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February 08, 2013

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Seth Grimes

David, insightful, but I disagree with the statement "You can’t be both a guru and a company." It applies to many individuals, perhaps to most, but not to all.

I'm an "authority" (a word I prefer over "guru," but same idea), and I make it clear that my company is simply a platform for services I deliver myself (http://altaplana.com/), but at the same time, I created a free-standing product, the equivalent of a company, that is not closely linked with my personal branding: http://www.sentimentsymposium.com/ . I could sell it tomorrow and, if sold to the right person/organization, it would thrive without me. I know of other branded individuals who own a similar, independent company-product.

Keith Jennings

Great insight, David! This post will be one the "required reading" pieces I give our start-ups.

Question: How does thought leadership factor into these two approaches?

Thought leadership is a perfect fit with the guru approach. So, for those who go the "company" approach and build their business around an idea, how can they position their thought leadership content to align with the company (vs. the person authoring it)?

Marc Strohlein


David--this is a great post and really rings true for me. I wrestled with that issue and my site is your classic I/we mishmash. My challenge is I have done a lot of different things over my career and my consulting engagements are quite varied, so I although I would prefer the guru approach, I can't figure out how to "bottle it." Good news is that your post got me energized to tackle this dilemma again...

David Meerman Scott

Seth - I have seen some examples of a few people who have been able to walk down both paths, but it is rare. Good for you that you've done it. Another person who seems to be is Chris Brogan. But what you and Chris seem to do is have two sites - Chris has chrisbrogan.com and humanbusinessworks.com - both have similar branding and one focuses on Chris the "authority" and the other on the organizational capabilities. It's tough but possible.

Keith - I think thought leadership is critical for both. In the case of a guru, the content is all "bylines" (such as what I do with this blog). However with a company, there can be multiple authors.

Marc - About the time I met you a decade ago I was struggling with this. At that point I called my company "Freshspot Marketing" and it was a classic hybrid mishmash. Once I realized I wanted to just be me, I sorted it out and built my site at DavidMeermanScott.com. While it's been a while since we connected, I'd put you in the guru camp.

Steve Johnson

I guess it goes back to "what are you selling?" If my plan was to sell people-you've-never-heard-of who know how to implement my techniques for product management and marketing, the "company" approach might be better. But the buyers who contact me are looking specifically for Steve Johnson.

Or said another way, "where's the IP sit?" Is it in the person or is it institutionalized? Is the experience in the company or the person?

As David said to me recently, "Your thought leader is the one who has the thoughts."

Thanks for the advice and for sharing my experience with others.

David Meerman Scott

Steve - I'm glad we had that conversation and I'm thrilled that you made the choice to be a guru. Thanks for letting me share your story.

Carolyn Winter

OMG - this is the exact personality split that has agonized me since my first print newsletter 14 years ago. It got worse when I created my website two years later. I start to write in the voice that sounds right for the piece (that day) and pretend no one will read anything else. I have got to tackle this.

Thanks for defining how to look at it.

Carolyn

David Meerman Scott

Carolyn - Glad that the post sparked an idea for you!!

Trevor Young

Thanks for the hat-tip David, and a really timely piece. I know a few people going through this very process currently! It's an issue for many that's for sure, one I've grappled with over the years ... and I think your advice is on the money.

The ones that probably really have things to think through are those who already have a successful business, albeit built largely off the back of their name and/or efforts but who only now, thanks to blogging, social media etc, are starting to raise their profile more broadly and thus are on their way to becoming more prominent authorities in their space. In other words, the company came first but the 'guru' brand status is now starting to flourish more broadly.

The other exception -and it is an exception, I think - is that if you build your personal brand to a pretty high level, you can then leverage off the power of that brand to build a business, or series of businesses - Gary Vaynerchuk springs to mind here, but his brand was pretty big before he started his social media branding agency, VaynerMedia, in partnership with his brother, AJ. I guess that's what Chris Brogan has done also, as you alluded to above.

Thanks again for tackling this topic, and the mention.
Trevor

Ali Almoosawi

I agree with 100%. Most companies in Kuwait are struggling because of this fact, they want to be the company and the guru at the same time! I am going to Scoop.it, thanks for sharing

David Meerman Scott

Hi Trevor - You've done a particularly great job building your brand and I am pleased to showcase you as an example.

I agree that it is a challenge for people who have built a success using one of these two approaches to modify and become partly the other, but as you say people like Gary have done it. I think what Gary and Chris show is that when you do that you need more than one website.

Keep up the good work!

Avilbeckford

David,

Thanks for your insights, I have never thought about a distinction between guru and company. If you've spent a long time building a brand as a guru, would it be confusing and problematic if you then started to build a company? Avil

mark allen roberts

David,

Another timely post for me.

I am currently struggling in this area and found this post insightful.

Having followed Steve for years he is definitely a Guru. However I wonder why it is so hard for us as individuals to intentionally decide who we are? This reminds me of companies and the variance between who they think they are and what the market believes them to be. As long as this variance occurs they do not realize their full potential.

My guess is this is such a frequent problem that a self assessment tool would be useful as it is so easy to look at others and so difficult to assess ourselves.

Mark

Rodney Goldston

Hi David, last year at a Google event I got a chance to ask Seth Godin this very question. Do I brand me or do I brand my business. His response was, "when you are small start by branding yourself".

Prior to that I had been branding my business, JugHead Media. The very next day I began the process of branding me, which lead to the launch of my blog. Here is what I've found.

Branding myself personally frees me to write about what I see in the world. I'm not making post to sell something, instead I'm trying to get people to take action, take chances, and become doers not just thinkers, and find my unique voice.

