[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]
I recently got a humorous pitch from a real estate agent in New Hampshire, where, he wrote in his email, “there is a theme-branding wave that is part capricious, part serious business.” At first his proposal made me giggle, but then I saw how it reflects the ways in which personal branding is growing into community branding and vice versa.
People have long considered where they live to be a central part of their identities and personal brands. Being based in New York City sends a different message from being based in Connecticut, and both tell a vastly different story from having chucked it all to live on a ranch in Montana. States are part of our narratives.
The libertarian-leaning “Live Free or Die” state seems particularly suited to this phenomenon. Its population is small, its political persuasion clearly contrarian and its living conditions harsh. The realtor who pitched me, Mark Warden, had figured out how to take “Brand New Hampshire” to an extreme that, in turn, helped him build his own brand as a property broker and political candidate.
His Free State Project, he told me, has inspired more than 1,000 “liberty activists,” in his words, to move to New Hampshire. The project’s motto is “Liberty in Our Lifetime,” and its concept is to concentrate a large number of libertarian-leaning folks in a place where they can reduce the size and scope of government and improve individual freedom.
Here’s where it gets funny: The FSP mascot is the porcupine—“certainly cute and non-aggressive, but you don’t want to step on them!” says the group’s website—which points out how personal branding can require an occasional willingness to sacrifice some dignity in order to create a memorable identity. The project has spawned an array of branded events, including an annual festival that draws nearly 1,000 people from across the country, the Porcupine Freedom Festival (PorcFest for short). It’s held in a private campground, and Warden calls it “Burning Man meets FreedomFest.”
Warden built his real estate business model around this same branding and focuses his marketing on New Hampshire transplants who are drawn to the state for its ideology, telling “liberty-minded activists” that he speaks their language and understands their needs.
He’s not the first to have adopted the state’s politically oriented branding and the FSP’s particular strain of it for his own personal brand: Porc Manor is a website that caters to landlords and renters of libertarian persuasion, and Porc Therapy is a New Hampshire–produced live radio show and podcast that offers “pro-freedom relationship talk” and focuses on “happiness and freedom” and “explores an eclectic mix of topics, all of which fall under the umbrella of ways that we can all free our minds and attain more liberty in our lives.”
Using the mascot to such an extent might be borderline silly, but nonetheless it seems to be working for these porcupreneurs. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) And it’s yet another clear illustration about how branding is everything and everything is branding these days.