Excalibur: Your Right to Brand Leadership

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Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Excalibur: Your Right to Brand Leadership

Legend tells us of a sword named Excalibur. This sword was depicted in the 1963 Disney movie as The Sword in the Stone and brought an air of magic as it inspired us that the underdog could still be destined for greatness.

The 1963 movie was based on the original 1938 novel of the same name, but the legend is much older than that. As the story opens, we learn this sword served as proof of lineage to the rightful leader of Britain. In a land torn apart by war, the one person who should serve as rightful heir to the throne would be able to remove the sword from the stone.


In today’s marketing world, Excalibur exists. It exists as a notion with which many are familiar, but its significance is rarely understood. It’s a notion that, once fully grasped, identifies you as the rightful heir to the throne.

Today in your industry, which is segmented by your competitors, the throne represents brand leadership. Your right to brand leadership does not come in understanding what Excalibur itself signifies, but in understanding the purpose behind Excalibur. Because once your company’s purpose aligns with Excalibur’s purpose, your company demonstrates the right to remove Excalibur from the stone and wield it to lead the Knights of the Round Table into battle against your competitors.

So how does Excalibur exist today? It exists today as Authorship.

Sir Kay Vs. Squire Arthur: Which Are You?

Sir KaySquire Arthur

Sir Kay, the primary antagonist in the movie was the son of Sir Ector, who was the foster-father of Squire Arthur. Sir Kay, much like his peers, represents the old school SEO methodology. And the effectiveness of this methodology is further diminished by a faulty marketing mindset. So we have two problems, antiquated SEO methodology and a faulty marketing mindset, both of which Sir Kay represent.


Let’s reflect on Sir Kay to understand the old school SEO Methodology. Once Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone, he hands the sword to Sir Kay. “This is not my sword…” Sir Kay says as he hands the sword off to someone else. Today, when companies are handed the one thing, such as Excalibur, that will prove successorship, they don’t understand its value. Instead they chase SEO tactic after SEO tactic from past to present and sometimes even revisit old tactics. They don’t want Excalibur; they want to give it back. Instead, they are left to chasing the things that are within their control. For instance, here’s a progression of most companies’ SEO tactics.

Ye Olde SEO Tournament RulesSir Kay Confused
SEO Tournament Rounds

Is this list (or this set of lists) exhaustive? Of course not, but the concept holds true. Over time, marketers complete one tactic and then move on to the next one. And when they get to what they think is the bottom of the list, they go back and repeat the process finding a few other things to tweak related to each tactic.

Why don’t marketers move on? Is it the fear of the unknown? Is it ignorance of better tactics? Do they just want to squeeze every last drop out of each tactic’s effectiveness? It doesn’t matter. The effectiveness of these tactics decreases over time. The good news is the list of tactics doesn’t stop where most marketers think or act like it does. Largely ignored, Advanced Content is the gem hidden in plain sight at the bottom of the list. Excalibur designates a threshold most marketers are not willing to cross, so most marketers never reach advanced content.

Sir Kay also represents a faulty marketing mindset when he, along with his peers, tries to remove the sword from the stone to no avail. His mindset is revealed as he and his peers continue trying to remove the sword unsuccessfully.

Similarly, some organizations are far too focused on short-term gains instead of achieving their purpose. These companies say things like “My marketing budget for this quarter needs to demonstrate ROI in this quarter” or “implementation seems too difficult.”, “I don’t know how to do that.”, ”I can’t prove ROI.” These companies have lost sight of their overall purpose and, like Sir Kay, are not able to demonstrate their right to the throne. And the faulty mindset of each company manifests itself through the company’s own actions.

In contrast to Sir Kay is Squire Arthur. Though he appears to be an underdog, he was the true heir to the throne. He is eager to be involved with knighthood by simply being a squire to a knight. He poured passion into every aspect of his squiredom. He was unassuming. He was inquisitive enough to pull Excalibur from a stone in the middle of a churchyard. When others scoffed at the idea that he could be king, he rose to the challenge of demonstrating his right to the throne by removing the sword a second time. Though he did not fully understand the significance of wielding the sword at first, he learned the significance over time.

Are you married to these above-mentioned antiquated SEO methodologies and the faulty marketing mindset? Or do you have the passion and curiosity to demonstrate your company’s right to brand leadership? Which are you, Sir Kay or Squire Arthur?

Excalibur & Its Purpose

If you’re suddenly motivated to stop reading now that Excalibur has been defined as authorship, to you, Sir Kay, I bid you good day. To those of you Squire Arthurs still reading, let me define Excalibur’s purpose. The inscription on Excalibur read, “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil is Rightwise King Born of England.” The purpose of Excalibur was to identify the successor who could lead a nation. Similarly, the purpose of authorship is to identify trusted brand authorities who can lead industries.

Ye Olde SEO Tournament RevisedMost companies get it wrong by focusing on those items on their site that don’t demonstrate brand leadership. Those companies are stuck in the antiquated SEO methodologies and faulty marketing mindsets. What if they dropped the antiquated SEO methodology and began focusing on thought leadership and making sure the experts within their company had an industry-wide voice? They’d not only focus on authorship, but they’d eventually find that authorship is a stepping stone to advanced content—in other words, content that’s a remarkable industry contribution.

Doesn’t the authorship SERP serve as just another opportunity for Google to show off the Knowledge Graph?  No, that SERP serves to connect your brand with a topic.

Isn’t it just another lever on a control panel full of levers that Google can tweak slightly to shake up my rankings? No, it’s not a lever to shake up your rankings; rather, authorship stabilizes your rankings.

Isn’t it just another SEO item in a long checklist of SEO items? No, it’s not just another SEO item; it is the SEO item all other SEO items should support.

