This is a transcript of the conversation with Rohit Bhargava about his book, “Personality Not Included.”
Rohit Bhargava is a Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at Ogilvy
Public Relations. He is also an expert at helping companies navigate
the new media waters.
is the author of the book, “Personality Not Included: Why Companies
Lose Their Authenticity and How Great Brands Get It Back.”
Welcome to the show.
Thanks Chip. Glad to be here.
I guess the first question is, do we really want companies to have
personality or do we just want them to give us the product or service
we are paying them to give us?
That is a great question to start with because it is a very common one.
I think that essentially, the idea of the book is that having a great
product or service is a given. You really do need to do that.
Personality is never going to be a replacement for that. So, I try very
clearly to say that to people. You can’t replace having something good
the problem is that a lot of companies are in this category where they
are selling something that is useful or good and somebody else is
selling something that is useful or good. And they are competing
against one another. That is where the vast majority of companies are.
idea of the book is that personality is the difference that allows you
to stand out among your competitors. It is also the difference that
makes you the place that people actually want to work with and for So,
it is an employee, an internal, focused idea as well.
Explain exactly what you mean by a company personality. Is it the same
as the personality that a date or a kid might have? Or is this
I am glad you asked that, actually, because it is definitely different.
One of the things I knew in writing a book about personality is that I
would have to redefine it for people because we all have our
perceptions of taking those personality quizzes online that tell us our
perfect match or what is going to happen in our lives next week. That
is really not what I wanted to talk about with personality.
definition I used in the book was a very simple, three core elements of
personality. Number one, you have to be unique. Number two, you have to
be authentic. Number three, you have to be talkable.
within each one of those, I really try and describe, well, what makes a
business unique? It is offering something that somebody else doesn’t
Authenticity is this big idea in business right now,
which is actually meaning what you say and doing that. That is very
difficult for a lot of companies, particularly when it comes to their
marketing messages. I really lay out some principles for how to do that.
is kind of the secret element. It is really the word-of-mouth
phenomenon. It is based on this idea that you need to give people
something to talk about. You need to be talkable. Before you can get
your brand, product, or service to be something that people connect
with and tell other people about, it needs to have that element of
When a company starts, I mean, if you are a one-man-band, if you will,
you are a start-up in the early stages; these are all things you have
at one point in the beginning, right? It is hard for a company to get
off the ground and become even moderately successful without having
some of these elements. So, presumably somewhere alone the line as the
company grows, it loses its personality.
That is a common phenomenon for a lot of companies. I think, that when
you talk to a group of people about the companies that they would
consider faceless, chances are a lot of them would be large companies.
But, one of the things I really talk about in the book is that small
businesses and small companies are not born with personality, either.
it is really not this idea where everybody is born with these core
elements and they lose them along the way. It is these elements that
some businesses have and some businesses don’t.
If you think
about it, if you look at statistics for example, the restaurant
business and these wild and crazy stats that say that 90 percent of
restaurant businesses fail within the first two years. Part of the
reason why, and obviously not the whole reason why, part of the reason
why is because they did not focus on these three core elements and they
never had them from the beginning.
I think, that it is certainly
a phenomenon that happens in big companies because it is very difficult
to keep that human connection as you do get bigger. But, I definitely
would not say that every small business has that to start with.
If I am a small company or a large company, how do I figure out what my personality is and communicate it?
One of the first things to do is to figure out what the story is, the
back-story. One of the things that I spend a lot of time talking about
in the book is really based on the idea of screenwriting and
a lot of times when I deal with people in marketing, or people who are
describing their businesses, whether they are in marketing or not, one
of the things they tend to do is they tend to describe it how they
think a business needs to be described. I think, a lot of people in
marketing tend to call this “marketing-speak.”
It is so
pervasive that that’s how we believe that we need to describe
companies. The reason why I pulled it back to the idea of screenwriting
is because if you think about the job of a screenwriter, it is to write
words to be said, not words to be read.
So, what you want to try
to do with your marketing is do the same thing, which is, capture the
actual dialogue of how people describe what they actually do.
does two things. Number one, it makes you sound more human, obviously.
Number two, it actually makes you think more clearly about whether what
you are describing is something that is actually useful and actually
sellable, or whether it is just “marketing-speak,” and not actually
So, one of the big lessons there is that if
you focus on that story and you come up with that way for somebody to
connect, that is the first step to getting that personality out of the
history of your company and in front.
