Branding the individual
Author: Heath McDonald and Julian Vieceli, Deakin Business School
Date published: 21 May, 2004
This paper by Heath McDonald and Julian Vieceli from Deakin Business School explores the value of branding the individual, basic branding principles, reasons to brand yourself and ways of going about it.
When the name “Brett Whiteley” is mentioned, what comes into your mind?
Maybe that he is a painter, maybe a glimpse of one of his works, maybe the curly blonde hair or a Dire Straits album cover, or maybe you wonder who he is and why you’ve never heard of him. Whether you recognise someone or not can be thought of as their level of brand awareness. The things that come to mind when you think of a person, can be thought of as the “brand image” of that individual.
For many people, the words “personal branding” conjure up an image of hot metal searing the flesh. Even when used in the context of self-promotion, many artists will still find this notion as unpleasant as being burnt. The idea that people can be managed like products, does not sit comfortably for many, and thus the idea that people should be treated as “brands” seems too commercial a way of thinking to be relevant to many arts professionals.
Rather than imagine yourself being packaged and sold like washing powder, or spruiked like a pair of running shoes, the goal of personal branding is to take the best aspects of branding theory and apply them to the marketing of individuals.
As with all marketing, the idea is simply to ensure a match between the goals of the organisation (or individual in this case) and the market place needs. In this context, branding deals with how the individual is represented in the marketplace, the level of awareness held and the things (feelings, images, other products) people associate with that individual.
For individual artists, or even arts managers, personal branding is about monitoring awareness levels and controlling the way in which you are perceived by the marketplace, and maintaining strong associations with desirable aspects and other events. Given increasing reliance on mass media for promotion and global competition in the arts, being consistent and co-ordinated in the way you present yourself to the public makes sense.
During recent years the line between the person and the brand has become blurred. Celebrities have begun to apply techniques normally reserved for the corporate world to their careers, especially in the area of marketing. This has become more evident with celebrities marketing, legally protecting, trade marking and licensing their brand, as well as launching their own product lines.
Personal branding has moved from the field of sports over to the field of celebrity in general, and now we see some marketers encouraging all people to think of themselves as a brand when applying for jobs or the like. What is perceived to be a new phenomenon has in fact been around for a long time. According to some, “early on, actors were not known by name, but in 1910, the “star system” came into being via promotion of Vitagraph Co. actress Florence Lawrence, first known as The Vitagraph Girl.” (see http://www.infoplease.com for more).
The Hollywood studios took this to the next level when they carefully managed every aspect of the images of their stable of stars in the 1940’s and 50’s, even including the now mandatory “good behaviour” clauses into contracts.
Clearly personal branding is not for everyone. To be a successful and useful concept the person being treated as a brand needs a unique and differential advantage over the competition. If there is no clear difference discernible by the consumers (in this case the public) then the person takes on the status of a commodity (just another painter/ dancer/singer etc.).
PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL BRANDING
A brand can be defined as a name to which a set of associations become attached in the consumer’s mind (Bhalotia, 2003). The purpose of branding is simply to make your product easily identifiable by consumers (i.e. help them to find the product they like) and to differentiate it from other products that may satisfy the same need. As Keller (2003) says, what differentiates a brand from a nonbranded commodity is the sum total of consumer perceptions and feelings about the brands attributes and how they perform, about the brand name and what it stands for (e.g. quality) and about the company associated with the brand.
Peter Montoya has defined a personal brand as “a personal identity that stimulates precise, meaningful perceptions in its audience about the values and qualities that person stands for” (http://www.petermontoya.com). The concept of branding for individuals obviously works best for those seeking celebrity, where they are aiming to present a strong image of themselves and become known for certain qualities through the mass media. The principles have been adopted by many other people though from politicians, artists and business people. By intentionally building a name and consistent reputation in a given field, a person is essentially creating a brand (Keller 2003).
The key lessons in branding and brand development are to work with the strengths of the product and to emphasise the unique, differentiating factors that a product has over competitors. Once this domain has been established, the owner of the brand must work to continually update, reinforce and be consistent with how they present the product (in the case of personal branding, yourself).
A strong brand will have a unique position in the minds of the customers who purchase and use the brand. It is the customers who give a brand identity and who give it strength, the company merely offers brand direction. We are dealing with perceptions here rather than fact. Many aspects of the arts and artistic performance are hard to judge objectively, and the subjective nature of the work lends itself to branding activities.
