Branding vs Positioning

Guest post by Cliff Zellman

Cliff Zellman
Cliff Zellman

This is a guest post by engineer extraordinaire and my audio engineering mentor, Cliff Zellman. Starting out as his assistant quite a few years ago, Cliff and I worked together making records for internationally renowned recording artists, as well as, local musicians in the LA area. Since then he’s become the go-to guy for voice over performing, original music compositions and script writing at RadioVision in Dallas, Texas.

Having been in the production industry for over 30+ years, Cliff has pretty much recorded, produced, directed and edited just about anything & everything audio. Below is a very insightful piece he wrote on the differences between Branding and Positioning.

Take it away, Cliff!

Lately, there has been an over abundance of self-injected philosophies on Branding. It seems to be an easy subject to sell for coaches and mentors offering voice performance related services. Some come in the way of a “webinar” (insert unnecessary definition of webinar here), blogs, social media postings and face-to-face classes and seminars. What they mostly offer is a list of “example brands”, nationals such as Campbell’s Soup, Levi’s, CNN, Chevy, and Kleenex or tagged to an individual like Cher, Lady Gaga, Don LaFontaine, Oprah, or Elton. They follow by saying, “These are brands. You need to have a brand. You need to stick out from the crowd. Be noticed.” OK, I just signed up, paid my money and invested my time to be in your audience– how do I do it? Most likely you will hear that same line repeated and I will spare you that. Just go back a few sentences and read it again if you must.

What I rarely hear being discussed is Positioning. Why? Maybe it’s not as sexy as branding. BRANDING! Wow that’s a cool word, so instant and so final at the same time. It sounds so powerful. This is MINE!

So, what is a Brand? A brand is the final element of the mix. A brand is not something decided over a good Merlot and proper lighting. We all know what a real brand is. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers.” Distinct seems to be the key word. Different. Unique. But does this really translate to voice over, considering that each VO artist is by very definition different & unique? No two voices are identical. If you give a short script to 10 different artists, each will in turn, give you 10 different reads. For example, I hear all the time, “What is the best microphone for voice over?” There is no correct answer, because every voice is different. Using this logic, we need to take a look at what would work for you when it comes to branding.

Branding can ONLY exist with a history. A history of a real product, one that has a reputation for quality, consistency, longevity, and reproducibility. A brand without a solid history is a scam. You know it and I know it. In my day they were called “fly by nights”. I strongly believe that a newcomer to this, or any highly competitive industry, must POSITION themselves before even considering the B word.

Let’s dissect the word positioning. To put yourself in a place of advantage, the right place at the right time, but I think most important, to be ready when called upon. Like a runner in a relay race is poised, trained and trusted to firmly grab their teammate’s baton and move ahead to win the race. Positioning takes years of planning in terms of education, training, practice, technical skills far beyond those called upon just a few years ago, the unquenchable desire to do voice over and even more practice and training. Voice over is not a hobby or a whim or a way to make a few extra bucks. Imagine hearing someone say, “Maybe I could be a doctor, they make a lot of money”. If that’s what you’re thinking, quit now and go get a job at Wendy’s, you’ll be much more successful.

Everyday more and more people are inquiring about “getting into voice over”. The competition is already incredible, thanks in part to the internet, Guitar Center, pay to play sites, and often other-than-sincere industry people offering to “get you ready to go in no time”. They will tell you to create a web site, a logo, a catchphrase, business cards, attend a national mixer, do a blog, post endless self promoting blather on facebook and twitter, get your picture taken with a famous VO personality and most important, do a demo now. WRONG!

I am not saying that these tools are not important, quite the contrary, they are essential. But only when you have accomplished the aforementioned requirements.  Here’s a horse and here’s a cart: The cart is you, and the horse is your branding. Which comes first? The cart is your history, your talent, your abilities, your extensive education, professionalism, code of ethics, passion and experience. The horse is your ability to move forward. Without a well trained equestrian, the horse, no matter how well groomed, will remain motionless. Much like the VO artist that relies more on their “brand” than their abilities.

So again, how do you brand yourself? The answer? You don’t. You let time brand you. You let the industry brand you. Self assigned nicknames rarely stick and are often more phony then their creator. Your brand will become obvious as you augment your skills and abilities. You will find your niche, naturally. Your specialties will become apparent over time. If you are as good as you say you are, we’ll know it. And if you are not, we’ll know that as well, no matter how creative & well groomed your branding may be. And I’m sure you do not want to build your career around what comes out of the back end of the horse!

“Branding resides in the realm of Outside Perception–how people outside your organization perceive it. Branding is what you present to the world and your prospects.  If you’re posting on FB or blogging or anything else public–like it or not–that’s part of your branding and people will judge you based on it.  If your demo is great but you can’t deliver in the booth, people will judge you based on that. Everything adds or detracts from your reputation.” – Gene Vann

In conclusion: Practice, train, record at home, hone your audio skills, join a Meet Up group, build professional relationships, read and practice and train continuously. These are the steps to branding. These are the steps to long term success. This is honest and this is ethical!


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