A number of years ago I had the opportunity of meeting for the first time—actually sharing a drink with—Sir Alex Ferguson, immediately after his team won at Anfield. Yes, their win hurt, but that is not the story. I was fascinated how he was so different from his public image and brand. You know the stories; truculent, difficult, feisty, arrogant are the most often quoted in press coverage. I found him immensely engaging, very interested in what you had to say, and someone who gave of his time willingly, even though I am sure, so close to the end of a match, he had many other demands on his time. Not only was the experience very positive for me, but he also took the time out to introduce my children to the different team players.
Now I was thinking about this as I discussed with a very senior executive in a top FTSE 100 the demands upon personal brands and how our brand both internally and externally can shape what people think, feel and sense about you. Yes we will all have individuals who make negative judgement calls about us, sometimes based upon different drivers, however you cannot make everyone happy, and that is not what your brand is all about.
Tom Peters coined the term ‘personal branding’ in his 1997 article “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company and it is now commonly believed that a senior executive’s personal brand is just as important as a respected corporate brand. More than merely image, a successful brand projects who you are and what you are. For any aspiring senior executive, it is important to establish a credible personal brand. In the recent conversation with this executive we spoke about the need to create a powerful brand future, which is very difficult to focus on as the day job can demand all of our time and attention. It is at the senior level vital that we do take time out for personal development or the network building necessary to achieve the next level. When unexpected business events occur (i.e., leadership change, merger, financial tsunami), many executives panic about preparing for the next role, or why their capabilities and strengths are not immediately obvious. To some this has a label of spin; to the enlightened it is about ensuring that you are the person you want to be, and that your brand is shaped by you, not configured on the irrational soundings sometimes drawn from poor information.When considering your brand some things to evaluate are:
- How are you perceived today?
- What do you stand for?
- What are your distinctive characteristics
- How relevant are these to the needs of your target audience?
- How do you articulate your core promise?
Does Sir Alex Ferguson’s brand of being truculent, argumentative, combative, unconsciously shape actions within referees and football legislators’ minds? Does his spin for example --that he does not select penalty takers at Anfield, as he never gets them—influence the referee who gave one last week? Well only the referee may know. My view is that his brand, whether you like it or not, has immense value and is a force for significant advantage to Manchester United PLC.