anytime,” Moira replied as she pulled Bucky’s red envelope from her private drawer and pulled out the two cards inside. One card was Bucky’s; the other was not.

“Ha!” he replied. “Says you! Have you seen how quickly they are burning those trees down?”

Moira grew still for a moment—eyes growing distant for a beat before nodding. “I do. Along with the reckoning. But that is not why I asked you here today.”

“Great!” Bucky pouted with an eye roll. “What is it this time?”

“You have a newbie,” Moira said, handing the second card over to Bucky. “Find her and fill her in with all the information on this card before she finds you. This will bring balance to your karma with her and leave both of you free to take different roads.”

Bucky grabbed the card and looked at it—scanning the information before flipping the card over to glance at the blank black. Then he glared at Moira.

“What, no name? Not even a city or a date?” he balked. “I’m just supposed to find some blonde who drives off the road on some random rainy night?”

Moira shrugged. “It’s noted that she only speaks English. That should help narrow things down.”

Bucky groaned, throwing his head back in his seat as he momentarily sulked like a toddler. “Man, so you’re saying that now I also have to cancel my trip to the North Pole to help an American social media influencer? Your prophecies literally ruin everything!”

“In the short term, perhaps,” Moira replied, pulling a red string from her pile and motioning for Bucky to hold out his hand to her. “But in the long term, you all will thank me. Now hold out your hand.”

With great reluctance, Bucky conceded—holding his left hand out toward her so she could tie the red string to his pinky as Moira gave him the instructions she gave everyone.

“This string will connect you to the karmic partner whose card you now hold,” she said as she wove the string into a ring. “There are many types of karma partners with infinite karmic loads that stand in need of reckoning. This string will draw you to this female—both in waking and in dreams. Follow your instincts. Listen to your heart and let nonsense guide you. This is how  you will find your person and resolve your karma before it comes and finds you. Never remove this ring or you will lose your connection with both the soul and the location where you are destined to meet. You will know the foretold day has come to meet her when the string falls off on its own. On that day, follow the nonsense until it guides you to her, share all the information on the card, and your karmic duty will be paid in full.”

“I know, I know,” Bucky groaned. “It’s not my first rodeo, remember?”

“I remember,” Moira replied with a smile as she finished tying off the ring and leaned back in her chair. “But I also know how much you like to forget so you’re always going to get the full speech from me.”

Bucky’s glare turned more playful as she spoke—his eyes dipping a bit as he gave her a once-over. “I’d like to forget how hot you are, that’s for sure. It’s a bit of a torture that you’re such a pleasure to look at, yet such a pain to talk to.”

Moira let out a little sigh as she leaned back in her seat. “We’re done here, Bucky. Goodbye.”

“What?” he said, lips pursed slightly as he leaned in to make up the distance she’d put between them. “I’m in town … you’re in town. Why not make a night of it? We could go to the tavern and win some coins. No one would ever expect us working together. Wuddoya say?”

“Not happening.”

“Ugh. Come on, killjoy. Why not?” He leaned in even further, wiggling his eyebrows. “I’ll throw in some free nookie.”

“Pass.”

“C’mon,” he said like a used car salesman. “This is one-time offer. You snooze, you lose.”

“All the more reason to refuse,” Moira replied with goodbye wave. “Off you go now. Good luck finding your karma buddy, Bucky. Hope things work out for you.”

“You’re missing out.”

“Next!” Moira called out with a snap of her fingers, unable to hide a smirk when Bucky disappeared from the chair in the space of a blink, and her next appointment poked his head in.

“Me?” the guy said with the shaky optimism of a newbie who had heard horror stories but was still hoping for the best.

Moira nodded. “Yes, Yukon. Welcome. My name is Moira. It’s nice to meet you. Please, take a seat.”

Then Moira took the next red envelope out of her desk while Yukon did as instructed.

Palm Reading: A Class I Never Thought I’d End Up Teaching

In the next few weeks, I’ll be teaching a class on a topic I never would have imagined: Palm Reading.

Drawing of a palm

I tend to be a random person, in general, but even I must admit that my ability to read palms is one of the more random things about me. I started learning to read palms as a teenager. I was a skeptic at the time — eager to reveal how dumb palm reading was.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t disprove it.

Then imagine my bigger surprise when random people I’d never met started walking up to me in public and asking me to read their palms.

Then imagine me baffled when I’d do it for free at events and end up with lines out the door.

Now, as someone who can make the odd claim of having probably read over 1,000 palms as a hobby, I can tell you that palm reading is misunderstood by most people.

