We’ve run a few articles claiming that branding a company is easier when you approach it as a person. This requires thought and preparation regarding what kind of clothes your anthropomorphized company would wear and what kind of language it would use. Are they appealing? Would you date them? This is a great exercise and can make your company seem more approachable as a whole.
But what happens when you’re actually trying to brand an individual? Say, yourself?
Whether you’re applying for a job or trying to attract potential clients, a strong personal brand is increasingly crucial in this digital world. When you look around, you see homogenization on several levels. Robert Marshall argues that the Internet is making us all dress the same, but it’s an even more widespread phenomenon. With Twitter, Facebook, and countless other sites and social media outlets penetrating our lives, what’s popular and trendy is never a surprise for long. Once you’re aware of these strange uniformities, it’s hard to resist them.
Now that we’ve become a somewhat homogenous society it’s even more important that we stand out. The best way to do this is through actively creating a personal brand, something that beckons to others as they’re sifting through the mass of digital natives. A personal brand, being as much for other people as it is for you, represents what you stand for, represent, and how this influences those you come in contact with. Have you sunk to the bottom or have you created a top-shelf personality? This could simply be a professional alter ego, but it works best when your genuine personality supports it. Incongruencies can destroy your brand while consistency allows you to turn positive perception into opportunities. Its easier to naturally grow your brand than fabricate an elaborate doppelganger.
What Does This Consist Of?
In his article The Brand Called You, Peter Montoya states that a personal brand “is all about influence.” While you’re not creating a malicious straw man, poised and waiting to beguile the unknowing, you are actively creating a persona with a specific agenda. That may sound bad, but it’s not. Your agenda is your desire to be hired. Including characteristics that your target market finds appealing is key, but there are three indispensable characteristics that you need to advertise:
- You are different
- You are superior
- You are authentic
Remember, you want to create the package deal. Highlight your charisma, talent, and expertise, so anyone who passes by will notice and (more importantly) remember you.
Building a personal brand can be time-consuming and potentially frustrating, but think of all the good it does. Being specific and following Montoya’s advice is an investment that can pay off immensely in the end.
Are You a Celebrity? You’re in the Spotlight.
Celebrities offer the most prevalent examples of this personal branding. In his terrific GQ article The New and Improved Leading Man, Mark Harris discusses the huge community dedicated to manufacturing male stars in Hollywood’s golden years. “A squadron of professional image-remakers would give actors new names and looks and voices and teeth — transforming Marion Morrison into John Wayne or Archibald Leach into Cary Grant.”
This proliferation has only increased since John Wayne and Cary Grant left our megaplexes. In fact, they weren’t even around for the megaplex. We now have reality TV stars, YouTube stars, and countless internet writers that are quasi-celebrities in their respective fields.
This is the world we live in — the world you have to overcome with your personal brand. In a lot of ways, social media puts you in your own realm of spotlight, just like the countless celebrities you see throughout the day.
In his recent New Yorker article You Are What You Tweet, Tony Tulathimutte addresses the Facebook mentality: “the practice that Zuckerberg’s company [re: Facebook] has popularized: managing your presentation — your behavior, appearance, reputation, online persona, to stand out in your professional and personal lives.”
Tulathimutte cites a particularly impressive example of personal branding when he mentions Robinson Meyer, a Northwestern graduate that is now working for The Atlantic — a job he scored thanks to his Twitter proficiency. Meyer’s unorthodox success came from more than his tweet count. His new boss “didn’t look at his Klout score. [She didn’t] care how many followers he has.” Meyer spent his time on Twitter creating a specific personal brand: that of an exceptionally bright, well-connected, insightful go-getter. And he go got.
Forbes writer Susannah Breslin bluntly opens her 2012 article, I’m a Brand, with the following statement: “Over the course of my career, I’ve been several brands. These days, it’s all about branding. So, what’s your brand?” Breslin’s foray into the blogosphere began with her blog The Reverse Cowgirl. “It was very popular, for a variety of reasons: it was about sex, at that time there weren’t a lot of blogs about sex, and it had a racy title.” She created the title (and thereby branded herself The Reverse Cowgirl) to attract traffic, and it worked.