Authorship is not the new concept competing with the antiquated SEO methodology; new would imply that at some point in the future authorship will be an old concept losing out to a new idea. That would be an incorrect viewpoint. Authorship is not the new concept, it is the right concept. And it will continue to be the right concept moving into the future.

Today, marketer’s mistakenly confine their concept of a brand to a company’s website. Brand is bigger than that. Google is thinking bigger than that. Your brand is represented by more than just your website. Your brand is composed of all the components that make up your brand including, but not limited to, your website, your location, your office space, and your employees’ brands. Authorship represents Google’s concerted effort to measure your brand and where possible mirror the digital world with the real world. Your website represents only one component of your brand.

Website Is Not Equal To Brand

Sure, authorship provides Google with benefits. These benefits include providing more relevant search results to users, identifying thought leaders by industry, and curbing the low-quality search results. But the benefits for you as a marketer are tremendous.

Authorship puts an end to nontransparent guest blogging, or guest blogging under pseudonyms. Previously, this guest blogging could have given your competitors the edge effectively serving as their link-building strategies. Moving forward, authorship levels that playing field. Google is clear about bringing transparency to the Web. They are correctly rewarding the guest blogging efforts of real experts. Authorship is hard to fake because Google+ helps Google associate topical relevance to real authors who are experts in their field.

Authorship shifts the focus from webmasters to publishers. Publishers, in this case, are authors. This was a huge game changer for spammy content webmasters. Previously, a webmaster who could generate many websites quickly by aggregating or duplicating content from multiple sources could be rewarded with a great deal of search traffic and potentially make a lot of money from various sources with low quality websites. This was a problem because these sites were often unstable, had low-quality or even no customer service, and behaved as “fly-by-night” websites.

Now, Google is rewarding publishers (and not webmasters) by associating these relevant authors with their expertise. Google has fixed the problem of spammy webmasters by removing the option from the playing field altogether. Moving forward, spammy webmasters will have an uphill battle to fight.

If you are part of a smaller company, once authorship was implemented, the immediate reaction may have been (and may still be), “Well, I’m not a publisher/author. I guess that means I don’t have to worry about authorship.” And if you’re part of a larger company, that reaction may have looked like, “Well, I’m not a publisher/author. I guess that means it’s up to our content team.”

If we’re relating this back to The Sword in the Stone and you are Squire Arthur, that would have translated to you not realizing the significance of Excalibur or authorship when you first picked it up. You may have even set Excalibur back down, letting others have their chance at wielding the sword. Rest assured, authorship is the foundational tactic to SEO as a marketing channel moving forward. Wield authorship; demonstrate your right to brand leadership.

So, will Google be able to understand my brand leadership? They’ll understand my brand leadership by guest blogging for links, right?

Antiquated SEO Methodologies

Stop thinking about link building. And stop focusing on rankings. Rankings are only a trailing indicator of successful digital marketing habits. Instead, start thinking about relevance building which leads to link earning. Start asking yourself where you want your name, your company’s name and your company’s experts’ names and faces associated with content that contributes to the industry’s conversation.

And guess what? There’s no need to “guest blog for links”; your authors don’t need to point links from other websites back to your site. Google already understands the connection between your authors and your brand through Google+. The very fact that your authors are adding to relevant conversations in your industry connects them to your brand.

Authority Building

And, if you’re just starting, where should you share your expertise? If you need insight or a starting point, then start with the hedgehog concept. The hedgehog concept was popularized by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great which was published in 2001. Focus on authorship at the intersection of your company’s three circles: what you’re passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what generates revenue.

Authorship Hedgehog Concept

Leading The Knights Of The Round Table
Knights of the Round Table

Squire Arthur, or Arthur Pendragon, was the son of Uther Pendragon, and eventually became known as King Arthur. King Arthur went on to defend his war-torn kingdom, as he led the Knights of the Round Table. The Round Table signified that every individual who sat at the table had an equal voice. These knights were King Arthur’s best knights and most loyal companions.

The Knights of the Round Table concept is a far cry from the marketing organizations in most of today’s companies. Sure, not every marketing channel in each company generates the same amount of revenue, but today marketing channels within organizations are siloed.

Whether it’s communicating between channels, collaborating between departments, sharing potentially helpful information or working together to achieve a common goal, few of these synergies exist between organizational marketing channels. Each channel reporting up to one marketing officer does not a synergy create. Instead of synergistic marketing channels, organizations have become overrun by siloed “Think-for-Your-Selfers”.

Siloed Marketing Channels

How do we fix this? Short answer: by creating KPIs associated with synergies. Until marketing VPs, directors and marketers have KPIs associated with synergies, marketing channels will always be siloed. The silos, in turn, will always create internal competition for marketing budgets. But why should that competition for budgets be internal?

Although internal competition is certainly a welcome concept in many cases, competing for a company’s marketing budgets could instead be shifted externally to compete for revenue by working to establish your company’s right to brand leadership. Authorship inherently lends itself to synergies between channels, because implementing authorship most certainly requires marketing channels to work together as they demonstrate the thought leadership of your subject matter experts.

Synergized Marketing Channels

What if instead of focusing on immediate gains or related roadblocks, your company focused on achieving its overall purpose and doing what’s right for the customer even if it resulted in a short-term loss? If you don’t demonstrate your right to brand leadership, another company in your industry will. Will you draw Excalibur from the stone and wield your company’s right to brand leadership?

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Brad Smith

Brad Smith

Inbound Marketing Consultant at DigitalRelevance

Bradley Smith is an Inbound Marketing Consultant at DigitalRelevance. He graduated from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business with ... [Read full bio]