Brand Identity vs. Topical Engagement: A Case Study

I have written before about the curios way many people seem to be very focused on their own personal brand identity. I believe this behavior is closely related to a person’s level of literacy – it seems as though the less literate a person is, the more they concern themselves with their personal brand, the social awareness of their individual identity, etc. Perhaps this is associated with nagging self-doubt and similar elements of an underlying narcissism rooted in being unsatisfied, feeling inadequate, etc.

While traveling this week, I met a person who was just parking their car… and as the car passed in front of my eyes, I noticed a URL on their back windshield. This practice of advertising is quite commonplace in Germany, and even though I am quite certain that no one will ever be able to read ridiculously long URLs as they pass at quite high velocity, I decided to turn my own vehicle around and speak to the person in the car to find out something about the idea (I had not been able to read it as the car passed by – indeed, I even found it quite difficult to grasp the entire string as I read it from behind the stationary parked car: the full string reads … and it wasn’t until several minutes later that I realized that „palatian“ probably refers to the German region commonly referred to as „die Pfalz“) – the hyphentated domain name string is a full 26 characters long!! Adding „www“ and „de“, plus two dots amounts to 33 characters that would have to be typed (and on many mobile phones, typing a hyphen character can indeed be quite cumbersome). Clearly, the idea behind this domain is not for yet another social network to grow world-wide, but rather to imprint one brand’s identity onto the mind of a potential customer’s potential attentiveness as the car speeds by on the street, highway, parking lot or whatever.

As I stood behind the car and chatted with the charming and presumably proud owner / manager / breeder Stephanie herself, I asked whether the site was successful. She affirmed that it is doing quite well. As I was not far from the site’s home location, I decided to do a Google search and see what I could find. Now let me point out that I did not do this with much „scientific“ rigor, but (probably unfortunately for Stephanie) I was not surprized: I found basically nothing (and that even though „ridgebacks“ is easily identified as a substring, being isolated via the hyphen-mark). My hunch is that the so.called „brand“ identity would be a complete flop, were it not for Stephanie’s own personal brand promoting the online brand name herself. Since Stephanie was very warm and engaging, I do not doubt that her engagement in the care of ridgebacks is very well received – but I strongly doubt the long-stringed domain name has much of anything to with it.

This example presents us with a very good example of a unique brand identity („palatianliondog“) combined with a clear topical focus of engagement („ridgbacks“). Online, the site’s saving grace (I did ultimately find it via another site) was , where the site is also engaged by being listed in the latter site’s directory of „Züchter“. Apparently, Stephanie is literate enough to understand that engagement on the topical site is also crucial to her work (and her site’s success). I imagine there may also be other topical sites, which might help support her site’s success – and since she has already recognized this in one case, I would not be surprized if her engagement is also felt by inquisitive potential customers with respect to other topics.

What I hope this example shows is how the online world and the offline world are really two completely distinct spaces: Whether or not you are a nice person may matter a lot offline, but this cannot be easily measured, translated, reflected or represented online. Being a strong individual brand or having an agreeable personality makes virtually no difference to a website’s success. What matters most is whether (and to what degree) a site’s owner / manager is topically engaged. Merely having a site which represents your personal / individual brand name does very little to identify you. Your identity is little more than a random number.

Without topical engagement, you are little more than a blank page. Engagement needs to be topical, because topics are what people search for. You may search for food, you may search for sex, but you gotta search for something.

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