Are You the Next Betty White?
What Betty White can teach us about consistency and personal branding
Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live earlier this month. She is 88 years old. Her reputation as a comedic actress who consistently delivers a punch line with impeccable timing has made her an audience favorite for decades - from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Golden Girls and countless other roles.
While keeping us laughing, Betty White was also keeping her brand intact. We know what to expect from her and she never disappoints. Facebook campaign notwithstanding, she earned that spot on SNL. What is your brand earning you these days?
If the truth be known, you don't own your brand. Your stakeholders own your brand because it's what others think of you and how they describe you that define it. Your brand is the sum of every experience others have had with you. It is what others say about you behind closed doors. A combination of your personality, your performance, your values and what you do (or don't do) consistently can create either the brand of your dreams or of your nightmares.
You've heard me say that your brand is everything you do and don't do well in your business. Don't kid yourself; you are being judged by the last experience someone had with you, from an unexpected meeting in the office to a formal client dinner. If you've honored your word, delivered on your promise and communicated a consistent message, then you are reinforcing a positive brand that others want to work with. However, if you give others a reason to mistrust you or question your intentions; then you've got a brand that will require serious damage control.
And the only thing harder than building your brand is repairing it. Just ask Tiger Woods.
You may not have control over your brand, but you do have influence. To capitalize on your influence, you must manage the perception of your brand.
One of the most important ways to manage the perception of your brand is by being consistent.
I see executives who treat their colleagues one way, their direct reports another way and their board of directors completely differently. Have you ever worked with someone like that? People who do this are sometimes described as being good at "managing up" but it is rarely a compliment. What they are really doing is damaging their brand.
When someone observes you treating someone else differently, the first seed of mistrust is sewn. They immediately start to wonder which one is the real you. You quickly become a brand they cannot trust. And you can't build loyalty without trust.
A cautionary tale
Several years back, Howard got an opportunity to create a new division in his utilities company. His dream was to be named president of the division when the project was completed. He had a year to do this and was given 80 employees to help with the launch. Howard worked around the clock and completed the project successfully in only eight months. But he did not get the promotion. He was devastated. The CEO apologized but said: "Howard, I had no choice but to appoint another person to head this division. Everyone has refused to work with you ever again."
Howard may have thought he was "managing up" by pleasing his superiors with an early launch, but he failed to be consistent when he did not treat those who reported to him as well.
Look at the cost of doing the work you do
Always honor your authentic brand, but also manage the experiences others have of you. Being inclusive and recognizing the contributions of others go a long way toward building loyalty and trust.
The best approach is to be your best with everyone, even on the days when you don't feel like it. Anyone who has ever worked with an erratic boss or colleague knows that when someone is unpredictable, his or her brand is diluted. Their behavior on a bad day chips away at the brand they may have been building on their good days.
Treat everyone with respect. Manage up, sideways and down. You never know who will find themselves in a position to promote or defend your brand in the future. If you treat others better than they ever expected, your brand will be strengthened - like a good cup of coffee.
Learn from The Four Seasons
In the last year, I have had the privilege to work with the Four Seasons Hotel. I always wondered what made this chain so successful. It didn't take long to find out once I learned more about their leader, Isadore (Issie) Sharp. He launched his company, The Four Seasons, in 1961 with a 125-room motor hotel in Toronto. Today, there are 140 hotels in more than 40 countries. His chain is considered the most profitable as well as the highest rated luxury hotels in the world.
When asked the reason for the success of the Four Seasons, Issie Sharp was quoted as saying that his culture is simply based on the golden rule - "to treat others as you wish to be treated" He said, "A lot of companies talk about having a culture, but we knew we had to walk the talk if we expected it to thrive in our hotels."
He honors the 3 C's rule of branding:
- Issie knew from the beginning what the Four Seasons would stand for and he consistently reinforced this same message year after year. The Four Seasons does not try to capture every market. They focus on offering upscale accommodations with consistent superior service.
- The Golden Rule (the values) applies to not just the guests but his employees. It's the credo and cornerstone for the Four Seasons culture and empowers staff to make their own discretionary decisions to reinforce this standard of excellence to guests.
- This relates to an unstoppable commitment and focus on superior service which has enabled The Four Seasons to be distinctive and enjoy their competitive advantage.
So how does this relate to you? Do people know what you stand for? Are you clear, consistent and constant? Can others depend on you and are you delivering superior service? Are you creating good will with all those people you come into contact with?
Or are you stretching yourself to be all things to all people? Are you diluting your reputation for the sake of staying employed or in good stead with the board?
Be like Betty
Remember that everything matters when you're promoting your brand. Everything you do and everything you choose not to do will communicate the value and character of your brand. Every email, every encounter and every presentation counts.
There are no shortcuts to building and sustaining your brand. It's an investment that takes time and must be built on consistency, credibility and meaningful relationships. It's an investment in you, a unique brand that deserves to be recognized. It's an investment that you cannot afford to ignore.
Whether you are 18 or 88, being known for doing what you do best and doing it consistently will have positive consequences you can't even imagine today.
I doubt Betty White imagined acting in 20 films, appearing in over 80 different television programs, winning six Emmy awards or becoming the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live when she began her career.She just started by doing what she did well and doing it consistently.
You never know. You just might be ready for prime time.
My new book, The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand is now available at http://www.usheroff.com/store/ . Learn what propels some people to thrive in their careers over others. The Future of You! has the answers that lead you to create an enduring brand that positions you to succeed.