Gary Vaynerchuk vs. Michael Schein on Building a Brand: Who's Right?

Gary Vaynerchuk stands with his arms crossed looking off to the sideAward-winning social media expert and business innovator Gary Vaynerchuk is a household name among CEOs following cutting-edge concepts around developing businesses for the future. He also doesn't mince words when it comes to his personal preference for a level of commitment and intensity that seemingly knows no bounds (he's been known to write replies to emails as late as 3:00 AM, and engage in relentless social media updates with every lingering moment). As the author of three best-selling books and as a globally recognized personality, Vaynerchuk generally finds a willing audience for his recommendations about how to build a successful business. On occasion, however, even business luminaries can find themselves in the midst of a high-profile disagreement.

One of those broke out in November of 2013 when Michael Schein, himself a highly recognized digital marketing strategist and writer, wrote an article for Inc. Magazine titled Why Gary Vaynerchuk is Flat Out Wrong. The subtitle reads: "He's one of modern marketing's biggest success stories. Here's why following his advice could kill your business." Certainly, it wasn't the most subtle of headlines, nor was Schein's conclusion quietly buried in the article. Instead, he took on Vaynerchuk's approach head-on.

In summary, Schein criticizes Vaynerchuk for serving as chief evangelist for a model of business growth that Schein sees unique to Vaynerchuk and not replicable for most other enterprises. The basis of his argument is:

  1. Vaynerchuk "relies on brute force" – and a level of personal activity that virtually no one else could reasonably follow, certainly not anyone who needs sleep; isn't young; and has other responsibilities.
  2. Vaynerchuk "creates bottlenecks" because his employees support him, rather than him supporting the employees –since business is centered around Vaynerchuk himself.
  3. Vaynerchuk's "approach isn't scalable" in that the business model does not emphasize systems, infrastructure and operational processes that do not require Vaynerchuk's personal involvement.

The fact that Vaynerchuk's company, VaynerMedia, carries the founder's name seems to offer anecdotal evidence to further support Schein's claims (some business consultants and valuation analysts consider the brand of a company named after its founder weak because it is inextricably tied to her or his personal reputation and involvement).

Of course, Vaynerchuk decided to respond to Schein's article by recording a personal YouTube video in the middle of the night, called "You Gotta Put in the Work Before You Scale It".

Vaynerchuk's rebuttal amounts to the following key points:

  1. There are many different ways to "play the game" of business, and in some cases vastly different methods can all be successful.
  2. Companies like Vaynerchuk's that are built around a personal brand do not necessarily lack infrastructure or create bottlenecks. The brand equity may be personalized, but the business isn't necessarily – and the personal brand equity can dramatically increase opportunities.
  3. Schein points out that many business owners want to build a business that allows them to move to a beach in Fiji and not have to be involved in the company – and while that may be true, many other business owners (like Vaynerchuk) actually want to work in and on their business every day.

As Vaynerchuk said, "being on the beach in Fiji" is not what drives him. What drives him is building the business, and anyone who has built a truly successful enterprise has had to "work their ass off" – in order to create the opportunity to then become scalable and therefore create infrastructure.

Scalability requires revenue, and infrastructure requires investment.

Before either of those comes an insane level of work by the business owner to achieve both goals. It is certainly true that Vaynerchuk's personal activity level may not be a reasonable point of comparison for other business owners, but that misses the point.

The point is that, whatever level of personal effort you can commit needs to be just that – commitment. Incredible, insane, unstoppable, relentless commitment to building your business. It's that unstoppable commitment that leads to the scalability and ability to invest that results in a lasting infrastructure.

As for the question of building the business around a personal brand -- something that Vaynerchuk did not directly address in his rebuttal -- commenters have noted that people such as Michael Bloomberg, J. Willard Marriott and Walt Disney did not find that their companies were 'compromised' by the decision to build a personal brand. And neither should you.

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Image Credit: gulltaggen @ Flickr (Creative Commons)

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