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What One Man & His Quest to Find the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Can Teach You About Personal Branding

Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, your personal brand is the key to building fruitful relationships.

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BY Dan Scalco - 15 Feb 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Building a personal brand isn't easy. There's a reason why many entrepreneurs don't have one... It can't be outsourced.

However, having a personal brand gives you an incredible connection with your audience. Why? Because it's authentic. You didn't buy their attention with advertisements, you earned it.

For that reason, I'm always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who have great personal brands. I like to study how they work, their business, and how they go about crafting their brand.

That leads me to Sol Orwell.

I was first introduced to Sol by friend, and fellow Inc. columnist, Sujan Patel. We bonded over our shared love of marketing and entrepreneurship. I hit the "follow" button on his social media profiles and thought nothing more of it. That was until I started seeing "#cookielife" show up on my newsfeed...

Today social media allows us to "connect" without really "connecting". Follow, like, snap, endorse. Clicking isn't the same as connecting. A lot of our newsfeeds are filled with clutter. So when I started to see "#cookielife" show up on my newsfeed, I was intrigued.

What is the "#cookielife"? Well, let me back up for a moment and give you an idea of who Sol Orwell is. As an old school Internet entrepreneur, Sol cut his teeth building content sites and SEO in the late 90s. He dabbled in various things--from virtual currency in MMOs to domain names such as beat.com and webmaster.org to local search before Google Maps even existed. However, you might know him best for founding Examine.com, a site that provides clear, unbiased nutrition and supplement information.

Sol is the type of entrepreneur that doubles down on whatever it is that he's doing. So it's not surprising that when he and a friend were talking about what the best chocolate chip cookies in town were, it snowballed into an intense bake-off. Once Sol's cookie competition made its way to social media, his audience started sending him their favorite chocolate chip cookies to try out. And not just a few cookies came in the mail. Since 2016, Sol has received more than 100 cookies from people all over the world.

How does a simple argument over the best cookies in town lead to a mailbox full of cookies? A great personal brand.

Sol has achieved a level of connection with his followers that makes them less of an audience and more like close friends. In this case, that connection led to cookies but you can use the same strategies to help you yield stronger relationships with your clients, customers, and friends. Here's how...

 

1. Let it grow organically

When the "#cookielife" phenomena started to take off, Sol could have started a website (or even an Instagram account), ran Facebook ads, and turned it into a brand. He didn't and there was a really good reason behind it. Once you start treating a personal brand like a business brand and trying to sell someone on why they should do something, watch something, or go somewhere, you immediately build a barrier between you and them. You're not talking to them, you're talking at them. They now see you as a salesman rather than a friend. A salesman makes a quick commission but a friend can change your life.

 

2. 10x everything you do

The most successful entrepreneurs in the world all have one thing in common--they take a small idea and build it into a mountain. Sometimes these small ideas start out as smartphone apps that turn into billion-dollar empires, other times these small ideas turn into bake-offs. Sol could have easily let his friend win the argument about the best chocolate chip cookies in town and that would have been it. But instead he was proactive about the opportunity instead of being passive or reactive. In fact, he just recently finished up his second annual "Chocolate Chip Cookie Off" where 27 professional chefs and bakers made cookies (excess cookies were donated to a local women's shelter) and $2,500 was raised for Community Food Centres Canada.

 

3. Have fun

When it comes down to it, the main reason "#cookielife" took off was because it was fun for everyone. There was no sales pitch, no financial negotiations, it just made people happy for the sheer fact that it was entertaining and wholesome. When you put on something that is fun and brings people together (online or offline) you build a community and you build loyalty.

 

4. Be yourself

Too many people take to social media to preach or be inspirational. Sol instead chose to be his opinionated self. This can push some people away but it builds a stronger connection to others. Be it talking about his love of cookies or his hatred for raisins or pontificating on entrepreneurship and networking, Sol isn't afraid of having an opinion.

 

A lot of people might say, "what's the ROI of having a chocolate chip cookie off?" The answer is--there isn't any. Business and branding aren't always "B2B" or B2C", they're "P2P"--person to person. Once you realize that success in all types of relationships (business and personal) comes from real connections with people you'll understand the importance of building an authentic personal brand like Sol's.