As so often happens to me when I take a moment to take a deep breath and reflect, I start to see the patterns in my life as less coincidental and more informative and insightful into what I am seeing and experiencing myself and also what is happening with my clients and the marketplace.
And this instance is no different - a week vacation left me refreshed, and as I jumped back in, a few things brought me to this blog post, and my reasoning and justification for why every single person should have a personal brand.
First, Anne and I took on a client, (Hi, Leticia! https://www.leticialatino.com/) earlier this year that is your typical successful entrepreneur. She has her hands in lots of different businesses and interests, and the consistent theme is she is highly capable and successful, as well as passionate about what she does. However, she needed to bring everything under one umbrella in a way that told the right story and made sense to her customers and contacts, and therefore enlisted us to help her do so. And while personal brands are a particular passion of mine, this one was particularly fun for me because it entailed meeting someone for the first time and really digging deep to establish trust quickly so that Anne and I could do our jobs effectively and get Leticia’s brand just right. We were able to capture the essence of who she is quite well - leading to her ability to get a web page up that captures all of her efforts, and in her words, “The work we did was really useful in creating it, and I didn’t feel stuck anymore!” Not to mention, I met someone that I hope to call a friend for life, and eventually share a glass of red wine with when this is all over and we can meet in person.
So that all happened before my time off, and then once I returned, I decided to listen Gary Vaynerchuck’s book “Crushing It” (https://www.amazon.com/Crushing-Great-Entrepreneurs-Business-Influence/dp/0062674676) as it relates to personal brands and their ability to be built in today’s digital age. One of the book’s contributors talks about how “every single person should be their own brand”, and this combined with Gary’s beliefs that “we don’t have to get the content just right” and “a business plan isn’t needed right from the start” struck a chord with my philosophies around testing and learning, getting things out there and trying them, and - MOST importantly - being who we are at every moment of our lives. Because life is too short for anything else, right?
So - how do you go about building a personal brand? In a previous blog, I talked about the nuts and bolts of how to get started, so here I am going to offer tips on what I think are the fundamental pillars of a personal brand and how they can result in success in the long term.
But, before I get into that, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to one of my favorite (and one of the most impressive, IMHO) personal brands of all time to set the stage for these pillars. (Now, for those of you that know me and know me well, I am going to give you a second to guess it. And if any of you truly do, I owe you drinks. Because this is one of my little known facts...until now.)
Ready for it? Shaquille O'Neal. Now, I have a couple of friends out there who do know about my utmost adoration for this man and his success, but I am sure I am leaving many of you scratching your heads about what this has to do with this blog and personal branding. And unless you have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, you know this man as one of the best NBA basketball players of all time. A giant of a man, he came on the scene when he was drafted in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, and went on to play for 6 teams over the course of a 19-year career with several NBA championships, All-Star game selections, and various MVP awards. Not to mention, his 7 ft, 325 pound frame made him instantly recognizable on the court and off of the court.
And before you ask, no, I am not an NBA fan. I wouldn’t even profess to be a basketball fan. I know a passable amount about the game to get by, and from the perspective of “general pop culture knowledge” could tell you who Shaq was. And by this I mean from a, do you recognize this man? And I would say yes and move on.
So where did my love for this man come from? Four words. Gold Bond Medicated Powder. “A little shake. A little tingle.”, anyone? I will never forget the day at the gym when I was running on the treadmill and saw this. I giggled then. I giggled the rest of the day. I mentioned it to my sister and my husband later that day and many others since. So what struck me? A man that was in my mind vaguely recognizable as a basketball star had come to life as a real person, not afraid to be completely goofy and promote - of all things - Gold Bond Medicated Powder. (https://www.ispot.tv/ad/7yv1/gold-bond-body-powder-shake-and-tingle-featuring-shaquille-oneal) A brand I had up until that point associated with 90 year old grandparents.
And since that moment, it would be a lie to say that I have intently followed Shaq in the years since, but what I will say is that he is now seemingly everywhere. What is called out by others as his “business empire” (Money.com) includes 150 car washes, 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzels, at one point 155 Five Guys franchises - which at that time was 10% of their portfolio, a Krispy Kreme, a movie theater, and most recently Papa John’s, where he invests in Atlanta stores and just may show up at your door to deliver a pizza, as the campaign goes. Not to mention he is seen on screen and social media endorsing not only Gold Bond and Icy Hot, but Oreos, Carnival Cruises, and The General auto insurance. And just last month, I stepped into a Staples for the first time in a while and saw him as a giant cut out selling Epson printers that don’t need cartridges (commercial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1GWHfg2P5Y).
