The pursuit of an ‘authentic’ personal brand is causing stress and anxiety for many, while it isn’t the silver bullet it’s made out to be. Let’s put the concept back into perspective.

Last Friday, I joined Carlos and Laurence of the Happy Startup School for a fireside chat on how to build a personal brand, the non-icky way. Lately, almost every conversation I’ve had on personal branding quickly veers towards the pursuit of authenticity. This conversation was no different.

Many of us are deeply uncomfortable with selling ourselves, and at first glance, authenticity seems the escape hatch out of that…

Adapted from a talk for BIS Publishers and Breda University of Applied Sciences.

I’ve got bad news and good news. I’ll start with the bad: we face a climate crisis, overpopulation, extremism, massive unemployment, to name a few.

The good news is that there are a lot of brilliant people working on solutions. Yet many of these ideas, products and services for change fail to grow. Why is that?

Most of them fail, not because they aren’t good, it’s because they fail to reach the right audiences at the right volume.


As humans, we are biased towards putting…

We need to shatter the myth of the Lone Brand Genius if we want to get brands for change off the ground.

There is this myth that it only takes one person to build a strong brand. Some visionary who knows it all, controls it all, and ignores everyone else, emerging one day with some mind-blowing, uncompromising brand created out of thin air.

The Brand The Change community, illustration by Zsuzsanna Ilijin

The truth is that for 99.9% of us, it takes a village. Someone to come up with the idea, someone who can pitch it, someone who can bring it to life with great design, someone who captures the essence in great photos. Customers who give input, marketeers who go out and test in the field. …

Here is the guideline I wish I’d had five years ago.

We have been running online brand workshops for individuals and groups for years. I personally still prefer in-person sessions, because remote workshops predictably add physical and emotional distance and can make it harder to manage complex conversations, especially with multiple people.

But there are obvious benefits beyond the now unavoidable social distancing: more effective use of time, easier documentation, an equal playing field for all participants, no wasteful printing and notes, and many more.

In our Trainer’s Certification Programme I always recommend starting with physical workshops and to go…

It took me ten years to know how to draw it, but the journey was worth it. Through the Brand Thinking Canvas, I’ve worked with over 2,000 amazing individuals and companies and trained 32 brand professionals to use the canvas in their own practice.

The Brand Thinking Canvas is not a complicated model. Several rings, a few subcompartments, two pages with simple questions: ‘who are you?”, and “who is your audience?”. But it took me ten years to understand how to draw it*.

That’s because it’s not just a model: it’s also a process of co-creation and ideation, and a compass for implementation. It answers three major issues I struggled with throughout my early career:

How can we bridge the gap between strategy and design?
How can we close the divide between agency and client, theory and application? …

Commencement speech for the Brand The Change Trainers Class of 2020

This course is not meant as a mental health support group, but it sure serves as one sometimes. I can imagine no better job in the world than that of a brand developer, and few that are worse.

It’s amazing because you are allowed to look into the soul of the people and organizations that hire you.

It’s hell because you are expected to understand all the little crevices of that soul and get it all nice and presentable to the world in a matter of hours.

It’s grateful…

Yesterday it was Gillette and Nike. Today, it’s Lego. We find ourselves enveloped in a trend that shows no signs of slowing down: ‘Purpose’ is on everyone’s lips, and every day it seems a new company jumps on the bandwagon with a campaign that gets our tongues wagging.

On a brand safari in Chicago this summer, I spotted purpose-marketing campaigns on every corner. Photo by Clarissa Sparks

As a brand developer, author, teacher and community builder that champions brand thinking as a critical skill to advance social and environmental change, I am confronted by the following question almost every single day for the past five years:

‘How should we think about brands espousing social justice issues? …

In 2016, in an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, I wrote that social good will not be a differentiator forever. As products and services for social and environmental good are becoming more common, social entrepreneurs and organisations in the social sector will have to get better at differentiating themselves beyond their social missions.

First, let’s unpack what a differentiator is. Differentiators can either be aspects of your product or service, that benefit your customer, at which you excel. Or, your product/service is the same as that of a competitor, but you differentiate through a unique brand. …

Sugru’s failure to reach the mainstream –and its subsequent sale to Tesa this week– shows how crucial the investment in branding and marketing is in order for impact-driven companies to scale.

Today was a sad day. As a tiny investor and longtime fan of Sugru (a mouldable glue company on a mission to beat throwaway culture), I received an email from the company’s management with the news that they have sold the company to Tesa, one of the worlds leading adhesive manufacturers.

Sugru in use to fix a cup or protect a smartphone. Image courtesy of Sugru.

The sale was made at a price per share that means an almost full loss for everyone involved, including the founders, early investors, and on a far smaller scale, myself*.

As I read the rationale behind the company’s decision, I realized I had made the one mistake that I…

In the process of living our lives and doing our work, we acquire a set of beliefs: convictions on how something is done, or how we should behave. They help us make sense of things, form a basis for decisions and allow us to live a life we believe to be good. Dysfunctional beliefs on the other hand, are beliefs that are counterproductive. When it concerns branding, there are three dysfunctional beliefs in particular, that I see people buying into again and again. I hope we can truly say goodbye to them in 2018.

Dysfunctional belief #1: If you build it they will come
Reframe: If you build it some might come, but not without a hell of a lot of effort.

The quote, ‘If you build it…

anne miltenburg

Working to see the day when organisations with positive social and environmental impact outperform traditional ventures. Weapon of choice: branding.

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