Years later, however, Breslin’s goals had changed and she needed to rebrand. She chose another model and spent time transforming herself into a Michael Clayton character. She’s spot on when she quotes the eponymous character’s own job description: “I’m not a miracle worker, I’m a janitor.” Breslin became (and has since met others) who “gave up their egos and put their shoulder to the task of making other companies do well. For a paycheck.” While perhaps not as glamorous as her stint as a successful blogger, Breslin’s new personal brand was crafted with patience and she’s benefiting from her dedication.
Of course, this focus on personal branding isn’t without hazards. Breslin’s success required dedication and determination, otherwise all could be lost. Our friend Peter Montoya says that “every time you fail, you dent your brand slightly. Enough failures — enough contradictions of your promise — and you’ll wreck your brand. People will start to assume that your promise is a lie and that you’re a phony. Then you’re sunk. Mayday.” Without determination this is impossible. “[ . . . ] Once you create a personal brand, everything you do is branding.”
NBC News provides the following advice to those concerned with their personal brands:
If you’re serious about managing your brand, then you shouldn’t say anything unprofessional that someone in earshot might attribute to you in a tweet (better dial down the irony, while you’re at it). Think twice before you make Facebook friends with radicals of any persuasion—you never know what the leanings of prospective hirers or clients will be. And for God’s sake, don’t make rude hand gestures, don’t show any skin unless you’re a model, and don’t go anywhere seedy. Be conservative when cameras are around.
Cameras won’t always be around, but potential employers, coworkers, and friends will be. Tom Peters was once named the world’s highest paid management consultant. A strong personal brand was necessary for his success, and it’s a mentality that he’s taken to clients as well. He says that you need to “project seamless consistency and competence across every department of your life — you know, be yourself.” Is this overkill? Perhaps. But he’s a man to trust and he urges us to “remember [his] mantra: distinct [ . . . ] or extinct.”
Now that’s a lot to digest at once. It may seem like you’re working as hard as a celebrity without receiving any of the fame and money their occupation awards them. Take comfort in the fact that while your personal brand is equally, and increasingly, key to your own occupational success, you’re not under the same microscope as the celebrities you see in tabloid magazines. These magazines have to humanize these individuals, while you remain completely human…a human with a purpose and agenda, sure, but at least we don’t need to be reminded that you use baskets while shopping.
Because of their micro-managed lives, celebrities are often the perfect people to study for strong personal branding examples. The professional advice outlined above can seem intimidating and even counterproductive, the type of advice that only makes society more homogenous. If we’re consumed by our personal brand, what’s pushing us towards risks and experimentation? Thankfully, Jeetendr Sehdev at Fastcompany.com outlines several celebrity lessons that highlight the importance of actively differentiating yourself from the crowds.
In his article, Sehdev says that, like many celebrities, individuals looking to boost their personal brand need to constantly reevaluate their standing and make necessary changes to stay fresh. For Sehdev, this means your brand needs to:
- Take real risks
- Overexpose yourself
- Dare to be different
- Show your human side
- Reinvent yourself
Wallaroo Media recently published an article lauding Lionsgate’s social media prowess while marketing The Hunger Games. The movie became a worldwide success thanks to the source material’s immense popularity and a strong social media campaign. Yet Wallaroo failed to mention the irrefutable impact of Jennifer Lawrence, the Oscar winning actress providing the face of the film.
Jennifer Lawrence seems to populate an entirely unique sidestage of show business, one where she constantly redefines what it means to be a sexy, in-demand actress in your early 20s. At the risk of oversimplifying or mitigating her popularity and, well, importance, it’s worth pointing out that Lawrence has become the golden child of the Internet in the past year or so. Having already earned her Oscar Statue, Lawrence has achieved a less tangible, but arguably more influential standing in popular culture.
