Ever wonder how celebrities develop such intense and loyal fans and followers? Is it because they have a unique quality that most of us don’t? They may or may not, but all of them know how to build a personal brand.
While building a personal brand used to limited to celebrities and entertainers, today we all need to be concerned with developing a unified, personal brand that we present to the world. Increasingly, a strongly defined brand is necessary for business success for both employees and entrepreneurs.
Though social media has given us the “famous for being famous” phenomenon, some of the best examples of effective personal branding come from the entertainment world. In fact, one of my favorite entertainers, Dolly Parton, is a case study in building a powerful personal brand.
Her career has spanned over five decades and includes accolades as a singer, songwriter, successful films and a list of recognitions that spans from platinum records to receiving the National Medal of Arts. What is the secret to her phenomenal success?
First of all, she knows who she is. From an early age, she was a singer and songwriter. According to her biography, her mother was writing down original lyrics for her when she was four years old. At age nine, she was performing on local radio. By the time she graduated from high school, she had made a record and appeared on the Grand Old Opry.
After high school, she moved to Nashville and continued to pursue her passion for songwriting and performing. In the years since Dolly first got off the bus in Nashville, many talented people have come and gone. She, however, has incredible staying power. It’s not just her phenomenal talent, but the way she connects with her audience.
I don’t really like country music, but I feel a personal connection to Dolly and her story. Her hometown is about two hours from mine, so we share a cultural frame of reference. I admire the difference she has made for women in the business world and for the people of Southern Appalachia.
When Dolly came on the scene, the music business was very much a man’s world. The pivotal moment in Dolly’s career came when she was approached by Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Pressley’s business manager. She was excited that Elvis wanted to record her song, “I Will Always Love You.” However, the contract offered was not a good deal for her, so she declined. This was a really gutsy thing to do, and she was criticized for passing up the “opportunity” to have Elvis record her song.
So, did standing up against the music establishment ruin her career? On the contrary, it made her career. Elvis didn’t record the song, but literally dozens of other performers have. It’s been a hit in several genres and several languages, in countries in every hemisphere, a theme song for hit movies , and a perennial favorite on “talent” shows.
Most important of all, this business move made everyone sit up and take notice. Not just a dumb blond, Dolly is a savvy business woman. She is quoted as expressing sadness that Elvis didn’t record her song, because she would love to hear him sing it. However, it was a business decision, period. Only hardheaded business decisions would allow her to accomplish her dream of making a difference in the world.
And what a huge difference it is! She has touched the lives of millions around the world through the 5,000 songs she has written and the dozens of songs she has recorded. Many women in entertainment credit her with inspiring them with her story. And it doesn’t stop there.
In 1987, she became personally involved in projects aimed at economic development in East Tennessee. The Dollywood Company operates the Dollywood Theme Park and other family entertainment venues that bring much needed jobs to the area.
Understanding that literacy is the key to success in life, Dolly established Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Families in this program receive books, free of charge, to encourage a love of reading in the home. Hearing of the program’s success, other communities asked for assistance in replicating it. Today, the program has been carried by local volunteers to communities around the world and impacts hundreds of thousands of families.
Here are my top lessons on brand from Dolly:
- Know who you are
- Stay focused on your vision
- Make decisions that move you forward toward your goals and your vision, even when they are unpopular.
Who’s personal brand inspires you?