Part of this has to do with the fact that so many cold readers or psychics use palms as a prop while “reading” you via some other mode. This is not palm reading.

Others misunderstand palmistry as being some sort of voodoo dark art, whereby insights are gained through psychic means. It’s not.

In concept, palm reading isn’t much different than acupressure or face reading.

Take this woman, for example:

elderly smiling woman

Few people would consider it voodoo to take a look at the lines on her face and deduce that she’s a person who has smiled and laughed a lot in her life. It seems obvious.

Similarly, a reflexology foot map like this wouldn’t strike most people as psychic magic:

Reflexology foot zone map

It’s simply a map that is either accurate or inaccurate in its claims.

Palmistry is the same level of deduction applied to a different body part. It is a compilation of observations about the shape, size, skin quality, nail quality of the hand, along with an analysis of the ever-changing lines and mounds on the inside palm.

Did you know that the lines and mounds on your hand can change pretty significantly within six months?

They can.

Palmistry is the study of why this happens, and the zones of the hands impacted by different thought patterns and physical actions.

At its core, palm reading is an observable science that can be performed without any need for faith or belief. Either the observations are accurate, or they are not.

End of story.

Once you know the zones and the types of lines you are looking for, “reading” the palm becomes nearly as straight forward as reading text on a page. The only real bias is where the “reader” likes to look and what they are comfortable saying to the person sitting across from them.

There is a textbook read for most lines, mounds, and features, however. These are what I’ll be teaching those basics in my class, including:

  • Parts of the hand that DON’T change (and what they mean)
  • Parts of the hand that DO change (and what they mean)
  • Zone maps
  • Common major/minor lines & markings

Either these concepts hold true when applied across a wide population, or they don’t. And it’s my experience that they inexplicably do.

Teaching this class is going to fun. Like all things palmistry, the opportunity came and found me. In the past month, I’ve had 4 people approach me and ask me if I would teach. I promised I would it if 8 people signed up.

Once 8 people sign up, I’ll live up to my word. So that’s where things are now.

All I know is that my random desire to disprove palmistry as a teen has led me onto many unforeseen paths ever since. And I’ve enjoyed them all.

I’ve received some of the greatest insights of my life while reading the lines on other people’s palms. It’s an odd thing to say, but it’s also true.

It’s my conclusion — after 25 years and over 1,000 palms — that palm reading passes the Useful Mirror Test as a tool one can use for moments of personal reflection. I’ve enjoyed exploring it across the years and am happy to pass the tools on to others to do the same.

As far as randomly insightful skillsets go, palmistry is a good one!

The Secret to Success: You Have All You Need to Start Right Where You Are

Last month, I was pondering what a strange ride life is and sketched this.

Shadow Box Theater Comic by Sheralyn Pratt

Life’s funny.

We all come to the same place with different eyes and develop a different picture of what joy is, what success looks like, and what stories we want to tell.

It’s pretty amazing.

As humans, we are infinite perspectives creating infinite outcomes on a planet that spins like clockwork and supports life without prejudice. The tricks to survival are an observable science. When things don’t follow that pattern of science, we call them miracles, magic, outliers, or flukes.

Meanwhile, we’re all on the same stage trying to make the best of it all while playing our part in our societies as a whole.

Some of us decide to be doctors. Others become architects. Some are chefs or mechanics. Some spend their lives being artists, musicians, or psychiatrists, or some other type of creator.

We all play a role.

I, for example, am a storyteller.

I’ve been a lot of other things in my life — worn a lot of different hats in a lot of roles. But no matter where I go or who I meet, the storyteller in me never sleeps.

Even when I quit writing altogether to pursue more practical and predictable sources of income, I’ll meet up with people and they’ll say to my face. “You’re a storyteller. Why aren’t you putting more into that?”

This is beyond flattering but also a reminder that — for as many books as I’ve written — I’ve never really gone all-in on myself and my vision for storytelling.

Why not?

I see where I want to be … and where I am … and the gap in between and always think, “I just need more practice. I’ll get there someday.”

I’ve had this same thought since I was a teenager.

It’s funny how the idea of not being enough doesn’t really age along with the rest of us. A QUARTER OF A CENTURY later and the thought that I need another 20 years of work still feels as convincing now as it did back then — pumping the brakes on my vision of things.

You see, I’ve always written stories, but I’ve also always wanted them to be illustrated — not necessarily like a graphic novel, but like a children’s book … for adults.

In my mind, there doesn’t need to be pictures on every page, but enough to do some mental lifting on world building.

Back in my teens, I imagined would do the writing and some awesome illustrator would come on board to illustrate.

I was 18 the first time I asked an illustrator to partner with me on a story.

