Brand It

“All the world’s indeed a stage. And we are merely players. Performers and portrayers. Each another’s audience. Outside the gilded cage.”

Business posts do not typically start out by quoting rock lyrics. But maybe that’s just part of what I do and how I do it. In and of itself, this is an illustration of personal branding in action. Long before I ever heard or read about this term, the above Rush lyrics conveyed to me a message that someone is always watching and that we all have a choice as to how we wish to be perceived by others.

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Cultivating Image vs. Personal Branding

There are numerous examples of high-profile celebrities who cultivate their personal brands by performing and portraying in a way that creates an imagery that facilitates “the sale”.  One favorite example is Rolling Stone Keith Richards, who would certainly be dead by now if his on-brand and legendary self-destructive behaviors were a continued reality. Throw in an occasional tidbit like falling out of a palm tree in the Fijis to maintain the mystique, and you’re all set in his biz. Yes, that’s right. Falling out of a palm tree.

Cultivating image and personal branding do at some point intersect.  However, personal branding is its more earnest self when it comes naturally and manifests as a relatively effortless synergy of one’s genuine personality traits.  It’s where the various aspects of what makes us who we are become evident in our work and how we do it.  When we have an approach that’s just a little bit different from the norm, and it creates a niche.  When the feedback we get from others tells us that we are effective but that we may be doing our typically mundane jobs in a way that sets us ever-so-slightly apart from our peers.

Do you know yours?

It is important to know and understand your personal brand. Do you know yours?  I know mine. My personal brand is about being the finance guy who understands the business and can explain financial things to non-financial people in a way that strengthens their ability to create value for the business.  It’s about displaying situational leadership, being the approachable accountant with as much personality as the job enables me to have, and mentoring others to build stronger organizational capability.

Throw in my amateur writing, semi-competitive running, and musician wannabe pursuits, and it becomes a broadened brand comprised of quite a few things for people to grab onto and by which to remember me.  A reasonable level of performance in these areas comes somewhat naturally for me.  Personal branding at its best is about doing what comes naturally and doing it in a way that has impact.

Personal branding involves differentiation. Sometimes differentiation takes on oxymoronic character and can be quite refreshing.  Just the other day, someone was telling me that their son may want to become an actuary.  The immediate connotation is that this would be one very boring career choice. I suggested to the parent that there would be a real niche for a “flamboyant” actuary.  While I could have picked any number of adjectives in juxtaposition, my main point was that there would be a real niche for someone who added non-stereotypical value to this heavy-stat role that helps insurance companies weigh present and future values of things like premiums and death benefits.

“America’s Team”

I very recently heard part of a fascinating Philly sport talk station interview with former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.  At the height of his career, clean-cut USNA grad Staubach was an obvious poster-boy for the wholesome values that were seen as what was still good about this country during and immediately after our country’s protest era.  He was an essential component of the NFL’s and Dallas Cowboys’ launch of their “America’s Team” marketing campaign.

The “America’s Team” tag line ultimately became a classic example of successful branding and marketing.  To some extent, it still endures today in the Jerry Jones-Tony Romo era.  Not even they can fully dilute the brand they inherited. What Roger had to say about all this was very interesting. He said that the players hated the “America’s Team” label because it put targets on their backs during games.  The players didn’t understand and embrace the brand.  However, they rolled with it because that’s how their employer was selling the product.

Does Personal Brand Trump All?

Eventually, the image of the Cowboys team, as widely documented (eg. “North Dallas Forty”), migrated more toward celebrity trappings hubris and away from the wholesome aspects of the previously cultivated all-American image.  It was just as widely known that Stabauch didn’t fit that mold.  The key is that the brand Staubach had established for himself was too strong to be devalued by the dysfunctional behavior of co-workers.

By way of testimonial to the strength of the Staubach personal brand, Philadelphia Eagles’ fans who meet a certain age threshold grew up hating “America’s Team”.  We really did.  After the recent radio interview concluded, the primary theme of the Philadelphians who called the show was how much they hated the Cowboys but actually liked and respected Roger Staubach and the way he did what he did.  Repeatedly heralded as being a “class act” and someone “who played the game the right way”, it was all about personal branding.

From rock lyrics to business to sports and back again, it’s all here and part of the brand.  Personal branding in action.  By the way, read Dennis Nishi’s article (link) on personal branding too – it’s also a good read!

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About Thomas W. Smith
Bizsinc - Bringing Business to Life

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