Digital Project Management & Communications

Tag: Branding

Jillian Kuhn Warren has a track record of tackling branding challenges — both for individuals and businesses — and is passionate about helping clients craft accurate personas.


Run For Our Heroes 5k

What adjectives best describe you?

I have always been fascinated by branding, and a lot of branding – particularly personal branding – relates to character traits and values. Branding exercises constantly challenge us to find the perfect word or set of words to describe ourselves or our businesses.

In my personal branding efforts, I’ve long struggled to find the precise word to describe one of my defining characteristics. Am I determined, resolute, driven, ambitious, or dedicated? There are so many words that describe the same basic idea (the long list below from is just the tip of the iceberg), but they have varying shades of meaning that can sway the brand in different directions. Which one of these best defines me?

Definition of determined

As with many things in life, I find that my determination/dedication/what-have-you is best described through an example. I am currently training for my third half-marathon – which takes a ton of determination in and of itself – but it’s been a long, hard, bumpy road to get there.

As a teenager, I was an average but consistent member of my junior high and high school cross-country teams, before other extracurricular priorities forced me to take a hiatus from the sport. Seven years later, I jumped back into distance running – starting with a one-mile fun run in July and working my way up to my first half-marathon by November. It was an amazing achievement! I started dreaming of fulfilling my teenage goal of running a full marathon.

City of Oaks Half-Marathon 2007

City of Oaks Half-Marathon 2007

Then, I broke my foot.

A painful stress fracture from overuse (read: too much running!) sidelined me in January 2008. I spent two months hobbling around on crutches … Then, in May, I got back on the treadmill for the first time. I took it easy and did everything I could to avoid further injury. Running takes a lot of patience and dedication to keep chipping away, week by week, to build up strength and endurance. By November, I ran the City of Oaks Half-Marathon for the second year in a row. Take that, right foot!

Little River Trail Run 2008

Little River Trail Run 2008: how I broke my foot!

Of course, as luck would have it, just two days after crossing the finish line, I came down with a mystery knee/hamstring ailment. I couldn’t run more than one quarter of a mile without severe pain. I went to doctors and physical therapists and even yoga teachers, but no one could figure it out. This left me with no choice but to retire from the sport.

Two years later, I got the running itch again, so I joined a walk-to-run group – thinking that taking this slow approach might help me avoid another injury. At first, we would run for less than one minute at a time, and each week we kicked it up a small notch until I could do 10 minutes at a time without pain. Eventually, I did a full 5K. It was tedious but worth it. Comeback #2 had worked!

I was so excited that I signed up for a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. Five miles seemed ambitious, but I thought I could tackle it by sticking to my run/walk intervals. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when my knee issues flared up by the second mile. Despite the pain, I finished the race – before spending the rest of the holiday stuck in a recliner, unable to easily straighten or bend my knee. However, this cloud did have a silver lining. I finally figured out my problem: I have runner’s knee. And, now that I knew the issue, I could work on solving it!

Now, another 1.5 years has gone by, and here I am … Resolved to be a runner again, and working on my third comeback from injury. I started another run/walk interval training program in March, and I’ve run a couple 5Ks. I’ve now run up to 9 miles at once, and I signed up for my third City of Oaks Half-Marathon in November. If all goes well and my body cooperates, I may finally run a full marathon next year: Chicago 2013.

Running isn’t an easy sport in the first place – physically or mentally … But, I’ve taken on this challenge a few times and am going to keep at it until I truly succeed. I may not yet have settled on the perfect word to describe the tenacity and resolve required to run, but hopefully this example illustrates some of the characteristics I possess. Also, if you think I’m the type of person who gives up easily, the story should prove you wrong! That’s just not part of my personal brand.

Race for the Cure 2012

With a few of my running mates at Race for the Cure 2012

When a Brand Relationship Goes Sour: Resolution


As a follow-up to my previous post on the termination of my tenure as a PetSmart Pet Parent, I spoke this afternoon with a representative of Communispace — who facilitates the Pet Parents online community. She had contacted me after reading my last post, and we discussed my perspective on what had happened. I thought it was a productive conversation, and I certainly appreciate Communispace’s willingness to reach out and connect with me!

When a Brand Relationship Goes Sour

Keep Out

Today, I got dumped.

And, I’m not sure which stings more: that I didn’t see it coming, or that the dumper has already changed the locks on me.

For many months now, I’ve been an active member of PetSmart’s Pet Parents online community — a collection of pet owners who contribute their opinions on relevant topics on a weekly basis. Each week, I would receive an email notifying me of new surveys, questions, and contests; and I always logged in to the site to submit my responses. I was asked my thoughts on topics ranging from my spending habits and merchandise preferences, PetSmartto my pet’s behavior and my beliefs as a pet owner. Often, the questions and surveys focused on various PetSmart initiatives and branding.