After explaining my vision to them with wild enthusiasm, I noticed that the artist wasn’t smiling back at me. His brow remained furrowed and he avoided eye contact before politely replying that he didn’t think he was good enough to illustrate yet and … once he was that good, he would follow his own vision.

It was the first of many rejections.

So I accepted that I needed to become a better — more successful — writer to attract a talented illustrator. I had to succeed on my own merits to attract a publisher or an artist who illustrated for a living who saw my stories as a good way to make money.

With this goal in mind, I learned to write in other ways that didn’t rely on pictures to tell a story — ultimately, writing novels that many of you may have read.

Pimpernel series by Sheralyn Pratt

I considered them practice, did it part-time, worked other jobs for income, and never really went all-in on establishing myself as a novelist.

Then 2020 hit.

My mom died suddenly right before COVID hit, then quarantined dropped, and my creativity went bye-bye. 👋👋

We all responded differently to quarantine. Some learned to garden. Some got closer to family. Some lost family. Some lost their jobs. Some increased their income. LOTS of people moved.

Through it all, I was like a spinning compass that had lost its north who kept wandering well-trodden paths trying to find it again.

It was like yelling into a vaccuum. Nothing seemed to bounce or have resonance.

I didn’t know what to do or how to find direction again.

When I asked others, they all came back with the same question: “What brings you joy?”

When I applied to work for companies, their question was: “You’re an author. What is your motivation for staying with us if we hire you? What if inspiration or success strikes in six months? Where will you be in a year?

I was completely ready to give up on my own creativity and move permanently into the corporate world to play a role in someone else’s vision but, for the first time in my life, not a single employer was interested in me.

Meanwhile, I wanted someone to tell me which direction North was, but everyone who knew said it could not be pointed to, only found by following personal joy within.

Yet I was stressed out of my mind, which masked feeling joy about anything. Even thoughts that should have made me happy stressed me out because they were so impractical and put in the position of doing sales for my own product — something I have always felt anxious doing.

Like many, I can promote and sell others quite well, but tend to go small when it comes to advocating for myself. I like to imagine that if something is good it will sell itself.

Haha.

PSA: That’s not how the market works. Believing you can succeed without strategic promotion just a comforting delusion for people who are shy of spotlights.

Anyway, one thing did happen in 2020 that was new: I drew something.

This:

2020 comic. Shark volcano by Sheralyn Pratt

I liked it. It made me laugh. And it was a time when laughter was a bit scarce so I posted it.

And the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

An artist friend I’ve know for decades even called me and said, “Did you really draw that? Because I’m kind of weirding out that you can do that.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that comment, but stuck with taking it as a compliment and made another comic:

2020 comic by Sheralyn Pratt: Rock, paper, scissors

Again, there was really positive feedback.

So I started drawing other things, like:

Muse Coccoon sketch for Z Labyrinth story
Tree of Life sketch by Sheralyn Pratt
Sketch of the Tree of Life in Bahrain
Drawing of a budding rose by Sheralyn Pratt
A budding rose in my front yard

… and more.

And while none of these sketches compare to the art of people I admire and would wish to hire, I realization has settled in over the past year-and-a-half:

I am good enough to be my own illustrator as I start down the path I first pitched to someone 25 YEARS AGO. I don’t need to wait on anyone else to start writing stories the way I want to write them.

These stories may not be perfect out of the gate. There will be a learning curve for discovering which words can become pictures and vice versa. But I don’t need another 25 years to get started.

I can do it now.

And I am.

I’ll outline HOW in my next blog, but this is the backstory to it all.

It’s time to stop telling myself that what I want to do lies down some distant rode and requires someone else to carry the load.

That is simply not true.

I can write and draw well enough to get started on my own — even if I would prefer to be better. That is simply ego.

Objectively speaking, I am good enough.

On the stage of life, I can pick both the pictures and the words to tell a story and find an audience who loves the play I offer.

All I need to do is get my act together and hold the spotlight when it lands on me, and not bow out of sight and pass it on to someone who’s more “ready.”

I’m ready.

And if you have $10-25 of disposable income, you are ready to support me if you value what I’m doing.

So it’s time to find my people and do this thing while overtly asking you to support my work if you like what I bring.

Let the play begin!

The Foundation of Your Brand Mansion: Reputation Bedrock

Your reputation is the bedrock of your brand.

In the previous post we discussed how your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room.

But wait, you may be thinking. If I’m not in the room, how can I know what people are saying?

In short, you don’t. Not unless you have recording equipment or spies.

This is why social media posts and customer reviews are your gold mine for discovering what both genuine and disingenuous customers are saying about you. 

