New Energy for a Tired Brand
Category : 2019
Brands are like buildings. With the right foundation, on-going maintenance, and an occasional renovation, both can provide functional value for a long time. The oldest brand in the world is Kongo Gumi, established in 578 AD and family-owned for 1400 years. Dixon Ticonderoga has been making pencils and Jim Beam has produced bourbon for over 220 years. JP Morgan Chase has been in the game for nearly as long-by repeatedly adapting to the new realities of financial services. Harper Collins has survived the volatile world of publishing by reinvention and embracing technologies that were beyond imagination when the company published its first volume in 1817. Macys and Sears have been iconic brands for decades, but age has caught up with both and their futures are uncertain.
Some people have figured out how to ensure the relevance of their personal brands long after their peers tire and fade into oblivion. From oil to natural gas to alternative energy, Texas legend T. Boone Pickens stayed in the game of business until close to his death at age 91. After his time in office, former president Jimmy Carter grew his brand as a humanitarian and continues building for Habitat for Humanity at 95, insisting that he not miss the launch of his latest building project with 14 stitches in his forehead. Octogenarian, Warren Buffet’s investment guidance is still followed closely.
When interacting with a personal brand, people care more about energy than age. Brands with a perpetual shelf-life, brands that maintain a relevance that belies their age, consciously resist the inherent banality that comes with tenure at anything.
Throughout its lifespan, a brand stays relevant because of personal and strategic choices, not circumstance. As a young man in his thirties, Beethoven realized his loss of hearing was both progressive and permanent-a frightening possibility for someone whose brand was built around being a gifted composer and musician. Realizing the inevitability that faced him, Beethoven wrote his friend Franz Wegeler, “I will take fate by the throat.” That is the mental resilience that keeps a brand fresh.
Your personal brand is as unique as you are. You can be imitated but never replicated. In his book Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier calls that singularity a charismatic brand, “any product, service, or organization [let’s add person] for which people believe there is no substitute.” Here are three ways you can keep your brand charismatic, maintaining brand vitality when other brands get weary and decline.
Like houses, brands show their use. The structure and character are solid, but the presentation shouts, “dated.” An executive in his 50s who dresses like he did in the 80s screams “update needed” as much as a house with the original wallpaper. If you are past 40 and your professional photo is more than five years old, it is time for trip to a professional photographer. Few things spell awkward at the start of a networking meeting more than, “Oh, you look a lot different than your picture on LinkedIn.” Clothes, like people, often lose their shape before they wear out. “This still looks okay,” is not the mantra of a brand that shouts relevance. Dress to win, lose the weight, exercise for vitality!
Staying with the house analogy, there are times when continued relevance and functionality demand renovation. Anyone who has renovated a house will tell you it takes longer, and costs more than you expect, so you want to plan for it – not get the experience forced upon you when something falls apart. Positioning yourself in a different role may be attractive. If a lesser role is an appealing option, a C-Suite executive needs to anticipate the changes that come with such a move. However, be aware that a smaller title may not equate to fewer responsibilities and a lighter workload.
A clear indicator it’s time to renovate is when you spend more time talking about past successes than current results. If your stories took place before your audience was born, it’s time for a brand renovation. Anyone, at any level in a company, will find value in updating their resume or CV every year. If there is nothing quantified and significant to add to the list of contributions, it’s time for a career and brand renovation. When a brand no longer demonstrates and communicates its value, it loses its significance.
Massive gentrification efforts in major cities give a second or third life to warehouses or old buildings as up-scale flats and condos. Even shipping containers are finding long-term value as apartments. Sometimes, brands need more than an update-they need reinvention. As industries and roles evolve, an executive may face the need to take the best of what was and build something new. Digital transformation, AI, the explosive growth of cloud computing, and the impact of the millennial workforce demands executive brands that are both agile and courageous. Being the guardian of a legacy system or the guru for holdover internal processes is more of a liability than security – especially following a sale or acquisition. Savvy executives with lasting brands stay ahead of the change curve, proactively taking new responsibilities that expand and enhance their brands, facilitating their perpetuity.
Brands stay fresh when the people they represent maintain a mental framework that is realistic, positive, and uncharacteristically optimistic. T. Boone Pickens captured that positivity with “Be the eternal optimist. Act like the fella who fell off the top of a 10-story building…as he passed the third floor, he said, ‘I’m not dead yet. So far, so good.'”