Jeremy Bullmore (2001) stated in the annual brand lecture for WPP:
“Products are made and owned by companies. Brands on the other hand are made and owned by people … by the public … the consumers.”
This is the core concept of branding. A brand is made by the public and is consumed by the public. In order for a personal brand to be strong it must have something that the public (customers) want. It must also be different from other brands, it must be unique enough to gain space in the minds of the public and it must maintain consistency. But, in what would appear to be contradictory advice, there must also be a degree of the contemporary about a brand if it is to remain relevant.
When devising a personal brand, consider what your strengths are, relative to others offering similar products, and work on these strengths. Just as a good brand cannot support or hide a bad product, the same can be said for personal branding. A good brand will only work if the person behind it has something in demand by the market. If the person does not live up to the promise, no amount of branding effort will keep that person prominent in a positive sense.
A strong personal brand will also have appeal to a group far outside the market which is likely to consume product, or is ever likely to want to consume the product. Few of us will ever get to see David Beckham play soccer live, many people in Australia are not that interested in David Beckham’s soccer ability, but the brand Beckham can sell newspapers merely by changing his haircut. Steven Hawkins, one of the greatest minds of our time has global recognition, but many people would never have read or understood his work. This wider recognition and aspiration towards the brand makes association with it even more attractive to those actually in the market. To be able to say that you own an Arkley, or that you saw David Hobson sing, and have those names recognised by a wide range of people, adds value to the product.
Peter Montoya claimed that there are eight laws to personal branding:
- Specialisation – concentrating on a core strength, such as Oprah does with interpersonal communications.
- Leadership – person needs to be perceived as a leader by others in their field, e.g. Australian conductor Simone Young
- Personality – personal brands are built on the true personality of the source, including flaws, Nick Cave is a good example of a flawed personal brand which is still revered by many.
- Distinctiveness – how is the personal brand different from others? There was only one Marilyn Monroe.
- Visibility – repetition is the key to developing a broad number of associations in the mind of the audience, and making yourself memorable. Seeing a brand continuously reinforces that the brand is good or powerful. For many people awareness equates to perceived quality, that is, they think it is good because they know it.
- Unity – the person must adhere to the brand at all times, again Oprah has sent a c consistent message over the years.
- Persistence – a brand takes time to grow and must be nurtured, the brand Coca Cola has evolved and grown over 100 years, a personal brand will take time, nurturing and consistency, don’t change the brand abruptly but be patient. This is not to say an artists must continue to do the same things year in year out, but build change into your personal brand. Make sure, if you intend to innovate, that people expect it from you.
- Goodwill – the person behind the brand must be perceived in a positive way. Patrick Rafter was seen as a good sport both on and off the tennis court. (http://www.petermontoya.com).
Brands must be distinctive, consistent, based on strengths which are not easy to copy, visible, unique, and seen positively. All of these factors will help to gain a strong position in the mind of the consumer, which will result in a brand having greater awareness and being considered more often by consumers (Vieceli and Alpert 2003).
WHO CAN BRAND THEMSELVES?
Branding can be done to any product, or any person. Before undertaking an exercise in personal branding, however, consider your distinctive strengths and abilities and what they offer the market place. Traditionally personal branding was for sporting celebrities who gained enormous coverage and following through their sporting prowess. Movie stars have also had celebrity status and association since movies began. Personal branding is not limited though to traditional celebrities. Have you ever heard of Paul Keating, Richard Branson or Nigella Lawson?
These people are all famous, not for being celebrities, but for being leaders in their field, and practice strong personal branding. These people have all understood the value of themselves, understood their strengths, and how best to promote those strengths to their immediate circle and also to a larger group of people. All of the above names worked on consistency e.g. Richard Branson is a risk taker, unconventional and a free spirit. Each person understood their value, both tangible and intangible, in the marketplace and managed their brand to capitalise on this.
A personal brand is about creating strong, favourable associations in the minds of people that you encounter. If you don’t actively do this, they will still make associations.
Therefore, it may be better to be proactive and undertake the branding exercise for yourself, you cannot control what they think but can give them some information to assist with the associations.
REASONS TO BRAND OURSELVES
Steven Van (2002) indicated the following reasons for branding oneself:
- Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Position your focussed message in the hearts and minds of your target customers
- Confers top of mind status
- Increases authority and credence of decisions
- Places you in a leadership role
- Enhances prestige
- Attracts the right people and right opportunities
- Adds perceived value to what you are selling
- Earns recognition
- Associates you with a trend
- Increases your earning potential
HOW DO WE BRAND OURSELVES?