Strong brands use these volunteer testimonials like the tools they are to establish and amplify their reputation. They do this by determining what they want to be known for in advance and rewarding customers who chime in on all the right notes.

Your Reputation is What You Deliver

A company’s reputation is based on what they deliver for their customers day-in, day-out. This means you need to ask yourself:

  • What experience do you provide that no one else does?
  • What problem do you solve that your competitors fall short on?

REMEMBER: Your brand is NOT what you hope to manifest in the future, but what you can reliably deliver today.

If you’re selling something aspirational or something that doesn’t exist yet, you are an influencer or a coach. Not a brand.

Brands sell something that exists and can benefit their customers immediately.

FOR EXAMPLE: Back in the 20th Century, Nike made you a shoe and told you to “just do it.” You could go buy their shoes and immediately be better equipped to perform in athletic spaces than if you wore everyday shoes.

How well you performed in your new shoes was still up to you and your skill levle, but Nike made it so your shoes were not the excuse for performing poorly.

This is what brands do: They offer customers a concrete way to level up in exchange for money.

It sounds cold when phrased like that, but it is what it is and defining how your customers level up with you is a reputation you need to define and nurture as you start and grow.

This is why:

Establishing Your Reputation Bedrock is Important

Your Reputation Bedrock is the ground your Brand Mansion is built on. And it’s important that you establish your own solid ground because market ground is naturally shifty. 

The market will toss you to-and-fro, if you let it, then trash your mansion with no regrets. The only way to stop that is to lay the groundwork for what you will be judged on no matter where the market happens to be at the moment.

The good news is:

Defining your Reputation Bedrock is easy. A child can do it. 

All you need is:

  • 2 pieces of paper
  • A pen/pencil
  • A lists of qualities you want to be known for
  • Access to reviews
  • about an hour of focus time

Once you have all these set aside, it’s time to run an objective self-assessment about the value you bring to your market.

START BY brainstorming answers to the following questions on the first piece of paper:

  • What are the most common comments people make about your product?
  • What adjectives describe your benefits your designs provide?
  • How does your product make customers feel?
  • In what ways do you out-perform the competition?
  • In what ways does your competition out-perform you?

Treat your answers like a word cloud — writing down everything you can think of.

If a theme repeats, write it down again and again. Let the redundancy show. This is the paper where everything gets a voice. You’ll edit later.

NEXT, grab the second sheet of paper and draw the outline of a rough rock on it. 

It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can look like this:

outline of rough rock

All you need is a simple outline of a rock to transform into a solid foundation for your brand’s reputation.

But before you you do that, you need to infuse it with your brand.

STEP 1: Go gather all the reviews you can about your brand and products.

STEP 2: Read through each review.

  • If you LIKE a word/phrase someone used to describe you, I want you to write that word/phrase somewhere IN THE MIDDLE of the rock. 
  • If you DON’T like a word/phrase used to describe your brand, I want you to write it AROUND THE BORDER of the rock.
rough rock with text in the middle

STEP 3: Repeat Step 2 until you have a rock containing all the keywords that accurately reflect what others are posting about you online.

STEP 4: Then pull out your brainstorming paper. Add any items not reflected in customer feedback and everything that is redundant.

Again, anything you want to keep as part of your brand, write toward the center. Anything you want gone, write around the edge.

STEP 5: Once your rock is fully filled out, start chipping away at the edges.

The outside frame of the rough edges of your rock should contain all the qualities you don’t want to amplify in your brand. So now it’s time to cut them out of your brand in one of two ways:

  • Remove the cause for the experience
  • Remove the expectation you will provide the experience

How To Clean Up Your Reputation

FOR EXAMPLE: Let’s say a customer gave a small business owner a 3-star review because their product didn’t ship right away. Their order took 3 DAYS to ship and the customer was mad enough about this to leave an unhappy review.

Question:

How can the brand owner who has this complaint around the rough edges of his rock address the issue and limit negative reviews in the future?

Answer:

Remove the cause: Change policy to always ship within 24 hours.

Remove the expectation: Create clear, branded language that items ship within 3 business days, visible both in item descriptions and at check out.

Once the issue is addressed with an on-brand deliverable, the business owner can chip that rough edge off the business’s reputation rock and move on to the next rough edge.

But let’s say there’s a negative claim that’s just a big, fat lie coming from someone looking to get something for free. Or maybe it’s a competitor throwing shade on a burner account.

These are free cuts. You’ll address these items in a different way on a different day but, if they’re not based in reality, get rid of them for now.

Only address genuine feedback with your bedrock.