The most encouraging thing to me was the email you sent me about the post I wrote in response to a post you had made here on your blog. To this day it's one of the most read articles on my blog. People can read it here if they like http://rodneygoldston.com/do-you-care-more-about-customers-or-the-competition-a-response-to-david-meerman-scotts-post/

One last thing. I wrote a post about a month ago called 7 Things Anyone Can Do To Be Successful. When I sat down that day to write I was surprised because the words really poured out of me. It was the most effortless post I've written. An educator saw it and has engaged me about developing a character building program for 6 of their schools.

If I were writing for my business I would have never made that post. I would have been focusing on post about SEM, SEO or something technical. Because I went the route of personal branding I now have an opportunity to do some work with children that I believe will be really important and lasting. You can read the post here if you like http://rodneygoldston.com/7-things-anyone-can-do-to-be-successful/

I still make the tech type post, you know how to do this, how to do that, or 10 ways to do..., but more and more often as I build the habit of writing my ideas, insights, or thoughts, some of what I consider to be more important concepts are surfacing.

Thanks for leading the discussion and bringing this question most of us struggle with to the forefront.

David Meerman Scott

Mark - one problem is those of us (like me) who have worked in companies for our entire career until we go independent have a tough time even considering the alternative. We naturally gravitate to marketing a company.

Rodney - Wow. Thanks for sharing your story here. Boy, it's a good thing you asked Seth when you did. I just commented on the "do you care about customers or competition" post. And the "7 things" one is excellent. Keep up the good work!

Meredith

Great article - but I think there is a third category (where I lived for a long time) called Mercenary. Mercenaries are people hired to do "stuff" for other people but they aren't really gurus (but they work for them) or companies.

It is impossible to grow a mercenary business...

David Meerman Scott

Hi Meredith - interesting. I hadn't considered any other categories so thanks.

Henneke

This is such an eye-opener. Thank you so much.

I've only left employment a few months ago and I've been struggling with this concept - without knowing what exactly it is I am struggling with.

I hate the word "guru" and I can't see myself as one. But I'm definitely not a company because I want people to hire me because of what *I* do, how *I* work, and who *I* am. I'm going to update my website this week.

Thank you, David.

David Meerman Scott

Henneke - I struggled with the word "guru". May just think of it as an expert.

Markaroberts

thanks David,

Having worked for teams for just under 30 years, I grew accustomed to being paid for driving sales growth and leading business development.

However where I struggle is getting paid to advise others on what is so easy for me. Did you struggle with this as well? if so how did you overcome it? ( teaching what to do vs doing the work) Now people want me to teach them how to do it. And yet very few will do it and they hire me to do the market work.

The term "guru" is also a struggle as a big part of what I do is I work hard to humbly approach markets and listen as you taught us to do in your book Tuned In. Speaking with buyers, understanding their problems and a little bit of prayer and I serve people. I teach teams how to apply what we learned and the sales magic happens.
thanks again
Mark
www.nosmokeandmirrors.com

David Meerman Scott

Mark, to be honest, between 2002 (when I started my business) and 2007 (when The New Rules of Marketing and PR came out) I was primarily getting hired to do the work. Since 2007, I stopped doing standard consulting and have been exclusively teaching. In my case, it was an international bestseller that allowed me to make the switch.

Pete Simons

I am currently in my last semister of my MBA and was just wondering how to market an idea in the marketplace. This article gave a handful of information and would help me lot in career making decision. Thanks for the info.

Jason Miller

Hi David,

Really interesting post. I find myself constantly switching between the two. When I write for the Marketo blog, a lot of times I write about my experiences and therefore take a "my" approach, but there are also times when I switch to the "we" point of view when talking about bigger initiatives. I can definitely become a challenge knowing when to use what. On the other hand, writing on my personal blog I have the freedom to write purely from a "my" point of view. I also tend to take this approach when guest blogging as well because I think it's much more sincere. Curious for your thoughts around a situtation such as this?

Thanks - Jason

David Meerman Scott

Good luck with it Pete.

Hi Jason - It's a little more tricky when you work for an organization and create content for them. I think it is possible to build a strong personal brand and also push forward the company you work for (as you have done). Make sure that your colleagues are on board with what you'r doing because some people get weird about personal brands within a corporate structure.

doug eymer

David:

Great article and great insight. This topic is something that I wrestle with during what seems like, every waking moment.

I have done the company thing (Eymer Design, 1989-2000), worked as part of a alod and merged entity (Eymer Design @ PARTNERS+simons, 2000-2004), and now as EYMER DESIGN Laboratories + Think Tank, since 2004.

Half of me thinks that I should be building another company while the other half likes my current Guru existence. And yes, I have been keeping my wishy-washy feet in both worlds–depending on the business situation at hand.

I am on the high diving board, knowing that I need to make a full commitment, one way or the other. I am just standing here, waiting for a push.

Thanks for forcing me to focus.
Doug.

Sheetal Sharma

Great Post! Most of the time individuals are faced with this dilemma of contesting for company or oneself. I think at some point of time, we all are forced to make this choice but as long as the choice fulfills our final objective, i don't think there is any harm in tip tossing between the two.

KenMorico

I agree with Meredith about the third class - mercenary. I feel comfortable with a personal brand, you feel comfortable with a personal brand, but there are many who are too shy to take on the public role of Guru. They just want to work on their own terms. Being a CEO is a public-facing role. Also, public-facing roles require guts as I'm sure you know - you must be able to handle criticism and work long hours.

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