I volunteered 10-20 minutes of my time, week in and week out. I did this for a few primary reasons:

  1. The most obvious: the $5-10 Amazon gift cards I would occasionally receive as a participation incentive
  2. I’m a proud “dog mom” and enjoy contributing to a cause that benefits pets
  3. PetSmart made me feel valued as a participant and customer, a message that was reinforced frequently through group messages and community brand discussions

However, that warm, fuzzy feeling from reason #3 clearly didn’t count for much. Today, completely out of the blue, Pet Parents gave me the boot. I received a “Dear John” email that basically said, “Thanks for all your hard work, but we’ve shut down your account. Here’s $5 for your troubles.” Here’s an excerpt:

We’d like to extend our most sincere appreciation and thanks to you for your willingness to participate in The PetSmart Pet Parents Community. However, it’s time to give others a chance to participate and we’re sad to say that at this time your membership in the community has come to an end.

As of today (4/3/2012) your username and password will no longer grant you access to The Pet Parents Community. We are very grateful to you for making the commitment to our community and sorry to see you leave. If you qualified for any incentives during the month of March, you will receive your e-certificate in a few weeks. Additionally, we are sending you a $5 gift certificate as a token of our appreciation for your excellent membership.

While I completely understand the need for turnover in a group like this, I’m not thrilled with the way PetSmart went about it. For one, it’s simply bad form to suddenly lock out users who’ve contributed much of their time and effort, and who really felt like part of the community. You don’t create loyal customers and brand evangelists… And then make them feel expendable. A simple warning email one month before my membership was cancelled would’ve softened the blow.

More importantly, though, this treatment is completely untrue to the PetSmart brand. It became clear through all the branding-focused surveys and questions that PetSmart values family, community, and a sense of belonging. The company wants pet owners to feel like PetSmart understands their values and really cares about them and their pets. Abruptly cutting off a community member and effectively “changing the locks” on the Pet Parents website doesn’t exactly jive with the happy, inclusive mood PetSmart is hoping to evoke. Instead of increasing the sense of connection I feel with PetSmart, the message I received today had the opposite effect.

So, in summary, consider this my open letter to the Pet Parents facilitators. It’s not just the hurt feelings of a jilted ex-participant; it’s the analysis of a branding professional who’s come to care about the PetSmart brand and is sorry to see it acted out like this. Time to take my 20 minutes a week elsewhere!

Time to Rebrand!

I got married!

On November 12, I got married! Now comes the interesting process of legally changing my name.

I’ve spent many years building my personal brand around “Jillian Kuhn,” so the decision to take my husband’s name was not taken lightly. However, now that I’ve committed to the change, I get to undergo an exercise in rebranding. The time has come to shift all my brand equity to a new name: Jillian Kuhn Warren.

I’m looking forward to the challenge, so keep an eye out for some big changes — once everything settles down after the wedding, of course!

Online First Impressions: Communicating the Right Message

May 11, 2010
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

What do people think when they hear your name?

Every person, as well as every company, has a specific brand and reputation. There is a certain message you communicate about yourself through everything you say and do, and this message generates external expectations of your behavior and performance.

This is especially true online. Whether you’re an individual or a conglomerate, your website, social networks, and search results all convey a certain picture of who you are. When current or potential colleagues and clients want to learn more about you, this is the picture they see. You want to make sure that everything you put online supports this brand.

As Viget’s newest Project Manager, I faced a personal branding challenge right off the bat. In my first week, I was tasked with crafting my bio for the Team page. In addition to my quirky photo shoot, I needed to carefully select and assemble the right words to communicate exactly who I am and what I do. That’s a pretty important task, if you really think about it.

For many current and future clients, this is my one chance at a first impression – my golden opportunity to accurately communicate my personal brand. Though we strongly encourage face-to-face meetings, sometimes an About page or employee bio acts as the first interaction between project team and client. If I set a false expectation of myself and my role at Viget, I’ll spend the rest of the relationship working to correct it.

The first step in any branding effort is to clearly define your message. Invest some time and thought into spelling out exactly what you do, what you stand for, and how you want to be perceived. Make sure that you, and everyone in your organization, truly understand your greater purpose.

In planning my employee bio, I first thought about who I am, what makes me unique, and what I do for Viget and our clients. I also drew from my existing persona, conveyed through various social networks and everyday interactions. Then I wrote it all out. Translating your message into clear words and ideas is a crucial, but often overlooked, step in the process. It gives you a specific, concrete internal mission statement – something to refer to down the road, when you’re so caught up in details that you forget your overarching message.

After you’ve completed this phase, the next step is to live your brand. Do everything in your power to truly embody your message; let it shine through in your words and actions. Remember that the higher purpose of all your activity is to support this vision.

It may sound like a lot of effort for a seemingly small return, but if you start putting this type of thought behind all your interactions, think of what you can build! I’ve been aware of personal branding for a while now – and at this point, almost everything I do both personally and professionally naturally aligns with this reputation. I’m getting closer to the ultimate branding goal: to know exactly what comes to mind when someone hears my name.

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