AND REMEMBER: Just because someone has a critique, doesn’t mean you need to bend over backwards as a brand to address it. In each case, simply decide whether you want to:

  • Remove the cause for the complaint
  • Remove the expectation behind the complaint

FOR EXAMPLE: Let’s say you sell hiking shoes and someone complains that they’re not waterproof. And it’s true: they’re not.

But someone bought the shoes, crossed a river in them, then had a miserable hike afterward.

To remove the cause for the complaint, you’d have to make the shoes waterproof. But that’s literally not the design of them, so removing the cause for the complaint isn’t reasonable.

Changing the expectation is. Especially if current ad copy skirts around how the shoes perform on all terrains.

To limit future negative reviews, you could change the language of the ad copy to say something like: The perfect hiking shoe in dry climates, then remove any language that implies your shoe does well in water and move on.

Make your promises simple and clear so that any reasonable customer has your back on complaints that are off-brand.

If you position your shoe as the perfect desert shoe and someone leaves a review crying that it doesn’t swim well, all your target customers are going to think, Uh. Yeah. It’s a desert hiking shoe. It’s made to breathe and wick away moisture, not swim. Duh.

And the negative review might actually end up supporting your claim and get your a sale.

You don’t need to get rid of negative reviews. You just need to be so deliberate in your delivery that all negative comments are off-brand demands.

To do this, REPEAT the refining process of removing all the negative labels associated with your brand until you have a smooth edge around your rock and ONLY on-brand words and phrases in the middle.

Smooth rectangle of a Reputation Bedrock

Once all the off-brand critiques are addressed and removed, the positive deliverables remaining represent your reputation bedrock.

Smooth the resulting shape out until it’s level and perfect to build a mansion on. Then bury it in the ground — metaphorically speaking.

No one needs to see this but you. You never need to speak of this rock or explain what’s written on it to anyone else.

You have the firm ground you need to build on. No matter how the market shakes around you, you know what you’re delivering and your customers know what they can expect when you deliver.

That’s your bedrock.

Now it’s time to build up.

Next Post: STEPS TO YOUR FOUNDATION

Build Your Brand Mansion: A Free Step-by-Step Guide to Standing Out

Let’s talk about what a brand IS and ISN’T and how designing blueprints for a Brand Mansion will make you stand out from your competition.

A Tale of Two Battling Businesses

Once upon this one time, there were two restaurants that competed for the business of all the tourists that passed through their tiny town.

One day, a young family drove up and parked in the lot between their two businesses.

“Eat here!” the owner of the first restaurant called out. “We’re a family diner that’s been in business for 60 years.”

“Eat here!” the second owner invited with a wave. “We make authentic Italian cuisine from scratch every morning. We’ve won Best Italian in the State four years running.”

“Oh? We love Italian!” the father said before turning back to the first owner. “What do you make?”

We make everything!” the first owner replied, looking at the small family. “You name it, we can cook it. Burgers! Spaghetti! We even have lobster, if you’re feeling fancy!”

“Oh. What is your best dish?” the wife asked the first owner. 

“Whatever you order!” the man replied happily. “Everything we make is amazing!”

“How about you?” the wife asked, turning to the diner’s competitor. 

“Well,” he replied. “Our spaghetti with monster meatballs is easily the most popular with children, but our Chicken Parmesan is to die for and has won more than one state competition. Come in and find out why!”

Which restaurant would you try?

Where do you think the family ate?

Why Branding Matters

What is branding, and why does it matter?

Stated briefly: Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

flat mouth emoji

If your branding is weak, no one has heard of you and no one is talking about you.

irked emoji

If your branding is poor, strangers mention you but never say the same thing (and probably ramble on about things you wish they wouldn’t).

happy emoji

If your branding is good, strangers mention you and can recall at least one on-brand detail.

star eyes emoji

If your branding is excellent, they can recite your language like a script you paid them to read.

canceled emoji

And, in this day and age, if your branding is false, you are dead to Millennials and Gen Z. Torched. Canceled.

Periodt.

This why branding matters.

Why Do So Many Companies Have Poor Branding?

When a business’s branding is poor, it shows the company hasn’t done the work to figure out:

  • who they are
  • whom they serve
  • what problem they solve
  • why customers should choose them

Weak brands spend all their time, effort, and energy trying to filter everyone INTO their customer filter.

Strong branding requires you to position yourself in a way that filters some potential customers OUT.

FOR EXAMPLE: Think back to the “Tale of the Two Battling Businesses”

Which of the two restaurants in the small town would you try?

