Personal Branding for Creatives. Becoming something else.

06.14.2010 / Author: Kaboom Schneider

I have extreme branding. As with much of my design and conceptualization work, I created a brand that was a character and has a universe around it. My sick little world took off so fast I couldn’t make up the story line quickly enough and it started to read like the last two seasons of LOST.

Sitting one night and Googling myself…online…using the keyboard. It just won’t sound right no matter what. I was dismayed to see I was on the 27th page behind more accomplished actors, doctors, war heroes and other n’er-do-wells pushing my graphic design career to the sub-basement. People use Google to see a bit more about you and I was showing them I didn’t exist.

My personal branding as a freelancer was a company named, The AFTERLIFE. Lot’s of death motifs as a sick joke on the trend of companies hiring only people under the age of 17. I was dead to them…although, as I would discover, not so as a highly paid consultant/baby-sitter. I had coffin-die cut business cards, great tombstone fonts, a Photoshopped picture of me with wings that made those who know me laugh and a growing trends blog. Other creatives loved it. Clients didn’t know what to make of it, so it had failed. The coolest skull logo in the world is not going to sell you to McDonald’s or Disney/Pixar. Again, the Google search brought up a LOT of companies and bands with the word “afterlife” somewhere in it. Not good enough in a field stuffed with competition. The finest former full-time staffers at the world’s best-known design departments are out there, too.

The failure became a lesson, which is all nature asks of us when we make an ungodly blunder. I looked at all the factors in my restarted freelance career. I took a long look at what would create the buzz that fuels the BS that makes clients want a certain person and fellow designers be damned. I lied. I want to show off my talent. I want to be respected. I want people to wonder what the hell is my problem.

I admit to being tired, loaded and sitting in front of my computer when it struck me how an old nickname would push my name to the front of Google. After some odd laughter, forgetting what I was going to do and then it coming back to me, I signed into LinkedIn and Facebook as “Kaboom J. Schneider.” My friends, who span my lifetime, have all used my various nicknames when posting on my page, so most never mentioned the change but as time went on, most switched to “Kaboom.” Watching my questions and answers on LinkedIn brought people all writing, “well, Kaboom…” and “that’s a great point, Kaboom.” It didn’t take long to establish my new brand. The name itself.

I started to form a campaign based on old space toys and witty captions for an updated-retro look. An edgy fun. One great consideration was to let existing clients and contacts know that I was now Kaboom. My early promotional pieces bore my full name. I still have a few to go and then I switch to pushing the full Kaboom brand.

One marketing tool I use is a print-on-demand/mailing site to send real postcards and greeting cards to a specific list of 100 people. Twice a month, for the next six months, they will receive some odd mailing. Recipients of the early mailings reported that they kept the mailings on their desks or bulletin boards and people would pick them up and look at them. Referrals alone grew my mailing list to other creatives in big design departments. I’m guessing I hit something. Maybe it’s the brand and designs used for promotion, maybe it’s the old fashioned mailings are new again, maybe it’s just a mix of social media and promotional direct mail?

A few of the early pieces. Cute and fun with a fresh retro feel. It formed just as I did an assignment for a new client and each one influenced the other. People felt very warm about this work.

Assignments continue to come in, either wanting me to ape the style of the promotional piece, which is just fine with me, or someone so blown away they would tells me to “do something different” from where their line was. As I worked long hours with Photoshop and illustrator constantly running, I found, as many of us do, some happy accidents that created a look that just amazed me. The techniques were refined and the dark and depressing world ruled by giant robot overlords who exterminated every other design firm, leaving Kaboom Industries to provide the remaining 732 humans the products and design needed to live a modern life, was thriving like it actually existed. Did I mention I am the only remaining human male left and women still tell me they “just want to be friends?” Maybe I didn’t create this world?(Two or three of the darker promotional pieces)

Then there are the quick steps in “hitting the market, “going live” or “bursting on the scene” as many call it. Twitter, Facebook, a website or blog, business cards and they all have to be ready at once. Sadly, my life is still “under construction.”

I was spiraling out of control. The work was again intertwined with another assignment. I loved what I did but wonder where I go from here. I'm thinking more artful pieces of robots or real ads from the 50s and 60s and continue mutating them into nightmarish subliminal advertising.

This starts the process of horror. I find an unusual photograph, add a few layers and effects in Photoshop and Illustrator, distort elements to trap the eye within an image while the brain is screaming to look away and BINGO! a promotional piece you just can't unsee.

The most important thing in branding yourself as a freelance identity, with goals of perhaps growing into a small design firm, or tyrannical ruler of a country comprised solely of designers and dead account executives, is to create something you love, because more often than not, you are married to the name, brand, URL, tattoos, shirts and, as I now have, a huge bag of coffin Halloween candy I bought two days after Halloween to use for The AFTERLIFE. They’ll fit fine besides the unused business cards and other items that are now fit to throw out. There’s also a financial consideration to rebranding aside from the confusion of whom you are when you awaken in the morning. I suggest nametags on everything.

Is this working for me? Yes! I wish I could write about the tremendous feelings of dread I had when first wondering what reaction I would awaken to the morning after changing my social media tag but, thanks to that same social media, it didn’t take more than 24 hours to see the reaction was good. Imagine the old days where you had to wait months for trumped up data on consumer reactions and the money spent.

The other day I was speaking with someone I had spoken to several years ago but he didn’t remember me. Finally, after many promptings for recognition, he said, “I would remember speaking to a Kaboom Schneider!”

Number one brand mission accomplished.

Kaboom Schneider has worked for such human companies as MAD Magazine (Warner Bros.), Hallmark Cards, Golden Books Family Entertainment, and has created products for Disney/Pixar, Harley-Davidson, ESPN, DC and Marvel Comics, American Greetings, SmartHealth, American Express Publishing, Scholastic, United Media, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Merck, the N.Y. Daily News, The New York Times and other firms eventually exterminated by, or on the “honey-do” list of the Most Benevolent Giant Robot Overlord. You can reach him through Kaboom Industries or email him at bigbang@kaboomgoesthe.net.





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3 comments, please join in the discussion

  1. corie
    06.22.2010

    This such a great article thank you! I am an aspiring designer and in the process of trying to figure out how to best brand myself and talents, thanks again for the wonderful post

    • Speider
      06.23.2010

      You’re welcome! Just do what feels natural and fun.

  2. 07.09.2010

    This is definitely an awesome and inspiring post – I think that all n00b freelancers (me) and all folks looking to re-brand themselves or their companies should read this.

    This “one person’s perspective” is an awesome representation of the emotional, financial and time-based investment in both starting up and/or re-branding.

    Thanks for the awesome write-up – as someone set to rock the world of editing & proofreading (lol) I am feeling a little more confident this morning after having read this post.

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