So what is there to take away from this now 4 paragraph rant on Shaq? (Told you I love the guy). Let’s break it down, shall we?
Take time to get it right. Remember in the beginning when I said that you don’t have to get it all right the first time and to get out there and try stuff? Think about Shaq in this example. He was “an NBA basketball player” for 19 years. In the public eye. Fast forward another 10 years and he is a widely acclaimed business man, making more per year today than his $30M per year NBA contract. Now do you believe this advice?
Decide what single thing you want to stand for. When asked, Shaq’s brand is simple. “The Shaq brand is all about fun. I want to be that guy to make people laugh.” Now, could Shaq have been taken seriously as an NBA basketball player for all of those years and stood at his very core for this? Probably not. I didn’t watch a lot of his games, but I remember him kicking butt and taking names on the court, using his size and professional polish to win games, and doing it with a seriousness and intensity that made him someone to contend with. (And if we are honest, fear - would you have wanted to go up against that guy?) I would say that what his brand has become is a complete 180 from where he was. And even more importantly - it’s working.
Make sure you consistently stand for that one thing. The departure from serious and successful basketball player to fun-loving business man that likes to have fun is not an easy one. So what is the secret of Shaq-level success? He put a stake in the ground and went for it, and then very consciously played out this fun-loving demeanor in every single application and appearance. Let me repeat - he is the same exact personality in every single instance. This is called brand consistency. And it is imperative. Both in physical and verbal communications, and as mentioned, in every single place you show up. I cannot stress that enough.
Choose what you support wisely. Shaq only endorses products that he “personally believes in and uses/buys”. But I would take it one step further. He chooses brands that align with his core values. Yes, he has fun selling them, but what I have learned about the guy after all these years is that he is reliable, honest, open, and hard-working. I would argue that all of the brands that he endorses are these things at their very core. Oreos? The cookie brand that feels like your childhood. Gold Bond? A medicated powder that works and has for centuries. And even Papa Johns - which after some serious bad press (maybe Schnatter should take a page from Shaq’s playbook) sought out Shaq and has been successful. But he didn’t just sign up to join. He is what he calls the “triple-threat”, a board member, part owner of 9 franchises in the Atlanta area, and the brand ambassador. Setting the brand back on the right track at its very core before giving it the proverbial lip service. And putting his money where his mouth is. Quite literally in this case.
Be yourself. This goes along with not having to get it right right away, and is something that is in the very definition of a brand: they evolve! Being a personal brand means being in the public eye in whatever scale that might mean for you. So first, make sure you are ready for that, and second, don’t overwhelm yourself with the pressure of it. Another brand I admire, although I don’t have time to give as much love today as Shaq, is Rachel Hollis (https://msrachelhollis.com/), writer of Girl Wash Your Face. (Which if you have not read, do it now - especially if you are a perfectionist woman entrepreneur trying to do it all. Or are any part of that definition.) After reading her books, I began to follow her on social media. And currently, she is going through a separation with her husband, another very public face. What I admire about her and always have is her realness in the face of everything life throws your way. A recent post talks about going dark on social media and then adopting a dog, but the overwhelming message is about this being a down time in her life that she is sharing as authentically as possible while also experiencing it. Talk about tough. But this is what it means to be you within your personal brand.
So why did I feel compelled to write this entry, other than sheer inspiration? Well, I think if we can all be a little kinder to each other as our personal brands live out there in the world we will experience the grace of being accepted and being able to be who each of us really is at our core. And who doesn’t want that? But I also think everyone could use a little encouragement right now to try new things, explore, put themselves out there, and try to have a little fun in the face of so much seriousness. Don’t you?
And, as always, if you find yourself having a hard time or getting stuck on your personal brand? Give us a call. We have been there. As you likely took away from this (somewhat lengthy, sorry - I am nothing if not verbose) post, it isn’t easy. But if you work hard, stick to it, and are determined to get it right, we are here to help you. And our forthright nature ensures that the most direct feedback will come from us, before you ever hit prime time.
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping start-ups, small and mid-size businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.