The diner in the story is banking on everyone who is not in the mood for Italian. They do this by offering everything else you could possibly want while proclaiming it’s all equally “amazing!”

In contrast, the Italian restaurant is banking on everyone interested in trying award-winning Italian food. If Italian isn’t your thing, then they let the diner serve you.

This is a power move.

Not only is the Italian restaurant more likely to attract ideal customers, but just think of the inventory each owner must buy to support their menus.

Who has a more manageable and predictable budget?

NOW IMAGINE if there were more than two restaurants in that little town.

Let’s say there was also a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and a Chipotle.

Where do you think the traveling family would eat then?

The more you’re surrounded by people who know exactly what customer they’re aiming for, the more likely you are to disappear from the podium of competition.

And if you’re not competing up to current standards, you’re not in business.

This is why weak branding is a recipe for failure for all online businesses.

What Makes Branding Powerful?

Excellent branding requires an objective analysis of:

  • Business strengths
  • Unique Selling Propositions (USPs)
  • Product weaknesses
  • Company personality
  • Customer wants & needs

Getting this analysis in black-and-white of words and numbers takes some mental heavy lifting. This can be quite difficult and require nerd-level research, which is why it so often goes undone. In its place, business owners chase trends or do things that sound good to them.

One of the trappings of poor branding is to market general platitudes that are likely to resonate with 80% of everybody to support their growth. Poorly branded companies then cast wide nets then bank on their massive scopes to rake in something worthwhile.

There was a time when this kind of worked. But those days are over.

If you’re selling on the internet, you need a strong brand — which many confuse to be a cool logo and a few hyperbolic descriptive words.

Incorrect.

Remember: Your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room.

Branding is NOT your logo. Your brand is what people say when they recognize your logo. Your job is to get them to say exactly what you want them to say without having to think about it.

This doesn’t happen when you market to 80% of everybody, nor does it happen when you embrace your own hyperbole.

So when does it happen?

When you’re ready to take off your rose-colored glasses and get down to the brass tacks about how you serve your customer and whose lives you improve.

Strong Brands are the Result of Focused Grunt Work

Strong branding requires knowing both your audience and your product inside-out. This understanding is then used to find the language and imagery that connects with them in an internet city filled with competition.

Questions you need to be able to answer about your audience are:

  • Who are your target customers?
  • What are their goals?
  • What demographics do they belong to?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are their motivators for purchasing?

Designing a sustainable brand means comparing these answers against your company strengths and skillsets.

You need to ask yourself:

  • What do you do best?
  • What kind of valuable content can you create regularly?
  • What do you enjoy promoting?
  • Where do you need to invest in trendspotting?

There is an entire world out there fighting for your customer’s attention. If you want people to remember you and give you their money, you need to make their world a better place in an ongoing way.

Because the benefits you trade for their time, money, and attention will become your brand.

All Designs Need a Framework

All great brands are carefully designed. There is no “right” design to use as an infrastructure; it only matters that the metaphor supports the concepts it’s being used to uphold.

FOR EXAMPLE: When I was a PR Manager at a publishing company, I used a spider web to demonstrate the effectiveness of each author’s marketing plan. When I was helping local businesses brand, I used a pyramid as the brand framework.

Now the market has shifted a bit and I’m going to use a Brand Mansion as the metaphor to bring your brand’s vision from a mental vision to the third dimension. I think you’ll like it.

But even if you find the imagery a bit cheesy, you won’t forget it. And that’s the point.

Because being unforgettable is one of keys to building a strong brand and the term “Brand Mansion” is hard to un-hear as a concept.

And that’s the goal.

Building Your Brand Mansion

Let’s build mansions together, shall we?

Your mansion can look any way you’d like, so long as every building block you include has a purpose.

We’ll talk more about those in the next post.

For now, all you need to know is: Just like building a REAL mansion, building a Brand Mansion requires taking action on your blueprints to build something in reality.

Random work in random ways on random days doesn’t cut it.

Concrete action is required to create concrete results. If you want 100 people who have never met you to all say the same thing about you, you have to give them all the same experience.

Wherever they are in the world, each customer needs to connect with you in a designed way. Only then will you start to see the results you’ve been working for.

Proven benefits of establishing a strong brand include:

  • LONGER engagement on your website
  • DECREASED bounce rates
  • INCREASED backlinks and social media shares
  • IMPROVED Google ranking

And, most importantly:

  • MORE SALES

I’m about to do this for myself while showing you how to do it

FOR FREE!!!

So subscribe to this blog and follow me on Twitter to design and grow a brand that stands apart in a sea of competition.

