Sunday, July 3, 2011

Brand Power!

This is a response to a Steven Hodson post entitled Brand Power? (with a question mark). Hodson is fond of pointing out the silliness that sometimes passes for wisdom in social media circles, and in this post he raises some objections to the current obsession with protecting one's personal brand.

After sharing the definitions of the words "brand," "person," and "individual," Hodson states the following:

At no point does person or individual ever equate to being a brand, just as a brand doesn’t equal being a person or individual. Yet in our modern Internet world we are constantly told, especially when it comes to social media, that we need to protect our brand, that we need to get our brand out there.

Hodson then states:

Brands are not human, they are an intangible concept at their best and a pure marketing mechanism at their worst. Persons, or individuals, are human and as such have a much greater inherent worth to them so why are we placing so much value on something that is for the most part dead and has a worth that is purely transient.

Read the rest of Hodson's post here.

While thinking about this, I began thinking of a few exceptions, and then thought of one very big basic exception to this:

Colonel Harland Sanders.

I've written about him before, most significantly in this post. But I never really looked at his entire life story.

Harland Sanders was born back in 1890, and held down a number of different jobs, including farmer, streetcar conductor, railroad fireman, insurance salesman, and service station operator.

At age 40, Sanders was running a service station in Kentucky where he would also feed hungry travelers. He eventually moved his operation to a restaurant across the street, and featured a fried chicken so notable that Sanders was named a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 by Governor Ruby Laffoon.

That was the beginning of the brand - he became so-well known as "Colonel Sanders" that people like me ended up misspelling his first name because we didn't know it.

In 1952 he closed the restaurant. End of story? No, because that's when he began to build up a franchising business, in which he franchised his restaurants all over the country. In the process, Colonel Sanders became the brand of the company, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In 1964 he sold the company. End of story? No, because the new owners realized that they needed Colonel Sanders the brand to continue to sell Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even after he began to suffer from the effects of old age, he was still the brand of Kentucky Fried Chicken - a brand that the bean-counters who ran the company needed.

In 1980 he died. End of story? No, because even when the outlets changed and became KFC, a Colonel cartoon character continued to hawk the chicken.

Now Colonel Sanders was a living breathing person - well, at least until 1980 - but he was also a brand. An important brand.

What would have happened to Kentucky Fried Chicken if Harland Sanders had married a black woman in 1955?

What would have happened to Kentucky Fried Chicken if Harland Sanders had become a vegetarian Buddhist in 1965?

What would have happened to Kentucky Fried Chicken if Ray Kroc had hired Harland Sanders in 1975?

Now I realize that there are many people like Steven Hodson who pooh-pooh the idea of personal branding, and I also realize that there are job counselors and resume writers who think that EVERYONE needs to engage in personal branding.

But it's fascinating to look at people like Harland Sanders - and, to a slightly lesser extent, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates - who have in essence become brands.

Although Steven Hodson has already responded to an earlier version of my thoughts:

Even with your example of Colonel Sanders he wasn’t the brand – that was KFC and it has changed many hands over the years yet it is the person we remember.
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