Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cultivating a Personal Brand

I recently received the latest issue of Fortune magazine, the "50 Most Powerful Women" issue, and saw Oprah Winfrey's face smack dab on the cover.  I don't know what you all think of Oprah, but I find her to be obnoxious.  I can't stand how this self-aggrandizing diva has taken over daytime TV, thrust Dr. Phil upon American society, and courted a zombie clan of book club members who fawn over every title she recommends.  Ugh.

As I was about to disgustingly chuck this issue into the trash, I noticed an interesting quote floating in Oprah's hair, "Now I accept that I'm a brand."  Being in business school and taking a marketing course now in Term 2 at Darden, I became interested and flipped in to read the article.

Recently, I saw a talk as part of the Darden Leadership Speaker Series by Susan Sobbott, Darden class of 1990 and president of American Express OPEN, titled "Cultivating Your Personal Brand".  It was an excellent speech, and you can watch it on YouTube.  As a leader in one of the most prestigious corporate service brands in the world, Susan clearly knows a thing or two about marketing.  I didn't need to come to business school to learn that Coca-Cola, IBM, and Microsoft are the three most powerful brands in the world, but before Darden I had never considered the brand "Jonathan Harris".  Susan, along with the rest of my Darden experience thus far, has made me think about it deeply.

Susan defined a personal brand as, "What you're known for."  The brand is, "what people are saying about you to someone who has not met you.  It precedes you."  She illustrated this by flashing a picture of "The Situation" from the show "Jersey Shore"; like him or not (and I'm deep in the "not" category), when you see his picture thoughts and feelings flash into your mind.  This is a personal brand, and you don't need to be famous to have one -- just ask your friends.
"Brand 56"
Still don't think personal brand is important?  Consider this guy, one of my first-year colleagues.  Flash back to Orientation.  At the beginning of his presentation, our opening guest speaker projected this picture.  Who is this guy?  The auditorium stirred.  The public humiliation continued as the speaker then proceeded to analyze what this guy might be projecting with his football jersey, his hands, and his facial expression.  The speaker has permanently linked the student in our heads with a drug-abusing Giants player from the 1980s.  I hope this guy someday launches a company someday called "Brand 56"; imagine the irony.  The speaker's lesson was clear: beware what you place on Facebook!    [and your personal blog...]

How do you get a personal brand?  According to Susan, first you create one.  You ask, "Who do I want to be?"  You get deep inside and find what motivates you.  I had a friend recently forward me an excellent video by "peak performance strategist" Tony Robbins, who asks the question, "Why do we do what we do?"  This self-assessment is absolutely critical.  If you don't know yourself, you won't place yourself into situations in which you will do your best and be happiest.  I will admit to being as guilty as most of you of not assessing myself enough during the first 28 years of my life.  But being a career changer in business school, figuring out what makes me tick is essential to placing my future on the right course.

Your next step is to make this brand go to work for you.  You think about how this brand comes through in all your actions.  You stay consistent.  "The Situation" will make $5 million this year on the basis of his persona alone, including an awful performance on "Dancing with the Stars".  He's always the same person, even if that person might be arrogrant and nauseating.
Always in character, with the red shirt unbuttoned.
The third step in creating your brand, according to Susan, is authenticity.  You work with what you've got.  You need to be believable for your brand to resonate.  Susan listed a couple steps to make sure you get this resonance.  First, you take an honest and objective inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.  Next, you believe in who you are.  You apply no judgment to your package, you're not self-critical, you accept your set of assets and you run with them.  Finally you must be true to and be proud of who you are.  Be realistic; don't put yourself in situations you won't enjoy.  Fit in the way you fit, and create an environment in which you will truly flourish.

Perhaps no one defines personal brand like Oprah.  She doesn't even need a last name.  She has her own magazine, and she gets called out awkwardly at awards shows.  Well, gear up, because you're getting even more of her once she wraps up her syndicated show after this year.  From the self-referential universe of Oprah comes OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.  With $189 million in funding from Discovery Channel, prepare yourself for instant blockbusters such as "Oprah's Next Chapter" and "Behind the Scenes: Oprah's 25th Season" (which opens featuring Oprah in her bathtub).  But give this prima donna credit.  Oprah is making this all happen without a cent of her own money -- all she contributes is her time and her brand.  Imagine if your brand was worth this much!   But even Oprah experiences psychological hang-ups. In the Fortune article, Oprah asks, "If I'm a businesswoman and a brand, where is my authentic self?"  Exactly the question we all should be asking ourselves.

What's my personal brand, you may ask?  I'm still working on it.

1 comment:

  1. Don't be so modest. We all know you have your very own bank...