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Next Post: Establishing Reputation Bedrock

The Huntsman: Chapter One

an original short story from the world of the Pimpernel

Picture of castle on a wooded hill with the moon in the background. Image by @waytogonate on Instagram
Image by @waytogonate on Instagram. Follow him for stunning pictures of his world travels!

Once upon this one time, a young queen lived in a mountain castle.

The queen was said to be equal parts heartless and cunning, with a visage that charmed even snakes with its beauty — a quality she often used to enchant those who threatened her before indenturing them to servitude.

But looks weren’t the queen’s only tool against her enemies. On her sixteenth birthday, her magician father had also gifted her a charmed mirror that would answer honestly whenever she asked it anything.

And the young queen had asked the mirror the same question every day since. 

After rising and grooming for the day each morning, the queen stood before her mirror and asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me how my enemies will fall.”

In reply to her query, the queen saw visions of how to ensure no one got the upper hand on her that day. And she followed those visions to the letter. After all, being flawless was kind of her thing, and maintaining that facade did not come easily. Even with a magic mirror.

One morning, as the queen dressed for brunch with her best frenemy, everything seemed normal … routine … no different than any other day.

Well, okay, one thing was different: she’d never worn the royal blue tunic dress before. And, as the queen stepped in front of the mirror, she nearly took her own breath away as she did a 360-turn to check the fit.

“Loves it,” she cooed to her reflection, admiring how the fabric contoured over her hips. The rich fabric also flawlessly matched the sapphires in the royal necklace she wore everywhere she went. “I’ll take one in every color.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” her attendant said from the side of the room.

The queen kept her eyes on the mirror. “That is all. You’re excused. I will be down shortly.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the attendant said. Then she disappeared behind a door and shut it behind her.

Finally alone for the most important part of her day, the queen took three steps closer to her reflection, admired her perfection for one more glancing moment, then completed her morning routine. 

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me how my enemies will fall.”

In reply, the queen’s reflection morphed into a swirling of colors on the mirror’s surface that resolved into a reflection of a different space. 

The queen knew the place well. It was the restaurant she would be visiting that day.

“Only one possible vexation exists in Her Majesty’s day,” the mirror replied, revealing a blue-eyed figure peeking out from under the shroud of a little, rust hoodie. “My suggestion is to simply stay out of her way.” 

“Stay out of the way of some fashionless pauper?” the queen scoffed, even as she leaned in to get a better look at the woman’s eyes and skin. The queen would never admit it out loud, but her challenger of the day was quite beautiful for a nobody. “Who is she?”

“She is Shade to the Cobalt Pimpernel,” the mirror replied. “And you have no business with her master. Therefore, she has no business with you. Leave her alone, and she will ignore you.”

“Good,” the queen replied. “Show me how to defeat her anyway.”

Then the mirror did something quite odd. It hesitated before making its response. “There will not be a problem unless you make one, Your Majesty.”

“Nonsense,” the queen replied. “I never start trouble. I only finish it. And she looks like trouble. Now show me how to defeat this Little Rust Riding Hood.”

“I … cannot,” replied the mirror. “The way to overcome trouble today is to ignore it.”

It was then that the queen’s mood turned and her true colors became more apparent.

“I am queen,” she warned the mirror, taking a step forward. “I am in control of all those around me, or I am nothing. And I refuse to leave anything to chance! Now show me how to defeat this Shade of a Pimpernel. Everything you’ve got. I want to see it.”

“I have … nothing to show,” the mirror replied. “If you choose to engage her, the outcome is the same. No exceptions. Thus, your course of action is simply not to engage.”

“No!” the queen screamed in disdain as she reached out with both hands for the mirror’s frame and ripped the ornate fixture from the wall with all the strength she had in her. “Unacceptable!”

The mirror hit the marble floor below and shattered, sending shards of glass skittering everywhere — one of which nicked the queen on the side of her foot.

“Ow!” she hissed in pain, glaring at the mess she’d just made. “You’re a jerk until the end, aren’t you?”

The mirror didn’t reply, nor did the queen expect it to, as she reached for the servant’s bell and gave it a ring. The response was instant.

“You rang, Your Majesty?” her butler said, stepping into the room.

“Send in the surgeon to look at my foot,” she commanded.

“Will that be all, Your Majesty?”

She rolled her eyes at the man. “And re-forge my mirror. Obviously.”

“Of course, my Queen. If that is all, then your security detail is ready for departure and awaits you in the lobby.”

Her security detail. Yuck. What a sour-faced lot. It had been decades since they inspired proper fear in anyone and the queen found herself rather annoyed at the thought of seeing them.

It was then an idea struck the queen and she blurted out, “No!”