In regards to that very subject, Ben Branstetter at Thought Catalog detailed just how Miss Lawrence has “Won the Internet.” He sums it up beautifully by saying “while Jennifer Lawrence is neither normal or mundane, she sustains the collective attitude and controlled ego we all wish we could have once our moment comes.” Additionally, Buzzfeed wasn’t the first to point out how Lawrence is “totally nailing the whole interview thing.” If we hearken back to Sehdev’s article, Jennifer Lawrence has blasted through his checklist. Instead of simply checking off his list, Lawrence has essentially graffitied over the five points and flashed them a middle finger as she burned rubber away from the crime scene.
The 80s / 90s Action Heroes
While Jennifer Lawrence is ascending into the harsh spotlight for the first time, two blistered veterans from the cinema’s past are clawing their way back towards the sun with astonishing tenacity. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are both very much present in popular culture, but only because of they’ve monitored and adjusted their personal brand as the years have passed.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first major rebrand happened when he followed in fellow actor Ronald Reagan’s footsteps and became the Governor of California. Reagan often portrayed characters that were noble, almost regal and his leap into politics seemed like a logical extension of one of his characters. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, built his career on the backs of strong, roguish behemoths that were virtually indestructible in the face of adversity. Now that Schwarzenegger is once again making a foray into acting, he’s had to revert back to his old characterizations while still addressing his age. This is illustrated perfectly in The Last Stand, a recent Schwarzenegger vehicle. He plays a small town Sheriff standing up to a South American crime lord. At one point, he dives through the door of the town’s quaint diner, prompting the benefactor to ask “How are you, Sheriff?” Schwarzenegger’s response is both comical and poignant — “Old.” Sure, his brand has aged, but it’s still appealing. He’s showing his human side and reinventing himself. Audiences haven’t exactly flocked to his new films, but you can’t doubt his persistence. After Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff comments on his age, the benefactor replies “Nah. You got a ways to go yet.” He’s exactly right.
Sylvester Stallone never left Hollywood, but it seemed to forget about him. Never one to give up, Stallone took his career into his own weathered hands and took some definite risks. In 2008, he wrote, directed, and starred in Rambo, another film that offers a perfect commentary on his career. Like John Rambo, Stallone has aged, but isn’t too old to fight. Stallone followed up Rambo with the successful Expendables trilogy (the third is coming in 2014), films that could be titled Rebranding: The Movie.
Stallone and Schwarzenegger teamed up for both The Expendables and the recent Escape Plan. It will be fascinating to see where their brand takes them next. It’s worth pointing out that their fellow actioneer (and Expendables 2 costar) Jean Claude Van Damme is enjoying a viral resurgence of his own with his perfectly executed Volvo commercial.
Celebrities achieve their positions because of their personal brands. Some, like Jennifer Lawrence, have created unique brands that are impossible to imitate. Mark Harris’s GQ article compares the 2012 careers (and, by extension, personal brands) of Taylor Kitsch and Channing Tatum before coming down strongly on the side of Channing Tatum. Tatum’s brand has separated him from the crowd while Taylor Kitsch hasn’t offered anything new.
This is exactly what you need to do for yourself. According to Harris, you have all the power:
It helps to remember that stars are not born but made. To some degree, self-made: their talent, skill, looks, and instinct about exactly what it takes to break from the pack all matter, and sometimes, when those qualities coalesce perfectly, an actor can will himself to transcend the merely appealing, the just ordinarily likeable, and become the elect. From then on, we’re invested in their journey through years and even decades. We’re excited or touched, or even moved, by the possibilities they show us. Their lives, on-screen, seem to tell us an ongoing story in addition to the story we happen to be watching at that moment. Calling someone a movie star is a kind of confession, a way of admitting that there are certain people on-screen we don’t just watch but actively follow.
If you can do this with your own personal brand, become a member of “the elect,” then anything is possible.