Now obviously, a lot of companies out there will hire a wiz-bang
marketing person or the more modern elements, maybe a social media
community manager seems to be the popular title. Can you bring in these
people and really see change? Or is it something that you really have
to more institutionalize; it has to seep its way into the entire
I think that what you tend to find is that you can’t just hire in a few
people and expect them to remake the culture, regardless of what they
are trying to do.
think that really what successful brands that are building this
personality from the ground up are able to do is a very important
thing. What large companies, in particular, have gotten very bad at,
which is embracing the people that I call their accidental
spokespeople. Which are the people who are not trained on all of the
marketing messages, but who are actually speaking about the brand.
are blogging, perhaps. They are on social networks. They are active in
their local communities. So, it is not necessarily an online thing, it
could just be somebody who is just influential in the local community,
who happens to work for a brand, who is talking about that brand.
think, that the real lesson there is that anybody can be that type of
spokesperson. They often come up from very interesting places within an
organization. In order for you to embrace that personality, it really
becomes, the challenge becomes not figuring out who are these one or
two rock stars that you can get in, but how do you foster this within
your entire company.
Well, I guess we have talked a little bit about some of these
principles. Can you name names? Can you give me some companies that are
doing it right? And maybe even some that are doing it wrong.
Yeah. I think, one of the great stories in the book that I really enjoy
is about Dyson Vacuums. The reason why I single them out is because
they do have a unique product. And they do have something that a lot of
people associate with.
if you look at how James Dyson has promoted that business, it is
basically been that business has been about innovation and about
invention and not necessarily about their product.
And so even today if you go onto their website and you look at a
specific section is all about invention. It’s got tips for inventors
and how to get a patent. It’s got tricks on what to look out for. It’s
got essentially all of the learning from a guy who describes himself
not as a brand person or a vacuum person, but as an inventor. That’s
what he does.
so he’s managed to make that part of their community and part of the
description of the story, the brand. I think, that’s a great example.
And you actually-you spend quite a bit of your time in this book
talking about specific examples. It’s not-you haven’t written a book on
fear, you’ve written a book with concrete examples.
Yeah, actually one of the things that I did is I’ve been writing a blog
for a long time. And what I do on that marketing blog is I focus on a
lot of different companies, examples, campaigns.
so as I thought about writing this book, I wanted to write something
that I would want to read as a reader. And the lesson that I kind of
got from the books that I enjoyed is that they are the ones that told a
lot of different stories.
And so, what I put into this book is
more than 100 different case stories of brands that are doing different
elements of this personality that people can learn from.
what I found interesting about doing that and talking to people about
the book since it came out is that because there are so many examples
in there, people are always able to find one that relates to their
business. And I’m always interested to see which ones stand out for
people because they’re very different from somebody who’s working in
one industry versus a different industry.
But the nice thing is
that people are finding examples that relate to them So, much so that
I’ve actually went out-a lot of times when I go out and I speak, I tell
people I say, “Look there’s a lot of examples in there. If you don’t
find one that relates to what you do, send me an email and I’ll find
one for you.”
[laughs] That’s great. Now, I mean obviously you mentioned the blog.
But, you know what is it that made you write this book? I mean it seems
like everybody’s writing a book these days about you know either
word-of-mouth marketing or new media-social media.
know, it’s a flooded marketplace, you know. What made you decide to do
it and you know what distinguishes your book from everything else in
Yeah, I spent a lot of time thinking about that because I’ve been in
conversations with people who didn’t have an answer for that. Whether
it was describing their business or whether it was describing their
Right. And essentially it’s talking about giving your book the
personality that you’re talking about, right? The unique authentic
Yeah, exactly. It’s, I mean you’ve got to have something that’s unique.
I mean I wanted the book to be the three things, right? I wanted it to
be unique, authentic and talkable.
so the way that I did that is Number one I focused on an idea that was
bigger than what a lot of people were talking about. And so the way
that I did that is I work in an agency and so I work on a lot of
different brands, a lot of different industries.
And so my
experience is not based on building one brand or one thing and making
it really big. It’s based on building a lot of different things So, the
lessons that I see in the trends that I pull out are based on the
industry and the culture, not necessarily on my one thing that I
And the idea that I started to pull out of this is
that you know it’s not about every company starting their blog. It’s
not about companies getting onto Facebook. All of these things are
pointing to a bigger trend. And that bigger trend is that people are
looking for more humanity from the companies that they deal with.
so the book that I wanted to write was about how companies can give
that to people. How they can become more authentic by actually enabling
the people who work for that brand and the customers that buy things
from that brand to talk to one another.