Her butler froze, awaiting further instruction as the idea finished forming in her mind.

“I don’t want a security detail today,” the queen declared. She already knew she didn’t need it anyway, thanks to her mirror’s prophecy. No one at the restaurant had any desire to harm her. “I want a hunter. Someone who never misses…”

A cat-like smile curved her lips as she realized who would be perfect.

“Go grab the Huntsman for me and tell him we’re going on a date to one of the finest restaurants on this planet. But tell him his meal will not be free. He will pose as my date, since security is not allowed inside. But …” She grinned wickedly. “… dueling patrons are. And I’m going to need him to kill someone for me.”

“The Huntsman, Your Majesty?” the butler asked, sounding uncertain. “I do not recall such a person. Where should I seek him?”

“In the dungeon, of course,” she said dismissively. “Right where he should be. Go prepare him for brunch while the surgeon sees to my injury. I’ll expect the Huntsman waiting on the plane when I am finished.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the butler said, then disappeared to the other side of the door as the queen took a seat and awaited treatment for her feet.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Movie Review

Im Thinking Of Ending Things. Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in Im Thinking Of Ending Things. Cr. Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the type of movie you would expect to see at the Sundance Film Festival in the 20th Century. It’s high-concept, boldly experimental, and fully intends to live rent-free in your head after you’ve finished watching.

It’s also the type of movie that might inspire weird dreams in the impressionable, or open a tinderbox of repressed emotion that may have some moving up their appointments with their therapist.

Source: rhymeswithorange.com

Or not.

It all depends on the person because I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a rare cinematic Rorschach test for this day and age. It shifts through time and character approaches with a discontinuity that would seem like poor scripting and directing in a lesser film.

Yet it’s done so well that the warped-mirror effect stays intact. Characters switch from old to young and back. They shift from achingly polite to cognitively combative and back again with no explanation.

Because none is needed.

On its face, the movie’s plot could not be simpler:

A woman goes on a trip to meet her boyfriend’s parents on the night of a forecasted snow storm.

Netflix 2020 film "Thinking of Ending Things" couple in car

They make the drive, have dinner, then head home.

Netflix 2020 film "Thinking of Ending Things" characters having dinner
Netflix 2020 film "Thinking of Ending Things" characters in car in a snowstorm

Couldn’t be more straightforward. 

Yet this journey shifts and distorts like a reflection in a circus mirror — switching through perspectives in a way that tests the audience as to when they’ll toss up red flags and call a cinematic foul.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is intentional in a way American movies rarely are anymore.

It’s what low-budget films are supposed to be: passionately produced performance art with a philosophical dissertation at its heart.

I must confess that I didn’t watch this film for quite some time because I sensed the mental heavy lifting in it and I just wasn’t in the mood. 

But the film has Toni Collette in it. And while I can’t say I’ve seen every movie she’s ever been in, it’s my rule that: If I’m on the fence about watching a movie, and Toni Collette is in it, I watch the movie. She’s a rare and phenomenal actor with excellent taste in projects.

So, in the end, I watched I’m Thinking of Ending Things for her. And I’m glad. Although, I DO have some recommendations if you’re thinking of watching it, too.

Recommendations for watching this movie:

Recommendation #1: Watch this movie WITH someone who likes to talk about movies. Because this is a movie that wants to be talked about after it’s done and is definitely waiting to be nitpicked by people hoping to outsmart it. 

Yet this movie is so well-developed and stitched together that it can take the scrutiny of nearly anyone, I think. So find someone smart who likes to talk about movies and watch it with them.

Recommendation #2: If psychologically heavy movies aren’t your thing and give you strange dreams after, then this is the kind of movie you’ll probably dream about. So know that coming in and bring a coping mechanism.

My suggestion: DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP BINGO CARDS

Write down a list of all the abusive behaviors you can think of that happen within a romantic relationship, then choose your faves to fill out a bingo card.

Then press PLAY on Netflix and go for BINGO!

Oh, the fun you’ll have watching the tropes play out. You might even get a blackout on your card!

This might make the film more fun to talk about once the credits start rolling and a little less-likely to send you retreating in a cave of overwhelmed and unprocessed anxiety.

Because, again, this is a film that is meant to be talked about with a group of friends you like talking about things with. It dares you to voice its insights and consider their accuracy. It asks you to admit the obvious, while giving you every excuse not to.

It’s true art.

So grab your friends, assemble your coping mechanisms (if needed), and make a night of watching and discussing I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

It’s a great film — a sleeper hit that will age well and stay relevant across generations, like Gaslight. And it is worth watching for all the same reasons.

Watch the trailer here:

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