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December 10, 2015

Personal Branding Lessons from Rudolph

The most popular and timeless stories of our culture contain lots of universal themes and essential nuggets of wisdom. In many ways, these stories relate to our own lives, reflecting the spectrum of human experience from joyful to terrifying, and from humiliating to triumphant.

It’s true that most stories passed down from generation to generation communicate lessons about life in general. The thinking that inspires this post, however, looks for wisdom through a different lens – personal branding.

What is your “personal brand?” It’s the collection of perceptions, associations and interactions that others (your various audiences) hold in their minds about you. Like a company brand, it exists whether you choose to consciously cultivate it or not. It deserves consideration, since your personal brand will impact your career trajectory, professional relationships, opportunities, and breadth of influence.

The process of defining and articulating an authentic personal brand is serious business. That said, sometimes it helps to look at a topic from a lighthearted and playful perspective.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, let’s examine some personal branding lessons from a few of our favorite yuletide characters. Who knew Rudolph, Hermey the Elf, Scrooge, the Abominable Snowman and Frosty were such savvy branders?

  • Embrace Your Uniqueness: As Rudolph experienced, we might want to hide certain qualities that set us apart. This is especially true when society labels them as “weird.” In the end, it’s the authentic and unique parts of us that allow us to serve in the way we were meant to, and with the most impact. What would Santa have done without the guiding light of Rudolph’s glowing red nose on that foggy night? Your personal brand needs to be authentically you, and not just lump you in with everyone else. One of the most powerful elements of a brand is its differentiation. Figure out what makes you unique and have the courage to put it all out there.
  • Link Your Brand to Your Passion: Follow the example of Hermey the misfit elf (more appropriately called Hermey the Elf, D.D.S.).   As a compatriot of Rudolph in the classic Rankin/Bass holiday TV special, Hermey understood what it was like to be different. Instead of living the life of a toy-maker, Hermey dreamed of being a dentist. Just because you come from a family of lawyers, doctors or… elves, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Find and pursue the type of work you’re passionate about and at which you excel, and link it to your brand identity.
  • Be Aware of Your Brand Blindspots: As Ebenezer Scrooge came to realize, the perspectives we take can powerfully shape our reality. Sometimes we get so inwardly focused that we can’t see how certain views, fears, judgments, and defense mechanisms have affected how we interact with others, and how others therefore perceive us. This holiday, take the time to look at those who are most important in your life. They, as your audience, will perceive you based on the quality of your interactions, and how you communicate with them.   If there are gaps between how you might be perceived and how you’d like to be perceived (and who you are deep down), make an effort to change your perspectives and behaviors to reflect your desired brand attributes.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Shift: If, in the process of examining your personal brand, you realize you need to make a shift – a rebrand, if you will – don’t be afraid to do so. Even the Abominable Snowman, known for the epitome of terror and destruction, found a way to change his orientation to that of kindness and contribution (even though, in the Rankin/Bass Rudolph TV special, he had to lose his teeth first!).   Similarly with Scrooge, any type of change is possible, as long as your new brand orientation is more truly aligned with your values, core attributes and unique qualities. Often times, when a shift in brand is made, the new orientation is more aspirational at first. Over time, with lots of reinforcement, it becomes more ingrained.
  • Incorporate the Creativity & Influence of Others: Okay, this might be a stretch, but I’d like to consider the origins of Frosty the Snowman. His distinctive corncob pipe, button nose, and silk top hat were all contributions from others. In this way, his identity was partially defined by the creativity of those around him. In a similar way, you are the person you are today due somewhat to the influences of others. Sit back and reflect on who and what has influenced you up to this point, and how those elements present themselves as part of your personal brand. What do you want to keep, and what do you maybe need to let go of? Next, position yourself to stay open and curious about the future influence of others. Incorporate what’s useful and positive, and what you can make your own. In every case, it’s still important to keep your brand authentic to you.

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