So, my big kind of
positioning for this, and there’s actually a-I share a lot of this
stuff openly on the book website-so there’s a whole making up section
where I share a like the original proposal for how I got to deal with
the publisher and rejected cover designs and…
I mean, one of
the things I share in there is that the way I was thinking about the
positioning of the book is that it really had to fit in between three
big categories, which basically are described by what you were talking
about. Which is one big category is this social media blogging books.
one is the marketing niche books. There’s search marketing,
word-of-mouth marketing, guerrilla marketing, all of those fit into one
category in how I described these.
And the last category was
sort of a self-help personal branding career advice kind of category
because part of the idea of the book is that personality is what
enables you to get a better career, a better job and build your
What I really tried to do is I tried to write a
book that fit in between those three categories and brought those three
things together. And that was something that I didn’t see out there.
Mm-hmm. You know there’s obviously a lot of people out there who are
you know enthusiastic. And I suspect you’ll have a lot of people who
are-who really want to adopt what you’re talking about in this book.
you know a lot of particularly larger companies-although you mentioned
small companies, too-but you know larger companies and mid-size
companies tend to be a little bit more slow moving. They tend to be a
little bit less willing to adopt some changes like these.
advice would you give someone in a company if they’re trying to sell
this to their bosses? You know that this really is important to develop
Yeah, that is-you know I have spent a lot of time with brands and
companies that have certain inertia against change. I think, that a lot
of companies are in that situation and probably a lot of your listeners
are working for companies in that position.
one of the things that I wanted to do is I wanted to give people a real
tool book and essentially a play-by-play on how to deal with those
types of situations. So, I dedicated one entire chapter to basically
overcoming roadblocks, which is essentially what you are saying.
is people maybe don’t believe that they need a personality. In some
cases they may think that’s it’s useful but they are afraid to change
for whatever reason.
So, what the book really lays out is that
there are four big barriers to personality. And they’re essentially
that you know the first one is success. Which is what we are already
doing and it’s working So, why would we change; which a lot of
businesses are in that category.
The second one is uncertainty,
which is you know, you don’t know what is going to happen. The Third
one is tradition which is what we’ve always done So, we’re not going to
change now because we’ve got a tradition; we always do it that way.
the last one is precedent of sort of that copy-cat model of, “Well, we
think we should do it, but who else is doing it?” Like if nobody else
is doing it, we’re not going to do it first. And really the core idea
of overcoming roadblocks is about first of all identifying which of
these categories of fear your organization is in.
So I don’t really treat it as simplistically as saying, “OK, if you’re
afraid, then let’s overcome fear.” I say, “Where’s the fear coming
from?” And then I kind of take it back to this whole kind of guidebook
step-by-step approach and say, “OK, if the fear is precedent in your
organization then do this, this, this, and this.”
And it is very, you know very four-step, five-step oriented to hopefully to help people get past those things.
really what I try to do is take some of the lessons that I learned from
blogging in terms of creating very useful content. Because a lot of
blog posts are this list type of content and people are very-they find
that very useful. And I’ve tried to bring that into a book environment
without necessarily just kind of taking a bunch of blog posts and
sticking them together and making a book out of it.
Mm-hmm. Is personality something that is a new concept or, I mean have companies always really needed to have personality?
That’s a good question. I mean, I think, that to a degree anytime
you’re writing about something as basic of a word as personality,
there’s always going to be…you’re always going to kind of think in
the back of your mind, “Well, companies always needed to have a
personality, didn’t they?”
I think that some of the most powerful books-and I’ve spent a lot of
time reading a lot of other books in terms of preparing for this book.
The books that I found most profound for me personally as a marketer
were not necessarily the ones who kind of made up a new word and said,
“Oh, well you need to care about you know, this thing.”
the ones that took something that you kind of knew but really turned it
into that core lesson that could drive a business forward and gave you
something actionable to actually do out of it. And that’s the kind of
book that I wanted to write. I didn’t want to invent a new world
I wanted something that was a very basic idea and
say, “You know what? With all this stuff out there with Wikis and blogs
and podcasts and all of these things that we hear about, let’s get back
to what the actual core idea is of marketing and what we should be
doing.” And that’s what I wanted to try and write about.