Like any branding exercise, the key to personal branding is having a good product, one which you understand and pitch to the right market. The first step in personal branding is knowing who you are, find out what strengths your brand possesses and how these strengths can help you. Personal branding is not about presenting a façade to the public; a poor product will not stand up to market scrutiny. This is also a choice of brand elements, people you deal with, the look that you have, and how you conduct yourself. Once this has been done, determine what you are going to offer. As a product what do you do, what need does the product of you satisfy in the market. Next figure out the position you will take in the audience of your mind. What unique space do you wish to occupy and what unique associations do you want people to recall when they think of you? Finally, once you have established the first three steps, manage your brand over its lifecycle. That is keep visible, be consistent and be yourself. According to Montoya, the key to managing your personal brand is word-of-mouth (WOM), the most trusted form of communication.
How does one go about building a personal brand? Recognise your personal strengths and gifts, think about how you best connect with people, consider what your target audience needs and wants, identify the value you deliver to meet those needs and wants, and communicate in a way that reaches your constituents in their hearts and minds and via the channels that work best for you. (Smith and Kelly 2002).
Functional associations are important such as timeliness, quality, dedication; as are emotional associations like inspiring, leadership, being an innovator.
THE THREE C’S OF PERSONAL BRANDING
The three C’s of personal branding are clarity, consistency and constancy. Clarity deals with being honest about yourself and your strengths and promises of value attached to your personal brand and being clear in the way you communicate them. Often, for simplicity, you must focus on one or two aspects that are most vital and focus on communicating them. Think about the things you associate with prominent artists or mangers, and they are unlikely to be complicated.
Consistency is keeping things consistent for the customers. This does not mean staying stuck in the past, but just not undertaking drastic changes. Coca Cola have had a consistent message for 50 years; the message evolves continuously and is not stagnant but is consistent. Artists like Madonna change every three or four years, but there is a consistency to the change.
Constancy means being visible with your brand and maintaining an on-going level of awareness in the marketplace. Oprah Winfrey is visible constantly, and although most of people do not have the visibility or exposure of Oprah, they can still be visible in a smaller audience. There is no point trying to build a brand image quickly to coincide with a new exhibition or performance you may have coming up – brands take time to build in consumers minds.
One final caveat on personal branding; personal branding, like celebrity is still reliant on the people and the choices people make. Think carefully about how you present yourself and how you conduct yourself, as a wrong choice can have lasting and damaging brand effects on how you are perceived. It is difficult to move a brand image if you become too strongly associated with one aspect. For example, a celebrity who was featured in McDonald’s advertising will find it hard to be credible as the spokesperson for a top of town restaurant or a luxury product.
Personal branding is not without its share of critics. Columnist Lucy Kellaway, labelled personal branding "a hybrid of homespun psychology, self-help and dressing for success." We would encourage artists and arts managers to treat the concept with some healthy scepticism, but to think about your personal image, reputation and level of awareness and consider managing the way those things develop. Inconsistency in the way you present yourself can make success in difficult fields even harder.
- Arruda, William, “The Thee C’s of Personal Branding”, http://www.brandchannel.com/papers_review.asp?sp_id=318
- Bhalotia, Nitish, “Personal Branding – Me Inc.”, http://www.brandchannel.com/images/Papers/PersonalBrandingMeInc.pdf
- Bullmore, Jeremy, (2001) “Posh Spice and Persil”, The Brands Lecture: British Brands Group Annual Lecture, 5 December.
- Haskins, Rick, (2000) “You Inc.: Creating a Personal Brand”, Multichannel News, July 17, p21A.
- Peters, Tom, (1997) “The Brand Called You”, Fast Company, Issue 10, Aug/September, p83, http://www.fastcompany.com/online/10/brandyou.html
- Montoya, Peter, “The Personal Brand Statement”, www.petermontoya.com/mt_what_is_personal_branding/laws.htm
- Keller, K. L. (2003) Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring and Managing Brand Equity, Pearson Education Inc: New Jersey.
- Kellaway, L. The Financial Times, 4 December 2000
- Post, Karen, “Brand MoiTM; Make Your Mark and Succeed”, http://www.karenpostbiz.com/PDFfiles/PersonalBranding.pdf
- Towle, Angela Phipps, (2003), “Making the Brand”, 18th November, www.hollywoodreporter.com
- Van Yoder, Steven, “The Brand Called You”, www.allaboutbranding.com/index.lasso?article=348