Well, yes, you know getting back to the point of whether you called
personality or not – I mean, unique -that kind of talk below those
things that you know you’ve just – the people should focus on more now
because of all the media out there or is it something that they should
have been doing all along and people just didn’t realize it?
I mean I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at. Is this something…?
Are you struck on new thing or is it something you just managed to figure out in a neat package today?
I think that it is more important today than it was in the past. And
the reason why I think, that is because today personal opinion and
individual opinion can travel much further, much faster. And because of
that people are expecting and are sharing the word about who’s
authentic, who’s doing something right and who isn’t.
right now for example one of the things I talked about is Hollywood
movies and Hollywood releases. And this idea that 10 years ago you used
to be able to release a movie and count on that opening weekend to
cover the cost of the entire movie before Monday around the cooler when
everybody kind of learned that the movie was bad and it sucked.
now what I describe in the book is the window of suckiness is
shrinking. I mean, now if a movie is really bad people know about it on
Friday night and you know longer have that big weekend to count on.
so it becomes that much more important to create something good and to
actually promote it in such a way so that people do get what it is and
what they’re talking about. And you can’t pull the wool over people’s
And if you thing about a Hollywood movie, it’s the
same thing as if it is you know, any other brand or any other product.
Consumer opinions travel much further, much faster. And in that
environment authenticity is really the new thing that companies need to
So, really the new communications environment you know weeds out the
phonies much faster and so you really have to achieve that authenticity
much more quickly than you have in the past.
Exactly right. And if you look at any of the horror stories that people
pass around about social media whether it’s the bike lock that got
cracked by the pin or the you know-or any of the other-kind of like the
whole food CEO getting outed for being on the message boards.
mean, all of those examples are based on this idea that people can
share these things and find you out much more quickly in this new media
I imagine in your role at Ogilvie you do a lot of work with companies
in this very area and I’m assuming that you do try to apply the concept
of personality when you’re working with your clients. What do you see
as the biggest obstacles in your own consultancy?
I think, that I definitely do. I mean, a lot of the ideas of the book
are based on the work that I’ve done through the Ogilvie additional
influence team here. And I think, one of the things that I see most
often as a fear or a barrier is this idea of the loss of control.
a lot of times I working with clients who are in the PR roles and so
they’re very used to the corporate messaging and what the brand stands
for and being able to control that. And so the idea of losing that or
letting people talk about your brand who aren’t necessarily trained on
all the brand messages is a very scary idea.
So you know,
because of that I think that part of the fear factor in what we need to
get past is that, you know what? It’s going to be OK, Number 1. And
Number 2, this is not something new. People are already talking about
The new thing is that social media is giving you a
way of listening. And that’s scary because now all of the sudden you
know what people are saying about you. And that’s always more scary
than not knowing.
But, it doesn’t mean that there’s this new shift and all of a sudden
people are talking about you. It just means that now you’re actually
really able to listen.
Now, obviously there are a fair number of companies out there that
people aren’t talking about. And I’m thinking you know primarily of
sort of you know old time manufacturing-type companies that you know,
primarily sell to other manufacturers, or, you know raw-materials type
every company need this kind of personality? Does every company need to
worry about this or are there some companies that really can get by
without paying attention to it?
I think, every company does need to worry about it. I think, that there
are some cases probably where it may be less important. I think, that
one very common case is if, for example, you invent something or have a
product that is so game-changing that it really-nothing else matters.
In that particular case, it really-I mean a lot of things that usually
matter in business wouldn’t matter.
only let’s say you’ve got the cure to cancer. You know, the cost of
what you’re selling that at, it doesn’t matter; if the company
messaging, it doesn’t matter. The personality, to a degree it probably
doesn’t matter as well because if you’ve got something that is so
revolutionary that it just re-invents a certain space…
Mm-hmm. So, you can be an absolute jerk and people still want to be cured of cancer, right? I mean..
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
And those situations are very, very rare; very rare. It may seem like
they happen frequently but when they do it’s not a-you know, the cure
to cancer is a long-lived thing. It’s not a, “Oh, we have something new
today, ” and then next week somebody else has something new.
That’s not the situation I’m talking about. So, that situation is very,
very rare. But, I think, for pretty much every other business, every
other industry, every other situation, personality and authenticity is
Excellent. Well, my guest today has been Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvie
Public Relations. He is the author of the book “Personality Not
Included, Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity and How Great Brands
Get it Back.” Thanks for joining us today.